Running backs have lost a lot of their luster in the world of fantasy football, as injuries to several superstars and backfield committees will make it tough to trust the position in 2012. However, we have seen more than our fair share of rookie backs make an impact at the pro level. From Eric Dickerson to Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis and Matt Forte (to name a few), first-year runners do have some fantasy sheen to them. While the trend of rookie runners making a huge statistical splash has slowed in recent seasons, there's at least one back in the 2012 class that could break the mold.
Here's a look at five running backs you should remember in the 2012 NFL Draft - and when it comes time to draft your fantasy team.
Trent Richardson, Alabama (40-yard dash - DNP, vertical leap - DNP, broad jump - DNP): Richardson, who NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock calls the best running back prospect to come into the NFL since Adrian Peterson, was unable to participate in the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine after undergoing a left knee scope earlier in February. The procedure was minor in nature, so it won't have an effect on where Richardson is taken in April's draft. A potential featured back at the pro level, the Alabama product is a three-down runner and almost guaranteed to be the first rookie taken in seasonal drafts -- as long as he lands in the right situation. If he ends up with a team like the Bengals, I can see Richardson coming off the board in the second or third round. Only a committee situation could squash his value.
David Wilson, Virginia Tech (40-yard dash - 4.49, vertical leap - 41.0, broad jump - 132.0): Wilson led all running backs at the combine in the vertical leap and the broad jump, while also finishing tied for third in the 20-yard shuttle (4.12 seconds). A playmaking runner, he also showed terrific skills as a pass catcher and made a tremendous impression on NFL teams overall. If he can avoid the case of fumbilitis that hindered him at times in college, Wilson has a chance to come right in and make an impact at the pro level. Regardless, the former Hokies standout will be selected in most seasonal fantasy drafts -- where he comes off the board depends on the team that takes him in April's draft. He could be a nice fit for the Packers, who have question marks in their backfield.
Lamar Miller, Miami (Fla.) (40-yard dash - 4.40, vertical leap - 33.0, broad jump - DNP): Fantasy owners looking for a potential sleeper should keep close tabs on Miller in the weeks and months ahead. He led all running backs in the 40-yard dash, which just adds to Miller's appeal. Compared to fellow Miami (Fla.) product Clinton Portis, Miller also has great field vision and possesses the tools to be a dynamic featured runner at the NFL level. If there's one downside, it's that we only saw a small sample size of Miller in college. That sample was pretty impressive, though, as he rushed for 100-plus yards in his first five games of 2011 and finished with 1,271 yards in his final amateur season. If he's allowed a chance to start as an NFL rookie, Miller could have middle-round appeal.
Doug Martin, Boise State (40-yard dash - 4.55, vertical leap - 36.0, broad jump - 120.0): Martin finished in the top five among running backs in several combine drills, including the three-cone drill, the 60- and 20-yard shuttles and the broad jump. He also tied for first at the position in the bench press with 28 reps at 225 pounds. While he was just 13th in the 40-yard dash, Martin was one of the few players who actually added weight before the workouts in an effort to prove that he can be an every-down back at the NFL level. There are a number of teams that could target Martin, who projects to be a second-round pick, but whether he's allowed a chance at a prominent role will be the real factor in his 2012 fantasy value. Like Miller, Martin is a player to keep tabs on this spring.
LaMichael James, Oregon (40-yard dash - 4.45, vertical leap - 35.0, broad jump - 123.0): An explosive runner, James finished tied for second in both the 40-yard dash and the broad jump at the combine. Those totals will no doubt add to his value in April's draft, but the Oregon product is undersized at 5-foot-8 and 194 pounds and projects as more of a scat back in the same vein as Darren Sproles. Of course, anyone who had Sproles on their fantasy team last season knows that a back of smaller stature can still make some noise in the stat sheets. While I don't see a featured role in James' NFL future, he could be a very solid option as part of a backfield committee. He could end up with a team like the Chargers or Steelers, but regardless James will have middle- to late-round fantasy appeal.