Raise your hand if you had heard of Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris at this time last year. Not too many out there, huh? Morris turned out to be the big sleeper of last year’s draft at the running back position, and this year there is a whole new group of backs with the potential to do the same thing in 2013 that Morris did this past season. It’s not unusual to see late-round running back picks turn into major contributors, and here’s a list of potential running back sleepers in this year’s draft:
Spencer Ware, LSU – Ware looked like the heir apparent to Steven Ridley heading into the 2011 season, but the LSU backfield became real crowded real quickly, with four players seeing significant carries in each of the last two seasons, imploring Ware to take off a year early. Few running backs in this draft have the ball skills that Ware possesses. He was a high school quarterback that actually took snaps under center in short-yardage situations for the Tigers, so he’s as trustworthy as any running back available with the ball in his hands. He has the classic combination of power and speed we’re accustomed to seeing out of SEC running backs. Much like Ridley, if he’s given an opportunity in the right situation, Ware could really break out as a valuable running back in the NFL.
Ray Graham, Pittsburgh – Despite his size, at just 5’9’’, there are few running backs in this draft that are as talented as Graham. He suffered a devastating knee injury in 2011 while in the midst a great season, finishing with 958 yards rushing in just eight games. He wasn’t quite 100% last year, but he managed to top the 1,000-yard mark, including 172 yards against an allegedly stout Notre Dame defense. Graham should be back to full health by the time the 2013 season rolls around, and whichever team drafts him in the late rounds is going to have quite a steal.
Stefphon Jefferson, Nevada – Jefferson comes from the same college as Collin Kaepernick, and he has a chance to burst onto the scene with just as much authority. He was second in the country in rushing yards this past year with 1,883, while also scoring 24 touchdowns. He’s not a speed demon, but he’s a classic workhorse back that can get 20 or more carries per game. He is also a high-character player that any team will be lucky to have.
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Knile Davis, Arkansas – Davis is another guy that has seen his stock fall due to injuries. In 2010, he was second in the SEC in rushing (behind only Cam Newton), despite not becoming the starter until midway through the season. He lost his entire 2011 season due to injury and was noticeably rusty in 2012, in addition to being on a team that wasn’t very good and had to throw a lot because they were constantly playing from behind. He may have been wise to return to Arkansas for another year, but if he can ever regain the form he had in 2010, he’ll be a good solid NFL running back.
Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt – Stacy has been one of the better running backs in the SEC the past two seasons, while running behind an undersized line and going against NFL-sized defensive linemen week after week. He may not have the kind of size and speed the NFL is looking for, but he has all the intangibles, and those can go a long way.
Montel Harris, Temple – Harris may be a bit of a character risk after being dismissed from Boston College in 2011, but he has plenty of talent. He landed at Temple in 2012 and was one of the best backs in the Big East after missing the 2011 season due to injury. There is some risk if a team takes Harris in the draft, but there is the potential for a lot of reward as well.