Every year, the NFL draft features an influx of some very talented and outstanding running backs blessed with skill sets that will enhance any team. This year’s crop of running backs varies in size and speed, quickness and production, so it was a fun challenge to evaluate everyone as a runner, blocker and receiver.

Several of these players undoubtedly will make 2013 NFL rosters. Below are the critical factors and athletic skill sets for the running back position, and the 2013 top five based on film evaluation.


Critical Factors

Character: Leader in the locker room, community involvement, off-field issues (arrests, drugs, domestic incidents, guns, tickets, etc).

Football Intelligence: Student of the game, film study, playbook memorization, ability to process and regurgitate information with recall.

Mental Awareness: Intelligence, ability to take hard coaching, understanding role on team and position assignments.

Leadership: Natural born leader, locker room guy, community involvement.

Competitiveness: A clutch player with a win-at-all-costs attitude; a high level of intensity. He is at his best under adverse and pressure situations. He has confidence in himself, and his teammates have confidence in him.

Toughness: This most unprotected player in the game must have a high level of toughness. A clutch player to consistently deliver under pressure. Has ability to play both injured and hurt when the team needs him.

Production: Produce under pressure in critical situations as a runner, receiver and blocker.

Blocking: Attitude and temperament, three points of contact, strength/explosion; lead blocker, pass blocking, blocking on the move; toughness, aggressiveness, willingness; 3-E (eye, ear, elbow).

Durability: Stamina; endurance; injury history for position.

Receiving Skills: RAC (run after catch) elusiveness; vision in open space; playmaker; catch-in-a-crowd toughness; production.

Athletic Skill Set

Initial Quickness: Quick start out of stance to press LOS (line of scrimmage) with burst/acceleration both laterally and at POA (point of attack).

Run Instincts: Vision in/out of hole, read/reaction to blocking and flow to open space; create angles with anticipation and setting up defender with cutting ability. Nose for the goal line.

Inside Run: Courage, quickness to press line of scrimmage, burst and acceleration through the hole; BYOB (be your own blocker); pad level; strength/explosion; balance; effort; YAC (yards after contact); power; slasher; pick and slide; upright high knee; short-yardage runner; production.

Outside Run: Lateral quickness with speed to turn corner; big-play speed; gear change; cutting ability; change of direction; burst and acceleration; production; vision; balance and body control.

Elusiveness: Ability to make several defenders miss with cutting ability and restart quickness; cutting ability in open and tight space; make defender miss in open/tight space; quickness in cutting in tight space; ability to string several cuts together in a single run.

Speed: Straight line; one gear with build-up acceleration; breakaway threat; explosive; never caught from behind.

Ball Control: High and tight; swings outside of frame when cutting or in traffic; two hands on goal line.

Fumbler: Courage; carelessness; in/out of traffic; physical make-up.

Routes: Ability to avoid defenders in route, type (cross, out, swing, etc); gathers self; quickness out of break with separation.

Adjust: Flexibility to adjust to poorly thrown balls.

Hands: Natural receiving skills, soft or hard; extends to catch outside of frame; body catcher; snatcher; cradle catcher.

Break Tackles: YAC (yards after contact) production; strength and toughness; exploding at POA; natural run instincts after contact.

Lower Body: Large thighs, buttocks, strength and explosion in lower extremity; powerful hips; good vertical jump.

Special Teams: Coverage ability; return skills.


*Eddie Lacy Alabama 5’11-231 31 9 1/2 Lacy’s highlight reel from 2012 is outstanding, but his inability to work out at the 2013 combine (and an inactive spring so far) due to hamstring issues has many coaches and front-office executives wondering what’s going on with this talented running back, despite his DNA (film) being in the bank. A very good athlete to hammer on inside run skills, his slightly upright movement indicates natural body balance and control to drop pad level on defender approach; explosive collision to break arm tackles and drag multiple defenders with wide base, leg drive and finish to run behind his pads with YAC (yards after contact) production. An inside runner who is competitive, aggressive with toughness. Good quickness to press LOS (line of scrimmage) with burst, very good feet to skip and skate, builds up acceleration through hole and explodes through shoot in short-yardage and goal line situations; can “BYOB” (be your own blocker) with very good overall production. Very good awareness and FBI (football instincts) accompany read/reaction to blocking scheme with flow to stay play side; creates angles with anticipation and sets up defender with one cut and go, resulting in no wasted motion. Has a great combination of power, lower-body explosion, speed and athletic skill set with hit-and-spin elusiveness. Very good running skills between the tackles, and has feet and quickness to bounce and attack the edge or proceed straight downhill. Good cutting ability to stick foot in the ground and COD (change direction); skip and skate or stutter-step to avoid tacklers in tight and open space or works to defy angles with speed. Very good ball protection to carry football high and tight. A bulldozer to attack defenders with stiff arm, forearm punch or head butt to finish off runs; plays with a high level of intensity. This RB is at his best when running downhill, not laterally. Soft hands on screens and dump routes, but is not natural; will trap and cradle balls in games viewed. (Spring workout will answer all questions). Will need to develop more consistent pass protection technique, though effort and willingness are all in place. Very good stamina and endurance with juice from start to finish. Injury history from high school through college needs investigation. First-round pick.

