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

Eagles propose four rules to be considered by NFL next week

Eagles propose four rules to be considered by NFL next week

Next week, when the NFL convenes for its owners meetings in Phoenix, there will be 15 proposed rule changes under consideration by the competition committee. 

While the one proposed rule change would cut regular-season overtime from 15 to 10 minutes (see story), there are 14 others up for discussion. 

Of those 15, seven were submitted by NFL teams. And of those seven, four were submitted by the Eagles

Three of the four rule proposals from the Eagles are safety related. 

Here are the four from the Eagles, per the NFL: 

1. Gives additional protections for long snappers on kick plays. 

2. Prohibits the “leaper” block attempt on field goal and extra point plays. 

3. Expands the “crown of helmet” foul to include “hairline” part of helmet. 

4. Amends the challenge system by granting a third challenge if a club is successful on at least one of its initial two challenges, and expands reviewable plays outside of two minutes of each half.

The first proposed rule would offer long snappers -- Jon Dorenbos included -- some extra protection. It would add this language to Article 6, Unnecessary Roughness: "When a team is in scrimmage kick formation, a defensive player may not initiate contact with the snapper until one second has elapsed after the snap." 

The second proposed rule change is one of the proposals that has garnered the most attention. Basically, the league now allows players to leap over the line of scrimmage on kicks as long as they don't touch anyone. This new rule would completely outlaw the process of leaping over the line. 

It seems like this rule change is likely to happen. The NFLPA has previously asked for this rule to be changed. 

"So the inevitable is going to happen, and just hearing from the players association, Philly now proposing it is really in the best interest of the game," former Eagle and league football operations director Troy Vincent said on a conference call Thursday. 

The next rule does pretty much exactly what it says: it expands the area that is considered to be the "crown of the helmet." 

Here's the new language that would be added to Article 8, Initiating Contact with the Crown of the Helmet: "Lowering the head and making forcible contact with the crown or 'hairline' parts of the helmet against any part of an opponent shall be considered a foul even if the initiating player's head moves after initial contact and the majority of contact occurs with the side or front of the helmet."

Finally, the last proposal isn't a safety one. It's about replay and is pretty self-explanatory for the most part. 

The reasoning given for this rule change on the proposal: "Provides coaches with a greater opportunity to correct subjective officiating errors, but excludes those fouls that have a minimal opportunity for reversal."

NFL owners mull cut of regular-season overtime to 10 minutes

NFL owners mull cut of regular-season overtime to 10 minutes

NEW YORK -- NFL owners will consider proposals next week to cut regular-season overtime from 15 minutes to 10; eliminate players leaping over the line on kick plays; and expansion of coaches' challenges and what can be reviewed by officials.

In what promises to be a busy annual meeting next week in Phoenix that will include discussing the Raiders' potential relocation from Oakland to Las Vegas, the 32 owners also will vote on changing the mechanics on replay reviews and other items intended to reduce downtime during games.

The Eagles proposed four rules changes, including abolishing the leaping techniques that league football operations director Troy Vincent said Thursday "don't belong in the game."

Seattle and Buffalo co-authored a proposal allowing a coach to challenge any officiating decision, whether a foul is called or not.

"That is a significant change to our current replay rule and it is something that will be on the floor and will be debated next week," NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino said.

Another major change would be the reduction of overtime in-season; the extra period in the playoffs would remain at 15 minutes. The powerful competition committee, of which Vincent and Blandino are members, believed it's a player safety issue, noting that number of snaps for games going to OT -- especially deep into the overtime -- is excessive. Especially if a team has a quick turnaround.

"We don't know where a team is going to be playing the next week, it could be four days later," said committee chairman Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons. "We felt we should put an end to it. We don't think it will lead to more ties. Could it? It could, but we are not concerned with that."

As for changing the format of overtime to ensure both teams always get a possession -- a popular topic after how the Super Bowl ended -- Blandino said the league's wants to keep the element of sudden death in the extra period.

The "leaper rule" has taken some priority among competition committee members, the players' union and coaches. Vincent said coaches have begun scheming how to defense it, which can "create a real safety issue."

"It is really in the best interest of the game" to outlaw leaping on kicks," Vincent added.

McKay noted that the NCAA is in the process of passing a similar ban on the technique.

During the meetings that run from Sunday to Wednesday, the teams will be shown plays the competition committee believes should result in suspensions or ejections. Game officials already have had the leeway to eject players, but it rarely has happened; there were three in 2016.

"They don't happen very often, let's give the players credit," McKay said. "We have 40,000 plays in a year. We'll show a tape that will have four or five plays that would warrant suspension. This is not a widespread situation."

Added Vincent, a former NFL defensive back: "When you see the plays, they are catastrophic. We had two players who did not return for the season. They are high-impact plays that belong out of the game. It will be a real point of emphasis this season."