Nov 26, 2011; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies running back Chris Polk (1) runs with the ball while Washington State Cougars safety Tyree Toomer (15) chases during the 2nd half at CenturyLink Field. Washington defeated Washington State 38-21. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-US PRESSWIRE

Examining The RBs In The 2012 Draft Class

A lot of the prognostications we’ve done so far about what offensive talent the Kansas City Chiefs are probably eye-balling is thus far worthless. The team currently has no offensive coordinator, and as a result, we have no idea what kind of blocking scheme they’d prefer, what kind of lineman they’d prefer, if they believe we need more talent in the slots or with pass protection or even if they’re satisfied with QB Matt Cassel.

That’s all to be dealt with as soon as we know who the guy will be. But there’s one unquestionable thing that every single potential offensive coordinator for this team would agree on: we need a bigger back to compliment the Jamaal Charles/Dexter McCluster combination. We’ve been through this all last season; Thomas Jones is without contract and broken down, and Jackie Battle is not a world beater.

Well I’ve got some great news for everybody concerned with the Chiefs’ run game for 2012: the NFL Draft this year is rich, rich, rich in bigger backs.

All the top talent at RB are bigger backs with few exceptions, there are great power backs in the mid-rounds, good role players in the late rounds and even a potential UDFA guy I have my eyes on. Because of the great competition among the draft prospects at this position, the Chiefs literally can sit back, feel comfortable about skipping on Trent Richardson in the first round, and remain confident that a big back will fall to them at great value in a later round.

I’ve already reviewed the QBs in this year’s draft a couple weeks ago, and I’d like to make this a regular segment all the way up into Draft weekend. (Maybe you can recommend the next position I review.) But today, we take a look at the RB talent, starting with the position’s stud. Let me know who interests you!

Trent Richardson, Alabama (projected: 1st)
5’11”, 220 lbs; projected 4.4 40 yard dash
283 rushes for 1,600+ yards & 21 TDs in 2011

Much like my previous discussion on quarterbacks, there’s a clear-cut leader in this field, and it’s not even close. There may not be another first-round running back in this draft (I’d put money on David Wilson, though), but Trent Richardson is Top Three talent in this draft. I feel virtually no need to explain why to Addicts everywhere, as we’ve all likely seen Alabama play numerous times over the course of the season. Richardson is probably the best running back prospect we’ve seen in the 21st century, right alongside Adrian Peterson. I think he is both more powerful and faster than Peterson, however, and whereas Peterson sprinkles his big runs in a sea of 2- and 3-yard gains, Richardson will get you the toughest, best yardage your team needs. He absolutely thrives on contact, however, so he should have virtually zero career after he turns thirty. That, combined with his devalued position, will drop him to where the Chiefs select. He would be a great fit here, but you’re only getting an elite RB for five years or so.

LaMichael James, Oregon (projected: 1st)
5’9″, 185 lbs; projected 4.3 40 yard dash
247 rushes for 1,800 yards & 18 TDs in 2011

I’ve drastically overranked LMJ for several reasons:

1. He is the most dynamic runner in this draft, with 4.3 speed that seriously looks like it could be faster on the field.

2. All the best talent in this year’s RB class are in bigger backs, whereas LMJ is one of the very few Jamaal Charles clones, which will increase his stock for a lot of teams looking to get faster.

3. He’s far and away the second best runner in this year’s draft.

This draft has a lot of lunchpail guys, which makes it a great fit for a team like the Chiefs, but if you need explosion, there is no better player than LMJ among the RBs. LMJ, however, is only a situational back; a bigger, better Dexter McCluster. A smaller, more fragile CJ Spiller. But the talent is unquestionable.

David Wilson, Virginia Tech (projected: 1st)
5’11”, 222 lbs; projected 4.4 40 yard dash
290 rushes for 1,700 yards & 9 TDs in 2011

Every year I seem to fall in love with another player that looks like Larry Johnson; last year it was the IR-bound Mikel Leshoure out of Illinois. This year it’s David Wilson, whose speed and aggressiveness remind me of Larry Johnson in his better years, although his lower body reminds one of Maurice Jones-Drew’s incredible trunks. Lower body strength moves a pile better than anything, and Wilson combines that with a fantastic explosion at the second level that leaves safeties in the dust — keep in mind this guy is over 220 lbs! Hell, he returned kicks for V-Tech, unheard of for a guy this big. Such a great athlete, although he’s lacking in some of the entirely-correctable aspects of the game, such as pass protection (where, sadly, he again recalls Larry Johnson) and despite good hands, his reception numbers were pretty sorry — I couldn’t tell if he wasn’t running sharp routes or if V-Tech just doesn’t check down to RBs. Like Ray Rice, he is not a pure bruiser, but he can do it all and will play all three downs, and even has some upside.

