The 2012 NFL offseason saw the New York Giants say goodbye to Brandon Jacobs after seven seasons, over 4,800 rushing yards, and two Super Bowls. The Giants backfield is now led by Ahmad Bradshaw and Danny Ware, with second-year speedster Da'Rel Scott getting his shot at a bigger role with New York in 2012. Taking into consideration the Giants inability to consistently get yards out of the rushing attack this past season, ranking 32nd in the NFL both in yards per carry and yards per game on the ground, it looks more than likely that the team will want to add a spark to the backfield prior to next season.
The 2012 running back draft class is headlined by Alabama's Trent Richardson, a bruising runner that is considered the best workhorse back prospect since Adrian Peterson came out of Oklahoma. With the development of the passing game in the NFL and teams going to more running back by committee backfields, the position has certainly been devalued in the league over the past decade, and it is unlikely we will see more than two running backs selected in the first round.
That being said, there are a handful of backs in this year's draft class with the tools to be impact players at the next level. Trent Richardson, by my estimation, is the one elite running back prospect in this draft, but the next tier of backs is stacked with considerable upside.
Today, we look at the top running back prospects in the 2012 NFL draft.
1. RB Trent Richardson – Alabama – 5'9 228 lbs
A powerful, tough runner with an excellent combination of vision and instincts for a young running back. A very polished inside runner with the strength and agility to break away from would-be tacklers in the hole, Richardson also has the speed and acceleration to get to the edge and break off big runs on the outside. A willing and powerful pass blocker, as well as one of the best ball-security backs I've seen in years, Richardson is unlikely to fall outside of the top eight picks of this draft.
Value: Top 10 Talent
2. RB David Wilson – Virginia Tech – 5'10 206 lbs
An explosive athlete with outstanding acceleration to reach that rare "second gear", Wilson also plays the game with a physical approach, showing the power and toughness to carry tacklers for extra yardage and finishing his runs strong. Wilson plays the game with a ton of intensity and effort, and while his instincts as a runner have been questioned, he's the type of player that has the physical skills and mental approach to be a Pro Bowl caliber runner. Simply put, an explosive back with the speed, burst, strength, and toughness to be a true playmaker at the NFL level. A lot to work with.
Value: Late First Round Pick
3. RB Doug Martin – Boise State – 5'9 223 lbs
Strong, powerful runner that runs with a low center of gravity and a combination of strength, quickness, and balance that makes him difficult to bring down with arm tackles or on first contact. Compares favorably to Maurice Jones-Drew and Ray Rice in his physical running style between the tackles. A solid receiver out of the backfield with a lot of experience catching the football and in the screen game. He'll have to work on his blitz pickup, as well as his ball security to stay on the field as an every-down back, but has the skill set to be a #1 back in the NFL.
Value: Early Second Round PIck
4. RB Lamar Miller – Miami – 5'11 212 lbs
Flat out home run threat. Incredible combination of acceleration and lateral quickness, with the ability to wreak havoc on the edge. Very good vision and shows the ability to make huge plays by finding the cutback lane. Miller is a great athlete with great speed and tons of upside, but certainly needs to fall in with the right coaching staff to reach his potential in the NFL. He's got to make quicker decisions in the box and avoid dancing around the line of scrimmage looking to hit the play every time – something we saw from Reggie Bush very often early in his career. Not the most complete back or the safest pick in the draft, but brings a special skill set and can be a weapon to an NFL backfield with the right coaching.
Value: Early-Mid Second Round Pick
5. RB LaMichael James – Oregon – 5'8 194 lbs
Small, elusive running back with far more toughness than he is given credit for. An effective inside runner, James has an excellent combination of speed and vision and shows the patience and instincts to be a dangerous playmaker. He also has very good balance and has the speed to beat linebackers to the edge and create the big play. May not be a true #1 running back, but in today's NFL players James can be very dangerous with 15-18 total touches a game. Valuable offensive skill set.
Value: Mid-Second Round Pick
6. RB Isaiah Pead – Cincinnati – 5'10 197 lbs
High effort, high motor player with outstanding speed and acceleration. Plays hard in every aspect of the game including pass blocking. Solid receiving skills and a threat to make big plays as a receiver out of the backfield. Could stand to get stronger and add bulk to his frame going into the NFL level. Has a very complete game and by my estimation is one of the more underrated prospects in the draft.
Value: Mid-Second Round Pick
BEST OF THE REST
7. RB Robert Turbin – Utah St. – 5'10 222 lbs
8. RB Chris Polk – Washington – 5'10 215 lbs
9. RB Cyrus Gray – Texas A&M – 5'11 206 lbs
10. RB Ronnie Hillman – San Diego St. – 5'9 200 lbs
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