Star Tribune

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NFL draft preview: running backs

Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune

Updated: April 18, 2012 - 12:12 PM

Today is Day 3 of the Star Tribune's position-by-position preview of the NFL draft April 26-28 in New York City.

Today: running backs

Just what are running backs worth anymore?

Alabama's Trent Richardson stands alone. Not only is Richardson far and away the best running back available in 2012, he'll also likely be the only back to hear his name called on the NFL draft's first night, continuing an undeniable trend.

Running backs just aren't a hot draft commodity any longer. Not in the first round anyway.

In a league that continues evolving from pass-happy to pass-delirious, a stellar ground game just isn't a prerequisite for success anymore. The Giants, for example, won last year's Super Bowl despite finishing the regular season dead last in rushing. The AFC champion Patriots finished 20th. Neither team had a back rush for 700 yards.

So let's play a quick game of roll call. Here are the leading rushers for Super Bowl teams over the past five seasons: Ahmad Bradshaw, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Brandon Jackson, Rashard Mendenhall, Pierre Thomas, Joseph Addai, Willie Parker, Edgerrin James, Brandon Jacobs and Laurence Maroney. On that list, there are as many undrafted backs (Green-Ellis, Thomas and Parker) as guys selected in the top 25 (James, Maroney, Mendenhall).

Now here are the top six rushers from 2011, all of whom ran for more than 1,200 yards despite not being drafted in the first round: Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, Michael Turner, LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster and Frank Gore.

Blend that all together and it's obvious why running backs don't shake the needle on the draft hype meter. Yes, Trent Richardson will make some team picking in the top 10 very happy. But for others looking to bolster their running attack, the waiting game has plenty of practical value.

THE FRONTRUNNER

Trent Richardson, Alabama

The consensus says Richardson is the best running back prospect since the Vikings took Adrian Peterson at No. 7 five years ago. With a multi-faceted skill set, Richardson can be a force as a runner, pass catcher and blocker. His combination of speed, power and effort gives him obvious All-Pro potential.

THE CONTENDERS

Lamar Miller, Miami

In his lone season as a college starter, Miller averaged 5.6 yards per carry. At the NFL combine in February, he ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. His fluid running style and vision could earn him a late first-round nod.

Doug Martin, Boise State

Martin lacks the sizzle that makes draft pundits drool and won't wow anyone with his measurables. But he is a reliable between-the-tackles ball carrier who can see a hole and hit it.

LaMichael James, Oregon

A two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, James is an electrifying big-play back who ran for 5,082 yards and 53 touchdowns in three seasons at Oregon. Some question his size (5-8, 194 pounds). James supporters, however, see Darren Sproles-type potential.

THE SLEEPER

Bryce Brown, Kansas State

Brown had only 476 college rushing yards between stops at Tennessee and K-State. But when he finished high school in 2009, he was being compared to both Adrian Peterson and Barry Sanders.

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