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Dublin: 14 °C Friday 22 August, 2014

The Redzone NFL Draft special: Running backs and linebackers.

Running backs might be going out of fashion but one NFL team is using a top five pick on one.

Alabama's Trent Richardson will be the only running back to go in the first round of this year's NFL Draft.
Alabama's Trent Richardson will be the only running back to go in the first round of this year's NFL Draft.
Image: Dave Martin/AP/Press Association Images

Day three of our NFL Draft coverage sees Steven O’Rourke assess the top running backs and linebackers of the 2012 class.

Running backs
The move towards a passing league has been a recurring theme of this series and yet further proof is found in the fact that only one running back is likely to go in the first round this year.

This is in direct contrast to fantasy football drafting come August when the first round is almost exclusively running backs.

Top three
1. Trent Richardson – Alabama
24 touchdowns, 2,017 total yards and a BCS National Title; it would be an understatement to say Trent Richardson had a good final season with the Crimson Tide. Richardson should adapt quickly to the NFL and his potential to have a 1,300 yard season and take the workload off Colt McCoy should be enough to see him picked up by the Browns as the fourth overall pick. His one downfall could be the Browns’ offensive line which is not nearly as strong as Alabama’s.

2. Doug Martin – Boise State
Martin had nearly 1,300 rushing yards during the regular season but it was his MVP performance in the MACCO Bowl, followed up by eye-catching appearances at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine that really made NFL scouts pay serious attention. The former Boise State back will be either go to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 36 or Detroit Lions at 57.

3. David Wilson – Virginia Tech
Wilson is a quick twitch running back who makes the most of explosive acceleration to cut through gaps some of his bulkier counterparts would struggle to see. While fans love the fact he never seems satisfied with a five yard gain, his constant attempts to gain that extra yard will make him a target for NFL defences. Wilson will be the future feature back for the Atlanta Falcons when they select him as the number 55 pick overall.

Sleeper pick
Cyrus Gray – Texas A & M
When the NFL is moving away from power backs, why not select a back that can block, catch and, when required, hit the hole hard to gain those difficult yards around the endzone. He can be a little flat-footed but has the potential to make a very good career in the NFL.

Biggest risk
LaMichael James – Oregon
It pains me to write this paragraph. James has been one of my favourite players at the college level and his mixture of quickness and agility should make him a sure bet in the NFL. However, he’s just not built to survive at this level and injuries to his slight frame will be a feature of his professional career. James is a big risk for the Philadelphia Eagles, his likely landing spot as the 51st overall pick.

[caption id="attachment_428767" align="alignnone" width="630" caption="Boise State's Shea McClellin (92) has seen his draft value rise of late. Credit: Julie Jacobson/AP/Press Association Images"][/caption]


Linebackers

As the run game continues to play second fiddle to passing, linebackers have evolved into some of the most elite pass rushers in the game.

Find the right Mike (middle) linebacker in the draft and you can completely change opposing team’s attitude to your defence.

Top three
1. Shea McClellin – Boise State
Considered by many to be a second or third round pick, I absolutely love McClellin’s combination of speed and power and there are three or four teams between the Chargers at 18 and the Patriots at 31 who could take him in the first round. He had 16.5 sacks in the last two seasons which is all the more impressive when you consider he spent most second halves on the sidelines as Boise State built huge leads.

2. Luke Kuechly – Boston College
With 192 tackles in 2011 – 102 of them solo – it is little wonder Kuechly is expected to be the first linebacker drafted in 2012. With a sound technique and great instincts, the 6’3” inside linebacker will be picked up by the Kansas City Chiefs at number 11 as Romeo Crennel attempts to build a team around a foundation of stout defence.

3. Dont’a Hightower – Alabama
Versatile. That’s the word that best surmises Dont’a Hightower. Able to play inside and outside linebacker, as well as defensive end, Hightower provides defensive coaches with multiple options. While he can labour in the open field, his ability to make tackles in the box could see him sit nicely with the Baltimore Ravens at 29 overall.

Sleeper pick
Kyle Wilber – Wake Forest
Not an immediate starter, Wilber is a strong an athletic linebacker who will settle into any 3-4 NFL system. While he’s not the best on the board when dropping back to protect the pass, he offers real value as a sixth/seventh round pick for any franchise looking to fill their special teams roster now and who have time to develop a future starting linebacker.

Biggest risk
Courtney Upshaw ­– Alabama
Upshaw could go as high as the New York Jets as the number 16 overall pick, though needs on the defensive line may supersede that. Upshaw is undoubtedly a powerful player but has the kind of speed that would make an offensive lineman blush. For me, he’s too easily exposed to sweeps and reverses to make a career in the NFL and there is better value out there.

Check out the final installation of The Redzone’s NFL Draft preview tomorrow when this year’s quarterbacks come in for scrutiny.

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