2013 NFL Draft Preview: Ranking Packers Running Back Prospects

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North Carolina RB Gio Bernard
North Carolina RB Gio Bernard

Running back can be a tough position to evaluate headed into the NFL Draft.

Take last year for example. Trent Richardson was considered a “can’t-miss” guy at the top of the draft, but Alfred Morris, the 173rd overall pick, had the best season of all rookie running backs last year.

This year’s draft doesn’t have a clear-cut top back. There isn’t a Richardson or an Adrian Peterson in this year’s draft class, but there are a handful of intriguing prospects that could step in and start for a team from day one.

Nearly all draft rankings have the same two guys at the top: Alabama’s Eddie Lacy and North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard. Most have Lacy firmly entrenched as a first-round pick with Bernard projected to go in round two.

Lacy and Bernard are completely different backs. While Lacy is a physical, punishing runner, Bernard is a versatile player capable of doing damage in the passing game as well as between the tackles. In today’s pass-happy NFL, I prefer Bernard as a prospect slightly ahead of Lacy.

But beyond the top two guys, this year’s crop of running backs has some quality depth. Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle, Clemson’s Andre Ellington, UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball all have a chance to be selected on Day 2.

Perhaps the most interesting running back in this year’s class is Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina. Lattimore suffered the most gruesome knee injuries I’ve ever seen last season, and concerns over his long-term health will likely cause him to drop to the third round.

It would be an upset if the Packers don’t add a running back at some point this offseason, whether it’s a veteran via free agency or a young guy through the draft.

1. Gio Bernard, North Carolina (5-8, 202)

  • Draft stock: Late 1st/Early 2nd
  • 40 time: 4.53, 225-pound bench: 19 reps, 10-yard split: 1.53
  • Two-year starter, declared after his RS Sophomore season.
  • The second round is likely where Bernard will be selected, but I really believe he’s the best running back in this class. On top of being a talented runner, he’s a dangerous return man and receiver. I see Bernard as Ray Rice 2.0, and I really think he’d be a natural fit in the Packers’ offense.

(Editor’s Note: Marques and Jacob Westendorf of PackrsTalk.com will be interviewing Bernard on WGBX radio Wednesday night. Look for the podcast here and/or on PackersTalk.com on Thursday or Friday.)

2. Eddie Lacy, Alabama (5-11, 231)

  • Draft stock: Late 1st/Early 2nd
  • 40 time: DNP, 225-pound bench: DNP, 10-yard split: DNP
  • One-year starter, played behind Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram at Alabama.
  • Enters the draft as a hot name following his dominant performance in the BCS National Championship. A hamstring injury has prevented Lacy from working out so far this offseason. Teams surely want to see him healthy before considering him in round one.

3. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma St. (6-0, 204)

  • Draft stock: Late 2nd/Early 3rd
  • 40 time: 4.63, 225-pound bench: DNP, 10-yard split: 1.61
  • Two-year starter, also saw a lot of action as a freshman.
  • On top of being a tough runner, Oklahoma St. routinely utilized Randle in the passing game. Randle caught 91 passes in three years with the Cowboys and is one of the most complete running backs in this class.

4. Andre Ellington, Clemson (5-9, 199)

  • Draft stock: Early 3rd
  • 40 time: 4.61, 225-pound bench: DNP, 10-yard split: 1.56
  • Two-year starter, also started six games as a sophomore in 2010.
  • Surprising that Ellington didn’t run faster at the Combine, as he routinely looked like one of the fastest players on the field during his time at Clemson. He’s got a slight build, but he runs hard for his size. Should be a solid Day 2 pick.

5. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA (5-10, 205)

  • Draft stock: 3rd Round
  • 40 time: 4.49, 225-pound bench: 18 reps, 10-yard split: 1.54
  • Three-year starter; also started eight games as a freshman in 2009.
  • Fast. Franklin started 45 games at UCLA and proved to be one fo the top home-run hitters in college football. In 2012, he accounted for 2,057 yards and 15 touchdowns on 315 total touches.

6. Christine Michael, Texas A&M (5-10, 220)

  • Draft stock: 3rd Round
  • 40 time: 4.54, 225-pound bench: 27 reps, 10-yard split: 1.51
  • Never started for a full season but started games every year at Texas A&M.
  • NFL Network’s Mike Mayock says Michael is unlikely to get out of the second round, while National Football Post’s Lance Zierlein suggests Michael could fall to the fourth round. Lot to like about this guy on the field, but there are a lot of questions regarding his character. He’s got loads of talent.

