Deep RB crop has bell cows, playmaking talent

Posted April 23, 2012 @ 12:40 p.m.
Posted By Nolan Nawrocki

This is the second of a 12-part series that offers up scouting reports on PFW’s top five-ranked players at their respective positions in the 2012 NFL draft. Full scouting reports and the latest buzz on nearly 500 draft prospects, including results from roughly 200 pro days, can be found in PFW’s Draft Database.

Trent Richardson sits in a class of his own in this year’s RB class as a proven bell-cow back, possessing the power to repeatedly churn out 1,500-yard seasons in the NFL. Boise State’s Doug Martin has a compact build and the competitiveness to thrive in the pro game in an every-down role. If Miami’s Lamar Miller can stay healthy, which he struggled to do in college, he can also become an every-down back. Temple’s Bernard Pierce, when motivated, has NFL starter traits. Oregon’s LaMichael James has the best run instincts of any back in the class. Washington’s Chris Polk has the best hands. Cincinnati’s hard-charging Isaiah Pead, San Diego State’s dynamic Ronnie Hillman and Florida’s explosive Chris Rainey can also immediately contribute in speed/utility roles.

1. Trent Richardson, Alabama (Jr.)
Ht: 5-9 1⁄4, Wt: 228, Sp: 4.45e, Arm: 30 1⁄4, Hand: 9 1⁄2

Notes: Made his mark as a true freshman in 2009 when he carried 145 times for 751 yards (5.2-yard average) and eight touchdowns with 16 receptions for 126 yards (7.9) and zero touchdowns. Played in 11 games in ’10, starting the first two as an injury replacement for Saints ’11 first-rounder Mark Ingram, and totaled 112-700-6 (6.2) with 23-266-4 (11.6) receiving. Added 24 kickoff returns for 634 yards (26.4) and a TD. Won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back after his first season as a featured back, breaking the school records for rushing yards and touchdowns with 283-1,679-21 (5.9) and 29-338-3 (11.7) as a receiver in 13 starts. Team captain. Is only 21 years old. 

Bottom line: A powerful bell-cow back with a unique combination of run strength, vision, balance and explosive tackle-breaking power. Regularly faced stacked boxes in the nation’s most competitive conference and still entered the Alabama record books with jaw-dropping, reverse-field, highlight-reel runs that demonstrated an ability to run over or around tacklers. Played big on the biggest of stages, carried a national champion and has perennial Pro Bowl potential upon his arrival in the pros. 

NFL projection: Top-10 pick.

2. David Wilson, Virginia Tech (Jr.)
Ht: 5-9 5⁄8, Wt: 206, Sp: 4.41, Arm: 30 1⁄4, Hand: 9 3⁄8

Notes: Saw action in all 13 games as a true freshman in 2009, rushing 59 times for 334 yards (5.7-yard average) and four touchdowns, and returned 17 kickoffs for 325 yards (19.1-yard average). Rushed 113-619-5 (5.5) and caught 15 passes for 234 yards (15.6-yard average) and four touchdowns in 13 games in ’10, including his first collegiate starts against Duke and Miami (Fla.). Was the Hokies’ leading kickoff returner, with 22 returns for 584 yards (26.5-yard average) and two touchdowns. In his only season as a featured back, in ’11, he was named the ACC Player of the Year and set a school record for rushing yards in a season after recording 290-1,709-9 (5.9). Also contributed 22-415-0 (18.9) as a kickoff returner and 22-129-1 (5.9) as a receiver in 14 starts.

Bottom line: A productive, competitive, playmaking space player with dynamite return skills. Has grown into a more effective inside runner, yet must prove that he can better secure the ball to consistently factor. Will especially appeal to teams employing one-cut, zone-running schemes. Has received first-round grades from NFL evaluators for his playmaking prowess and unique balance and body control.

NFL projection: Top-50 pick.

3. Doug Martin, Boise State
Ht: 5-9, Wt: 219, Sp: 4.49, Arm: 30 1⁄4, Hand: 9

Notes: Redshirted in 2007. In ’08, carried 24 times for 107 yards (4.5-yard average) and zero touchdowns, caught three balls for 54 yards (18.0) and zero touchdowns and returned 10 kickoffs for 223 yards (22.3). Totaled 129-765-15 (5.9) rushing, 8-68-0 (8.5) receiving and 6-178 (29.7) on kickoffs in ’09. Atop the depth chart in ’10, he started all 13 games and was the Broncos’ leading rusher with 201-1,260-12 (6.3). Added 28-338-2 (12.1) receiving. Led Boise State in rushing again in ’11, piling up 263-1,299-16 (4.9) in 13 games (12 starts). Also contributed 28-255-2 (9.1) receiving and 10-338-1 (33.8) as a kickoff returner.

Bottom line: A compactly built, energetic, turbocharged complete back with starter-caliber traits, Martin can run inside and outside, over or around tacklers and is effective as a receiver and blocker. All-out mentality, sheer competitiveness and perfectionist traits will endear him to coaches and could drive up his draft value. Will play for 10 years and can produce on all downs and in multiple phases.

NFL projection: Top-50 pick.

4. Lamar Miller, Miami (Fla.) (Jr.)
Ht: 5-10 3⁄4, Wt: 212, Sp: 4.36, Arm: 31 3⁄8, Hand: 9 1⁄4

Notes: Redshirted in 2009. Saw action in 11 games in ’10, making a start vs. Maryland, and rushing 108 times for 646 yards (6.0-yard average) and a team-high six touchdowns. Also contributed as a receiver with 11 catches for 96 yards (8.7-yard average) and zero scores and as a returner — eight kickoff returns for 214 yards (26.8-yard average) and an 88-yard touchdown against Ohio State plus three punt returns for 16 yards (5.3-yard average). Missed the Florida State and Duke games because of a shoulder injury. Was the team’s featured running back in ’11, racking up 227-1,272-9 (5.6) on the ground and 17-85-1 (5.0) as a receiver in 12 starts to lead the Hurricanes in total touchdowns.

Bottom line: Slashing, one-cut, stretch-zone runner with explosive speed that did not always show up on tape, given his shoulder injury. Could have used another year of seasoning but possesses intriguing upside and should be effective in tandem duty with a power back. Will appeal to teams such as the Packers, Texans and Redskins.

NFL projection: Top-50 pick.

5. LaMichael James, Oregon (Jr.)
Ht: 5-8, Wt: 194, Sp: 4.37, Arm: 30 1⁄4, Hand: 9

Notes: Started 11-of-13 games in ’09 and carried 230 times for 1,546 yards (6.7-yard average) and 14 touchdowns with 17 receptions for 168 yards (9.9) and zero touchdowns. Piled up 294-1,731-21 (5.9) on the ground with 17-208-3 (12.2) receiving in 12 starts in ‘10. In ’11, led the nation with 150.4 rushing yards per game and set a school record for rushing yards in a season, recording 247-1,805-18 (7.3) in 12 starts.

Bottom line: Small-framed, instinctive, slippery, highly productive change-of-pace back who runs decisively and has a knack for finding daylight. Grades out as a second-round talent on tape, but concerns over his timed speed, durability and character could drop his draft status and hinder his pro development.

NFL projection: Second- to third-round pick.

Click here for scouting reports of intriguing, late-rising RB prospects.