NFL draft position preview: Running backs

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NFL draft position preview: Running backs

There was a time when running backs were hot items in the NFL draft. Not any more.

Last year the first running back did not come off the board until the 28th pick when the New Orleans Saints selected Mark Ingram, the Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama. He was the only running back chosen in the first round.

More teams started drafting running backs in the second round (four were selected) and others came off the board in the third (three) and fourth (seven). That is probably how it will go again this year as more NFL teams adopt the interchangeable two (or three) back system and move away from one stud workhorse back.

Also, teams know they dont have to use a first-round pick on a running back. Last season, three of the top four rushers Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars), Ray Rice (Ravens) and LeSean McCoy (Eagles) were second round picks. Frank Gore (49ers) was a fifth round pick. Arian Foster (Texans), who led the league in rushing in 2010, wasnt drafted at all.

It would not be a surprise if this years draft unfolded just like last years, that is, with only one running back being selected in the first round and once again it will be a back from Alabama, Trent Richardson. He is the class of the field and should be a top 20 pick.

The Top Five

1. Trent Richardson, Alabama
Red flags went up when it was reported Richardson underwent minor knee surgery after the season, but it doesnt seem to be that much of a worry. He was injured in practice before the BCS championship game and it didnt slow him down (96 yards rushing vs. LSU), so there is no reason to think it will pose a problem going forward. At 5-11, 225 pounds, Richardson combines power, balance and the speed to run away from defenses. He is a complete back who can play in any offense. He set a school record last season with 1,679 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns.
2. Doug Martin, Boise State
Improved his stock with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl. Flashed good speed (he runs the 40 in 4.49), hit the hole hard and displayed some shiftiness on kickoff returns. Also impressed with his blocking as he was solid in pass protection and threw a nice downfield block on a touchdown by Gerrell Robinson. At 5-9 and 215 pounds, Martin runs effectively between the tackles, but he is quicker and more elusive than he looks. He averaged more than 100 yards rushing per game (108.3 to be exact) last season. Could sneak into the bottom of the first round, but it is more likely he goes high in the second.

3. David Wilson, Virginia Tech
Named ACC Player of the Year and second-team All-America. Speedy back that rushed for 1,709 yards last season and averaged almost six yards per carry. At 5-10 and 205 pounds, he isnt as physically strong as either Richardson or Martin, but he has more straight-line speed. He rushed for more than 100 yards in seven consecutive games last season, but he was shut down late in losses to Clemson (11 carries for 32 yards) and Michigan (24 carries for 82 yards). Projects as a second round pick.
4. Lamar Miller, Miami
Lots of physical talent, but still a little raw. Good size at 5-11 and 212 pounds and very good speed (4.4). Only played two college seasons and carried the ball just 335 times, so he doesnt have much wear and tear on his body. He has an explosive first step and gets to top end speed in a hurry. He also has good vision and finds the cutback lane. He really impressed with a 26 carry, 184 yard game against Ohio State. He also had a big day against Virginia Tech, rushing for 166 yards and averaging 9.2 yards per carry. Drawbacks? Needs to improve his blocking but thats true of most backs coming to the NFL. Projects as a second round pick

5. LeMichael James, Oregon
Reminds me of Darren Sproles, who has been a super productive player in the NFL for seven years. He is a little bigger (5-9, 185) but with the same kind of quickness and ability to make defenders miss without slowing down. He has good hands and knows how to execute the screen game. He rushed for more than 200 yards four times last year finishing with 1,805 yards and a 7.3 yard per carry average. Most analysts project him as a third round pick, but I wouldnt be surprised if someone grabbed him in the second.

Dont Forget

Bernard Pierce, Temple
Set all kinds of records for the Owls, including most touchdowns (54) and most points (324). He has good size (6-1, 218) and good instincts. The only knock on Pierce is durability. He missed time with injuries throughout his three seasons at Temple, but still finished with 3,570 yards rushing, second only to Paul Palmer in the schools history. Third round pick.

