Say what you will about the decline in importance of the running back in today’s National Football League, the Alabama Crimson Tide keeps churning out gems. Eddie Lacy is following in the footsteps of Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram before him and has an excellent chance of becoming the third straight ‘Bama running back to be taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. He will have some competition, though, from a few other notable prospects.
Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard, Florida’s Mike Gillislee and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin all put up impressive numbers last season and provide intriguing options for teams looking to either upgrade at the position or add versatility. Overall, this group will be overshadowed by a strong and deep crop of offensive linemen, tight ends and cornerbacks, so there might only be room for one first-rounder.
(In Alphabetical Order)
Montee Ball opted to return for his senior season with the Badgers after being told he would go no higher than the third round in last year’s draft and that is looking to be a smart decision. He won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best running back and put up incredible numbers without Russell Wilson and offensive linemen Peter Konz and Kevin Zeitler in the huddle like they were in 2011. Ball was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy as a junior when he racked up 1,923 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns, and his 39 total touchdowns tied an FBS record, but the 4.66 he ran at the Combine raised some concerns, He responded with a hand-timed 4.46 at Wisconsin’s Pro Day last month, lending credence to his claim that a sinus infection bothered him in Indy, so he could sneak into the bottom of the first round or early second.
Size and durability are the two biggest knocks against Giovani Bernard, as a torn right ACL suffered in just his third college practice with the Tar Heels forced him to take a medical redshirt. He did recover nicely and last year got to show off his versatility in the North Carolina offense as an able receiver and pass blocker in addition to being a dangerous runner. What Bernard lacks in height he more than makes up for in strength and agility and he can make defenders miss at every level. Even though he leaves two years of eligibility on the table, nobody will fault him for turning pro now when his stock is high rather than risk another injury. He answered the medical concerns at the Combine by running a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash, and benching 225 pounds 19 times.
UCLA’s surprise first-place finish in the Pac-12’s South Division had a lot to do with Johnathan Franklin’s dominant performance on the ground, which garnered him second-team All-Pac-12 honors. He followed up a stellar senior season with a solid outing at the Senior Bowl and an equally impressive Combine performance, where he turned in a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash and 11.33 seconds in the 60-yard shuttle. Earlier in Franklin’s career he had a problem with holding onto the ball, but he improved in that category last season and in his last chance to make an impression on the league he did so at UCLA’s Pro Day. Depending on a team’s needs, Franklin could be a steal in the middle of the second round or hang around until somewhere in the third because his strength and size are concerns.
Mike Gillislee was the victim of depth at running back with the Gators for most of his career, sitting behind Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps his sophomore and junior years. He didn’t become the featured back until he was a senior. Even though he fell short of his goal to rush for 1,500 yards, he delivered more often than not for Will Muschamp’s team and showcased second level football speed that can’t be measured in a sterile setting like the Combine. Gillislee took advantage of Senior Bowl week and impressed the scouts, coaches and GMs on hand with his receiving skills and as a pass blocker. Playing in the ultra competitive SEC and excelling like he did against that level of competition will only help him in a draft that is light on versatile offensive weapons.
Eddie Lacy made the Notre Dame defense look foolish in the BCS National Championship Game at Sun Life Stadium, rushing for 140 yards and a touchdown in Alabama’s 42-14 rout. He gained more than half of those yards (72) in the first quarter alone and he also caught a touchdown pass, showing off for a national television audience. Unfortunately, Lacy was unable to participate at all in Indianapolis or at the Crimson Tide’s Pro Day due to a hamstring injury, but he did schedule a workout for tomorrow for NFL scouts. That’s exactly two weeks before the 2013 NFL Draft, so if Lacy can show no lingering effects from the injury and validate what he’s already put on film then he should be able to take his place alongside Ingram and Richardson in the annals of ‘Bama running backs.
6-2 , 230
YDS 1,793 \ TDs 12
YDS 1081 \ TDs 8
YDS 417 \ TDs 12
YDS 1,417 \ TDs 14
YDS 1,530 \ TDs 13