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‘Lace ’Em Up’: Are Jets in Draft Market at RB?

Posted Apr 2, 2013

Newyorkjets.com's coverage of the 2013 draft continues with breakdowns of each position group, the Jets' needs at the spot, and the top players expected to be selected at the position from April 25-27. Today's third in the series: Running Backs.

For the third consecutive year, an Alabama product is projected to be the top running back selected in the draft. In 2011 Mark Ingram was drafted by New Orleans. Last year Trent Richardson was chosen by Cleveland. And this year Eddie Lacy has a chance to hear his name called on Day 1.

If Lacy isn’t taken during the draft’s opening day, it will end a streak dating to 1963 in which at least one running back has been chosen in the first round.

"I'm not concerned about it at all," Lacy said. "NFL coaches like you because of what you do in games and what you do in big stadiums. This is just something that you want to receive glowing evaluations, but at the end of the day somebody takes you."

Lacy, who missed the combine and Alabama’s pro day with a hamstring injury, led the Crimson Tide to their 15th national championship in January. He performed best on the biggest stages, rushing for a career-high 181 yards and two touchdowns and earning Most Valuable Player honors against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. One month later, he was named Most Outstanding Offensive Player of the BCS National Championship Game when he totaled 140 yards and two TDs in the Tide’s win over Notre Dame.

The Geismar, La., native exited Tuscaloosa with 2,402 yards and 30 touchdowns on 355 carries. After not participating in drills at the combine, Lacy weighed 11 pounds heavier than he was listed at during his final season at 'Bama. ESPN’s Christopher Harris says the only questions about Lacy are “whether he's fast enough in space to make initial NFL tacklers miss, and ... whether his punishing style will allow him to hold up for a full season.”

It was just announced last week that Lacy will hold a workout for NFL scouts on April 11.

Is it realistic that the Jets could draft Lacy or any of the draft's top backs? It’s certainly a topic for discussion.

A question on Alabama RB Eddie Lacy is whether his punishing style will allow him to hold up for a full NFL season.

After two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, RB Shonn Greene bolted for Tennessee on the second day of free agency. Bilal Powell showed growth during his second year as a pro, rushing for 437 yards and four touchdowns. Joe McKnight rushed for only 179 yards but averaged 6.0 yards a carry and finished with the NFL’s fifth-best kickoff-return average (27.5). Mike Goodson signed with the Green & White on March 15 after averaging 6.3 yards a carry on 35 attempts last season with Oakland.

With new coordinator Marty Mornhinweg bringing in his West Coast offense, it remains to be seen if another RB will be required. It’s fair to believe, though, that the backs may be catching more balls out of the backfield in 2013.

“If our backs have that talent, we certainly will do that,” Mornhinweg said last month. “You may see that a little bit more than you have in the past. However, if our backs don’t have that talent, then we will utilize other players to get the football to.”

Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Perloff suggests in his offseason preview on the Jets that they "draft a running back."

Gio: Smaller Model, Lots of Drive

North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard is one of the most explosive prospects in this draft class. He clocked the third-best shuttle time among RBs at the combine (4.12 seconds) and provides a unique skillset. Even though he missed two games in 2012, he led the ACC in rushing yards (1,228), touchdowns (19), all-purpose yards and punt-return average.

"Gio is a special player and an even better person," Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora said. "He flourished in our offense and was an outstanding leader for our program.”

The 5’9”, 202-pounder is projected by most as a second-round selection. CBS Sportsline’s Dane Brugler compares Bernard to Richardson: “Besides durability and a smaller-than-ideal frame, it's tough to find negatives to Gio's game.”

Bernard, who was teammates with Jets DE Quinton Coples in Chapel Hill, was also a standout on special teams as he led the nation with a 16.4 punt-return average. On Oct. 27, against in-state rival North Carolina State, he scored the game-winning touchdown with a 74-yard punt return.

Recently there have been questions as to whether he can be an every-down NFL back, but he assures the doubters that he’s capable.

“Heck, yeah,” he said after his workout at UNC’s pro day. “I don’t want to come off the field.”

Last week cincyjungle.com wrote that Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is particularly interested in Bernard.

