Top 5 Running Backs
1. Trent Richardson (Alabama): By almost all statistical measurements he is the top back in the class. He averaged close to 6 yards-per-carry last season, to go along with an avg. of 11.7 yards-per-reception. He showed above average pass catching ability with a career total of 68 receptions, which puts him in the top 3 in running backs coming out of the draft this year. He has excellent kickoff return ability, averaging over 25 yards-per return throughout his career at Alabama which ranks him second only to Doug Martin from Boise State in return yards from the running back class this year. For someone who had over 635 career carries, he had very good ball security. Richardson had only seven career fumbles, giving him a fumble percentage of 1.1%. With a player of his compact frame, speed, and ability to break tackles, to go along with his impressive production at Alabama, it is no wonder why this guy is the top back in the upcoming draft.
2. Cyrus Gray (Texas A&M): He is a multi-dimensional running back, who began his college career as a WR for two seasons compiling over 100 receptions. After moving to RB his junior and senior season, he rushed for over 1,100 yards each season with 12 TDs both years. Every time he carried the ball more than 20 times in a game he had over 100 yards rushing, a good sign of a player who consistently is able to maintain his endurance/strength for over longer period of time. Gray was a consistent performer in the return game with close to 100 kick returns, the highest amount of any of the running backs in this draft class, (averaging 23.8 yards per return). Lastly, he comes from a West Coast offense system, in theory he should be able to step in and understand the terminology, schemes, and general thought process of the West Coast offense. From day one he should make an impact on special teams, along with being a versatile contributor on offense.
3. Doug Martin (Boise State): A consistent producer who is very versatile and productive for the better part of three seasons. In reviewing his stats it's apparent he actually had a bit of a down year this past season compared to his overall career averages. His career average is 5.56 yards-per-carry, and hes has a One-Year-Wonder Index of 38% (the percentage of a player's total yards in his best season; ideal range is 35-50%). He showed good hands and the ability to separate himself from his defender, along with strong route running ability. Martin is willing to step up into the lane and make a block, he was even left on an island a number of times each game and was able to consistently pick up the blitz. Martin has decent ball security, middle of the road for this year's draft class with 8 career fumbles in 710 career touches, which amounts to a fumble every 1.1% of the time he touches the football. His career rushing TD total of 43 ranks him third in this year’s draft class. His agility is fluid as he shows little wasted movement and time picking his lane, he makes his cut and gets up field and doesn’t dance around in the backfield. He won't be taken down with arm tackles and of the games I watched of him, he wasn't caught from behind. Overall, he is a versatile running back who could be counted on as an every-down running back in this league.
4. Robert Turbin (Utah State): A very strong, balanced runner, Turbin does a great job at staying low, absorbing the hit and moving forward. He averaged 5.9 yards-per carry throughout his career in college, which ranks him just below (LaMichael James and Isaiah Pead). He was a consistent producer in college with a One-Year Wonder Index of 46% (ideal range 35-50%), to go along with his career rushing TD total of 40. His ability as a receiver separates him from other running backs in this class as he has impressive hands and route running ability. He caught 67 passes for his career, and he leads this year's running back class with 845 receiving yards and 11 receiving TDs. His TD-per-Touch percentage for his career was 8.1%, the highest by a significant margin in this year's draft class (meaning 8.1% of the time he touched the football ended in a TD). He is a player who understands his job and the value of taking care of the football as he had only five career fumbles in over 800 career touches of the football (carries + receptions). Not an official stat but one that I have been tracking this year is yards-after contact and Turbin is second in the nation behind Trent Richardson. He is only one year removed from having ACL surgery, which might be a health concern, but you can also assume that he probably wasn't at full strength last year and he still was able to produce at a high level. Turbin isn't a back who is looking to dance behind the line of scrimmage, he makes quick decisions, picks his hole and commits to his running lane. For players in this year's draft class with over 400 career carries he had the least number of negative rushing yards (76).
5. Chris Polk (Washington): Polk was a workhorse in college and really the only consistent running threat for the Huskies this past year. He is a smart player who shows great ability in both pass protection and pass catching. On numerous occasions he would line up in the backfield and at the snap run a wheel route down the sideline, making a great over the shoulder grab for a big gain. He showed he has the ability to catch the ball away from his body, maintain his speed while pass catching and continue to look up-field to pick up yards. He is a strong runner, who is able to get low, keeps his legs churning, and finishes his runs falling forward to pick up critical yards. His 0.6% fumble percentage was by far the best in this year's draft class, having only fumbled a total of five times out of 892 career touches. He does tend to get caught from behind as he is not a burner, but he is a confident and capable back who understands ball security.
Lamar Miller (Miami, FL.): A one year starter with the least number of career carries (335) for any running back coming out of this year's draft. His one year wonder index rating is 66%, which puts him in the category of most likely to be a draft bust. He was a limited participant in the return game with only 15 career kickoff returns averaging 25 yards. Miller, also had the lowest yards per reception total with a paltry 6.5 YPC average. He has a history of injuries, limited experience, combined with poor technique in pass protection and ball security. A late round selection teams would be wise to stay away from him in the first few rounds at least.
David Wilson (Virginia Tech): There is a large reel of game tape of David Wilson making plays, highlighting his devastating cut that would cause any NFL football front office to take notice. Wilson also has a great deal of game tape fumbling the football. He has the highest number of career fumbles of any running back in this class with 11. In fact, he fumbles the football 2.9% of the time he touches the ball. He might make explosive plays, but will hurt a team's chances of winning a football game as he fumbles the ball away too much. His talents shine in the return game with 61 career kickoff returns, with an average of 21 yards and two TDs. Teams would be wise to view and use him in the mold of a LaRod Stephens-Howling.