With Tampa Bay again near the bottom of the league in yards per carry and considering the bodies occupying roster spots in the team’s backfield (the old and the unproven), it wouldn’t be a shock to see them spend an early draft pick on a franchise back next year. Cadillac Williams has a huge heart, but he’s not a serious a threat as a feature back. Earnest Graham is a nice veteran role player. I’d like to see just what we have in youngsters LaGarrette Blount and Kareem Huggins, and as Raheem Morris has said, expect their carries to increase the rest of the way. I’m intrigued to see what the latter two can do, but at this point, I don’t believe either is going to join the league’s elite feature runners any time soon. Perhaps the Bucs can find that elite runner from next year’s crop of talent.
Here are my current top five backs for the 2011 class with analysis:
1 – Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech
grinder with speed; squares shoulders really well when hitting the hole; plus lower body strength; keeps legs moving on contact; doesn’t hesitate, no wasted steps; really nice vision at first and second levels; good, not elite speed; would like to see him secure the ball a little better; tough to arm tackle; really quick through the hole, is 3 yards downfield before being touched in many instances; nice hands; a three down back who can handle short yardage work too; underutilized receiver; dealing with hamstring issue in ‘10
2 – Mikel Leshoure, Illinois
nice tight build; durable, can take pounding; doesn’t have elite speed, but shows a great burst through the line; able to see lanes while moving and make decisive cuts; very reliable receiver; keeps feet/legs moving forward at all times; very nice shake and cutting ability for a big guy; protects the ball really well; keeps moving after contact; love him as a complete package back (runner, receiver, blocker) at next level; think he’s a guy who could really develop in his second year like fellow Illini back Rashard Mendenhall
3 – Mark Ingram, Alabama
Emmitt Smith; successful inside runner; nice pad level; takes on and breaks tackles; sufficient, not elite speed; NFL size; strong leg drive; nice hands out of the backfield; 3 down back at next level; good, not great vision and cut back ability; heavy pro style offense experience; really like his balance and lean; decisive runner, not many wasted steps; above average blocker for a college back; plus ball security; doesn’t have a huge NFL upside IMO
4 – Shane Vereen, California
breakaway speed (barely; not elite); well built for a smaller guy; runs low to the ground; runs though more tackles than you’d expect for a back his size; like him better than Justin Forsett (a guy I liked more than others coming out) but not as much as Jahvid Best; really good hands; accomplished kick returner; reliable receiver who can make plays with the ball in his hands; very quick to the perimeter; one simple play against UCLA in ’10 showed me a lot about him – split out wide 1st 10, catches quick pass, takes into the middle of the defense, slips two tackles, takes third guy to bring him down, and his legs keep chopping whole time; appears to be a faster but less durable Ray Rice
5 – DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
if he’s even, he’s leavin’; quick accelerator; breakaway / open field speed stands out to me; plus hands; plus balance; should have huge impact as a receiver, specifically in screen game at next level; nice body type/size; quick stepper, not a long strider; return experience; plus athleticism; runs too high at times; very experienced; injury history but am impressed with how healthy/durable he’s been in ’10; needs to keep improving the way he protects himself as a runner; looks stronger and runs harder in ’10; see a lot of Darren McFadden in him
Leshoure is my favorite of this bunch, but I’d be thrilled if any of the top four ended up in the Buccaneers backfield in 2011.