Prospect Comparison: Running Backs

For the weeks leading up to the 2011 Draft, we will be examine the Patriots’ biggest positions of need and compare the top prospects available. Today we will look at running backs.

For years, the Patriots have employed a running back-by-committee approach.

However, with the probable retirement of Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk recovering from ACL surgery and Sammy Morris all but gone, the once deep stable of backs needs an upgrade.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, and Danny Woodhead was a versatile third-down option, but this group could use a more talented option as the main runner.

While this year’s draft class isn’t top heavy, there are three prospects who are worthy of an early-round pick: Mark Ingram, Mikel LeShoure and Ryan Williams.

Let’s take a look at these three and how they could fit in the Patriots’ offense.

Entering the season, everyone expected Mark Ingram to be a first-round lock.

But after a knee injury hampered him out of the gate, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner’s stock is slipping.

The former Alabama Crimson Tide star lacks elite timed speed, running a 4.62 at the combine at 5-foot-9, 215 pounds.

However, he rushed for 1,658 yards as a sophomore and has quick feet and good power.

He isn’t the ideal third-down option, but he did catch 60 passes during his three-year career.

If his knee checks out medically, he should be gone in the later part of round one.

Often drawing comparisons to former Illinois star and current Steeler Rashard Mendenhall, Mikel LeShoure is regarded as one of the top-3 running backs in the draft.

The 6-foot, 227-pounder broke the school record with 1,697 rushing yards, including an incredible 330 yards on 33 carries against Northwestern.

Like Ingram, LeShoure doesn’t have great speed (4.56), but has a great burst and runs with power.

He has limited experience as a receiver (37 career catches) and has a bigger frame to be a decent blocker.

With a short shelf life, durability is a concern for running backs, and perhaps no back has more concerns than Virginia Tech’s Ryan Williams.

The 5-foot-9, 209-pounder exploded onto the scene as a redshirt freshman, running for a school-record 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns.

But last season, a torn hamstring limited Williams to only 473 yards and nine touchdowns.

He also didn’t impress with his straight-line speed at the combine, running a 4.59 forty and caught only 26 passes in his two-year career.

My pick: While Williams is intriguing, I have to learn toward Ingram. If healthy, he is a beast and has the potential to be an every-down back. In 2009, he tore up the SEC and showed up big in critical situations. His quick feet, great burst and vision are crucial to succeeding at the next level and if he’s on the board at pick No. 28, I would definitely consider drafting him.