7. Montee Ball, Wisconsin (5-11, 214)

  • Draft stock: 3rd Round
  • 40 time: 4.66, 225-pound bench: 15 reps, 10-yard split: 1.59
  • Two-year starter, saw action all four years on campus.
  • Dominant college running back, but there are a lot of miles on his tires. Ball does everything well, but doesn’t do anything great, and I’m not convinced he has much of a ceiling at the NFL level. That being said, he’d definitely have great value in the third round.

8. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (5-11, 221)

  • Draft stock: Late 3rd/Early 4th
  • 40 time: DNP, 225-pound bench: DNP, 10-yard split: DNP
  • Three-year starter, enters the draft following his junior season.
  • Serious red flags regarding Lattimore’s durability. He’s a high-character guy who would likely be a first-round draft pick if not for the health concerns. It will be interesting to see where he goes because he has the talent to be a Pro Bowl player.

9. Mike Gillislee, Florida (5-11, 208)

  • Draft stock: 4th Round
  • 40 time: 4.55, 225-pound bench: 15 reps, 10-yard split: 1.59
  • One-year starter who appeared in 49 games during his career.
  • Gillislee is a sleeper as a probable Day 3 pick. He’s got an athletic build and has some wiggle between the tackles. While some people can only fit in certain offensive schemes, Gillislee is capable of playing in most offenses.

10. Le’Veon Bell, Michigan St. (6-1, 230)

  • Draft stock: 4th Round
  • 40 time: 4.52, 225-pound bench: 24 reps, 10-yard split: 1.55
  • One-year starter who saw a great deal of playing time in both 2010 and 2011.
  • Bell declared for the draft following his junior season. He’s a different breed than the rest of this year’s crop of running backs, as he’s cut out of the LeGarrette Blount mold. Won the Big Ten rushing title last season.

Current state of the Packers’ RBs: Perhaps no position on the Packers’ roster underwent more changes last season than at running back.

James Starks entered training camp as the starter before he Starksed in the preseason opener in San Diego. The team then brought in veteran Cedric Benson, who helped provide stability to the running game before he suffered a Lisfranc injury against the Colts. Alex Green took over for Benson and never fully capitalized on his opportunity.

The Packers were so desperate for a running back that they were forced to bring back Ryan Grant, who had been rotting on the free agent market.

Late in the season, DuJuan Harris took control of the job and helped provide the Packers with a competent ground game. Harris will likely improve after spending his first training camp in Green Bay, but he may be best-suited for a third-down role.

Whether the team views Harris as their starter or not, they’ll likely be in the market for a running back this offseason in some capacity.

Grant and Benson are unlikely to return, and Starks’ future is in serious question as well. Green and Harris, along with Brandon Saine, give the Packers some depth at the position, but the team still lacks a clear-cut starter at the top.

When might the Packers address RB in the draft? Running backs can be found at any point in the draft. But that doesn’t mean a fifth-round rookie will be able to step in and immediately be the starter.

Taking a running back early in the first round is risky business. But in my opinion, if you’re 100 percent sure that you can grab a player that will play 80-85 percent of your team’s snaps as a rookie, go ahead and take him in the first round.

Many think Ted Thompson would never spend a first-round pick on a running back, but I’m not sure that’s the case.

There have been reports that the Packers were prepared to draft Alabama running back Mark Ingram in 2011 before the Saints traded up and grabbed him a few picks earlier. In 2007, the Packers were reportedly eyeing Marshawn Lynch and Darrelle Revis until both came off the board prior to the No. 16 pick.

If Thompson sees Eddie Lacy as a first-round pick and he’s sitting there at No. 26, he won’t hesitate to pull the trigger. The same can be said about Gio Bernard, but I think a more likely scenario would be moving down to the top of round two and grabbing Bernard.

Mike McCarthy has made it pretty clear that he wants an improved running game next season. Whether they sign Steven Jackson or some other veteran, or they invest in a young rookie, the Packers are likely to add at least one fresh face to the backfield this offseason.

Adding a guy like Lacy or Bernard in the second round would be great for this offense. If they can’t add either player, there will be value at the running back position in rounds three and four as well.

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Follow @MJEversoll

Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

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  • Razer

    I don’t see anything worth taking a chance on in the 1st round in this draft class. Overall, I don’t really see our running problem as a RB problem. If we want to run the ball better we need to coach it better, play call it better and block it better. Montee Ball gained yards running behind the Wisconsin O-line. He would do no better than Benson running behind the Packer O-line with all our sophisticated running plays.

