Of all the talented running backs in the 2013 NFL draft, why is Joseph Randle the best fit for the Cincinnati Bengals? Others at the same position have been graded higher by draft pundits and seem to have more value to most teams. Randle simply has the most to offer the Bengals and will come at an outstanding value in this year's draft.
The reasoning behind all of this is quite simple. Comparing Randle to other top-tier prospects in this year's draft class is the best way to understand this logic.
Let's break down eight key attributes the Bengals will be searching for in the draft this year and compare the top-five running back prospects side by side in each category.
Each prospect will be given a total score based on his ranking in each category—lowest score is best. This total score will be applied at the end and compared to the round in which he is projected to determine his overall value.
Size is a huge factor when speculating upon a running backs' success at the NFL level. An undersized running back has a very slim chance to become a three-down player at the next level. A larger back will always come with durability questions. Fitting the right height to weight ratio is crucial for these prospects.
The backs that will draw the Bengals interest will be of the smaller variety. Cincinnati is looking for a complement to BenJarvus Green-Ellis—the team's between-the-tackles, workhorse back.
2. Joseph Randle: 6'0", 204 pounds. Randle has a great height advantage for receiving out of the backfield. He has a smaller than ideal frame, but is not limited when it comes to bulking up.
3. Giovani Bernard: 5'9", 202 pounds. Bernard is a smaller back and his size could hurt him at times at the next level. He also has a very slender frame which he will have limits to build upon.
4. Johnathan Franklin: 5'10", 205 pounds. Franklin lacks the bulk of a lead back and has a smaller stature which could limit his role in the NFL.
5. Andre Ellington: 5'9", 199 pounds. Ellington has a very lean frame and average build. He lacks the traditional size and muscular frame of an NFL running back.
Obviously, the back that the Bengals ultimately draft will need great speed. This player will need a quick burst and acceleration to get around the tackle and beat defenders to the edge.
The 40-yard dash times are virtually irrelevant here as the common term, "football speed" comes in to play. Football speed is determined by watching game film and identifying how a player reacts in the open field. This evaluation determines his elusiveness and ability to outrun defenders.
1. Franklin: One of the fastest backs in the draft, he carried around the nickname of "Jetski" in college. This was given to him by his teammates as he was known for leaving defenders in his wake.
2. Randle: Great acceleration and great straight-line speed allow Randle to quickly escape the grasp of defenders and become very difficult to catch from behind in the open field.
3. Ellington: He is capable of making those "wow" runs by turning nothing into something. His shiftiness and acceleration allow him to break away from defenders quickly.
4. Bernard: With great acceleration, he can get to the outside and make defenders miss by forcing them to take bad angles. However, he has been routinely caught from behind in the past in the open field.
5. Lacy: A fast running back, Lacy has nice speed but it is not elite. He can accelerate to get through the line quickly, but he can be caught from behind by faster defenders.
Yes, even a change-of-pace running back needs to have a good amount of strength. The NFL is full of stifling defenders capable of knocking a smaller player back on his heels. The running back that will be drafted by Cincinnati will not carry to the outside at all times and will need to be strong enough to take the ball up the gut on occasion.
If this prospect is ever going to have the chance to be a three-down player, the ability to shed tacklers and gain yards after contact is an absolute must.
1. Lacy: One of the strongest backs in the draft, Lacy keeps his legs churning through contact and has the ability to push a pile. He does not shy away from contact and can break tackles nicely.
2. Randle: Keeps a lower pad level despite his taller stature. Randle does not shy away from contact, instead he attempts to run over defenders by keeping his legs churning and using his momentum.
3. Bernard: Great lower leg drive makes Bernard a very capable back in terms of strength. His lack of size does not keep him away from contact and he will keep his legs churning to gain extra yards.
4. Franklin: Generally shying away from contact, he is more of an elusive runner that uses his hips to sway away from defenders. However, he is capable of finishing a run when contacted.
5. Ellington: Due to his lean frame and average build, he does not have the kind of power that is necessary to move the pile or break significant tackles at the NFL level.
Running a West Coast offense requires a running back that can become versatile and help the offense in multiple ways out of the backfield. The best way this can be accomplished is by doubling as a receiving threat.
A running back with great hands gives the offense an added dimension and makes a defense stay honest against this option. This can be one of the most powerful aspects that one of these prospects could bring to the Bengals.