Montee Ball Wisconsin 5’10-214 32 5/8 9 He comes from a long lineage of Wisconsin running backs – mostly players who fell short of having productive careers in the NFL. Ball, however, has a distinctly slashing running style that ensures exceptional rushing production between the tackles. Strong inside running skills for size, with nice feet and lateral burst to bounce to edge; smooth strider who reaches top speed quickly. Open-field speed is good, not great – but he understands angles at the third level, forcing defenders to chase. Very good vision and lateral movement before he even snakes north and south. Good cutting ability to stick and go; no wasted motion. Terrific athlete with balance and body control; maintains balance with popup and burst. Very good strength and explosion in lower body to break arm tackles with YAC (yards after contact) toughness. Is very competitive to square shoulders and fire legs, which helps him finish off runs in short-yardage or sideline situations. Pass protection will need to improve to strike what he sees. (Chop blocking is very effective at the college level.) Has soft, albeit small, hands and natural receiving skills with RAC (run after catch) production. Ball has exceptional production as a rusher the last two seasons and has weighed as much as 235 pounds in the past. Nonetheless, a few teams have some concerns about possible weight issues in the future. First-round talent, second-round pick.

Johnathan Franklin UCLA 5’10-205 30 9 3/8 The last productive Bruins running back in the league was Maurice Jones-Drew. Franklin had an extremely special college career, though, with over 4,000 yards at UCLA. That production will translate into success at the next level of competition. This runner aligns and is used in multiple formations (read option, I back, off set I, single back), and is the bell cow for the offense. He has very good athletic ability, not to mention toughness and aggressiveness. Good burst and acceleration to press LOS (line of scrimmage) with speed to bounce laterally and turn corner. Good vision to read inside trap action with burst through hole. Solid body lean in traffic; can lower pad level on defender approach to collision, concurrent with leg drive with YAC (yards after contact) production. Strong runner. Good feet and cutting ability to stick and go north and south with no wasted motion. Has nice hand-down balance with hit-and-spin elusiveness. Franklin boasts tremendous vision, open-field awareness and FBI (football instincts), defying angles in space with big-play speed. He has very good body balance, control and showcases vision on backside cuts. A RB with soft hands and natural receiving skills, he will need to expand route tree knowledge. Pass blocking requires refinement, too, but toughness is in place and works to finish. Has the frame to add bulk. First-round talent, second-round pick.

*Le’Veon Bell Michigan State 6’1-230 31 1/2 9 5/8 If NFL teams covet big running backs to carry the load, they’re going to love this big man. Bell has the best combination of size and overall production among all incoming running backs. This behemoth aligns at single back and in the Wildcat formation. His height forces him to run upright as he presses the LOS (line of scrimmage) with burst; better downhill RB between the tackles, given merely adequate lateral speed and tendency to get bottled up easily due to limited buildup acceleration. Has natural body balance to drop pad level and truck defenders with explosive collision and YAC (yards after contact) finish. Good feet to skip and skate coupled with short-area burst. Bell has a very strong and effective stiff arm. He is a second-effort runner with a willingness to get dirty and dive for extra yardage. Has very good balance and the ability to flash hit-and-spin elusiveness, plus a knack for hurdling defenders and run production after clearing them. Will need to develop consistent pass-blocking skills for the next level. Second-round pick.

*Giovani Bernard North Carolina 5’8-202 28 9 3/8 A very productive little man who can do multiple things, Bernard is a good athlete and football player. Yet, I question his overall speed for the running back position. A short-stepper with limited gait, he is run down in space too often; shows better speed in open space as a receiver and return man. Very good feet to skip and skate, with vision to backside and short-area burst; low center of gravity to drop weight, cut and restart. A pick and slide runner with strong base and gear change, plus lateral burst and acceleration. Is not a between-the-tackles runner; best when used in power, stretch looks to bounce a high percentage of carries. Good elusiveness to string multiple moves in a single run. Bernard is a proven route runner and possesses natural receiving skills, to say nothing of soft hands to catch outside his frame on screens, outs and checkdown routes. Good nose for the goal line, with diving effort. Very good punt return skills to make the first man miss, and surveys the field on the move with vision; weaves his way through traffic with very good production. This player is competitive and tough despite lackluster size. I would like to see him finish off plays instead of running out of bounds too often. Concerning to a few teams: a 2010 ACL tear and injury history at large. Second-round talent.

Others to watch:

Kenjon Barner Oregon 5’9-196 29 5/8 9 1/8

Marcus Lattimore South Carolina 5’11-221 32 1/2 9 7/78 Right knee injury history

Andre Ellington Clemson 5’9-199 31 9 3/8

Christine Michael Texas A&M 5’10-220 31 1/2 9 3/8

Mike Gillislee Florida 5’11-208 31 1/8 9 3/8