Several Second-Day Diamonds

Electing to forgo his senior year, Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle is set for the next level. In 2012, he was the Big 12’s top rusher with 1,417 yards on 274 carries (5.2 yards/carry) and 14 touchdowns. He also caught 28 balls for 224 yards. His versatility is sure to attract teams while draft experts believe his strength and balance through contact are what make him a strong prospect.

Two issues: Randle's ball security and speed. He ran a disappointing 4.63 40 at the combine and fumbled five times in a span of six games from the conclusion of his junior campaign through the start of his senior season.

His 40 time might not affect his draft status as much as one would assume. He improved his time at O-K-State’s pro day to 4.51. And let’s not forget: Last year Alfred Morris ran a 4.67 combine 40 before going onto rush for 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns as a Redskins rookie.

If a club is in need of a three-down back, UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin could be a target. Franklin increased his draft status with an impressive combine performance. “Franklin was quick throughout position drills and was fine-tuned in all areas," wrote USA Today’s Tony Pauline. "He's able to turn on a dime and keep his speed. His pass-catching skills were also impressive. Many are now comparing him to All-Pro running back Frank Gore.”

A four-year starter for the Bruins, Franklin had a pair of 200-yard rushing games his senior season and left the Pac 12 program as the school’s all-time leading rusher. After struggling with ball security each of his first three seasons, he fumbled only once as a senior.

After a slow start to his collegiate career, Andre Ellington departed Clemson as the fourth-leading rusher in school history, third in rushing touchdowns, and a three-time All-ACC selection. He opened his senior year rushing for a career-high 228 yards in Clemson’s 26-19 win at Auburn.

Experts classify Ellington as elusive, tough, and someone who does a good job finding cutback lanes.

“One of the reasons I like him is because at 195 pounds, he might be the best effort pass-protection running back in the draft, which really surprised me,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said.

Rotoworld draft analyst Josh Norris ranks Ellington as the third-best RB in the draft and NFL Draft Bible reported that he and Clemson teammate WR DeAndre Hopkins had a private workout with New England last week.

Ball Gets Some Curt Comparisons

The accolades Wisconsin’s Montee Ball earned during his time in Madison are endless. The consensus All-America first-teamer exits the college ranks as the NCAA Division I-FBS career leader with 77 rushing touchdowns and 83 total TDs.

Although his numbers slightly declined as a senior, he is still regarded as a legit back at the pro level. In his final collegiate game on Jan. 1, Ball became the first player in Rose Bowl Game history to score a touchdown in three straight years. Interestingly he’s drawn some comparisons to Jets Hall of Famer Curtis Martin.

Mayock said of Ball, “I think he's going to have to do a better job with pass protection. But at 5'11", 215, he should be able to do a better job with pass protection. I think he's shown toughness, balance, vision. He's a one-cut, north-south runner and I think he fits most of the offenses in the NFL."

Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor is another prospect whose stock dropped from his combine performance. He ran a disappointing 4.76 40-yard dash time, and during cone drills he slowed down changing direction to the point of coming to a complete stop. He did slightly improve his 40 time at Stanford’s pro day on March 22.

The 5'9", 214-pounder set four Cardinal career records, including most rushing yards (4,300), touchdowns and 100-yard rushing games. He capped off his record-breaking career being named an Athlon All-America second-teamer in 2012 and won the 2013 Rose Bowl Offensive Player of the Game as Stanford defeated Wisconsin, 20-14.

And the Top Fullback Is...

NFLDraftScout.com predicts Florida State’s Lonnie Pryor will be the first fullback chosen. He helped the Seminoles finish as ACC champions in 2012, then rushed for a career-high 134 yards on just five carries en route to being selected as the Orange Bowl’s Most Valuable Player. He scored 23 career rushing touchdowns in Tallahassee and looks to be most efficient at the pro level in a hybrid role.

"Lonnie will block, he can catch it, he can run it and he will sit on the sideline and cheer,” FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “To me, maybe not numbers-wise, but he's one of the greatest players ever to play at Florida State."

Other Notables

RB Kenjon Barner, Oregon; RB Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State; RB Mike Gillislee, Florida; RB Jawan Jamison, Rutgers; RB Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina; RB Christine Michael, Texas A&M.

Tuesday, March 26: Wide Receivers

Friday, March 29: Tight Ends

Friday, April 5: Quarterbacks

Preseason Live: New York Jets

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