NFL Scouting Combine: Only one running back might be taken in first round
Former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore is aiming to recover from a gruesome knee injury and be one of the top running backs taken in the NFL draft.
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INDIANAPOLIS -- While wide receivers were posting blazing times and making coaches double-check their stopwatch, running backs at the NFL Scouting Combine mostly went unnoticed. Big-play backs with speed were not to be found.
And that might end up being a good thing for the Steelers.
One year after three running backs went in the first round and five were among the top 61 picks, the draft this year might only see one running back go in the first round -- Alabama's Eddie Lacy. It's possible only two backs -- Lacy and Wisconsin's Montee Ball -- will be among the top 55.
Rob Rang of CBSSports.com had Lacy and Oklahoma State Joseph Randle as the two most complete backs in the draft, but that was before Randle ran a 4.63 in the 40-yard dash at the combine.
The Steelers likely won't take a running back in the first round, mainly because there aren't many, if any, after Lacy worth taking early. But they should have plenty of options in the middle rounds to draft a running back and help replenish a position where the top three on the depth chart are without a contract.
"I think there's plenty of depth to get a running back in this draft," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said.
History shows running backs can be found anywhere. Houston's Arian Foster, the AFC's leading rusher in 2012, was an undrafted free agent. So was Willie Parker, who had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with the Steelers.
Washington's Alfred Morris, who finished second in rushing to Adrian Peterson in the NFC this past season, was a sixth-round pick in 2012.
But the Steelers likely won't wait that long to address the position. And there are enough capable backs in the middle rounds who could end up replacing Rashard Mendenhall if the Steelers elect not to re-sign their unrestricted free agent and former No. 1 draft choice.
One of those is former Arkansas running back Knile Davis, who opened eyes at the combine with his combination of size, speed and strength. Davis (6 feet, 227 pounds) was the second-fastest back at the combine, running an official 4.37 in the 40 -- a blazing time for a back that big.
And he was the second-strongest back, too, doing 31 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press.
That combination quickly elevated his stock from a middle-round pick to at least a second-round selection, especially after a disappointing 2012 season with the Razorbacks in which he rushed for just 377 yards. Davis did not play in 2011 because of a broken ankle.
Just like that, Davis created some buzz for the running back spot.
"I think the thing that sets me apart is the size, speed, agility combination," Davis said. "I think that is a rare combination that you just don't find every year.
"The guy I really compare myself to would be more of an Arian Foster, an Adrian Peterson. Arian Foster with the zone running. I'm really good at running the zone. And just the size and speed of Adrian Peterson."
If the Steelers are to incorporate more zone schemes in their running game in 2013, they need to find a running back to fit that style.
Davis convinced NFL coaches and general managers he has recovered from his injury. Former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore is hoping to do the same after a gruesome knee injury ended his 2012 season.
Lattimore (6-0, 218) tore the anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee Oct. 27, requiring 2 1/2 hours of surgery. He likely would have been a first-round pick without the injury.
But his surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, said Lattimore is three months ahead of schedule and has added 20 pounds of muscle during his rehabilitation.
And Lattimore said he is determined to be ready to play in an NFL season opener in September, inspired by other running backs such as Peterson, Frank Gore and Willis McGahee who returned from similar injuries.
He said the doctors who examined him at the combine "will be shocked" at his recovery, especially after such extensive damage. Nonetheless, teams would be taking a chance on Lattimore because they won't get to see him do any kind of workout until after the draft.
"At this point, it really doesn't matter where I get drafted, because I'm going to go in there and work hard," Lattimore said. "I'm going to do what I do. I'm going to do what I've been doing my whole career, and that's just be myself.
"If I get a chance to play this year, I'm going to make the most out of it. And I feel like I will."
First Published February 27, 2013 12:00 am