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Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft preview: running backs

The situation

Bucs coach Greg Schiano says he prefers bell cow running backs, players who stay on the field every down and shoulder the rushing load. LeGarrette Blount, who led the team in rushing the past two seasons, has been one-dimensional as an inside runner, not involved in the passing game. Moreover, he has fumbled nine times in two seasons, losing six. The only other tailback on the roster is seldom-used second-year pro Mossis Madu. Remember, Ray Rice helped Schiano elevate the program while at Rutgers before becoming a two-time All-Pro in his first four NFL seasons. The Bucs will work with Blount to determine if he can be used more in the passing game, which is what the previous coaching staff spent two seasons trying to do. Regardless, the team will address the position early in the draft. There are quality players deep into the second round.

What they're looking for

Alabama's Trent Richardson is the gold standard in this draft. Some say he compares favorably with the Vikings' Adrian Peterson. Richardson lost only one fumble among 636 career touches in three seasons with the Crimson Tide, and he would instantly give the Bucs an identity on offense. Even Blount, who is on record as not wanting the team to take Richardson with the No. 5 overall pick, said he would welcome him as a teammate. However, the chance of Richardson lasting until the fifth pick has diminished because he likely will be gone to the Browns, who have the No. 4 overall pick. So the Bucs need to find a running back who can complement Blount by being used in the passing game.

Fitting the bill

There's depth at running back in the draft. Realistically, the Bucs have to consider a player such as Boise State's Doug Martin, above, a powerful back with the speed and explosiveness to get to the corner and the ability to become an asset in the passing game. Further down the draft are players such as Oregon's LaMichael James, a shifty back who could be effective immediately on third down. LeGarrette and LaMichael in an all Ducks backfield? The Bucs might take a quack at it.

Top 10

1. Trent Richardson

5-9, 228 Alabama

In any draft that didn't include quarterbacks such as Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, Richardson might be the No. 1 overall selection, former Colts GM Bill Polian said. He's that good.
2. Lamar Miller

5-11, 212, Miami

Could slip because he started for only one season at Miami. Rushed for 1,272 yards and an ACC-high nine touchdowns in 2011. Could excel early as a third-down back.
3. Ronnie Hillman

5-9, 200, San Diego State

He has been described as a poor man's Jamaal Charles. He has had fumbling issues but was a highly productive two-year starter who could contribute in a secondary role.
4. David Wilson

5-10, 206, Virginia Tech

Powerful runner who hates to go down after first contact. Doesn't have great vision and needs to improve his hands in the passing game.
5. Doug Martin

5-9, 223 Boise State

Could be the second running back off the board. Between the tackles, a no-nonsense, bowling ball-type runner. Had 1,892 all-purpose yards in 2011.
6. Bernard Pierce

6-0, 218, Temple

A one-cut-and-go running style makes him a mid round pick, especially because he lacks top-end speed. Started only 24 of 34 games. Elusive runner who can make the first tackler miss in space.
7. LaMichael James

5-8, 194, Oregon

Rushed for more than 5,000 yards and averaged better than 6 yards per carry during a great career at Oregon. At 5 feet 8, he bulked up to 194 pounds but likely will play much lighter. Some off-field issues in his past.
8. Bobby Rainey

5-8, 205, Western Kentucky

Workhorse back who had more than 1,000 carries for the Hilltoppers. Patient runner who can contribute on third down as a rookie if he can improve his pass blocking.
9. Chris Rainey

5-8, 180, Florida

Extremely versatile. Could contribute at running back or receiver. Lakeland native ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at Florida's pro day. Possesses Percy Harvin-like ability despite the difference in size. Character-conscious teams will pass.
10. Isaiah Pead

5-10, 197, Cincinnati

MVP of the Senior Bowl rushed for 3,288 yards in his career with the Bearcats. Excellent straight-line speed with versatility to be a kick returner.

Best guess

The Bucs most likely won't trade up with the Vikings at No. 3 to take Richardson, and he probably won't be there at No. 5. That means they address the position in the second or third round. Martin might be the best fit for a bell cow back that Schiano covets.

Rick Stroud, Times staff writer

8 p.m. Thursday, ESPN, NFL Network Bucs pick: No. 5 overall 7 p.m. Friday, ESPN, NFL Network Bucs: Round 2, 4/36th overall; Round 3, 5/68 Noon Saturday, ESPN, NFL Network Bucs: Round 5, 5/140; Round 6, 4/174; Round 7, 5/212



Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft preview: running backs 04/21/12 [Last modified: Saturday, April 21, 2012 7:42pm]
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