Doug Martin, Boise State (projected: 2nd)
5’9″, 215 lbs; projected 4.5 40 yard dash
263 rushes for 1,300 yards & 16 TDs in 2011

If there ever was a guy built for blasting up draft boards, it’s the incredibly hard working and physically prototypical Doug Martin. I typically do not like Boise State skill position players, but Martin’s body looked like it was stuffed full of granite at the Senior Bowl. So impressive! I came into draft season thinking of him as a midround sleeper due to his lack of elite production (1,300 yards & 16 TDs is very good, but consider his competition and very good blocking), his size, and his lack of explosive speed. I am eating my crow — Doug Martin looks like a bellcow running back. I am convinced can take the ball 20-25 times a game and rack up a great performance with good blocking. He runs with a good fire and has great hands out of the backfield  I love his balance when he runs, and he can hit a hole and utilize blockers properly. He’s not going to have a lot of 75-yard runs, as he features that second step, but I’m beginning to think he could be a real option for the Chiefs with their 2nd round pick.

Chris Polk, Washington (projected: 2nd)
5’11”, 222 lbs; projected 4.5 40 yard dash
293 rushes for 1,500 yards & 12 TDs in 2011

Yet another bigger back that has inspired some national attention from eye-opening highlight reels. But it doesn’t always translate to the NFL, folks, and I don’t know if Polk will. I think enough buzz has built up around him and, after watching Washington play a few times, I get why. But his running style is too close to Toby Gerhardt’s for me to get enthusiastic about him. You could see it at the Senior Bowl; for every solid run there’s another where he virtually gets upended. He’s a big runner but isn’t the pure bruiser his size would lead you to believe; he runs too upright and despite the fact that he will time quite well (decent chance he lands a 4.4 time in the 40), he looks 4.6 on the field, lacking explosion. Toby Gerhardt was overdrafted because of the hype surrounding him, and I think that’ll happen with Polk. Although I will say this: the kid has great hands as a checkdown receiver, and he always finds a way to fall forward. But you want a workhorse in the 2nd round; he’s more of a “committee”-type guy you bring in every couple series or so.

Lamar Miller, Miami (projected: 3rd)
5’11”, 212 lbs; projected 4.4 40 yard dash
227 rushes for 1,200+ yards & 9 TDs in 2011

On the surface, I’d chalk up Miller as a favorite to go to the Chiefs when their second rounder arrives, based on the fact that he has had an excellent, very-short career for the Hurricanes as their feature back. He’s a patient runner who expertly sets up his blocks with a lot of explosion when he gets into the open field. He is durable, and loves running between the tackles as much as he does outside them, and while he doesn’t have a lot of jukeage, he’s a fluid athlete who can maximize the yardage on any given play — on paper, and to a certain extent on tape, he’s a perfect fit for the Chiefs’ zone blocking system. The problem is… I get the feeling he phones in his performance some of the time. There are games where he looks like a monster, but if you can stymie him early, he gets discouraged and tunes out. That’s just my opinion as a layman, but there are times when his body language is too nonchalant and deflated for me to rely on him on a regular basis. This is a guy I think you could slip into your committee early, with some potential to become a franchise runner if you can tap into his way of thinking.

Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State (projected: 3rd)
5’10” 190 lbs; projected 4.5 40 yard dash
311 rushes for 1,700+ yards & 19 TDs in 2011

Ronnie Hillman’s place on this list could fly up or down based on work at the Senior Bowl and at the Combine, but his numbers are staggering, even against small school competition. He’s a smaller scat back without elite speed, and still somehow managed his incredible totals on the ground. I haven’t watched any San Diego State, and really I’ve only seen Hillman’s YouTube highlights, so I can’t speak to him as a prospect. He must have a great eye for the hole and zero hesitancy in exploiting anything the defense gives him. He’s also very young and put up outstanding numbers as a freshman. He’s been durable during his college career, but one wonders how long that will last once the average defender he’d be running against will be thirty pounds heavier and a hundred pounds stronger.