Eagles' Interest
In McCoy, the Eagles have one of the best all-around backs in the game, but they dont have much behind him. Dion Lewis only got a handful of touches last season as a rookie and still is an unknown and a small one (5-8, 195) at that. If the Eagles see a worthwhile prospect on the board they could take him, but not before the middle rounds.

Others to Consider
Chris Polk, Washington; Isiah Pead, Cincinnati; Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M; Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State: Tauren Poole, Tennessee.

E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net

NFL Playoffs: Matt Ryan, Falcons dismantle Packers to reach Super Bowl LI

NFL Playoffs: Matt Ryan, Falcons dismantle Packers to reach Super Bowl LI

The Atlanta Falcons are headed to their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history after routing the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the NFC championship game.

Matt Ryan threw for four touchdowns, including a 73-yard catch-and-run for a highlight-reel score by star receiver Julio Jones. The defense played just as crucial a role in containing quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense.

Rodgers had 287 yards with three touchdown passes and an interception. But the Falcons got to Rodgers with pressure and forced two Green Bay turnovers. Rodgers was outplayed by Ryan, who even ran for a 14-yard touchdown.

Atlanta will play either New England or Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 in Houston.

The only other time that Atlanta made the Super Bowl was in the 1998 season. The Falcons lost 34-19 to the Denver Broncos.

The Packers fell in the NFC title game for the second time in three seasons.

Stay or Go Part 7: Jason Kelce to Byron Marshall

Stay or Go Part 7: Jason Kelce to Byron Marshall

In the seventh of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — part 7 is Kelce to Marshall.

Jason Kelce
Cap hit: $6.2M

Roob: I’ll start by saying that Kelce did not play as horribly this past season as some people make it sound like. He was inconsistent. He committed too many penalties. He got pushed around by some bigger defensive tackles. But he remains a very smart, very athletic center who got better as the season went on and was actually playing pretty good football late in the year. That said, Kelce turns 30 next season, the Eagles are trying to get younger and a 30-year-old center with a $6.2 million cap figure is a luxury the Eagles just can’t afford right now. They can save $3.8 million by releasing Kelce, and considering how Isaac Seumalo played when he was in there this past season, moving on from Kelce definitely has some merit. Seumalo comes with a $764,966 cap figure, he just turned 23 and he’s got tons of upside. It’s all about what the roster is going to look like in a couple years, when the Eagles should be in position to get into the playoffs and make a run. Do you want a 32-year-old center in his ninth season? No. This is the time to make the change. Get Seumalo as much experience as possible, as much work with Carson Wentz as possible. There’s no guarantee he’ll become the player Kelce has been, but he was a third-round pick and the Eagles need to find out if he's going to be the guy. And that $3.8 million in cap space is big too. Kelce has been a terrific Eagle for a long time, but it’s time to move on. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Kelce has become an unpopular player in recent years and it’s easy to see why. He’s slightly undersized center and just can’t take on nose tackles 1-on-1. But he’s still very good getting downfield to block and hasn’t been nearly as bad as you think. Throughout the season, Kelce was pretty honest when assessing his play and said he knew he needed to get better to stay in Philly. There have been reports the Eagles have been thinking about moving on from Kelce, and I see why that makes sense, especially with Isaac Seumalo waiting. But Kelce can be a constant for Carson Wentz, and it's all about Carson Wentz. 

Verdict: STAYS

Mychal Kendricks
Cap hit: $6.6M

Roob: Kendricks, on the other hand, may still have more value to the Eagles here than elsewhere. You could save $1.8 million under the cap by releasing him, and maybe they will. But, geeze, he’s still just 26 years old and still has the athleticism and tools that made him the 46th player taken in the 2012 draft. I’m not sure what happened to Kendricks. Somewhere along the line, all that potential just sort of stopped turning into plays. Kendricks had 12 sacks, three interceptions and six forced fumbles in his first four seasons but no big plays this past year as his playing time dwindled. I have to think Kendricks is worth keeping around for another year and trying to salvage something out of him on special teams if nothing else. Kendricks was drafted ahead of Bobby Wagner and Lavonte David. Do you just give up on him before his 27th birthday? And it’s not like the Eagles are exactly loaded with young talent at linebacker. So I think they try one more year with Kendricks. 

