INDIANAPOLIS -- There are several running backs hoping to be selected in the 2013 NFL Draft this coming April, but only a few will have the honor of being selected early in the first three rounds. The running back position has evolved in the NFL over the last decade. Teams are slowly but surely moving away from single-back offenses, unless, of course, they have Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, Arian Foster or another of the league's few elite backs, and switching to a backfield that uses a committee of talented backs with separate skill sets.
Teams with powerful offenses like the Patriots and Saints have been known to use the running back by committee approach and a lot of other teams have followed suit. Every team, though, would gladly accept the next Peterson. Unfortunately, the next Peterson doesn't seem to be in this year's draft class. That doesn't mean there's not talent to be found, though.
The top three backs in the draft are considered by some to be Alabama's Eddie Lacy, North Carolina's Giovani Bernard and Wisconsin's Montee Ball. All three had successful college careers and all three will likely be taken off the board in the first three rounds. After they addressed the media separately on Friday, it's clear that they each sees himself in a different light, each embodying one of the core characteristics of a successful NFL running back.
Power: Eddie Lacy
Lacy is following two former Alabama running backs, Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, both of whom were selected in the first round. Due to the fact that he played behind both backs, Lacy doesn't have the miles that some of the other backs entering the draft do. In his only year as the main backfield threat, Lacy ran for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns on 204 carries.
While addressing the media from Podium C on Friday in Lucas Oil Stadium, Lacy was asked what his best attributes are as a runner. Being powerful was first and foremost.
"Just being able to be a powerful runner if I need to or an agile runner and make people miss," he said. "With my size, being able to be agile and make people miss, that's really key."
Lacy did his fair share of running around and through defenders. Standing at 5'11 and weighing in at 231 at the Combine, Lacy is one of the bigger backs in this year's draft class, showing the ideal size to run between the tackles. He will not be running at the Combine because of an injury suffered while working out, but he will be running at the Alabama pro day.
When he was asked once again what he would bring to an NFL team, his first word was "power."
Versatility: Giovani Bernard
Former North Carolina running back Bernard is another that could be selected in the first couple of rounds of the upcoming draft. He measured up at 5'8 and 202 pounds, which is quite a bit smaller than Lacy. He may not have the power to run between the tackles like Lacy does, but when asked about his three biggest strengths, versatility was the first.
"Versatility, my physical strength and my patience," Bernard said. "You've got to be physical as a running back, being patient as well. You've got to be able to set up your blocks and what not, and being versatile."
In the last two seasons at North Carolina, Bernard made a name for himself by running for over 2,400 yards and 25 touchdowns. He caught six touchdown passes in the last two seasons.
When asked who he modeled his game after, he didn't just name one player. He named three, picking and choosing specific aspects from some of today's best NFL running backs.
"I try to not replicate my game after one guy," Bernard said. "Darren Sproles, he's a quick guy. He's able to be shifty. I try to take that and add it to my own game. You've got a guy like Adrian Peterson, a hard-nosed running back that's going to churn out the yards. I try to add that to my game. You've got Ray Rice out of the backfield catching the ball. You really try to be that versatile player that teams need you to be."
Consistency: Montee Ball
Of the three backs, Ball's statistics stand out the most, but he isn't considered as high on teams' draft boards as Lacy or Bernard. In his four years playing for the Wisconsin Badgers, Ball churned out over 5,100 yards and scored 77 touchdowns. He was measured at the Combine at 5'11 and weighing in at 214 pounds.
He doesn't seem to have the power possessed by Lacy or the speed and versatility of Bernard, but he does have a highly sought-after characteristic: consistency.
When asked about what he would bring to the NFL team that drafts him, he mentioned some of the intangible qualities of any good player.
"Accountability, durability and consistency," Ball said. "I'm extremely consistent. You can count on me when I have the ball in my hands -- 924 carries, only two fumbles. So I do a great job of protecting the football. I score touchdowns. You can count on me to make the play and be there for you."
Ball has been nothing short of consistent for the Badgers in his four years, leading Wisconsin to three-straight Big 10 championships and three-straight Rose Bowl berths.
While Lacy embodies power, Bernard embodies versatility and Ball embodies consistency, they each share each others' qualities to a certain extent. That's what has made them so successful and that's what could help them transfer that success to the NFL. There are several running-back-needy teams this offseason and they'll be looking to fill their backfields with talent by using both the draft and free agency. While there may not be a Peterson in this year's draft class, any of these three, depending on what a team is looking for, could find great success in the future in the NFL.
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