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Published: Feb. 18, 2013 at 12:48 p.m.
Updated: Feb. 18, 2013 at 01:17 p.m.

Top 12 running backs in the 2013 NFL Draft

Fifty years have passed since a running back was not selected in the first round of the NFL draft. The impact of the position has not necessarily changed in the last few seasons, but many teams have made it evident that a valuable ball carrier can be found beyond the draft's top two rounds. Here are my rankings of the top 12 running backs in the 2013 NFL Draft, along with round projections for April's event.

12 Photos Total

  • 12) Ray Graham, Pittsburgh 12

    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    12) Ray Graham, Pittsburgh

    After a knee injury sidelined him midway through the 2011 season, Graham did not look like his old self during the early parts of his senior campaign. The Panther then hit his stride down the stretch, hitting the hole with more speed and displaying great burst in cuts to pick up ground.

    Round projection: 3-6

  • 11) Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt 11

    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    11) Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt

    If you are looking for a third-day prospect who could produce if given an opportunity, Stacy is my pick. A determined and decisive runner, the Vandy product makes powerful cuts and refuses to go down on first contact. He isn't electric or overly agile, but Stacy could produce at the next level.

    Round projection: 4-6

  • 10) Mike Gillislee, Florida 10

    John Raoux/Associated Press

    10) Mike Gillislee, Florida

    Gillislee turned into one of the best college stories in 2012, shining in the lead-back role after three seasons of limited touches. The Gator thrives on front-side runs, following pulling blockers and cutting off their back sides. He is not dynamic, but Gillislee completes what is asked of him, even as a pass protector.

    Round projection: 3-5

  • 9) Montee Ball, Wisconsin 9

    Ben Liebenberg/NFL

    9) Montee Ball, Wisconsin

    As a senior, Ball went against the grain, proving you can teach an old dog new tricks. Working behind a less-talented offensive line than in prior years, Ball displayed much-improved vision, anticipating defenders and cutting in the opposite direction. The vast amount of carries to his name in a highly decorated collegiate career could come under scrutiny, but concussion questions will affect Ball more.

    Round projection: 2-4

  • 8) Dennis Johnson, Arkansas 8

    April L. Brown/Associated Press

    8) Dennis Johnson, Arkansas

    I don't expect Johnson to emerge as a three-down ball carrier. Instead, the Razorback can immediately contribute in passing situations or in a third-down role due to adept receiving ability, choppy steps to cut and reliable blocking. The biggest issue holding Johnson back is his tendency to put the ball on the ground.

    Round projection: 3-5

  • 7) Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina 7

    Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    7) Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina

    The wild card of the group, Lattimore's collegiate story is well known, but signs point to a smooth recovery from a seemingly catastrophic injury. Prior to his latest ailment, Lattimore shined as a one-cut, decisive runner with power to finish runs. If all goes well leading up to April, expect a team that focuses on zone blocking to take a chance on the Gamecock.

    Round projection: 3-7

  • 6) Stepfan Taylor, Stanford 6

    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    6) Stepfan Taylor, Stanford

    Unlike other backs on this list, Taylor's main deficiency is speed. He makes up for this weakness with strong leg drive, solid vision and little wasted movement on his cuts. The Stanford product plays faster than he's likely to time and makes the most of what he has.

    Round projection: 2-4

  • 5) Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State 5

    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    5) Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State

    Randle added a physical element to his game as a junior, lowering his shoulder and running through contact. This helped him convert many first downs, but the Cowboy is best known for long pickups due to excellent straight-line speed. Randle does take a few extra steps on his upfield cuts, though, and was frequently provided with wide running lanes.

    Round projection: 2-3

  • 4) Johnathan Franklin, UCLA 4

    Alix Drawec/NFL

    4) Johnathan Franklin, UCLA

    After the 2011 season, Franklin would have been listed much lower among his peers, but improved vision and agility at the second level helped his cause as a senior. Franklin has plenty of long speed and finds cutback lanes for gains others couldn't utilize.

    Round projection: 2-3

  • 3) Andre Ellington, Clemson 3

    Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    3) Andre Ellington, Clemson

    Lean runners do not usually possess the kind of balance Ellington displays. Projecting best in a zone-blocking scheme, Ellington sticks to his blockers, making tight cuts with great burst and long speed. He is thin, but Ellington sticks his nose in on pass protection with the best of them.

    Round projection: 2-3

  • 2) Giovani Bernard, UNC 2

    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    2) Giovani Bernard, UNC

    This smooth runner utilizes short strides and cuts to maneuver around defenders all over the field. Bernard's comfort as a receiver and returner gives him the playmaker label. However, some will question his lack of physicality to break first contact and simply move the chains.

    Round projection: 2

  • 1) Eddie Lacy, Alabama 1

    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    1) Eddie Lacy, Alabama

    A powerful runner who always falls forward on contact, Lacy is an agile back considering his size. Some might be concerned about a lack of immediate burst after receiving the handoff, but Lacy is tough to stop once he gains momentum and is an underrated back in passing situations, too.

    Round projection: 1-2 (top 50 picks)

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