Verdict: STAYS 

Dave: What’s happened to Kendricks over the past few years has been wild. He went from ultimate fan favorite on the brink of becoming a Pro Bowler with a new contract to a complete afterthought. Kendricks barely played in 2016 and it was clear he wasn’t happy about that. Maybe he can make a difference in a different defense. He’s still young and athletic and could fit in another defense. The Eagles should try everything they can to trade him and get something out of him. It wouldn't save them a lot of money ($1.8 million), but it might just be time to cut ties. 

Verdict: GOES

Bennie Logan
Unrestricted free agent

Roob: I know it looks tough right now to imagine the Eagles finding a way to re-sign Logan, who is an unrestricted free agent and is going to get some pretty hefty offers if he hits the open market. But this is what Howie is best at. Finding ways to keep guys he wants to keep. The Eagles are not going to let a solid, consistent 27-year-old defensive tackle walk. General rule: When a team wants to keep a player and the player wants to stay, they find a way to get it done. By releasing and restructuring other guys, they’ll make room under the cap for Logan. I have a hunch he’s not going anywhere.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Logan is the Eagles’ biggest to-be free agent. He’s said he wants to be back in Philly next year and has talked about the friendships he has on the team, but this is a chance for a big payday – and you never know if one will come again. Because Logan has shown his ability to play in a 4-3 and a 3-4 defense, the number of teams interested in him won’t be limited. That will raise the price. And ultimately, it comes down to price. The Eagles already have a ton of money invested in their defensive line. Will they prioritize signing one more? 

Verdict: GOES

Rick Lovato

Roob: Lovato is one of the two-best long snappers the Eagles have had in the last decade. He got three games in after long-time long snapper Jon Dorenbos suffered a season-ending broken wrist, and he acquitted himself fine. But assuming Dorenbos wants to hold off on a full-time magic career and keep playing football, he’s the guy.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Sorry long-snapper Lovato. You did just fine filling in for Dorenbos, but it’s still the magic man’s job.

Verdict: GOES

Chris Maragos
Cap hit: $2.25M

Roob: With apologies to Kenny Rose, Quintin Mikell, Colt Anderson and Ike Reese, Maragos is the best special teams player I’ve ever seen wear an Eagles uniform. Maragos is 30 years old now, but he ceratinly showed no signs of slowing down. The Eagles did the right thing and locked him up for three more years. We probably don’t talk enough about Dave Fipp’s special teams units, but they have always been among the best in the NFL, and Maragos is one of the main reasons why. He’s one key guy the Eagles don’t have to worry about losing. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Maragos is no longer a defensive player and that’s just fine because he’s an absolutely dynamic special teams player. Really. It’s incredible to watch this guy play teams and there aren’t many who do it near as well. With a new contract, he’ll be around for a few more years and as long as he doesn’t show the signs of age, he will still be playing at a high level. 

Verdict: STAYS

Byron Marshall

Roob: Marshall, an undrafted rookie, got a chance to play late in the season with all the other injuries the Eagles’ running backs had, and he acquitted himself OK, especially in the Dallas game, where he ran 10 times for 42 yards. But the bottom line is with Ryan Mathews not likely to return and Darren Sproles a year from retirement, the Eagles really need to re-build their running back corps from the ground up. Whether there’s room for Marshall in that new-look running back corps remains to be seen. Marshall did enough to earn a look in training camp, but the practice squad remains his most likely landing spot. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Marshall, the undrafted running back from Oregon, got a chance to play toward the end of the season and did some nice things. He’s a shifty running back, so fans really seem to like him. Heck, everyone enjoys watching him play. But it took him all year to get a chance and the team doesn’t seem too high on him. He’ll be with the team during training camp but probably not on the roster after that. 

Verdict: GOES