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Top 5 running back prospects
The No. 1 running back might not really be a running back
Originally Published: May 14, 2013
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider
Doug James/Icon SMI
De'Anthony Thomas is a versatile offensive weapon for the Oregon Ducks.
The 2013 NFL draft was the first one in the Common Era to not have a running back taken in Round 1. And it wasn't particularly close. Giovani Bernard came off the board at No. 37 overall to the Bengals, and the interesting thing about that is Bernard is largely prized for his pass-catching skills out of the backfield.
So in some ways it makes perfect sense that my top-ranked running back for the 2014 NFL draft is, right now, a player who doesn't look at all like a traditional running back. In fact, I'm sure some will argue about whether he projects to play that position at all at the NFL level.
I think it's fair to say the position has lost some value at the top of the draft board, but it's also evolving as the league evolves from an offensive standpoint. So even if the traditional running back is seen as more fungible, I think we're entering an era where the multi-faceted running back is making offense exciting.
With that, here's an early look at the top players on my board at the position.
1. De'Anthony Thomas, Junior, Oregon
Is he a running back? He's a little bit of everything, but he's a running back on my board because handing him the ball is the quickest way to get it to him, and getting him the ball is the most important thing. Last year, Thomas turned 92 carries into 701 yards, good for 7.6 yards per carry. This after a freshman year where he averaged an absurd 10.6 yards per carry on his 55 touches. So over his first two years, Thomas averaged 8.8 yards per carry, and the sample size is no longer miniscule.
Yes, he can also catch it, as he has 91 receptions over his first two seasons. And he's terrifying in the return game. Thomas will never be a bulk-carry runner, and he doesn't have the route-running skills of a guy like Tavon Austin, who he might be compared to based on the burst. But he's a 180-pound game-breaker, a sprinter with the shiftiness to make people miss and he has added more muscle to his frame since he broke USC's heart and headed to Eugene.
2. Lache Seastrunk, Junior, Baylor
Seastrunk saw the deep depth chart at Oregon, and left for Baylor. He really started to find his form toward the end of last season, topping 100 yards rushing in five of the final six games. Seastrunk is particularly explosive in the open field, but he has a tendency to move left or right too often in an attempt to find a bigger running lane, and will need to learn to sometimes just put his foot in the ground, lower his shoulder and take some available yards.
Still, he's a big play waiting to happen, and his 7.7 yards per carry last season prove that. He'll be a significant part of the Baylor attack in 2013.
3. Ka'Deem Carey, Junior, Arizona
Extraordinarily productive in 2012, Carey piled up a whopping 1,929 yards rushing. He does it by exploding upfield when he gets a seam, and running through arm tackles with good pad level and strong leg drive and determination. Carey looks like an early-impact NFL running back because of the way he reads plays, and puts his foot in the ground to get vertical and maximize yards when they're available. His 6.4 yards per carry last season is impressive given he does a good job of taking what the blocking offers, but he also has an extra gear in the open field and can run away from defenders.
4. Silas Redd, Senior, USC
He was a little bit forgotten about in what was a disappointing season, but you turn on the tape and see a guy who often made the most of what was just average blocking last season. Redd isn't what I'd call an explosive runner, but he does a very good job of running through contact and grinding out extra yards. He ran a little dinged up toward the end of last season, and should be even better in 2013. When he takes on contact, Redd runs bigger than his listed 200 pounds.
5. Damien Williams, Senior, Oklahoma
If you saw Williams and the Sooners run over Texas, you'd be surprised he finished the season with "only" 946 yards. But when teams loaded up to stop the run game against Oklahoma last season, too often they were successful. Williams doesn't have great straight-line speed, and isn't particularly powerful when he lowers his shoulder, but he has really good vision and will add extra value because he's a natural pass-catcher and can split out. He caught 34 passes as a junior.
Dri Archer, Senior, Kent St.
He averaged an absurd 9.0 yards per carry, and can catch passes too. I thought he should have entered the 2013 draft, so I'm hoping he stays healthy. A Darren Sproles clone.
Bishop Sankey, Junior, Washington
A breakout sophomore season saw him hold up as he piled up carries. Balances what should be a good offense.
Tre Mason, Junior, Auburn
A high note during a miserable season, Mason quietly averaged nearly 6.0 yards per carry.
Carlos Hyde, Senior, Ohio St.
He's a big player to take down at over 230 pounds, and could be in line for a big season.
James Wilder, Jr., Junior, Florida St.
Has the bloodlines, and shows off good power, bouncing off tacklers.