2011 NFL Draft Preview: Top 10 Running Backs in the Draft

Last Updated: April 18th, 2011 by Adam Markowitz (Bankroll Sports Columnist)

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Over the next two weeks, Bankroll Sports will provide you an in-depth look on the NFL Draft, examining the top prospects at each position. Today, we look at the top ten running backs for the 2011 NFL Draft.

1. Mark Ingram (Alabama) – 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram tops the list as the best running back in a very weak crop. In other years, Ingram might have been a questionable first round pick, but the position is so scarce in the 2011 NFL Draft that the pride of the Crimson Tide should be a mid-first round pick this season. In 2010, Ingram didn’t put up the same numbers that won him the Heisman just one year earlier, but still got it done in the toughest conference in all of college football. Ingram lacks breakaway speed, running a 4.62 40 at the combine, but scouts love his balance and how well he protects the football. In three years at Alabama, Ingram only fumbled the ball three times and only lost two of the fumbles.

2. Ryan Williams (Virginia Tech) – Williams had a monster campaign during the 2009 college football betting season, racking up 1655 yards and 21 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman but failed to come close to matching that production this season. Williams was bothered by a hamstring injury most of the year and only managed to carry the ball 110 times for 477 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2010. Like Ingram, Williams is not a speedster, clocking a 4.59 40 at the NFL Combine and does have durability concerns due to the injury. Williams is projected as a mid to late second-round pick and has the talent to succeed but must stay healthy and be able to stay on the field in passing downs.

3. Mikel LeShoure (Illinois) – Mikel LeShoure had a breakout 2010 campaign despite being the only offensive option on a 7-6 Illinois Fighting Illini team. LeShoure became a workhorse back for HC Ron Zook, carrying the ball 281 times for 1697 yards and 17 touchdowns during the 2010 NCAA football wagering season. Although he lacks that extra burst of speed, LeShoure reminds some scouts of former Illini RB Rashard Mendenhall and is great at running between the tackles. LeShoure is considered to be a mid to late second-round pick.

4. Daniel Thomas (Kansas State) – Only two running backs carried the rock more than Daniel Thomas did in 2010, but it’s arguable whether or not any running back was more responsible for his team’s offensive production. Kansas State ran the ball on 65% of their plays and Thomas carried the bulk of the load for the Wildcats. Thomas picked up 1585 yards and 19 touchdowns on 298 carries this past season and has paced the offense since coming to Manhattan as a JUCO transfer. If there is a question about Thomas, it’s his ability to protect the football, fumbling 11 times over the past two seasons. Thomas is projected as a mid to late second-round pick.

5. Kendall Hunter (Oklahoma State) – Despite playing in a spread offense, Hunter amassed over 4000 yards in a productive career with the Cowboys. Unlike the previous four backs on this list, Hunter is a speedster that draws comparisons to Darren Sproles. Hunter’s diminutive frame (5’7, 199 lbs) means that he probably won’t be able to last as an every down back in the NFL, but Hunter could make an excellent third down back and is always a threat to take it to the house. Hunter is seen as a mid-round pick and may be used as a kick or punt returner as well.

6. DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma) – No running back in the draft has the upside that Murray has provided he can stay healthy. The fifth-year senior suffered at least a moderate injury in every season he was with the Sooners, and missed games in three seasons due to various injuries. When Murray is healthy, he is electrifying. He has blazing speed (4.37 40) despite being 6’0 210 lbs and is a powerful inside runner with a devastating first cut. Murray is projected as a mid-round pick, but don’t be surprised if a team takes a reach on him due to his potential.

7. Shane Vereen (California) – Vereen had a shot to be an early round pick, but disappointed scouts with a 4.49 40 despite his size. Vereen carried the Golden Bears down the stretch after an injury to starting quarterback Kevin Riley neutered Jeff Tedford’s passing attack, tallying three straight 100-yard games to end the season despite rushing into seven and eight man fronts loaded to stop the run. Vereen’s probable role in the NFL is as a hybrid Eric Metcalf type and he has never missed a game due to injury. Vereen is seen as a mid-round pick.

8. Jordan Todman (Connecticut) – Todman was the most used running back in major college football in 2010, receiving an average of 28 carries per game on Randy Edsall’s Huskies. Todman was the nation’s fourth leading rusher and won Big East Offensive Player of the Year honors after carrying the ball 334 times for 1695 yards and 14 touchdowns en route to a Big East championship. There will be injury concerns with Todman due to his heavy workload in college, but he has the ability to be a solid pro and is seen as a mid-round pick.

9. Jacquizz Rodgers (Oregon State) – Rodgers is this year’s prime example of how you can hurt yourself at the Combine. ‘Quizz showed incredible speed in college and scouts were looking for a 40 time at least in the low 4.4’s to cement his spot as a top running back in this class. Instead, Rodgers ran an embarrassingly slow 4.74 40 and watched his stock freefall in the following weeks. Although he ran a respectable 4.47 at the Beavers’ Pro Day, Rodgers is seen as a mid-round pick at best now.

10. Roy Helu (Nebraska) – Despite opponents keying on stopping Helu and Cornhuskers QB Taylor Martinez, Helu was one of the most efficient running backs in the country in 2010. Helu carried the ball just 188 times, but averaged 6.6 yards per carry and reached pay dirt 11 times. Helu’s breakout game came against division rival Missouri, where he ran for 307 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries. Helu is seen as a mid to late-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.

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Posted in NFL Football - Last Updated on Monday, April 18th, 2011 @ 7:41 am (EST)
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