With Cedric Benson having an off year and heading towards free agency, or at the very least a one year franchise tag that would count $9.864 million against the cap. The Bengals need to find a bigger back who can (hopefully) split carries with Bernard Scott. Most of the league is turning to a two-back system with different style runners that can compliment each other.
On paper, Benson and Scott appear to do just that. The old offensive regime didn't really evolve with the rest of the offenses in the NFL and as a result, Scott never really split carries with Benson. Plus the new offensive game plan should have the running back involved in the passing offense, and that's not really Cedric Benson's specialty. So let's say Benson doesn't return for the 2011 season. We could sign an over priced free agent or draft a mid-round runningback. After Josh reminded us that the Bengals haven't had much success drafting running backs in the first two rounds. Wes Bunting tabbed Cincinnati as a possible landing spot for Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure at the top of round two. He also suggested Clemson's Jamie Harper when I spoke to him earlier this week.
I've been trying to find the next Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner and even Marion Barber. All were selected between rounds 2-5 and became bell cow runners. What I noticed about every one of them is how filled their frames were out from college. Now they have very thick lower bodies that help them run with great balance and power. So I've narrowed my search down to four possible players. Are there more than four guys that can make this same kind of jump? Of course, but these are the four that have stood out to me. I could include Heisman trophy winning running back Mark Ingram in this list because I've seen him rated between picks 20-32 in most mock drafts. But he's a long shot to make it until the Bengals pick at 35. So, if you're still with me, here's my four favorite running backs that can develop into the thunder along side Bernard Scott's lightning.
Mikel Leshoure RB Illinois 6'0" 230 lbs Projected: Late 1st - Early 2nd
I love Mikel Leshoure's potential. He’s a better athlete than you would imagine for a big back. He's not just power, he can make you miss and has a great burst through the hole. The burst and acceleration is something that I've noticed as a common attribute among elite NFL running backs. After Cedric Benson's 2010 campaign, how about this stat: Mikel Leshoure has never fumbled in his college career. Yup, never. Add soft hands and the ability to pass protect, Leshoure is a complete back. With that said, and as much as I respect Wes Bunting, I think Leshoure goes between picks 20-32. He’s number 17 on my big board. We would be very lucky to have him slip to us at pick 35, and should take him without question
Pro Comparison: Steven Jackson
Here's a video that's not a highlight reel. It's made by the Scouting Coordinator for Draft Breakdown: Aaron Aloysius. So look for the things I've mentioned and let me know how you feel about Mikel Leshoure.
Delone Carter RB Syracuse 5'10" 215 lbs Projected: Late 3rd - 5th
Make no mistake about it, Delone Carter is my favorite back in this draft. He's a powerful one cut running back that never gives up or stops pumping his legs. His upper body is completely shredded and his lower half is thick and strong. Other than his power, his best attributes are his balance and vision. Carter almost never misses the cutback lane when one opens up. Oh and here's a something new, Carter never fumbled in college (see a trend?). So why is Carter regarded by many as a mid to late round pick? He's not a break away runner. His speed is average and Carter doesn't offer much in the passing game (28 career receptions). But that's OK if you have somebody who can split carries with him. I would say that if we don't draft a running back by the 4th round and Carter is still available. Take him.
Pro Comparison: Thomas Jones
Jamie Harper RB Clemson 6'0" 235 lbs Projected: 4th - 6th
I didn't think much of Jamie Harper when I took my initial look at this years running back class. I could find a pro comparison for him. What 230 lbs back runs with so much finesse? After my conversation with Wes Bunting, where he compared Harper to Oakland Raiders runner Michael Bush, I decided to take another look. I saw a player who has yet to reach his full potential and just might be a better pro player than a college player. Harper possesses good speed and quickness in the open field. Add that to his size and he's a tough man to bring down in the open field. It really looks like Harper doesn't know he's a big back. He would rather juke a defender in the hole instead of dropping a shoulder and falling forward. That can work out both ways for Harper. I've seen defenders go for his legs, but Harper's feet are good for a big back and he steps aside and breaks away. Jamie Harper also had very good hands and is solid in pass protection. Where he struggles is his vision and he can dance too much in the backfield as he waits for a hole to open up. Both of these deficiencies can be fixed with a good running backs coach. With the long list of needs for the Bengals, I could see them not addressing the position until late in the draft. Just like they did in the 2009 draft where they found Bernard Scott in the 6th round.
Pro Comparison: Michael Bush
Daniel Thomas RB Kansas St. 6'2" 225 lbs Projected: 3rd - 6th
Daniel Thomas is a project running back to me. Draft him, let him sit and develop his body for a season, then unleash him. I say this because Thomas is still raw as a runner. He played quarterback his first two seasons of college ball and it shows when he runs. He's a little too upright and doesn't generate his power from his legs. Instead he will try use his arms or shoulders to shed defenders. Thomas has very long legs and this results in deceptive speed. He's not very sudden or quick, but his speed builds up. He looks to have good vision and can usually find the cut back lanes. He also has experience running the wildcat, which could be something of value. I've seen Thomas drafted as high as the 3rd round, but I wouldn't touch him until the 6th. He's 24 years old and upright runners usually don't last long in the NFL. Let him sit. Learn the position better and develop his lower body. It will make him a better and more durable player.
Pro Comparison: James Starks