The Green Bay Packers ran the ball only 13 times Sunday, a record for fewest runs by the winning team in the Super Bowl. So, how valuable is the position of running back in the increasingly pass-dependent NFL? How early should you draft one?
Personally, I have never been a big fan of drafting running backs in the first round. There are some running backs who are special, but for me running the ball successfully is as much about blocking as it is anything else. The Mike Shanahan Denver Broncos proved years ago that you can run the ball well with anything short of a mannequin at running back as long as you can get guys blocked at the line of scrimmage. I still believe that.
Offenses, however, do need balance and the New York Giants might be in a situation where they have to find a way to replace Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs or both. So, let's look at one running back who might deserve consideration.
Ryan Williams of Virginia Tech is an underclassman who did not have a good 2010 season due to injury, but is looked at as a versatile back with a high upside. Williams could well come off the board in the first round.
Scouting reports after the jump.
RB, Virginia Tech (Soph.)
5-foot-10, 202 pounds
From CBS Sports:
Inside running: Lacks bulk but is a surprisingly effective interior runner with burst to the hole, good pad level and leg drive. Good forward lean to generate yards after contact. Bounces off and spins through tackles. Finishes his runs. Good vision for cutback lanes.
Outside running: Good patience, burst off his cut and the speed to be very effective on the stretch play. Can beat the "Mike" linebacker to the edge. Good flexibility and balance to turn the corner while accelerating. Deceptive speed around the edge, killing pursuit angles of defenders who think they have him corralled. Very good acceleration. Gets to top speed quickly and has good elusiveness in the open field. Possesses good, but not elite, breakaway speed.
Breaking Tackles: High-effort runner. Runs with good pad level, making him a more physical back than his moderate size would indicate. Keeps his legs churning and runs with good forward lean.
Blocking: Improved his toughness and technique in this area as a sophomore, but remains a work in progress.
Receiving: Soft hands and good flexibility to swivel and catch the swing pass without losing speed. Occasionally used on wheel routes in the Tech offense, demonstrating the ability to track the ball over his shoulder.
Intangibles: Competitive runner who makes many of his best runs after contact. Still has a lot of "tread on his tires" after only playing two years at the FBS level, but struggled with a right hamstring injury for much of the 2010 season.
From Sideline Scouting:
Positives: Very stout build, can handle a pounding with his frame... Has above-average speed, can run away from defenders... Extremely athletic, has a 37" vertical jump... Doesn't have any problems holding onto the ball, did not fumble the ball in 2009 with over 300 touches... Great at making the first man miss... A very smart player who knows how to avoid the big hit... Powerful runner... Plays bigger than he is, has great toughness... Runs with an attitude, focused on the end zone... Gives a great second effort, can push the pile with his legs... Great vision... His ability to see the field is probably his best asset... Has an ability to see things before they happen that cannot be coached... Shows soft hands out of the backfield... Very productive freshman season, ran for 1,655 yards and 21 TD... Strong character... Very mature, took care of his brother most of his life who has an intellectual disability... Idolizes Walter Peyton... Has returned punts in the past, can contribute on special teams... A good combination of a north/south runner who can make plays to the outside... Tons of upside, has just scratched the surface of his potential.
Negatives: Only 202 pounds, would like to see him add 10-15 pounds to take the pounding of the NFL... Won't blow anyone away with his measurables... Still needs to improve his pass blocking, redshirted his freshman year to focus on pass protection... Would like to see him featured in the passing game more... Went through an injury riddled sophomore season, missed four games... Coming off a very disappointing sophomore season that saw him amass only 477 rushing yards... Wasn't able to dominate this year like he had in the past.
From NFL Mocks:
Pros: He is extremely talented and his skills translate well to the next level. He is a punishing runner always delivering the blow rather than absorbing it. This style of running usually translates to better durability through the longer NFL season. He has nice size but could stand to add a few more pounds of muscle. He has a lightening quick burst that allows him to get through holes quickly and before they close. His burst and vision allow him to always manage positive yardage. What makes Williams special is his patience which is rare for such a young running back. He lets his blocks develop and then makes the proper cut and bursts through the hole.
Cons: NFL scouts and teams will be concerned with his lack of receiving production. The NFL game heavily relies on backs making an impact out of the backfield and unless Williams makes a few more plays this will be an area scouts questions. And as for almost all young running backs pass blocking will be something people focus on.