NFL draft: Assessing Bucs at running back

Overall assessment

The Bucs could use a change-of-pace back to take the load off Doug Martin, who had 368 touches as a rookie last season. It's possible no running backs go in the first round, and Tampa Bay isn't likely to take one early. A third-round possibility? Wisconsin's Montee Ball, who in 2011 led Division I-A with 1,923 yards and tied a I-A record with 39 touchdowns (six receiving). Ball was third in 2012 with 1,830 yards. Bucs offensive line coach Bob Bostad held the same job at Wisconsin.

Breaking down the Bucs

Who's back: Doug Martin (right), LeGarrette Blount, Michael Smith and fullback Erik Lorig. Martin burst onto the scene out of Boise State and set a club rookie rushing record with 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 49 passes for 472 yards and a score, and was named to the Pro Bowl. Blount, who played sparingly in 2012, re-signed last month for one year, although the team has dangled him as trade bait. Smith, a 2012 seventh-rounder from Utah State, was active for only one game. Lorig, the starting fullback, caught 12 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown.

Who they picked up: Brian Leonard (free agent). The 2007 second-round pick by the Rams played for Bucs coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers. He excels at pass protection and could serve as the primary third-down back.

Who left: D.J. Ware. Signed shortly before the start of the 2012 season after being released by the Giants, Ware served as the Bucs' third-down back. He was released April 4.

Top five in the draft

Eddie Lacy, Alabama, 5-11, 231 — Powerful, between-the-tackles back rushed for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns on 204 carries in 2012.

Giovani Bernard, North Caro­lina, 5-9, 202 — Change-of-pace back who in 2012 led the ACC with 1,228 rushing yards and was the top punt returner in Division I-A with a 16.4-yard average.

Montee Ball, Wisconsin, 5-11, 214 — Set a Division I-A record with 83 career touchdowns and was the nation's leading rusher in 2011 with 1,923 yards.

Johnathan Franklin, UCLA, 5-10, 205 — A fast, shifty running back who broke the Bruins' season (1,734 in 2012) and career (4,403) record for rushing yards; an all-purpose player who is dangerous as a receiver.

Andre Ellington, Clemson, 5-9, 199 — A compact back with surprising power, he was second in the ACC in rushing yards per game (83.2) in 2012.

Rick Stroud, Times staff writer

NFL draft: Assessing Bucs at running back 04/17/13 [Last modified: Thursday, April 18, 2013 11:17am]

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