By Zack Levine
Every NFL season features several running backs that quickly become household names either during their rookie season or after a year or two of development.
Last season, there was rookie Alfred Morris of the Washington Redskins who recorded over 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Trent Richardson also had a great season for the Cleveland Browns by rushing for 950 yards and making 11 end zone appearances.
There are three scenarios that stimulate the possibility of a running back having a breakout season.
The first is if it is the rookie season of the player. Rookie tailbacks have a high chance of being breakout candidates because despite all the scouting and film-watching, coaches don’t really know what they’re getting until he gets on the field.
A fresh start could also indicate that a player will have a breakout season. Sometimes, a new place and a new look can create an entirely new opportunity. An example of this would be how Michael Turner became of the NFL's most valuable running backs for the Atlanta Falcons immediately after leaving the San Diego Chargers and the shadow of LaDainian Tomlinson.
The third place to look for a breakout candidate is in training camp when there is a battle at the running back position. The player that steps up and wins the starting job should be able to continue that momentum going into the season.
Here are several 2013 breakout candidates at the running back position:
Chris Ivory, New York Jets
Ivory is one of those backs that has been given chances due to the players ahead of him getting injured. Whenever the Saints gave Ivory carries, he always ran like he was finally getting his big break. The Saints never made him their feature back, however, and now he has a chance to be one with the Jets.
The Jets' offense currently is filled with uncertainty, with no solid starter at quarterback or running back. Ivory will certainly have the opportunity to earn the starting job, and if he runs like he did when he got his opportunities with New Orleans, there’s a good chance he has an excellent year.
Giovanni Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
Bernard is a dynamic player out of North Carolina who was the first running back taken in the 2013 NFL Draft. You’ll have trouble finding a more patient runner who waits for blocks to develop before he attacks the hole. In the open field, Bernard is shifty and his low center of gravity makes him difficult to bring down. He has the ability to score every time he touches the ball and is even a dangerous weapon in the return game.
The Bengals currently have BenJarvus Green-Ellis plugged in as their starter, but he was inconsistent last season and uncharacteristically struggled to hold onto the football. If that trend continues, don’t be surprised to see Bernard get substantial playing time early in the season. He certainly has the skills to be a breakout performer for the Bengals.
Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins
This is scenario number three, where there will be a battle during training camp and throughout the preseason that will determine the week one starter. The Dolphins let Reggie Bush walk this offseason and picked up rookie Mike Gillislee from Florida in the draft. That means that Gillislee, Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller will be competing for the starting running back job this summer.
Miller should be able to beat out the rookie and the injury-plagued and inconsistent Thomas. When he does, he will be able to truly showcase his talent and expand on the good things he did last season. Although he only carried the ball 51 times in 2012, Miller averaged an excellent 4.9 yards per carry. If he becomes the Dolphins’ starter and keeps his yards per carry average that high, he will be a tough problem for defenses to deal with throughout the season.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh finally gave up on the Rashard Mendenhal and decided to look for a running back in the draft. They found former Michigan State standout Le’Veon Bell. A physical yet athletic runner, Bell should fit perfectly into what the Steelers try to do with their running game.
Another reason Bell could be primed for a breakout season is that Pittsburgh doesn’t seem to be too thrilled with any of the backs currently on its roster. Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and Chris Rainey have all been effective at times, but never consistently. If Mike Tomlin gives Bell significant carries, the rookie could have a season similar to the one Alfred Morris enjoyed last year.
Honorable Mentions: Jeff Demps, Tampa Bay; Ryan Williams, Arizona; Daryl Richardson, St. Louis.
Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets
By Zack Levine
The Miami Dolphins have been one of the most aggressive teams this offseason and that approach continued into the 2013 NFL Draft. General Manager Jeff Ireland and Head Coach Joe Philbin finished the process with nine total selections, many of which were accomplished via trade.
The top prospect from the Dolphins’ draft class is Oregon pass rusher Dion Jordan. An outstanding physical specimen, there’s no question that Jordan has the ideal size, speed, and athleticism to be a terror coming off the end at the next level.
In addition to his physical gifts, Jordan has many of the intangibles coaches look for such as toughness, good practice habits and a high motor. He also rarely misses tackles and isn’t afraid to deliver explosive hits when he gets the chance.
Unfortunately, there is a downside and durability may be a cause for concern. As a senior, he missed two games after suffering a shoulder injury and was limited for the remainder of the season. He had surgery to repair the torn labrum in March following the NFL combine.
Jordan’s injury history isn’t the only red flag as his statistical profile simply is not outstanding. He compiled only five sacks his senior year and all of them came in the seven games before his injury. The nation’s highest-drafted pass rusher only recorded five sacks in his entire senior season, two of which came against extremely sub-par opponents.
Jordan has the potential to become an outstanding defensive end/linebacker combo in the future. But as for now, he’s still a work in progress who needs to make sure he stays healthy early in his career. He was a prospect that many suspected he would slide into the middle of the first round, so it was shocking when the Dolphins moved up to select him at No. 3 overall.
