Draft Rankings – Running Backs

Mark Ingram is widely regarded as the top back in the 2011 NFL Draft but I prefer Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams (above). Picture via "VTCarter" on flickr

Following on from the QB rankings, here are my top running backs in the 2011 NFL Draft.

  1. Ryan Williams – Virginia Tech
    Rated as a 2nd-3rd round pick I think he’d be a perfect fit for the Patriots because I would look to take a running back in the late 2nd and then in the 5th or 6th round to make that committee with Green-Ellis, Woodhead and maybe Faulk.  Really aggressive runner who finishes his runs and hits the gap with explosiveness. Translation – the anti-Maroney and that would make a lot of Pats fans happy to see. As always with that style of runner, however, long-term injury concerns are there but I think all RBs have a short shelf life so just draft the guy! Projection – 2nd round.
  2. Mark Ingram – Alabama
    Lacks elite speed, elite strength or great skills as a pass catcher. Sometimes gets away with things in college that he wouldn’t in the NFL, but other than that looks the part. Very rarely fumbles, very rarely fails to maximize the inside runs. If BenJarvus Green-Ellis can run for 1,000 yards in NE then I don’t doubt Ingram could, but do you want  to take that guy in the mid-to-late 1st round? I wouldn’t. Projection – 1st round.
  3. Mikel Leshoure – Illinois
    Leshoure is not Rashard Mendenhall, but he has a lot of things about him I like. Keeps his feet moving, short steps, shifty and reads blocks. The negative is that whenever I watch videos of him the blocking is terrific and while it might be a positive that he can follow blocks and cut off of them well, you rarely see him just hit a small hole and burst through to the 2nd level. I like Leshoure but not sure he’s worth the pick at #28 because he has some Maroney-ness to him. Projection – late 1st, early 2nd round.
  4. Daniel Thomas – Kansas State
    Runs very upright and takes a lot of hits. Might fumble a lot. However, he is very athletic, has the measurables and shows good agility and gets to the outside well. Fluid runner and very productive. Projection – another 2nd-3rd round guy that is in that spot I said I’d look at.
  5. DeMarco Murray – Oklahoma
    Looks like a Patriot. Has lots of receptions from the backfield and split out wide, returned kicks and ran inside and outside. He’s done it all and has that versatility that Belichick and co. love so much. The only problem for me is that he’s in that same 2nd-3rd round range due to his speed and quickness and might not be durable enough at the next level. Same kind of worries I had about Dexter McCluster but I loved him. Projection – 2nd-3rd round.
  6. Kendall Hunter – Oklahoma State
    I like his willingness to block and his strong build which is important in protecting Brady from the blitz. Excellent production at OSU and showed great strength and balance when running inside. Projection – 3rd round.
  7. Jordan Todman – UConn
    Todman is yet another guy projected to be somewhere in that 2nd tier of running backs behind Ingram and Leshoure. 2nd-3rd sure seems to be the sweet spot in this RB class. Todman has great speed and quickness as well as ability in the return game and as a blocker. Has a lot of the versatility we think about for a Pats pick. My knock on him is that he’s pretty average in a lot of areas. Physically he could do with bulking up, which might help him break more tackles and offer more as an inside banger. Projection – 3rd round.
  8. Shane Vereen – California
    Vereen was almost a backup when Cal had Jahvid Best before he was drafted by the Lions and yet still had surprising production.  Once Best was drafted he averaged over 5 yards a carry and over 9 yards per reception as a team captain and also returned kicks well. He lacks that explosiveness and burst that some of the other backs in this draft have but also has taken fewer beatings owing to the time sharing snaps with Best. He’s projected to be suited to a zone blocking team and although the Pats have varied blocking attacks, they are predominantly zone. Projection – 4th round.
  9. Dion Lewis – Pittsburgh
    I like Lewis’ quickness in a small area. Seems to shake out of things well and get some production from a dead-end play which is handy in a running back. Pitt also has a pro-style O which is a nice bonus when looking at a projection but he’s lacking in top-end speed and size and struggles as a blocker. Useful scat back maybe. Projection – 4th-5th round.
  10. Johnny White – North Carolina
    White is a guy I’d look at as a committee guy if I’d already drafted someone in the 2nd or 3rd round. Aggressive runner which good bulk and quick feet, he also has experience on special teams which will help him make the roster and be that 4th or 5th guy on the depth chart. I like White a lot. Projection – 5th round.

For the record, there are a lot of backs I like in this draft and picking 10 was tricky. Closer to the draft I’ll be posting my potential Patriots targets like I did last year, and you might find a lot of backs on that list. Sneak preview – why not take a flyer on a guy like Noel Devine – lucky to be listed at 5-8 and 180 lbs, he’s that elusive, undersized runner that’s so exciting to watch in college, yet projects as a 7th round pick for the NFL Draft. As defenses figured him out, his production dropped from year to year in college at West Virginia, but that wasn’t helped by a toe injury (a tough injury for a RB). If used as a bit-part guy I think he could make one or two plays that could really shift a game in your favour. If the Pats acquire a late 7th round pick or he goes undrafted, consider him on my wish list.

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