Two running backs, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon, were selected in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. 2012 was the last time a running back was taken in the first round. The Cleveland Browns rolled the dice on former Alabama running back Trent Richardson. He was selected as the No. 3 overall pick. T.J. Yeldon was taken in the second round (36th pick) by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
He becomes the fourth Alabama back under head coach Nick Saban to be drafted in the first or second round, joining Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy.
All four players were productive at Alabama, and at least three of them will start in the National Football League. Yours truly of Touchdown Alabama Magazine breaks down all four running backs, and the chances of Yeldon and Richardson both starting this fall.
Mark Ingram, 25, enters his fifth season with the New Orleans Saints. He’s coming off a solid year in 2014, in which he totaled 1,109 yards from scrimmage (964 rushing, 145 receiving) with nine touchdowns. He saw action in 13 games last season, despite nursing toe, hand, ankle and shoulder injuries. His performance in 2014, earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl.
With Jimmy Graham and Pierre Thomas gone, Ingram becomes the third most valuable player on the Saints’ roster. It brought in former Seattle Seahawks’ center Max Unger to help Ingram develop. New Orleans and Ingram agreed to a four-year, $16 million deal on Mar. 7, 2015.
He’s not Marshawn Lynch, but Eddie Lacy is a special running back. Lacy, 24, enters his third season with the Green Bay Packers. He’s coming off two 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2013-14. Lacy’s appeared in 31 games, and totaled 1,139 rushing yards with nine touchdowns last season. Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy continues to praise Lacy on his growth as a pass catcher.
He recorded 427 yards and four touchdowns on 42 receptions in 2014. Lacy was the recipient of the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award by the Associated Press and Pro Football Writers of America Association in 2013. He was selected to the Pro Bowl and was named second-team All-Pro in the same season. Lacy continues to improve his technique in pass protection.
Trent Richardson is out to remove the stigma of being a first-round bust. The 24-year-old will wear a different uniform for the third time in five seasons. He’s coming off two lackluster years in Indianapolis that saw him average 3.1 yards per carry. Richardson totaled six rushing touchdowns, but lack of motivation and weight problems held him from his full potential.
Some time in Oakland may be what the doctor order to help revive his career. Richardson signed a two-year, $3.9 million contract with the Raiders on Mar. 17, 2015. Oakland sees production in Richardson, but he will battle Latavius Murray for the starting job.
Raiders’ head coach Jack Del Rio is putting talent around quarterback Derek Carr. Oakland drafted former Alabama receiver Amari Cooper in the first round, and signed Florida receiver Andre DuBose as an undrafted rookie free agent. The Raiders also signed former San Francisco 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree in free agency. Del Rio hopes to spark a fire in Richardson by bringing Cooper to Oakland. Cooper’s unmatched work ethic should help whip Richardson into shape. He has a chance to start in Oakland’s backfield this fall, if he beats out Murray.
It’s welcome to world for former Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon. He enters Jacksonville, Fla., leaving behind an illustrious career at Alabama. Yeldon accounted for 979 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on five yards per carry last season. He chimes in with 3,322 yards and 37 touchdowns on 5.8 yards per carry for his career. Jacksonville, like Oakland, is building its team around quarterback Blake Bortles.
It drafted former Florida State primary receiver Rashad Greene in the fifth round (139th pick). Jacksonville returns Justin Blackmon, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in the fall. The Jaguars have a plethora of running backs with Toby Gerhart, Storm Johnson, Corey Grant, Denard Robinson and Bernard Pierce, but don’t be surprised if Yeldon starts week one.
Green Bay is sold on Eddie Lacy and New Orleans has paid Mark Ingram. Both backs will start in the fall, and look to generate more success. It’s put up or shut up for Trent Richardson. The former first-round pick and five-star prospect needs to prove to the NFL and to himself that he can get the job done. T.J. Yeldon enters a new chapter in his life. College is over and the real world begins. The NFL is a bottom line business. Yeldon has the tools to be great, he just needs to continue having a balanced work ethic. All four players have a chance to start this fall. Will Richardson and Yeldon join Ingram and Lacy as day one starters? Only time will tell.