Addressing Positions of Need
Going into the draft, the Dolphins needed to find help at cornerback, defensive end and along the offensive line. They jumped early at their pass rusher by selecting Jordan, and found a potential sleeper in Tennessee offensive lineman Dallas Thomas, but Ireland and Philbin did their best work addressing the cornerback position.
Jamar Taylor out of Boise State and Will Davis from Utah State are two highly aggressive cover corners that both have big play ability. Taylor is the better prospect who has top-end speed, tracks the ball well in the air and doesn’t shy away from making tackles in run support. Davis is more of a ballhawk and gambler, which has gotten him into trouble in the past. He has the potential to be a starting cornerback in the near future, but really needs to work on consistency.
These two rookies, along with veterans Brent Grimes and Richard Marshall, give the Dolphins a group of cornerbacks that should easily outperform the group from a season ago.
Tight end Dion Sims from Michigan State and running back Mike Gillislee of Florida are the two biggest sleepers for the Dolphins. Sims has the size you want from a blocking tight end. He is also a threat in the passing game with decent speed and above-average hands. On film, he creates lanes for the running game extremely well when matched up against linebackers and defensive backs. There are times he struggles to hold his blocks long enough though, especially when facing defensive ends. As a pass catcher, Michigan State used him mostly in underneath routes or in the flat, but he has the ability to make plays down the field. If he excels in doing so, the Dolphins will have found themselves another dangerous weapon for Ryan Tannehill.
More quick than fast, Gillislee is a smart running back who is patient when behind his blockers and has a great ability to make defenders miss both near the line of scrimmage and in the open field. He is also a much stronger back than he looks, but could certainly add bulk to help him break through tackles. He reminds me of Jamaal Charles coming out of college, another back who was mostly overlooked during the draft, but turned into one of the league’s top rushers in just a few seasons.
Overall, the Dolphins had one of the ten best drafts this year. They followed their plan, moved up when there was a player they liked, and traded down when there was no one of value available. There are other players they drafted, such as Jelani Jenkins from Florida, that could turn into solid contributors as well.
Ireland has consistently made good personnel decisions this offseason, a pivot the Dolphins' desperately need.
By Jeff Risdon
The first round of the 2013 NFL Draft on Thursday will be remembered as the Year of the Lineman, as nine of the 32 picks were offensive linemen. Other intriguing developments caught my eye as well, some positive and some negative.
-- To the wild unpredictability of this year’s draft. I’ve said it many times but it bears repeating: I have better contacts with more teams than ever before, yet this is the year I knew what fewer teams were going to do than ever before. Once I got past the professional humiliation of having a wildly inaccurate mock draft, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not knowing what was going to happen was titillating, like riding a roller coaster with a blindfold. I run a Detroit Lions' draft website and I honestly had very little idea who the team was going to pick until about 15 minutes before they were on the clock. Beat writers for just about every team fumbled and balked on answering direct draft questions because they had no clue either. It made for the most exciting first night of the draft I can remember.
-- To the Kansas City Chiefs for opting on Eric Fisher as the #1 overall pick. I like Luke Joeckel and I think he’ll be a very good tackle for a long time, but Fisher offers the chance of Joe Thomas-esque greatness. When you have the #1 pick, you have to go for greatness. The Chiefs made the correct choice, even if it scuttled what my team (the Lions) had planned.
-- To only having one quarterback in the first round. Never mind that it was E.J. Manuel, a player I graded out as a fifth round prospect. The bellyaching over the relative lousiness of this quarterback class led everyone to histrionics about how big of a mistake some teams were going to make in selecting Geno Smith, Matt Barkley, and Ryan Nassib in the first round. Guess what…it didn’t happen. Either the teams listened or they knew it on their own. Either way, it’s a positive for both the teams and the quarterbacks themselves, who are now in a much more favorable position to succeed with a lot less pressure to do so off the bat.
-- To the Carolina Panthers, who made what I believe to be the best pick of the first round by taking Star Lotulelei at No. 14 overall. Star fills what is by far the biggest need on the team, and he was a top 3 overall talent before the pesky heart issue at the Combine. He’s also an outstanding foil to Mark Ingram, Steven Jackson, and Doug Martin within the division.
Other picks I liked: Cleveland Browns/Keke Mingo, Cincinnati Bengals/Tyler Eifert, the Dolphins trading up for Dion Jordan, Lions/Ziggy Ansah, San Diego Chargers/D.J. Fluker and the St. Louis Rams trading up for Tavon Austin and down for Alec Ogletree.
-- To the early run on interior offensive linemen. I’m actually okay with the Cardinals taking Jonathan Cooper at 7, because the North Carolina guard is an immediate above-average starter and it fills what is unquestionably the weakest position on the team. I would like him a lot better at 14 instead of seven, but the Cards did what they had to do. Chance Warmack is one of the few guards worthy of top 10 consideration as well, but he goes to the Titans, who broke the bank to import free agent Andy Levitre. Now Tennessee has a massive investment at the guard position, traditionally the one spot on the field where teams skimp to save money for the skill position players. They have what should be the best guard tandem in the AFC, but they still don’t have a passing game that scares anyone but their own fan base or the ability to stop any other team’s passing game with a pass rush. But what really points the thumb down is the later picks. Justin Pugh, Travis Frederick and especially Kyle long (more on him below) are all horrible value picks in the first round in descending order. Yes, the teams who took them (the Giants, Cowboys, and Bears respectively) absolutely needed help at the positions. But first round interior linemen are supposed to be players with such overwhelming and obvious talent. None of these guys fits the bill, and none really help their teams as much as other players available could have in the long run.
