Ranking the running backs

Written by Kip Earlywine

This installment will cover the running backs.  Keep in mind that rankings will be much harder this time for a few reasons:

#1:  We haven’t heard any inside info about which running backs the Seahawks like other than Trent Richardson.

#2:  After Richardson, there is a ton of depth and parity in this running back class.

#3:  There isn’t a ton of running back consensus among draft minds.  How you rank them has a lot less to do with how good they are and is more about what type of attributes you favor in a runner.

My top ten running backs in the 2012 draft:

#1:  Trent Richardson (deserves to be drafted:  top 10 overall)

Richardson’s high power, high leg drive, deceptive speed, and gaudy statistics remind me a lot of Corey Dillon many years ago.  Dillon had a fringe hall of fame NFL career, and I think Richardson might end up being even better than Dillon was.  Richardson is widely considered the best running back to come out since Adrian Peterson.

#2:  Lamar Miller (deserves to be drafted: late round 1)

There might not be a running back in the entire draft that makes it look easier than Miller does.  He’s also one of the draft’s fastest and most elusive running backs.  The Clinton Portis comparisons are legit, in my opinion.

#3:  Chris Polk (deserves to be drafted:  late round 1)

Polk has improved each of the last three seasons and nearly set a school record for rushing despite playing behind a weak offensive line.  Polk is an interesting combination of being hard to tackle and also being an excellent receiver.  His speed is under-rated too.  Other than pass blocking, Polk is a classic jack of all trades running back that does everything pretty well.  Polk could potentially slip into the third or fourth round, making him a huge bargain for some lucky team.

#4:  Doug Martin (deserves to be drafted:  late round 1)

Martin has the quickest feet of any running back in the draft.  If you want a back that can break ankles, Martin is your guy.  I have him a tiny bit lower than most people do because of the level of competition he faced while playing for an elite team, and also because his tendency to dance behind the line too much could be a small issue for zone blocking schemes.

#5:  LaMichael James (deserves to be drafted:  round 2)

James may not be very big, but he’s much stronger than his size would lead you to believe.  He’s also a very good inside rusher, a bit like Justin Forsett with wheels.  James averaged over 20 carries a game at Oregon and stayed healthy (an odd elbow injury aside).  He’d make for a good 3rd down back, but I see logical reasons as to why he could expand his role beyond that.  My only problem with James was that almost all of his runs were draw plays.  How would he function in a normal offense?  That uncertainty drops James a bit for me, but otherwise I think he’s a special talent that does a lot of things well and is going to be one of the league’s fastest running backs on day one.

#6:  David Wilson (deserves to be drafted:  round 3)

Wilson is very young, has fast straight line speed, and had terrific production in his first season.  He doesn’t really have much in the way of elusiveness, vision, or instincts though.  He’s got too much length for his own good which makes him a stiff and predictable runner.  He almost seems like a track star who just recently converted to running back.  I wouldn’t put it past Wilson to have a huge NFL career, but I didn’t like what I saw.  I wouldn’t take him until many other options had already left the board.

#7:  Robert Turbin (deserves to be drafted:  round 3)

Robert Turbin is a Marshawn Lynch clone with a shade less athleticism.  Turbin is a strong interior rusher that makes mostly good decisions.  He prides himself on his pass blocking and could easily become a productive three down running back in the NFL.

#8:  Bernard Pierce (deserves to be drafted:  round 4)

A powerful, downhill runner with decent speed, Pierce is a bit like a mix of Knile Davis and David Wilson.  Pierce has Wilson’s long legs, stiff movement, and good north/south speed, while resembling Davis in terms of power and consistency.  Pierce is an excellent mid round option for a team that can’t address running back early.

#9:  Tauren Poole (deserves to be drafted:  round 4)

Poole has many similarities to Chris Polk.  Both are well rounded players with deceptively decent speed who played behind poor offensive lines.  Poole has quick feet and good change of direction skills.  Poole is one of the draft’s most under-rated running backs.  He’d probably be drafted in round two if he didn’t play for such a miserable team.

#10:  Isaiah Pead (deserves to be drafted:  round 5)

As Matt Waldman colorfully illustrated, Pead is a talented back, but “he takes too many trips to the corner store.”  Pead is widely thought to be just a third down back in the NFL.

The front office’s top 10 running backs (my guesses):

(estimated draft grade in parenthesis)

I think Seattle is looking for three things:  they are looking for a change of pace back, they are looking for a guy who can fill in for Lynch if he gets hurt as a three down back, and they are looking for Lynch’s eventual successor in 3-5 years time.  Marshawn Lynch just turned 26 years old two days ago.  He’ll be 29 years old in the final year of his new contract.  I don’t have a crystal ball, but it seems logical to think that Lynch has a very good chance of seeing the end of that contract here in Seattle. That means whoever Seattle drafts this year is going to be very much a long term player, with seasons from 2016 and beyond kept in mind.

Trent Richardson, David Wilson and Lamar Miller are all very young players, while Doug Martin is relatively old.   If Seattle drafted Doug Martin, and Lynch remained on the team through his contract, Martin wouldn’t become the starting back until his age 28 season (2016).  Because of that, I think age is going to be a factor in the front office’s ranking process.

#1:  Trent Richardson (1st round grade)

Richardson isn’t just one of the best running backs to come out in the last decade, but he’s a perfect fit for the Seahawks’ identity. He’s also the youngest running back in the draft.  If Richardson reaches the 12th pick, the Seahawks would strongly consider selecting him.

#2:  Lamar Miller (1st round grade)

Miller is a good fit as a complimentary back to Lynch in the short term, and he’s young which makes him a good option in the long term.  Miller’s only real negative is his inexperience (blocking, etc), and having a few years to be the #2 back while getting coached up could be the perfect situation for him.

