With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
37: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
We continue this year's series with Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, who is looking to follow in the footsteps of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, and become the third straight Crimson Tide back to nab a first-round NFL selection -- which would be a pretty impressive feat, given the NFL's devaluation of the position. Best known for his dominant performance against Notre Dame in the BCS Championship game (though that game was more a referendum on Alabama's offensive line, and a wake-up call to those who thought Manti Te'o was a top-5 pick), Lacy also did very well against some of the NCAA's best defenses in 2012.
A 2009 redshirt freshman out of Dutchtown High School in Geismar, La., the 5-foot-11, 235-pound Lacy improved his numbers through his collegiate career as Ingram and Richardson moved to the NFL, and he got more opportunities -- 406 yards in 2010, 674 yards in 2011 (when he led the SEC with 7.1 yards per carry), and 1,322 yards in a 2012 season that saw him score 17 rushing touchdowns and lead the conference in yards from scrimmage with 1,511.
He's shown that he fits the impressive pedigree, but how will Lacy fare on draft boards when many teams don't see running back as a first-round position unless you're dealing with a franchise-defining player?
“I know they pass the ball a lot but at the same time, having a guy who can run the ball a lot benefits your offense," Lacy said at the scouting combine. "In short-yardage plays, you can’t really throw the ball when it’d be easier to run it. If you have that running back, it’s not a problem.”
In power situations, there's no question Lacy is that back. But does he have the versatile game to open that door to the first round? One thing that's been in his way is the hamstring injury he suffered in a February workout at the IMG Academy in Florida -- he was unable to work out at the scouting combine in late February, or at Alabama's March pro day. He'll do a specific workout for NFL teams on April 11, and that will likely decide if he's on anybody's top 32.
Pros: Perfect build for a power back -- outstanding musculature with a big lower body and consistent leg drive. Impressive "foot frequency," especially in short spaces -- keeps his feet tapping and moving while waiting for lanes and gaps. Goes from stop to start in a hurry and moves through the hole with speed and authority. Very quick laterally to move from gap to gap, and keeps his eyes downfield to exploit openings as they happen. Will occasionally explode outside from between the guards with his lateral quickness. Looks to bounce quickly when things aren't open inside. Excellent vision; will slash away from defenders to holes some backs wouldn't see. Cut-and-go style makes him an ideal zone runner. Very powerful player who will blow through bounce tackles and rip past back-seven defenders. Will bull and spin out of trouble for additional gains. Consistently falls and vaults forward at the tackle to gain extra yardage. As aggressive as he is, shows patience at the line; he won't generally outrun his blocks.
Strong blocker who will square up at the point of attack and sustain protections. Effective weapon on quick screens and swing passes. Has a decent juke move to evade in the open field. Outstanding sense of balance allows him to regain his footing when avoiding tackles, and he runs through trash very well.
Cons: Does not possess superior burst outside the numbers and at second-level and in the open field -- doesn't have that extra gear, and defenders will catch up to him on those plays pretty quickly. Not a sure receiver -- tends to run nebulous patterns at times on "Texas" routes and downfield plays, and has some easy drops. Benefitted from a superior offensive line, which takes away some of his strength of opponent argument. Runs upright as a rule; may need to lower his body more at the point of attack to shoot through NFL defensive lines.
Lacy's injury history will give some teams pause -- he has had other lower body issues (sprained ankle, turf toe) in addition to the hamstring injury.
Conclusion: Most likely, Lacy will run in the high 4.5 or low 4.6 range at his workout 40-yard dash, which would line up with what the tape shows. While he's a very powerful back with a lot to like about his play, Lacy needs work in a few of the things that many NFL teams look for in their running backs. In comparison to his Alabama predecessors, Lacy isn't quite as versatile as Ingram (especially in the passing game), and he's not as dynamic as Richardson. His size and overall skill set would seem to relegate him to rotational status in the NFL, unless he's taken by a team that specifically covets power zone runners as the backbone of its offensive structure. Bell-cow backs get taken in the first round, while players meant for specific rotational roles -- no matter how well they perform those roles -- tend to slip just a bit. I could see a team falling in love with Lacy's tape and reaching up a bit, but the more likely scenario is an early second-round selection.
NFL Comparison: Stephen Davis, Washington Redskins/Carolina Panthers, 1996-2005
More Shutdown 50:
#50: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State | #49: John Jenkins, DL, Georgia | #48: Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, DE, Florida State | #47: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State | #46: Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse | #45: E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State | #44: Margus Hunt, DE, SMU | #43: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson | #42: Kyle Long, OL, Oregon | #41: Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State | #40: Jonathan Cyprien, SS, Florida International | #39: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame | #38: Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
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