NFL draft position preview: RB

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NFL draft position preview: RB
April 5, 2013, 9:00 am
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Montee Ball, left, Eddie Lacy, middle, and Le'veon Bell are three of the top 10 running backs in this year's NFL draft. (USA Today Images)

Position Previews

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Editor's note: Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until the NFL draft on April 25, we will preview a different position. Today, running backs:

This year's RB crop is not one to write home about. With no one back standing out as a sure-fire star, or even as a first-round pick, NFL teams will probably wait until somewhere in the middle of the second round before one is selected.

And with the continued emphasis on the passing game, and the continuing emergence of late-round and free-agent backs (Arian Foster, Alfred Morris, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bryce Brown), the days of the RB being a coveted, early selection may be waning.

With the Eagles' backfield already stocked with top-tier talent in LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown, Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman should have little reason to look for a RB in this year's draft. But if Kelly wants speed, speed and more speed, the late selection of a back to add depth may not be out of the question.

1. Eddie Lacy, Alabama
Overshadowed early in his career by Trent Richardson, Lacy came into his own in 2012, displaying both power and nimble feet. Lacy hits the hole quickly and can either run you over or make you miss with a terrific spin move. It wouldn't be surprising to see him go at the end of the first round, but he will more likely be an early-to-mid second-round pick.

2. Montee Ball, Wisconsin
Ball was a workhorse at Wisconsin, carrying the ball 983 times and setting the FBS record for most career touchdowns (83). Ball gets through holes incredibly fast and can get skinny to fit through the narrowest openings. Like Lacy, Ball has a nifty spin move, but he lacks the power Lacy possesses. While some organizations may look at Ball's wear and tear as a negative, some team is going to view Ball's ability to carry the load as a positive and grab him in the late-second to early-third round.

3. Le'veon Bell, Michigan State
In 2012, Bell ran for 1,793 yards in Michgan State's pro-style offense. He is a big back (6-foot-1, 230 pounds), who can plant his foot, make that first cut behind the line of scrimmage and get up field quickly. What NFL teams will really like is Bell's ability to pass protect, which is much better than either Lacy or Ball. He'll most likely go somewhere in the third round.

4. Knile Davis, Arkansas
Based simply on his size (5-11, 227) and speed (4.37 40 at the Combine), Davis is a first-round pick. But a history of injuries -- he missed the 2011 season and has had three broken ankles and two broken collarbones since high school -- and a disappointing 2012 season has left him as an afterthought. Davis is a two-time team captain at Arkansas and, when healthy, has been a dominant force; he led the SEC in rushing in 2010). He has soft hands and can pass protect. Injuries aside, his outstanding Combine performance may vault him into the third or fourth round.

5. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
One of the speedier backs on my list, Franklin has true breakaway speed. He doesn't hit the hole like Lacy or Ball, but once he gets to the second level, he turns on the jets. Franklin is an excellent receiver with sure hands. I don't see Franklin as an every-down back, but he will make a fine change-of-pace or third-down weapon.

6. Andre Ellington, Clemson
Ellington never wowed me as Clemson's top back, but his skill set is more conducive to an NFL third-down back, where he'll get fewer touches but more of an opportunity to display his physical talents. Ellington is a big play waiting to happen, with elite speed and uncanny balance. He won't be the guy you want on a tough 4th-and-1, but is a perfect fit for read-option and draw plays. He's also a dangerous pass catcher and would probably contribute as a return man. He'll go somewhere in the third round.

7. Christine Michael, Texas A&M
Solidly built (5-10, 220) and speedy, Michael missed time in both the 2010 (broken leg) and 2011 (torn ACL) seasons. Michael hits the hole hard and accelerates quickly. Injury history and questions about his attitude will dog him, but he is a very talented player.

8. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
A tall, lean back (6-0, 200), Randle led the Big 12 in rushing in 2012 (1,417 yards). Randle accelerates quickly, and while he runs a bit upright, he is able to make the first tackler miss with his quick feet and body control. He's a fourth-rounder.

9. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford
Just a good football player who doesn't have one particular area of his game that wows you. He always falls forward. A fifth-rounder.

10. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
I'm not as high on Bernard as some, because he doesn't finish runs and lacks the burst to be a third-down back. At only 5-10, 205, you need one or the other. He'll probably go earlier, but I wouldn't touch him until the fifth round.

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