It's safe to say that running back is one of the positions the 49ers won't be too worried about heading into the off-season. Last season, fans were surprised at the first round selection of A.J. Jenkins, followed by the selection of LaMichael James in the second round. Point being, Harbaugh and Baalke are unpredictable in the draft. If they think they have the opportunity to draft someone who could be a star in the NFL, they aren't afraid to take the "best pick available" (in their opinion). I'd be shocked to see a running back chosen by the Niners in the first three rounds, but I think it is a very real possibility on day three.
Frank Gore is still a tank, but he's getting older. Kendall will be coming back from surgery, following an Achilles injury. Hunter is young, and hopefully bounces back, but Achilles injuries can be unpredictable. It boils down to this: do the 49ers feel comfortable enough for next season and the future to roll with Gore, a relatively unproven James, and a rehabbing Hunter? James has shown flashes of playmaking ability, but will it turn into good play consistently, or will he always show just flashes? I'm not going to neglect mentioning Anthony Dixon, who showed us this training camp and preseason that you can't count him out of getting a roster spot. The situation at running back in San Francisco is a good one, but can it be made better?
The 49ers brass will be thinking long and hard about such issues as the college all star games approach later next week. We might as well play along with them at home and guess what they're thinking.
Here are my top prospects at Running Back:
1. Eddie Lacy 6-1 220 lbs-Alabama Stock: All time high after National Championship domination Projection: Late 1st/Early 2nd
2. Giovani Bernard 5-10 205 lbs-North Carolina Stock-Steady Projection: Early 2nd
3. Montee Ball 5-11 215 lbs- Wisconsin Stock: Rising slightly Projection: 2nd-3rd
4. Joseph Randle 6-1 200 lbs- Oklahama State Stock: Rising Projection:2nd-3rd
5. Stepfan Taylor 5-11 215 lbs- Stanford Stock: Rising Projection:Early 3rd
6. Marcus Lattimore 6-0 220 lbs-South Carolina Stock-Bargain (injury) Projection: 2nd-3rd
7. Andre Ellington 5-9 192 lbs- Clemson Stock-Falling (CJ2K lite) Projection: Late 2nd-3rd
8. Le 'Veon Bell 6-2 244 lbs- Michigan State Stock-Steady Projection: Late 3rd-early 4th
9. Mike Gillislee 5-11 210 lbs- Florida Stock: Steady Projection: 4th
10. Kenjon Barner 5-11 192 lbs- Oregon Stock: Rising (great Fiesta Bowl) Projection: 4th
Just missing: Jawan Jamison- Rutgers; Jonathan Franklin- UCLA; Christine Michael- Texas A&M; Theo Riddick- Notre Dame; Ray Graham- Pittsburgh
As we've seen in recent years, we're learning two things: 1) It's becoming harder to predict if a back will be a sure thing in the pros and 2) Teams are less likely to invest a top pick on a running back. This year one running back might go in the fist round, with that being either Giovani Bernard or Eddie Lacy.
With the emergence of undrafted free agents like Arian Foster and late round picks such as Alfred Morris (6th round), teams are looking for low risk/high reward options at running back. I have no doubt the 49ers will be looking for a guy like that on day three of the Draft. Players on the top 10 of this list wouldn't qualify for that,,but some of the "just missing" prospects could slip down to the fifth round. If it's a "best player available" situation, Baalke and company wouldn't hesitate to get their guy.
My gut tells me a running back will be drafted by the 49ers in the sixth round, and I'm fine with that. There are a lot of other needs to take care of first. Two players that could be had in the 6th and have had fine college careers are Fresno State's Robbie Rouse, and Utah State's Kerwynn Williams.
Williams had a great year in which he rushed for over 1,500 yards and had 15 touchdowns. Williams is a dual threat, as he can be a reliable target in the passing game, racking up 45 receptions and another five scores. Besides those good numbers Williams also returns kicks and punts, making him an interesting option in the sixth round. Williams will be playing in the East-West Shrine game January 19th.
Rouse had nine games of 100 yards or more this season, and has three consecutive seasons with 1,000+ yards. Rouse is only 5-7 190 lbs, but has shown to be an effective runner with some intelligence. Not only does he have some physical skills, Rouse knows when to be patient and when to explode. The only thing Rouse doesn't know is when to stop fighting for yards, and I don't think he cares to stop fighting. If either of these players get selected by the 49ers, you heard it here first.
Montee Ball, Mike Gillislee, Jonathan Franklin, and Kenjon Barner all will be participating in the Senior Bowl. All players have momentum to gain going into the combine. They can help their stock or potentially hurt it, it's the risk of playing in the game. We'll find out Saturday, January 26th.
If you'd like to discuss my top 10 or anything else leave a comment and let's talk football.