Top 10 RB Prospects In The 2012 NFL Draft


If you were to watch a NFL game from 1998, you might believe you were watching some sport other then football. In 1998, the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl behind QB John Elway and RB Terrell Davis. In that year, Davis ran for 2008 yards. They finished the regular season with a 14-2 record. In 5 separate games, Terrell Davis ran for more yardage then his hall of fame QB put up through the air. In 2010, Arian Foster led all RB’s in yardage with 1,616 yards. He had just 1 game where he ran for more yards then his QB (Matt Schaub). The Texans finished the year 6-10 and tied for the worst record in the AFC South. You may be asking yourself, “Where is he going with this?” The point I am trying to make is that the NFL has changed dramatically over the last decade. An NFL where having the best running game will win you championships doesn’t exist. In today’s NFL, having the best passing attack is going to keep you in the playoff hunt. Consequentially, the value of running backs has gone down. In the 2011 draft, just 1 RB was taken in the 1st round. The last time just one running back was drafted in the 1st round of an NFL draft was back in 1984 when the Buffalo Bills drafted Greg Bell with the 26th pick. The era of the running backs might be over. Mark Ingram was billed by many as the “next Emmitt Smith” and he wasn’t drafted until the bottom of the 1st round. With all that being said, it makes projecting RB’s very difficult. The 2012 running back class features some very good runners, but with the decreased value of RB’s, it’s hard to project if any of the teams will value any of the RB’s as 1st round players. Nevertheless, here is my preliminary 2012 NFL Draft RB rankings.

1. Trent Richardson, Alabama
Big things are expected of Trent Richardson as he enters his junior year. After being the #2 guy to Mark Ingram last year, he has a big opportunity to make a large impact as the #1 rusher for the Crimson Tide. He has good size standing at 5 ft 11, 220 pounds. In limited reps last year, Richardson ran for 700 yards and 6 touchdowns. He has better speed then Mark Ingram which has scouts rating him higher then the 28th overall pick. He’s a hard, tough runner who could be in for a break out season. On top of his top notch running skills, he is also a very good receiver out of the backfield totaling 23 catches for 266 yards and 4 touchdowns last year. If Richardson can stay healthy, he should have a career year and be the most highly sought running back come 2012.

Projection: Top 20 Pick

2. LaMichael James, Oregon
LaMichael James is the most exciting player in college football and will have his eyes set on the Heisman this year after being a finalist for the award last year. The 2011 Doak Award winner has fantastic, game-changing speed. He is elusive in the open field and has great vision. He’s explosive and dangerous. He ran for 1,731 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2011. He also caught 17 passes for 208 yards and 3 touchdowns. The knock on LaMichael is his size. He stands at just 5 ft 9, 185 pounds. The big question is will he be able to take the beatings from NFL linebackers week in and week out? Ray Rice and Maurice Jones Drew have shown that it’s possible. Both of them are under 5 ft 10, but they both weigh 20 pounds more then James. If LaMichael can bulk up without losing his speed, he’ll be an elite prospect and could possibly challenge Richardson. Until that time, he’s a fringe first rounder in my view.

Projection: 1st-2nd Round Pick

3. Knile Davis, Arkansas
Davis is a young back who could make a lot of noise this year. After being stuck in a running back competition last year, Davis broke out mid way though the year and became one of the best running backs in the SEC. He quietly ran for 1,322 yard and 13 touchdowns last year. He also caught 19 receptions for 136 yards and 1 touchdown. He has good size standing at 6 ft, 220 pounds. He also has good quickness and does a good job keeping his balance. He also has nice speed timing in the 4.4 range. He comes from a funky Petrino offense in Arkansas and he is a bit inconsistent in his pass protection also, but he’s a running back on the rise and could make some serious noise this year.

Projection: 1st-2nd Round Pick

4. Chris Polk, Washington
Other then Jake Locker, there has been no better player for the Washington Huskies then Chris Polk. A highly touted high school recruit, Polk has been an impact player for the Huskies since he stepped onto campus. He has had a lot of injuries, but that hasn’t stopped him from acquiring 2,561 yards on the ground in 3 years. He also has 351 total receiving yards in 3 years. Polk is a very physical runner who hits the holes hard and keeps his legs churning to break off multiple tackles. He’s a great runner in between the tackles. On the flip side, Polk doesn’t possess elite speed and he has been injured a lot. He’s already had two shoulder surgeries which will cause some teams concern. With Locker now in the NFL, look for the Huskies to rely heavily on Polk this year.

