RBs said to lack star power


(A series looking at the top players at various positions leading up to the 2011 NFL Draft, set for April 28-30.)

The last time only one running back was selected in the first round of an NFL Draft was in 1984 when the Buffalo Bills used the 26th overall pick on Greg Bell. It's possible that history could repeat itself this year.

The pool of running backs eligible for this draft has been said to lack star power, even though it's led by Alabama junior Mark Ingram, who accumulated some nice hardware – a national championship ring and the Heisman Trophy – after his sophomore season.

Ingram (5-foot-9, 215 pounds), is not the kind of back to make a living in the NFL with his speed, but scouts like his vision and instincts, and he was very productive at Alabama. Ingram rushed for 728 yards (5.1 average) as a freshman, for 1,658 (6.1 average) as a sophomore and 875 (5.5 average) as a junior. Ingram also scored 42 rushing touchdowns during those three seasons.

Illinois' Mikel Leshoure (6-0, 225) is another junior entering this draft, and he set the school's single-season rushing record in 2010 when he finished with 1,697 yards and 17 touchdowns. Leshoure is a powerful runner who has the physique and demeanor to be a between-the-tackles back in the NFL.

Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams (5-9, 210) played in only 23 games in college and left with two years of eligibility remaining. His most productive college season was 2009 when he rushed 293 times for 1,655 yards (5.6 average) and 21 touchdowns. He sustained a slightly torn hamstring that caused him to miss four games in 2010. He will be a 21-year-old NFL rookie.

Durability could be the key factor for a couple of backs from the state of Oklahoma.

Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray (6-0, 215) dislocated a kneecap in 2007, ruptured a hamstring in 2008 and sprained an ankle in 2009. But in 2010 he carried 282 times for 1,214 yards (4.3 average) and 15 touchdowns. Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter (5-7, 199) had 36 starts over a four-year career that included 708 carries and 63 catches, plus kickoff returns, but his size probably will preclude him from being such a workhorse in the NFL.

During last year's draft, two running backs were among the top 12 picks, but that's not expected to be the case in 2011. Ingram and Leshoure are considered the top two prospects in this pool, but only Ingram, who has drawn some comparisons to Emmitt Smith, is seen as surefire first-round pick. That, plus the fact teams have had some success recently by waiting until the middle-to-late rounds to draft running backs, could have this area largely ignored by NFL teams come April 28.

Number drafted: 13
Picks by round: 3 in the first; 4 in the second; 0 in the third; 1 in the fourth; 0 in the fifth; 5 in the sixth; 0 in the seventh.
Highest pick: C.J. Spiller, Clemson, Round 1, 9th overall, by Buffalo Bills
Biggest impact: LeGarrette Blount, undrafted, rushed for 1,007 yards and six touchdowns for Tampa Bay.

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