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By John McMullen, NFL Editor - Archive - Email
Alabama's Lacy remains the best of an unwanted bunch
Eddie Lacy Eddie Lacy is widely regarded as the best back in this year's class.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Success in football used to follow a rather simple script.

If you wanted to be a serious Super Bowl contender, you needed to run the football and play strong defense.

Sports evolve, however, and the running game has never meant less in the NFL. Coaches like Andy Reid and Mike McCarthy may still pay lip service to the philosophy of running the football, but, left to their own devices, would rather chuck it 60 times a game.

And it's tough to criticize any of the pass-happy mentors around the league because just about every rule change over the past decade has made it easier and easier for quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers to matriculate down the field, a fact that by its very nature hurts running backs.

The latest blow came last week when the role of a big-time runner was marginalized even further at the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix. The league passed a new rule making it illegal for a ball carrier to smash into a defender with the crown of his helmet in open space.

Much like the 3-point shot in basketball put the big man on the endangered species list, the NFL is currently legislating the impact of the running back out of its game by changing the very nature of it.

It's not quite Arena football yet, but unless you're an Adrian Peterson-type difference maker, personnel people would rather focus on just about any other position, especially early in the draft process.

Perhaps that's why most feel just one running back has a chance of being a first-round selection in next month's NFL draft -- Alabama star Eddie Lacy.

"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 while no doubt trying to enhance his value. "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."

THE 2013 NFL DRAFT: TSN'S TOP RUNNING BACKS
 1. - Eddie Lacy, Alabama
 2. - Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State
 3. - Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
 4. - Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
 5. - Montee Ball, Wisconsin
 6. - Stephan Taylor, Stanford
 7. - Andre Ellington, Clemson
 8. - Knile Davis, Arkansas
 9. - Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
 10. - Christine Michael, Texas A&M

 SKILL REPORT: THE RUNNING BACKS

 Best Inside Runner: Stephan Taylor, Stanford
 Best Open-Field Runner: Andre Ellington, Clemson
 Best Receiver: Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
 Best Pass Blocker: Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
 Underrated: Theo Riddick, Notre Dame
 Biggest Risk: Eddie Lacy. Alabama

Lacy is widely regarded as the best back in this year's class after running for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns for Alabama last season, and being named the MVP the SEC Championship Game as well as the offensive MVP of the BCS National Championship Game.

The Packers, who pick 26th in the draft, look like a match made in heaven for Lacy. After all, as good as Rodgers has been over the past few years, he's had virtually no help from his runners.

In the Pack's Super Bowl season of 2010, Brandon Jackson paced Green Bay in rushing with a paltry 703 yards. A-Rod had one of the great seasons in history during his 2011 MVP campaign. leading the Packers to a 15-1 record before an eventual playoff implosion against the New York Giants. James Starks' 578 rushing yards was hardy a deterrent to opposing defenses, however.

The arrow continued to point down last year when Alex Green led the Pack in rushing with a dismal 464 yards. Pedestrian players like DuJuan Harris and Starks don't figure to change that in 2013 and common sense says play-action would make things even easier for Rodgers, already one of the most accurate passers in the history of the game.

"I'd like that, but wherever I go, I'd like that, too," Lacy said when asked about being the possible cure to the rushing woes in Titletown. "I feel as though (opposing defenses) wouldn't just be able to spread the field out. They'd have to actually have to defend the run as well. If Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback, you're not going to put nine guys in the box. So it'll kind of balance out."

Before you pencil in Lacy to the Packers, though, understand McCarthy will always be far more interested in a back who is adept at catching the ball out of the backfield and picking up the blitz, not exactly Lacy's strengths, at least at this point.

Cincinnati, which picks 21st, and Denver, which currently has the 28th selection, are other playoff-caliber teams in need of an upgrade at running back.

"I wouldn't mind playing in anyone's offense," Lacy said. "Take your pick with me. I wouldn't mind playing with any of them. I don't care if it's them or anybody else."

Of course it's just as likely that Lacy falls into the second round as various scouts continue to poke holes in his game.

The 5-foot-11, 230-pound wrecking ball often gets unfairly criticized because his offensive line at Alabama was so good. Guard Chance Warmack may be the best overall player in the 2013 draft, while D.J. Fluker is one of the top tackles and Barrett Jones is regarded as the best pivot in the selection process.

"It all depends on how you look at it. I mean, I feel as though we complement each other because you have a great offensive line and you have a great backfield as well," Lacy said. "So, I don't feel as if one position is doing good because of the other. It's just that we complement each other."

Believers say Lacy has the power to run over defenders, enough shiftiness to make people miss, and a spectacular Chuck Foreman-like spin move, made famous in Alabama's 42-14 victory over Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game.

Lacy echoed those thoughts when talking about the strengths of his game:

"Just being able to be a powerful runner if I need to or an agile runner and make people miss. With my size, being able to be agile and make people miss, that's really key," the Louisiana native said.

He's also played in his share of big games at the college level, making an NFL stage, which can engulf some, seem far less imposing.

"Well, I mean, I was able to show up in the big games on the big stages and in the NFL, every game is a big game no matter what," Lacy said. "So if I was able to perform well in those games, you know it should be an indication that I can do the same thing in the NFL."

Complicating things is a hamstring injury that has kept Lacy from working out at the Scouting Combine as well as the Crimson Tide's Pro Day.

"The 40 is something everybody wants to see," Lacy said. "When it comes time for it, I'll be all right."

Eventually Lacy will run for his suitors and try to clear up any concerns.

His biggest hurdle, though, may be an insurmountable one -- running backs just aren't all that important any longer.

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