Backup running backs in today's NFL see the field like never before. It seems as if every team has two good backs and some teams even have three capable runners. This is a list of the prospects that probably won't come in as day one starters, but they have the talent to contribute right away. Some of these ball-carriers may even be good starters one day.
Continuing our series with the best running back prospects for this year's NFL draft, we take a look at quality backup running backs who could add considerable contributions, especially within a two-back system. On Monday we reviewed the top running back prospects in preparation for the 2013 NFL draft.
1. Ray Graham - 5'9" 192 lbs - Pittsburgh
Notes: Graham is a smooth-gliding runner with speed and then he can cut very hard to elude defenders. He's a challenge for defenders to size-up because the way he runs is deceiving. For his size, he runs much harder than you'd expect. He isn't afraid to take it up the gut. He's at his best in the second level and in space.
Graham is also a very natural receiver and has a knack for the screen game. He's patient, doesn't need a great pass and turns upfield without losing momentum. The bad part about his receiving abilities is his lack of pass protection. He looks disinterested and even his cut blocks are weak. He's a liability as a pass protector in the backfield.
Size/Style Comparison: Percy Harvin at RB (H/T @ECStoner)
Draft Projection: 3rd/4th Round
2. Zac Stacy - 5'8" 215 lbs - Vanderbilt
Notes: Stacy is a shorter running back with good thickness. He displays good speed, but he's quicker than he is fast. Stacy's best attribute is his vision and acceleration. He's a perfect runner in zone schemes. He can plant and cut upfield in a hurry. He's also very deceptive pre-LOS. At his height, it must be hard for linebackers to see him because I felt like opposing defenses overran the play and allowed Stacy to cut back more than most. How hard he presses the hole only helps that. I really like his upside.
Draft Projection: 4th Round
3. Dennis Johnson - 5'9" 215 lbs - Arkansas
Strengths: Johnson's best attribute is in his build. At 5'9" and 215 lbs, he's built like a modern-day back; very thick lower half and plays with a low center of gravity. Add in Johnson's choppy steps and he's very hard for defenders to knock off balance. Johnson is more than a power back, he shows solid straight line speed and will surprise with his cuts and agility. He also routinely displays natural hands when catching passes. Arkansas wasn't afraid to line him out wide or in the slot where he was very effective. A third-down role is probably Johnson's early contribution in the NFL, but I think he can be an eventual starter.
Weaknesses: Johnson really only has one major flaw, and that's ball security. He fumbled about once every 40 college touches. It's a major concern because he doesn't show many signs of correcting the problem and it seems to be a new issue every time he loses the ball. He's currently my 9th ranked RB prospect, but if he had an average ball-security grade, his score would push him inside my top-five. His ability to resolve this issue will make or break his NFL career.
Comparison: Travis Henry
Draft Projection: 4th/5th round
4. Christine Michael - 5'11" 223 lbs - Texas A&M
Strengths: Michael has a nice blend of speed, quickness and power. He's one of the most creative runners in this draft once he reaches the second level. He loves the spin move, but he'll drop a shoulder or give a hard juke as well. He seems to fall forward often.
Weaknesses: Michael seemed to be in the coach's doghouse in 2012 and his fumbling problems probably didn't help. On the field, he's very inconsistent with his vision, patience and speed to the hole. I watched him get tackled from behind as his indecision slowed him down.
Size/Style Comparison: Rashard Mendenhall
Draft Projection: 4th - 6th Rounds
5. Stepfan Taylor - 5'11" 218 lbs - Stanford
Strengths: Taylor is a very fundamentally-sound back that gives max effort on every play. He has a good build and size and can run with power. Taylor had a steady line in front of him at Stanford, but he does a good job of being patient, following his blocks and taking what's given to him. Taylor gets good reviews in the passing game even though what I saw was about average. He's not a weapon but has plus hands. He also has only fumbled once every 115 touches.
Weaknesses: Taylor is a below average athlete that won't have many "wow" runs. He seems tapped out physically and that's with just under 1,000 college touches, Taylor's upside may be limited. I would also like to see Taylor use his power more often. I also don't like how much he gets pushed around in pass protection for being a bigger back.
Size/Style Comparison: Donald Brown
Draft Projection: 4th - 5th Round
6. Le'Veon Bell - 6'2" 235 lbs - Michigan State
Strengths: Bell is obviously a very big and strong runner. He can really punish defenders in the open field. I was surprised by his feet. At times he can show some good quickness to cut against the grain. Once in the 2nd level, Bell shows his creativity in breaking tackles and eluding defenders, which is his best trait. He can run you over, hurdle or make a defender miss in open field.
Weaknesses: Bell is only an average NFL athlete. He's not very fast, quick or explosive. He needs space to get up to speed and release his power. This makes him a poor goal-line back. Bell also isn't very good as a receiver. He won't get your quarterback killed in pass protection, but he's not a weapon defenses need to worry about. Bell's biggest flaw is that he doesn't have great vision or patience before he hits the LOS. He's going to be dependant on his offensive line in the NFL.
Size/Style Comparison: LeGarrette Blount
Draft Projection: 5th Round
Any questions will be answered in the comments section or on Twitter: @JoeGoodberry.