Projection: 2nd Round Pick

5. Doug Martin, Boise St.
Doug Martin plays for the under dog of the NCAA, the Boise St Broncos. Martin had a break out year last year running for 1,260 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also caught 28 passes for 338 yards and 2 touchdowns. Martin is very impressive on tape. The 5 ft 9, 201 pound RB has got a nice combination of speed, power, and balance. He is a tough player to take down as he breaks tackles constantly. Along with quarterback Kellen Moore, Martin is a key component to the very good Broncos offense. The problem is that Martin might get labeled as onlyl being successful because of the system he’s in. Last year, Martin burst onto the scene with a 1200 year and I expect a similar year in 2011.

Projection: 2nd-3rd Round Pick

6. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M
Gray is a bit of a 1 year wonder who needs a good season to solidify himself as a top prospect. After having a decent 2009 season (757 rushing yards, 5 touchdowns), Gray exploded in 2010 after the starting rusher went down with an injury, Gray used the opportunity by rushing for 1,133 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also caught 34 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown. Gray had 6 straight games where he ran for more then 100 yards. He is an explosive player who reads his blocks well and has good quickness. He used to be an option quarterback in high school. He weighs just under 200 pounds so he will have to put on a little weight and keep his athleticism, but he’s a nice prospect who could climb draft boards with a good year.

Projection: 2nd-3rd Round Pick

7. Ed Wesley, TCU
Many people don’t know who Ed Wesley is. Barring an injury, I imagine everyone will know who he is by the end of the 2011 season. Wesley was a crucial component of TCU’s perfect 2010 season, yet he gets little credit. The 5 ft 9, 200 pound running back ran for 1,078 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. He has great speed, quickness, and good vision. Now, he is small. He is listed at 200, but looks smaller. He doesn’t come from a pro style attack and he hasn’t caught many passes. However, he is an explosive talent who is being majorly overlooked. He’s definitely a guy to keep an eye on.

Projection: 3rd Round Pick

8. Tauren Poole, Tennessee
After 2 years, Poole finally got his shot his junior year and he made the most of it. He rushed for 1,034 yards and 11 touchdowns. Poole was a star for the 6-7 Vols. He is 5 ft 11, 213 pounds. He does a very nice job of reading his blocks and making quick cuts. He’s got good vision and can be used out of the backfield (22 receptions for 171 yards, 1 touchdown). The biggest negative for Poole is that he doesn’t have great speed. Many project him to run around a 4.5 40, and he has also struggled to trust his speed. He’s only had 1 full year of being the starter. If he wants to get his name in the top 5 RB’s of 2012, he will need a good season.

Projection: 3rd-4th Round Pick

9. Montel Harris, Boston College
Harris has been a force since his freshman year when he ran for 900 yards and 5 touchdowns. In his sophomore year, he ran for 1457 yards and 14 touchdowns. Last year, he ran 1243 yard and 8 touchdowns while missing the last two games of the year. Harris will break the record for the all time leading rusher this year. He is a 5 ft 10, 200 pound back with good vision and has some nice explosion. He doesn’t appear to have great speed and he has had 10 fumbles the last 2 years. He will need a good year to get into the RB convo.

Projection: 4th-5th Round Pick

10. Brandon Bolden, Ole Miss
Bolden is the only rusher on this list who has yet to hit 1,000 yards rushing in a single year. However, he got into the end zone 17 times last year (14 rushing, 3 receiving). He heads back for his senior year hoping to get that 1,000 yard season. The 5 ft 11, 215 pound Rebels RB is a tough player who is a part of a committee at Ole Miss. He caught 32 passes for 344 yards and 3 touchdowns last year. The big thing with him will be his 40 time as he is projected to run a low 4.5. However, he’s a tough player who knows how to get into the end zone.

Projection: 5th-7th Round Pick

The 2012 RB class could be very good, or it could be pretty pedestrian. The top 3 running backs are only going to be juniors. Without Richardson, James, or Davis, I don’t think a single running back will be taken in the 1st round. Like I said before, Mark Ingram has been billed as the next Emmitt Smith and he wasn’t taken until late in round 1. If all the top juniors declare (which is highly unlikely), I could easily see 2 running backs taken in the 1st round and possibly 3. It’s a class with a lot of potential depending on how the year turns out.

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