Vick Ballard, Mississippi State (projected: 4th)
5’11”, 215 lbs; projected 4.6 40 yard dash
193 rushes for 1,100+ yards & 10 TDs in 2011

Coming off a stud performance at the Senior Bowl, Ballard has been targeted by many, yours truly included, as being the midrounder steal of the draft at the running back position. Justly so; this is a guy who averaged close to six yards a carry for his NCAA career, and that last year he did it against stacked defenses that never feared State’s passing game. Ballard has potential as a stud workhorse in the NFL, as he barrels into the line with reckless abandon. Loves contact, absolutely thrives on it, and from my time watching him I believe he can be that kind of guy in the NFL, though he may never be the true goal line back as he’s just a hair small for that kind of expertise. I feel like too many draftniks are underrating him, accusing him of not being elusive or able to be a difference maker, but when all 11 men on defense pack the box to stop you, that’s going to be the case more often than it’s not. In Ballard I see a relentless motor that would do most teams well to have on the field and in the locker room.

Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati (projected: 4th)
5’10”, 200 lbs; projected 4.4 40 yard dash
237 rushes for 1,200+ yards & 12 TDs in 2011

Not that long ago the Chiefs were checking out Pead at the Senior Bowl, where he emerged as the game’s MVP.  As you could see from that game, Pead is a smaller back in the mold of many part-time third down backs in the NFL. Pead ran exclusively in Cincinnati’s shotgun system so you’re going to have to groom the kid a little bit, and he’s not going to be able to carry any team in the NFL on his own — while he’s plenty sturdy, he’s not a between-the-tackles, craving-contact kind of runner. He’s your gazelle in open-space, and really the only place he’s going to find that is on third down. Although following that great performance in Mobile, who knows. He has a heck of a burst, and once he catches a seam he might be completely gone. While he’s not too shifty, he has a great 3rd gear that defies any angle you use to catch up with him. He also has great hands and put up very strong receiving numbers in an offense that is great for grooming running backs in that particular way.

Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M (projected: 5th)
5’10”, 198 lbs; projected 4.4 40 yard dash
198 rushes for 1,100 yards & 12 TDs in 2011

I watched a lot of Ryan Tannehill’s play this past season, and one player kept grabbing my eye every time Tannehill dropped back to pass: Gray is a fun pass blocker to watch, as he seems to love punishing pass rushers despite his measley sub-200 lbs size. That kind of tenacity (despite his size) is endearing to me as a football fan. There’s no real place for him in Kansas City, but we’d be fools not to take him if the price were really, really reasonable. Gray has really good hands coming out of the backfield and he seems to have some of the jukes in the flat that other third-down specialists, like Pead and Miller, lack. Gray’s never going to be a feature back, nor is he going to be much more than a solid guy in rotation, but that’s more than can be said for most guys of his diminuitive size.

Bernard Pierce, Temple (projected: 5th)
6’0″, 217 lbs; projected 4.5 40 yard dash
273 rushes for 1,400+ yards & 27 TDs in 2011

Pierce is a fascinating project for a running back: featuring a phenomenal nose for the end zone, Pierce is a bulky running back with a body built for absorbing hits and moving the chains. But his best strength isn’t as a between-the-tackles runner; he’s a jukester with some pretty fun moves when he gets a little space. Surely you’ve heard of the dreaded “tweener” status when people are talking about defensive lineman: some players are too big to play end, and too small to play tackle. Pierce is too big to be a jukester, but not aggressive enough to be a pounder. He also has zero receiving ability (which can be coached, I suppose) and has an injury history. But it’s going to take you a full year to get him shaped into the player you want.

Tauren Poole, RB, Tennessee (projected: 5th)
5’11”, 213 lbs; projected 4.5 50 yard dash
187 rushes for 700 yards & 5 TDs in 2011

I’ll say it: Tauren Poole would be a fantastic fit in Kansas City. He doesn’t really have a great repetoire of moves but he thrives exactly where this team struggles the most at the running back position: between the tackles. Most of his work in Tennessee was in that particular area when he ran the ball, and his ability to quickly spot a hole, slam into it, and fall forward is the exact skill set that would fit in paired with more versatile speedsters in Jamaal Charles and Dexter McCluster with the Chiefs’ zone blocking system. He could run with more power, and doesn’t play as fast as he times, but he would be a great fit for our system. It’s a match made in Heaven if the Chiefs elect to take advantage of it.