#3:  David Wilson (2nd round grade)

There are plenty of times when this front office thinks in ways I don’t understand, and I suspect Wilson will be another of those times.  This front office takes a bit of a “fixer upper” approach to the prospects they target in rounds 2-7.  I don’t think Wilson’s shortcomings are fixable, but they may feel differently.  Wilson is one of the youngest running backs in the draft too, and while I’m not his biggest fan, I think he will do his best in a power zone blocking scheme, which happens to be what the Seahawks run.

#4:  Chris Polk (2nd round grade)

There were many times early last year when Marshawn Lynch looked hopeless that I wondered how different the offense would be if we had Chris Polk in there instead.  Thankfully, things came together and Lynch had a heck of a second half of the season.  Chris Polk may not have a lot of elite attributes, but he’s in his element when playing behind poor blocking.  Some backs can still be effective behind bad lines and some can’t. The future of Seattle’s offensive line is a bit murky, so Polk holds some appeal here in case the run blocking ends up backsliding.

#5:  Doug Martin (2nd round grade)

I have Martin fifth on this list for a few reasons, but that doesn’t mean I think Seattle would be loathe to draft him at #43.  Martin is a good player and I think there is a lot of truth behind the Ray Rice comps.  As I pointed out right after last year’s draft, Seattle is trying to replicate the process that built the Baltimore Ravens.  In that mindset, targeting the next Ray Rice makes a lot of sense.  I just think that Martin will be slightly below some of the other names due to his age, injury concerns, and high number of rushes for loss.  I could definitely be wrong though.  There is very little that separates the members of this years’ 2nd tier.

#6:  Robert Turbin (3rd round grade)

Turbin reminds me so much of Marshawn Lynch.  John Schneider rated Lynch very highly back when he was with Green Bay.  It honestly wouldn’t blow me away if Seattle took Turbin at #43, though I would hope they’d try to get him later than that.

#7:  LaMichael James (3rd round grade)

Pete Carroll has increased familiarity in the Pac-12 and has used it to his advantage on numerous occasions already.  With there being two premiere Pac-12 running backs in this draft, could Carroll lean that way once again?  James is a pretty good fit for Seattle in some ways, particularly in the short term.

#8:  Bernard Pierce (3rd round grade)

Pierce is another young running back that seems to fit a power zone blocking scheme well.  His good measurables will appeal to this front office too.  It wouldn’t shock me if Seattle took Pierce in the 3rd round.

#9:  Tauren Poole (4th round grade)

As a bit of a poor man’s Chris Polk, Poole could have a lot of appeal if for some reason the Seahawks do not select a running back in the first three rounds.

#10:  Terrance Ganaway (5th round grade)

Despite all of his huge runs in the Alamo bowl, Ganaway is not a fast running back.  He’s not very elusive either.  He does have good power and is dependable in short yardage.  His straight ahead power running style could hold some appeal to the Seahawks and their power zone blocking scheme.


  1. Phil

    Kip – thanks for the data. I’ve been a big fan of Martin’s, mainly because of the way he was used in BSU’s offense where he was sometimes flanked out and used as a downfield threat. He caught 28 balls for 263 yds. last year. Just for comparison, I was surprised to see that Lynch caught 28 for 212 — I’d overlooked that Marshawn was used as much as he was as a receiver. But, I suspect that lots of his receiving yards were from screens/check off throws.

    There are some real variations among some of the RBs when you look at their receiving stats. Of course, the numbers don’t tell the whole tale — some of the RBs were probably not in offenses where they had a chance to show their abilities (or were injured for part of the year). But, here are the receptions/yds. for some of those you have mentioned.
    Richardson 29/338
    Martin 28/263
    Wilson 22/129
    Miller 17/85
    James 17/210
    Pead 39/319
    Polk 31/332

  2. Madmark

    I just throw this out there I really like David Wilson. He’s young and i think he’d really benefit from the ZBS. He can catch the ball when it isn’t thrown into the ground at his feet and when in the space has excellent vision down field. He doesnt run with the authority that lynch does but after contact he always gets another step and falls forward for that extra yard. 1706yds and 990 of those was after contact and he can return kicks. Once Lynch takes him to coach Tom Cable and learns the ZBS like he did the yeaqr before I don’t think we’ll be seeing a a drastic drop in production when he comes into the game. I like Martin but i think h’s all polished up and i think He as good as he’s going to get and that Dan has just scratched the surface playing in the college program he was in.

  3. Colin

    Lamar Miller is the MAN. I’d be tickled to death if we got him in round 2. That kid is a baller.

    I’d love Upshaw in round 1, and I’d really love it if it came in a trade down.

  4. AlaskaHawk

    Just based on catches you have to like Richardson, Pead and Polk. I would like to see us throw to our running back more often with an outlet pass. I am a litttle worried that Pead will fumble the ball. Polk would be great if he is in shape.

  5. Leonard

    Kip, I think Gannaway might be a little faster than you give him credit for. He seems to hit the hole pretty hard and I have seen him pull away from DB’S not wearing purple. That could easily be different when he gets to the NFL though. I have only seen him in 4 games but his size/speed combination always impressed me. I’m guessing it helped that the defense usually followed RG3 for a step or two before redirecting to Gannaway. To me he looks like a good backup for Lynch who could be had in the middle rounds.

  6. FWBrodie

    I like D Martin, R. Turbin, and I. Pead to compliment Lynch and also be prepared to carry the load when Lynch misses time.

  7. Jim Kelly

    Marshawn Lynch on Robert Turbin : “I shall call him, Mini-Beast.”

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