NFL Draft Grapevine: Change-of-pace running backs

      April 13, 2012 @ 18:30:54 PDT

This is the year of change-of-pace running backs to be found in the middle rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft. Some have the potential to eventually start, while others will be relegated to a scatback role for the duration of their respective careers.

Wait, what?

Lamar Miller, RB, Miami (Fla.)
More than a change-of-pack back?

I will probably catch some hell for this one, but Miami (Fla.) rusher Lamar Miller is a change-of-pacer to me. His style of play opens him to plenty of opportunities for injuries and isn't one that points to sustained durability as a full-time back, even though he has the size to be an every-down player.

Miller reminds me of a more talented Jerious Norwood, or maybe what Norwood could have been, in terms of a big play waiting to happen. The former Hurricane should be a second-rounder later this month. I can see a team like the St. Louis Rams bringing him in to complement Steven Jackson with the hope that Miller can eventually turn into a full-time contributor.

Now you're speaking my language

More in the mold of a change-of-pace back, Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead intrigues me. He has been a workout darling since the 2011 NCAA season concluded and boasts a skill set that will keep defenders on their toes. Pead is not someone defensive coordinators will necessarily game plan for, at least not in an extensive manner, but his game-breaking ability should serve a team well in third-down and breather situations.

I expect him to come off the board as soon as the late second round, but I gave him a healthy third-round grade entering this draft season.

LaMichael James, of Oregon, could have what it takes in the right system to be a full-time back, but I think, much like with Tiki Barber's career path, we will see James used in a change-of-pace fashion before he gets a crack at being the man. This highly talented prospect has a bright future, but it may not get off the ground as quickly as he would like it to. He could do serious damage with limited touches in a West Coast offense or a system with an inexperienced quarterback.

Blessed with excellent hands and open-field elusiveness, the former Duck standout shouldn't slide out of the second round. If he does, I do not see any chance that he makes it out of the second day of the draft.

Texas A&M's Cyrus Gray is a patient runner whose receiving ability and route-running skills make him the ideal candidate as a third-down back. At 5-foot-10, 206 pounds, Gray is a 'tweener back with the ability to line up in the slot. He somewhat reminds me of slightly less talented Percy Harvin from a skill set standpoint.

Gray, who is considered a coach's dream, is a third- or fourth-round prospect with little potential to be a full-time back in the NFL. Even still, he should carve out a nice career for himself as a limited-use weapon.

Florida running back Chris Rainey possesses amazing cutback ability, vision and straight-line speed. He is a natural receiver and has experience lining up in the slot. His explosive burst will have creative offensive coordinators drooling for new ways to use him.

Rainey encountered some off-the-field issues, and in conjunction with his diminutive stature (5-foot-8, 180 pounds), he should slide in the draft. He earned a fourth-round grade from us and could be a glorified checkdown option at the next level.

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About Cory J. Bonini

Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.

Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.

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