Robert Turbin, Utah State (projected: 5th)
5’9″, 215 lbs; projected 4.6 40 yard dash
249 rushes for 1,500 yards & 19 TDs in 2011

Ever feel like we need another Jackie Battle on this team? If you feel that way, you’re probably going to like Robert Turbin a lot, because the guy is Jackie Battle. You could give him 300 career rushes and I guarantee you he won’t have a run longer than 20 yards. But you’re also going to get a lot of tough yards between the tackles that Charles and McCluster aren’t going to be able to secure, and Turbin does play with that same Battle tenacity. He put up some monstrous numbers at Utah State (6.1 yards/carry this past year) and has a great nose for the end zone. If the Chiefs pass on a ton of the big backs early in the draft, Turbin could be decent value as another sure thing in our stable of backs.

Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky (projected: 6th)
5’8″; 205 lbs; projected 4.5 40 yard dash
369 rushes for 1,700 yards & 13 TDs in 2011

The biggest obstacle Bobby Rainey will have to overcome will be his size, bar none. He is in the worst position, physically: he is a pretty small running back who carried the ball an astonishing number of times in his football career. Some NFL team could fall in love with him as the next Kendall Hunter and take him in the 6th (a smart bet), but as teams are starting to prefer bigger and bigger running backs, Rainey could very realistically end up in undrafted free agency, where he belongs, perhaps — he has plenty of amazing moves, but he doesn’t have that super-speed gear that guys his size need. He does play with a little fire and fights tacklers at every turn, but he’s got only so much tread left on his tires. (Note: outside of YouTube, I have not seen any Rainey tape as I never watched Western Kentucky even once.)

Chris Rainey, Florida (projected: 6th)
5’9″, 180 lbs; projected 4.3 40 yard dash
171 rushes for 800+ yards & 2 TDs; 31 catches for 300 yards & 2 TDs in 2011

Last year saw far too many smaller runners end up in undrafted free agency despite their amazing talents and phenomenal speed. Chris Rainey might end up there as well, despite being one of the fastest players in this draft, decently elusive in the open field, and possessing that special gear that pulls away from defenders if he catches a seam. Rainey is only a hair larger than Dexter McCluster, however, and he doesn’t have that repetoire of funky moves that McCluster has. Would you have taken McCluster late, however, like in the 6th round? I’m willing to bet you would have, and I’m sure some team out there agrees.

Daniel Herron, Ohio State (projected: 7th)
5’10”, 205 lbs; projected 4.6 40 yard dash
135 rushes for 700 yards & 3 TDs in 2011

The one thing Dan Herron has going for him is evident when he gets a head of steam built up. Herron is a hard hitter that thrives on contact, even though he is quite small for that style of play. Everything else leaves something to be desired.  He’s not fast, he’s not particularly elusive, he’s not that great of a receiver, and he’s not going to do much other than what his blockers plow for him. He is a fantastic blocker, however, but you’re not drafting a 200 lbs running back to block.

Marc Tyler, USC (projected: 7th)
5’11”, 230 lbs; projected 4.7 40 yard dash
122 rushes for 600 yards & 4 TDs in 2011

Marc Tyler has red flags everywhere, which is sad, because he’s among the biggest backs in the draft this year. You love to see a guy his size able to carry the ball, but that’s not in the cards this year. He may be 230 lbs, but he runs like he’s 330 lbs, and goes down like he’s 130 lbs. I should mention that he’s also a massive character concern. Avoid.

Brandon Bolden, Ole Miss (projected: UDFA)
5’11”, 220 lbs; projected 4.6 40 yard dash
96 rushes for 500 yards & 4 TDs

This draft is so deep in big backs that even a slug like Bolden could end up being a productive player, and I don’t think anyone’s going to draft him. He was able to put up decent– not good– numbers in the toughest defensive conference in college football and he loves to hit the hole between the tackles. He needs to solve that whole running upright thing, but that might be a coachable fix.

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