What Top Running Backs Could the Dolphins Draft?


Tony Sparano has stated emphatically that the Dolphins will continue to be a run first team.  Despite the fact that I sure hope not, this means the Dolphins will certainly need to pick up a running back(s).  In fact, I believe this position will be the one that the Dolphins will double down on in the 2011 NFL Draft.  Why?  Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams ARE unrestricted free agents and are likely not going to return.  Thus, the Phins only have two horses left in the stable — Lex “Luthor” Hilliard and Kory “Blazing” Sheets.

In previous articles, I have taken a look at the top offensive centers, guards, and tackles in this year’s draft.  I hold the belief that the Phins will focus on improving the offensive line that produced poorly last year in the run game, especially in comparison with 2009.  I believe you can’t run the football without blocking studs up front.  So, given the Phins improve the offensive line, what top running backs could the Dolphins pick in this year’s NFL Draft?

So, let’s take a look at arguably the top seven running backs in this year’s draft — Mark Ingram (Alabama), Mikel Leshoure (Illinois), Ryan Williams (Virginia Tech), DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma), Kendall Hunter (Oklahoma State), Daniel Thomas (Kansas State), and Jordan Todman (Connecticut).  I think it is worth noting that three of the top seven are out of the Big 12 Conference.

If you have been following my articles, here is my now infamous tan, grey and white tabular look at these top seven RBs — you can click on the chart below to enlarge.   I have included in the table their college and age as well as some key results from the NFL Combine.  I also included their number of starts in college, all-american and all-conference honors (if you are interested), their 2010 rushing and pass receiving stats, and their career rushing stats.

It should be acknowledged that these stats do not quantify two important aspects of a RB — vision and balance.  I personally think the Dolphins should have sent all these top RBs to the University of Virginia Health System Department of Otolarynthology/Opthomalogy for testing.  They have really cool diagnostics that can measure vision and balance — I had the opportunity to take these tests a few years ago.  In one diagnostic, the patient stands on a tilt table that has multiple pressure sensors under their feet, goggles that measure eye movements, and a wide screen projector.  The table tilts in real time measuring how well your body compensates while simultaneously measuring eye movements looking at a moving scene. You can use your imagination regarding the testing scenario for a RB to quantify vision response time and balance. 

Whoops!  Sorry for my digression.  Back to the RBs in the draft!

Mark Ingram had a great 2009 season winning the Heisman trophy — but, he was not even selected for Conference honors in 2010.  He is stoutly built at 5′ 9″ and 215 pounds having short arms (30.75″) and good hand size (9.5″).  Ingram has average upper body strength (21 reps in the bench press).  Of the seven backs, Ingram had the slowest 40 time (4.62 sec) and the shortest broad jump (118″) indicating lower body strength.  His three cone drill time (7.13 sec) was disappointing given the experts touting his “quickness”.  His body of work at Alabama is modest with only 24 career starts, 158 carries & 21 receptions in 2010, and 572 career rushes — he missed three games in 2010 due to a knee injury.  But, Ingram’s 2010 rushing (5.54 YPA) and pass receiving (13.43 YPA) production is impressive.

Mikel Leshoure was named 2nd Team AP All-American.   He has good size at 6′ 0″ and 227 pounds having longer arm length (32.75″) and good hand size (9.5″).  Leshore has average upper body (bench press of 21 reps) and lower body (broad jump of 122″) strength.  He has below average top end speed (40 time of 4.59 sec), but very good lateral quickness (3-cone drill of 6.82 sec).  He was  basically a one year wonder at Illinois with a limited body of work — 16 career starts, 281 rushes & 17 receptions in 2010, and only 424 career rushes.  He does have impressive 2010 rushing (6.04 YPA) and receiving (11.53 YPA) production.

Ryan Williams had an up and down career with VA Tech filled with injuries.  He is stoutly built at 5′ 9″ and 212 pounds having shorter arm length (30.75″) and smaller hand size (9.0″).  Williams has average upper body (bench press of 19 reps) and lower body (broad jump of 123″) strength.  He has below average top end speed (40 time of 4.61 sec) and only fair lateral quickness (3-cone drill of 6.96 sec).  He has a very limited body of work in college — 22 career starts, 110 rushes & only 10 receptions in 2010, and only 403 career rushes.  He has below average 2010 rushing (4.34 YPA) and above average receiving (10.9 YPA) production.  I live in western Virginia and followed VA Tech football.    Quite frankly, I really do not know what all the buzz is about with Williams.  You never knew when he was going to show up (due to injuries) and produce in games.

DeMarco Murray was named 1st team All-Big 12.  He has good size at 6′ 0″ and 213 pounds having average arm length (32″) and hand size (9.25″).  Murray has average upper body (bench press of 21 reps) and lower body (broad jump of 124″) strength.  He has high top end speed (40 time of 4.42 sec), but poor lateral quickness (3-cone drill of 7.24 sec).  Murray has a great body of work at Oklahoma — 40 career starts, 282 rushes & 70 (yes, seven zero) receptions in 2010, and an amazing 759 career rushes.  He has below average 2010 rushing (4.3 YPA) and above average receiving (8.37 YPA) production.

Kendall Hunter was named 1st Team AP All-American.  He is short at 5′ 7″ and relatively light at 199 pounds having shorter arm length (31″) and smaller hand size (8.75″).  He has good upper body (bench press of 24 reps) and average lower body (broad jump of 122″) strength.  He has good top end speed (40 time of 4.53 sec) and good lateral quickness (3-cone drill of 6.74 sec).  Hunter has a great body of work at Oklahoma State — 36 career starts, 271 rushes & 20 receptions in 2010, and an amazing 708 career rushes.  He has good 2010 rushing (5.71 YPA) and below average receiving (5.05 YPA) production.

Daniel Thomas was named 2nd Team All-Big 12 .   He has good size at 6′ 0″ and 230 pounds having average arm length (32.25″) and hand size (9.0″).  He has average upper body (bench press of 21 reps) and lower body (broad jump of 123″) strength.  He has below average top end speed (40 time of 4.59 sec) and lateral quickness (3-cone drill of 7.06 sec).  Thomas has a very good two-year body of work at Kansas State — 26 career starts, 298 rushes & 27 receptions in 2010, and 545 career rushes.  He has good 2010 rushing (5.32 YPA) and receiving (6.33 YPA) production.

Jordan Todman was named 2nd Team AP All-American.  He is stoutly built at 5′ 9″ and 203 pounds having average arm length (32″) and hand size (9.25″).  He has very good upper body (bench press of 25 reps) and lower body (broad jump of 125″) strength.  He has great top end speed (40 time of 4.4 sec), but poor lateral quickness (3-cone drill of 7.24 sec).  Todman  has an outstanding two-year body of work at Connecticut — 26 career starts, 334 rushes (yes, 334 rushes in one year) & 19 receptions in 2010, and 616 career rushes.  He has below average 2010 rushing (4.95 YPA) and receiving (5.16 YPA) production.

Okay, so there you have it!  This is my take on the top running backs in the upcoming NFL Draft.  What do you think?   And, yes, I know the Phins could bring back Rickie or Ronnie or the Phins could pick up a free agent.  But, I still think they will draft a RB — maybe two.