Archive for the ‘Running Back’ Category

As I alluded to in my analysis of Giovani Bernard, this is not a very strong year for running backs. There isn’t a Trent Richardson or Adrian Peterson that is going to be taken in the top 10. There will be some good players taken in the latter rounds, but there are going to be backs taken higher than they probably should. If there is one exception to this, it is Alabama running back Eddie Lacy; he isn’t the next AD or Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith, but Lacy is a consistent, hard-running back who will make plays in the NFL.

While I was watching Lacy’s film I soon came to realize something that is really impressive about the Alabama product, he almost never takes a negative play. I can only recall a handful of plays off the top of my head where Lacy was taken down in the backfield, and when you consider the types of defenses he went up against in the SEC, that becomes even more impressive. Coaches always tell their running backs to “keep their legs moving” when they are being gang-tackled, and I’m not sure if anyone does that more consistently than Eddie Lacy does. The man simply does not go down without a fight.

When you look at Lacy you notice that he has some good size for a running back, in fact when you really look at him you become surprised at his speed and quickness in relation to his size. In the open field, Lacy has some unbelievably deceptive speed and quickness. I’m sure he was able to make more than a few defenders miss him simply because they were not expecting Lacy to be able to do the things that Lacy does. Unfortunately for Lacy he will not be able to participate in drills this weekend at the Combine due to a hamstring injury, so he’ll just have to hope he is healthy for his pro day in March to show off that speed and agility.

The SEC is known for having some of the best defenses in the entire country. So when you look at Lacy’s numbers, which would be impressive no matter where he played, you have to realize how difficult it is to do what he did last season. In 2012, Lacy ran for over 1300 yards, averaging 6.5 yards a carry, and an unreal 17 touchdowns. Add in his receiving yards and Lacy led the entire SEC in total yards from scrimmage. When you have to play teams like Georgia and LSU every week, it is extremely impressive the amount of success Lacy had.

As a pure running back, Lacy has just about everything you want. He has great vision to find the right hole and a good burst to hit that hole hard. The great thing about Lacy too is he doesn’t need a big hole to make a big play; on several plays I watched him squeeze through a small hole and take it to the house. Lacy also has some decent hands for a running back which he will need to showcase in the pass-happy NFL if he wants to have a long, successful career. Sticking with the passing game, Lacy is a very good pass blocker. He picks up blitzes well and protects his quarterback on plays when he is neither running nor going out for a pass.

I should mention that coming in to his junior season, there were some questions in Tuscaloosa about his ability to hang on to the ball. In 2011, Lacy had a few fumbles in a short sampling of plays, which made the Crimson Tide faithful a bit concerned. Lacy obviously spent the following off-season working on his ball handling because this was not really a problem in 2012 where he had over 200 touches.

Lacy is the kind of running back I would love to have on my team. He is a very hard-runner, with good speed and agility. The man simply does not go down without a fight; his legs just never stop moving. Lacy is not going to be a huge star in the league, but he will probably be a consistent contributor on a team looking to add a new wrinkle to their offense. Lacy might end up being a steal in the middle of the second round if general managers realize what I have quickly realized, this is just a bad year for running backs and it is far smarter to wait to find your guy later on in the draft.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @bill_slane

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If you are a team looking to add some kind of spark into your running attack through this year’s draft, you may be out of luck. There really are not a whole lot, if any, great running backs in this year’s draft class. Depending on who you ask, the 5’10” 205 pound Giovani Bernard out of the University of North Carolina is at worst the 2nd or 3rd best running back in this year’s draft, and that is telling of the quality of running backs this year.

Giovani is not a bad player by any stretch of the imagination, and any team taking him in the second round would not be making the biggest mistake in the world, I just don’t see this kid making a huge impact in the NFL. Bernard had some decent stats while at UNC, over 1000 yards in back-to-back seasons, double-digit touchdowns, and he was a decent punt returner. There are some holes in his game however that I believe will make it very difficult to find success at the next level.

To start, Bernard is not going to kill you with his speed. Giovani is expected to run somewhere in the 4.5s in the 40-yard dash in the upcoming combine. While that is far from slow, I’m not sure if he has some of the other characteristics that make a great running back. In the end his 40 time may not matter; two of the most successful running backs from last year’s draft, Alfred Morris and Doug Martin both had times over 4.5.

What separates those two players from Giovani is their ability to make good cuts and make guys miss. Giovani is not the kind of player that is going to run through you, or juke you out of your cleats. He doesn’t have the kind of quickness or strength where he is going to be one of the hardest players in the NFL to bring down, he very rarely made those kind of plays at UNC.

On a lot of Bernard’s big plays, it didn’t seem that he did something to really break one as much as it was his offensive making a big hole. Bernard had the benefit of a top-notch offensive line, including Jonathan Cooper at guard who is projected as a first round pick in April.

As a punt returner, Bernard was decent at best. In 16 returns this past season he had about 260 total yards and 2 touchdowns. He did however have a big return against NC State that went for a game-winning touchdown. Making a big play like that against your in-state shows that Bernard is a clutch-type of player. Sometimes being clutch though isn’t enough, you must be consistently good to be successful in the NFL. He also made several mistakes returning punts that led to turnovers. In the end I wouldn’t trust Bernard to return punts in the NFL.

One of the most positive things I can say about Giovani is his skills at pass blocking. For someone who is not overly big, Bernard seems to be ale to pick up blitzes very well as a running back. Players who have that kind of skill are very often third-down backs in the NFL, however I just don’t see Giovani flourishing on third down since he is not a prolific pass catcher.

Giovanni’s strengths as a runner seem to be shown more in the red-zone. On film, Giovani showed much better vision and cutting ability in close range within 20 yards than he did in the middle of the field. Bernard keeps his legs moving when in a scrum and that is a good characteristic for a running back at the next level.

I don’t see where Giovani fits in the NFL. He does not have the look or feel of a feature back, he doesn’t have the hands or agility of a third-down back. There are some teams who use the “running-back-by-committee” approach that could find a spot for him but I can’t think of one off the top of my head. Giovanni really should not go anywhere before the middle of the second round, even though he is still one the best running backs available this year. He seems like a smart, hard-working player, but I would be very surprised if Bernard became a star in the NFL.

Follow me on Twitter: @bill_slane

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