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NFL draft: Running backs and fullbacks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Running back/fullback

The running back position has been devalued in the draft like no other. A year ago, not a single ball carrier was selected in the first round. In 2012, the Bucs' Doug Martin went 31st and the Giants took David Wilson at 32. This year, NFL draft analysts say it's possible no running back will be taken before the second round again.

On the Bucs roster

Doug Martin: After a brilliant rookie year in which he led all first-year running backs with 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns, Martin missed more than half the 2013 season with a torn left labrum.

Bobby Rainey: Claimed off waivers from the Browns last season after the injury to Martin, Rainey burst onto the scene as the team's third starting tailback after the injury to rookie Mike James and rushed for 532 yards and five touchdowns.

Mike James: Rookie from Miami proved to be an adequate replacement for Martin, with 295 yards on only 60 rushing attempts (4.9 avg.). Unfortunately, James broke his ankle and never got back on track.

Jorvorskie Lane: It's uncertain whether the Bucs will keep a fullback. Lane played the 2012 season with the Dolphins, with 11 catches for 79 yards and 13 carries for 13 yards, then was released in the final preseason cuts last year.

Lonnie Pryor: The Bucs signed Pryor off the Jaguars practice squad in November. The former Florida State star went undrafted.

Top five draft prospects

1. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State: He rushed for 1,521 yards last season and could become the only running back taken in the first round. Gained at least 100 yards in his last nine games.

2. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona: He rushed for 1,885 yards on 349 carries last season. That turned out to be a disappointing year. He had proven to be the workhorse before, when he led the nation with 1,929 yards, and 2,232 yards from scrimmage.

3. Tre Mason, Auburn: Took over the BCS title game (195 yards, 34 carries) for the Tigers. He finished with 1,816 yards and had 23 rushing touchdowns on the season

4. Bishop Sankey, Washington: Rushed for 3,309 yards and scored 36 rushing touchdowns on 616 carries in 2012 and '13. Also excels in the passing game.

5. Devonta Freeman, Florida State: Averaged 5.9 yards per carry last season. Would be a complementary back in the NFL.

Free agency

The Bucs recognize one of the strengths of their team is at running back. What's more, there is no one worthy of the No. 7 overall pick. Chris Johnson went to the Jets after being released. The Bucs never had any interest. Instead, they signed Pryor and Lane and neither may make the team.

Under the radar

James Wilder is no stranger to the Tampa Bay area. And the former Plant High star is a big running back, just like his father. But his 40-yard times didn't help him, and he is sort of a big "tweener."

Best guess

The Bucs aren't under any pressure to draft a running back. Quite the opposite. They are happy with their three-headed monster in the backfield. That said, there could be some good value in the late rounds. It's smart to draft a running back every year, but these guys can all shoulder the load.

Rick Stroud, Times staff writer

NFL draft: Running backs and fullbacks 04/30/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 10:51pm]
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