Other picks I didn’t like: I really like DJ Hayden, No. 12 overall is too high for the Oakland Raiders. The Atlanta Falcons traded up for the wrong cornerback, taking overrated Desmond Trufant instead of Jamar Taylor or either Mississippi State player, Johnthan Banks or Darius Slay.
-- To the Minnesota Vikings, who made three picks in the twenties. Holding onto their original selections at 23 and 25, they took Florida DT Sharrif Floyd and Florida State CB Xavier Rhodes. Not content to call it a day, GM Rick Speilman engineered a trade with the (who else?) New England Patriots to move back into the first round. Every single person covering the draft presumed the move was made to acquire Manti Te’o, including the team’s own beat writers, who Tweeted out that Te’o was the pick. Except the Vikings took Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Pattterson instead. Believe it or not I actually like the picks in inverse order; Patterson has game-changing potential at should have gone at 23, while Rhodes is one of the more overhyped players in this draft. Rhodes benefitted from fitting the physical profile of the big corners in Seattle, never mind that he is a holding machine with iffy instincts. Floyd is an intriguing player who will be widely seen as one of the perceived “fallers” in this draft, though 23rd is about where he belonged. However, they selected Floyd over Sylvester Williams, a better player and a better scheme fit. And they passed on Te’o, who for all the criticism he’s taken would have been an excellent fit for the Vikings as well. This is a “chips all in” move for the Vikings to try and win with Adrian Peterson still in his prime, and it made them a better team for sure. I’m just not sold that they couldn’t have made themselves even better with some savvier choices.
-- To the pick “spoilers”. I applaud both the NFL Network and ESPN for refraining from revealing the selections before Roger Goodell announces them at the podium, eliminating the cutaway shots of players on the phone. The vast majority of viewers didn’t want to see that, and the networks responded. Good for them. But at the same time I admit to harboring curiosity about who really knew what was about to go down. I also get Jay Glazer’s point about wanting a 100 percent accurate mock draft but then complaining about having to wait an extra minute to find out if it’s really correct. Guys like Jason LaCanfora are just doing their jobs by tweeting out the names before they are delivered to the podium. I like that both options are available, but if you are someone who must know the pick before the tension and suspense are broken by the Commissioner, well, I just don’t understand why you want to eat the dessert before the steak.
-- To the Chicago Bears, for taking Oregon guard Kyle Long with the 20th overall pick. This pick is the second-biggest reach in terms of value that I have ever seen. The biggest also happens this ear with EJ Manuel, a fifth round talent, but at least he’s a quarterback and even his harshest critics acknowledge that if the light bulb ever turns on, he could be very good. Plus he plays a premium position where reaches are not uncommon.
If Manuel is a 100 watt bulb, Long is the 40 watt soft white light. Long wound up with the 114th highest grade of the nearly 200 players we graded out at detroitlionsdraft.com, a solid 4th round value at what is arguably the least-coveted position on any football team. The Bears got caught up in the run on offensive linemen and name value (he’s Howie Long’s son and Chris Long’s brother) and executed a ridiculous reach. Even if Long becomes a serviceable starting guard, which he probably will, there is no value at all in taking him at 20. Teams cannot panic for an interior lineman.
The Dallas Cowboys did the same with Wisconsin center Travis Frederick, but they at least traded back to do so and I also had Frederick rated a lot higher (63rd) than Long. A team with a decrepitly aging defense ignores some excellent talent (Bjoern Werner was a perfect fit, Sylvester Williams or Datone Jones also made great value sense there) and makes a huge reach for a guard who started less than 10 games at the BCS level and was not real impressive during Senior Bowl week. That is a horrible fail by GM Phil Emery and the Bears staff.
Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons
This is one of the strangest drafts ever. It's two days before the draft and we still don't know who will be the No. 1 pick. Enjoy the unexpected twists and turns and embrace the fact that nobody knows what is going to happen!
On Chance Warmack, Falcons moving up, Arthur Brown's potential drop, identifying first round surprises, D.J. Hayden and more.
Some of these have basis in legitimate info gathered. Some are reading between some lines that may or may not exist. Some are wild figments of imaginary vision of the draft.
Dion Jordan, Eric Fisher, Tavon Austin, Shariff Floyd, Jonathan Cooper, Keenan Allen, Robert Woods, Gavin Escobar and Ryan Swope make this year's list.
People are always seeking out Jeff Risdon with their draft questions. In this edition, he answers several of the more intriguing ones.
Luke Joeckel at the top of the draft, Ezekiel Anash at No. 2, two quarterbacks in the top-10 and more in an uncertain draft.