Happy Tuesday, friends. Today, we get back into the 2013 Draft class with some more superlatives and rankings. This time, we’ll focus on the running back class. I suspect that it will be of more interest to Broncos fans than the QB group was on Thursday.
If you ask some people, (mostly those who take Jeff Legwold’s word for it), the Broncos need a “big, durable power back.” If you ask me, the Broncos have a guy like that, named Willis McGahee. Recency bias may make him seem like he’s not durable, since he got injured last season, but over his career, he hasn’t missed much time due to nagging injuries. A torn ACL (like the one Willis had in college) can happen to anybody, and so can a torn MCL; they’re most often a function of randomness, and not durability.
Beyond McGahee, the Broncos have a versatile pro and good team guy in Knowshon Moreno, a young speedster in Ronnie Hillman, and a backup/special-teams type in Lance Ball, whom the Broncos just tendered at $1.3 million, which suggests that they value him.
If you ask me, that’s a matched set of players at the RB position, and especially if you think Hillman is going to improve, the Broncos don’t seem to have a big need at the RB position. The fact that the Broncos limited their pursuit of free agent RBs to Rashard Mendenhall suggests that they liked that player (don’t ask me why), and that they didn’t necessarily see the position as a need area.
Since we’re professional analysts, we’re going to give this RB class the full treatment, though. Here goes.
Giovani Bernard, North Carolina – Bernard is 5-9, and 202 pounds, and while he only ran a 4.53 40 in Indianapolis, he can really get through a hole quickly. He’s probably going to be a second rounder, because his athletic measurables weren’t spectacular, but he’s going to make a nice part of a two-back system at the NFL level.
Onterrio McCalebb, Auburn – McCalebb has tremendous speed, clocking a 4.34 40 in Indianapolis. Of course, he’s 5-10 and 168 pounds, so that will be viewed as an issue. As a sophomore, when Cam Newton was at Auburn, McCalebb averaged 8.5 yards per carry, while almost always running a sweep action off the zone read. He projects to be a limited use player in the NFL, like Dexter McCluster, but one who can hit a home run for you.
Knile Davis, Arkansas – Davis is going to remind people of Mario Fannin; he’s a big, fast guy, who doesn’t really play football all that effectively. Like Fannin, he’s had a lot of problems with injuries, dating back to high school, and his physical and upright style of running portends for that to continue. He’ll get the underdog-lovers of some fan base really excited each summer until he inevitably gets hurt, again.
Best One-Cut Runner
Johnathan Franklin, UCLA – Franklin is the kind of guy who’d make an excellent fit in Washington, because he’d complement Alfred Morris well as a change of pace. He’s only 5-10, 205 pounds, and he was a bit of a fumbler earlier in his career, but he’s a good and decisive natural runner.
Best Low-Mileage Special
Mike Gillislee, Florida – Gillislee played behind Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey for three seasons, before taking over as Florida’s workhorse as a senior. He’s similar in size and style to Franklin, and he’s another guy who’ll be best in an NFL committee.
Best Overcomer of Poor Measurables
Stepfan Taylor, Stanford – Taylor is a poor man’s Knowshon Moreno, who can help a team some as a runner, but his real value will come in the passing game. He’s a good receiver, and the best pass protector in this draft. At 5-9 and 214 pounds, he’s stout enough to get low on bigger pass rushers, and engage them with a solid base.
Best Power Runner
Eddie Lacy, Alabama – Lacy is a pro-style RB, who’s well-schooled in the type of work he’ll be asked to do. That’s an underrated part of the reason why he’s the consensus top-rated back in this class. He has a very strong lower body, and good feet. He reminds me of Frank Gore, and he’ll be a good RB for a long time in the NFL. His mileage is also low, after playing with Trent Richardson for two years, and T.J. Yeldon for one.
Too Tall For His Own Good
Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State – Bell is pretty comparable to Lacy as a player, particularly his combination of bulk, power, and light feet. His biggest problem is that he’s 6-1, and that makes it difficult for him to play with his pads low. You don’t really want a RB to be a big target for tacklers. Bell also had a tremendous amount of touches in 2012 (382 carries and 32 catches) which led the nation; that’s got to be a red flag for NFL teams.
Best RB With a Girl’s Name
Christine Michael, Texas A&M – Michael shares a name with my ex-wife, and that’s just too much for me to overcome. I couldn’t even tell you if he’s any good, because, I just can’t.
Smartest Risk to Take
Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina – You may have to redshirt Lattimore for a year, after the gnarly knee injury he suffered, but after that, you could have yourself a young McGahee. If the Broncos were to draft a RB in the second or third round, I think Lattimore would be a good choice for them. A lot of people seem to think that a team is either in win-now mode, or build-for-the-future mode, but the Broncos have been balancing both mindsets, and that’s a good thing.
The Speed Guy Who Isn’t Really That Fast
Kenjon Barner, Oregon – Barner ran a disappointing 4.52 at the combine, but he seems faster than that with the ball in his hands. He also was probably made to look faster by the multiple threats of the Oregon scheme, so we’ll presumably see how he does in a more conventional NFL scheme. He runs a little too high, which is a problem for a 5-9 guy, but he can be a solid committee guy as a mid-round pick.
Theo Riddick, Notre Dame – Riddick played outside for his sophomore and junior years, and he can really run routes and catch the ball. He’s not a game breaker like Reggie Bush, and he only ran a 4.68, but he can cause problems for a base defense when he’s flexed out against a linebacker.
Not My Cup of Tea
Montee Ball, Wisconsin – Ball isn’t very big or very fast, but he was a highly productive player at Wisconsin. They got their running game blocked as well as any team in the country, and that’s a big help. Ball had 983 touches in four years, and he didn’t come out as a junior because the NFL wasn’t very high on him. Now, 366 touches later, and 1.2 YPC fewer as a senior, they’re supposed to like him better? I’m not seeing it.
My RB Rankings
1. Eddie Lacy
2. Marcus Lattimore
3. Giovani Bernard
4. Johnathan Franklin
5. Le’Veon Bell
6. Mike Gillislee
7. Stepfan Taylor
8. Kenjon Barner
9. Montee Ball
10. Theo Riddick