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2011 NFL Draft: Top Five Running Backs

2011 NFL Draft: Top Five Running Backs

As the NFL has progressed into a pass-heavy league, team needs for the running back position have changed. The days of workhorse backs have since past. The league is now full of specialists. Power backs for short yardage. Elusive backs for first and second down. Pass-blockers who can catch the ball on third down. H-backs who can be lined up all over the field to create mismatches and so on and so on.

Even though teams may now need more running backs, this has not increased the value of a back, if anything, it has lowered it. Since they touch the ball less frequently and still remain a huge injury concern, most teams will not reach for a back.

In 2009, the first back selected was at No. 12 when Denver added Knowshon Moreno. Then in 2010, Buffalo reached for C.J. Spiller with the No. 9 pick.

This year, most teams feel a back won’t be picked until the No. 15 pick, currently held by the Miami Dolphins. This speaks to what amounts to a thin running back class playing in an NFL that doesn’t need to lean on one guy all season.

1. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech (SO, 5’10″, 202)

There are things Williams can do that other backs can’t do. His mix of lateral agility while maintaining top speed, making the first man miss and field vision makes him a very special running back. The reason why he is not the No. 1 back in the eyes of the analysts is due to a hamstring injury that plagued him the entire 2010 season.

Putting that aside, when he is healthy, he is a sub-4.5 40-yard dash guy who is easily the best pure running back in this draft. In 2009, he very quietly rushed for 1,655 yards and 21 TDs. Mark Ingram, who won the Heisman that year had three more yards and four fewer TDs. Yet since Alabama won the national championship, Ingram received all the attention. Williams is not a workhorse back in the NFL but the great majority of teams aren’t looking for that.

2. Mark Ingram, Alabama – (JR, 5’9″, 215)

Ingram will likely be the first back selected in the 2011 NFL Draft because he is more well-known and established at his position. He isn’t a flashy runner, instead he relies on his balance and toughness between the tackles to gain positive yardage. His hips are a little stiff and what holds him back is he will very rarely break off many long runs. If paired with an elusive back, Ingram would make for a great 1-2 punch. Ingram churns his legs through traffic, does very well to protect the football and runs low. He should be very good at the next level. His lack of top-end speed and burst is why I can’t put him at the top. The league has changed and the truly great backs have explosive speed and agility, which is not his game.

3. Mikel Leshoure, Auburn – (JR, 6’6″, 250)

Leshoure did in 2010 what Ryan Williams did in 2009. Leshoure is a big-play potential guy who runs with violence. He is always looking to break off the big play, sometimes too much so. When he did break them off with such frequency that it didn’t matter. Leshoure looks to plant his foot and hit the hole at full force. His greatest asset may be his acceleration. He’s able to hit the hole at full speed and reach top speed in a matter of a few steps. The drawback here is the question whether he was a one-year wonder. Prior to 2010, he was a bit of a disappointment. One of those players who you might hear “had yet to put it all together.” That said, he put it together and then some in 2010 with 1,697 yards and 20 total TDs.

4. Jordan Todman, Conneticut – (JR, 5’9″, 203)

Todman’s production reminds me a lot of Ray Rice when he was at Rutgers but they are not at all similar in their style of play. Todman is very elusive and always working towards daylight. With good speed and a 4.4 40-yard dash, he should be a lock in third round at the latest. He rushed for 1,695 yards and 14 TDs and rushed for 100+ yards 10 times last season. One issue though is that he had 334 carries which is very unusual for a college back. That number reminds me of LeSean McCoy in his last year with Pitt where he had 308 carries and everything has worked out for him so far, but that is still a concern. As long as his health holds up Todman will make for a great back as he single-handedly made Conneticut a relevant team last year.

5. Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma St – (SR, 5’7″, 199)

Hunter fits more to what is really working well in the NFL. He may not have run that well at the combine (4.55 40-yard dash), but he plays much faster than that by making small adjustments to his line of attack. Sometimes relies too heavily on his ability to cut-back rather than taking what the play offers him. But he’s good at reading the blocks and finding the hole that he makes it work. At the next level, he will need to add more muscle while maintaining his speed. Teams will expect more speed since he is only 5’7″

Next Five…

6. Shane Vereen, Cal
7. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
8. Daniel Thomas, Kansas St
9. Delone Carter, Syracuse
10. Da’Rel Scott, Maryland

About The Author

Matt De Lima is the guy behind the guy behind the guy. Born and raised near Los Angeles, CA during simpler times where the Rams and Raiders both played there. Back when Eddie Murphy was funny and people still listened to Whitney Houston's music. A graduate of Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!), he's played fantasy sports for the last 10 years and began writing down his opinions in 2010. You remember that fantasy football league you were in last season, there was that one team that somehow had Aaron Rodgers, Chris Johnson, and Andre Johnson? Matt was that guy. You should listen to him. Follow his exclusive content @ OpenSports.com

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