    I am all for running the ball better and having better talent at the RB position but I think we need to fix the right things in the right order.

    • Marques Eversoll

      I’m with you on the 1st Round thing. While I think Thompson would consider a RB in the 1st, I’m not sure this is the year for that.

      The second and third round will have some starting-caliber backs. If Gio Bernard were to fall to 55, that’d be a home run for the Packers, IMO.

      I also wouldn’t rule out a trade down from 26 to the early 2nd. Take a guy there and add another pick. Seems to be that type of year.

      • Stroh

        Bernard is far more Dujuan Harris than Rice. Rice goes bout 215 on his 5’8 frame not barely 200. I think we need a Rb that can handle a heavy workload not another situational RB. Lacy, Ball, Michel all are better options IMO.

        • Marques Eversoll

          Ray Rice weighed 199 pounds at the 2008 Combine.

          • Stroh

            Still see Dujuan Harris not Rice. Just don’t see the physicality in Bernard that Rice has…

    • Mojo

      Perfectly stated Razer. The Packers have more pressing needs than RB. Anyway, if we sign Jackson we don’t need to worry about that position for a few years, at least not in the first round. Getting a better o-line will go a long way in helping the running game and keeping QB1 on his feet. If not that, then find a pass rusher.

  • Scott 1956

    I see you have Monte Ball’s combine 40 time, rather than his pro-day time. Which was 4.52. Much faster than the 4.66.

    • Marques Eversoll

      I don’t put much stock into how players run at their Pro Day. They always run faster and jump higher.

      The Combine gives a look at all players on the same track, same day, etc. It’s an equal comparison.

      Miraculously, players always test well at their Pro Day. And they only use hand times. Not as true of an indicator, IMO.

      • Stroh

        Ball said he had a sinus infection at the combine. That would certainly affect bis time. I’m guessing is probably mid 4.5’s. Somewhere between is likely… He’s not that slow.

      • Stroh

        Most compare Ball to Curtis Martin. Doesn’t stand out in any area but very good all around RB.

    • Brian

      I like Ball. I dont think he will be the next AP but he is exactly what the Packers need in a running back. He is consistant at what he does which is a little bit of everything. He can get through the hole quicker then a 4.66 back and finishes every run. He makes people miss or gives them a nice stiff arm. Also his junior year when he actually had a QB he made a lot of completions and looked natural doing it. Also Wisconsin’s line was a mess this season which lead to them getting a new line coach mid season.

  • Savage57

    Montee Ball is the biggest potential Packers’ homer bust in the making since Jerry Tagge. Great college back, just doesn’t have NFL speed or quicks to succeed without that road grader line in front of him.

    Much prefer Bell out of MS. Bigger, quicker to the hole, more NFL upside.

    Ball will have seen his best days in Wisconsin at Madison, not Green Bay.

  • Pack fan from ATL

    Personally hoping we get Stephen Jackson at our price whatever it is TT says it is (or just keeping Cedric Benson for one more year), and maybe getting Lattimore and letting him red shirt his rookie year while he gets his knee back under him and get a chance to learn from the Vet backs.

  • Ron LC

    Rumors abound this afternoon that Jackson will sign with GB. Demovsky says: Yes, the Packers are in tallks but no deal yet.

    Queenies said they are no longer interested in Jennings. Reports say Welker has gone to Denver. Could NE be interested?

    This is starting to look more like Jones everyday.

    • Stroh

      Jones?

      • Stroh

        Oh James Jones? Dont see it. Jennings is too expensive at anything over 7M which he won’t sign for. Don’t see Jennings in GB next year. They probably rather pay 25 yr old Finley than 30 yr old Jennings.

        • Savage57

          I would too, if Finley could catch.

          • Stroh

            That’s soo old.

  • QOTSA1

    I’m surprised Stepfan Taylor from Stanford is not on this list. He had a bad combine, but I would take him over Bell any day.

  • Turophile

    I always like to look at combine 3 cone times. Christine Michael was the standout here with a faster time 2/10 than the others you listed. That is an indicator of agility and Michael is decent in thias area. While I like Lacy (did not participate in the combine), Michael is a good fall back option. Of course, if we end up with Steven Jackson, the need is much less.
    Michael 6.69
    Bell 6.75
    Gillislee 7.12
    Ball 6.88
    Franklin 6.89
    Bernard 6.91

    • Stroh

      I agree Michael is a great fit. Be very happy to get him in 3rd. He or sign Jackson. Cone and shuttle tset quickness which is very important for RB. Moreso than speed.

  • steve cheez

    Love the use of “starksed” as a verb!