1. Bernard: With almost 100 career receptions while at North Carolina, he has great hands and focus to allow him to make the tough catches in traffic. Possibly the best receiving back in the draft.
2. Randle: 108 career receptions has showcased his ability to be a very effective pass-catcher out of the backfield. He has sure hands and is a very reliable target due to his height and reach.
3. Ellington: With 59 career receptions, Ellington is very capable of being a dual-threat back at the next level. Although, he has not done so on a consistent basis and will need come coaching.
4. Lacy: Having 35 collegiate receptions does not seem like many, however, 22 came his junior year when he was finally featured. He may be better than advertised, but is still a question mark in this area.
5. Franklin: Despite being such a fast running back, Franklin was never utilized as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Twenty-five receptions is all he has to show for his collegiate career.
Last season, quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked a total of 46 times over 16 games. This is up from just 24 times in his rookie season of 2011. There is no doubt that the Bengals offensive line could use some help these days—they are either recovering from injury or inexperienced.
Blocking has just become even more important for a potential candidate at the running back position. If a player is familiar in pass protection and capable of reading and picking up blitzes, his stock will improve significantly.
1. Randle: Very tough in pass protection, Randle is very familiar with reading and picking up on the blitz. He does not shy away from giving up his body to protect the quarterback.
2. Lacy: Although he only has one year under his belt as a starter, Lacy has the strength and build to be very capable in pass protection at the next level. He will need work on technique to get it right.
3. Bernard: Giving good effort in pass protection, Bernard is willing to stand in and block. However, his limited size is a concern in this area as he can be trampled by larger defenders.
4. Ellington: He is tougher than he looks and has had experience in this department after sharing the backfield for four seasons. He can lower his pads and be effective in pass protection.
5. Franklin: Not at all a stout blocker in pass protection. This is not a running back that you would want protecting your team's quarterback at all.
Ball security may be one of the absolute top draws for Cincinnati to a running back. The AFC North is not a division in which games can be won despite an abundance of turnovers. If a back has trouble controlling the football, he could earn a quick ticket out of the division.
Running backs that have a pedigree of sustaining great control over the football while carrying during their collegiate careers will be held in a much higher regard by the Bengals.
1. Ellington: Does not dance around as much as he has in previous years, which has helped him with ball security. He leans forward to finish a run keeping the ball out of reach from defenders.
2. Lacy: Early in his career, he struggled with putting the ball on the ground. However, he has changed his technique and has vastly improved in this department during his recent collegiate years.
3. Bernard: He has had trouble in the past as a returner and has had botched punts as recently as this past year. However, as a ball-carrier, he has had good success keeping control.
4. Randle: One thing that he must improve upon is keeping the ball secure. He has struggled in the past and has put the football on the ground on several occasions.
5. Franklin: Ball security has been an issue throughout his entire career. He struggled early and has not improved since having fumbled three times over a five game span last season.
Every team looks for a running back that does not have a laundry list of previous injuries. A running back that has had his fair share of missed time in college throws up immediate red flags at the NFL level.
The Bengals have certainly dealt with their fair share of injury-plagued running backs in the past. They would be best suited to avoid such players when looking to the future.
1. Randle: No significant injuries in college makes him one of the most durable running backs coming out in this year's draft.
2. Franklin: Also with no significant injuries in college, he seems durable. However, this could be due to the lack of contact that he has sustained compared to other running backs.
3. Ellington: He dealt with a nagging hamstring injury during his senior season. However, he split time for four seasons and has not suffered a major injury in that time span.
4. Lacy: Injuries have nagged at him throughout his career. However, they have not been serious as most have been ankle sprains and turf toe.
5. Bernard: He has big durability concerns leading up to this past season. He missed two games in 2012 and parts of others due to different injuries. He also tore his ACL during the 2010 season.
Value is the first word that comes to mind when speaking of any prospect on draft day. No team wants to reach for a player early and every team is hoping their guy slides to them in later rounds of the draft.
There are a great deal of running back prospects in the draft this year—each with his own grade. The highest potential ceiling of a draftee plus a later round grade equals the best possible value in the draft.
1. Randle: Total score: 14. Projected round: late second to early third.
2. Lacy: Total score: 19. Projected round: late first to early second.
3. Bernard: Total score: 22. Projected round: second.
4. Ellington: Total score: 24. Projected round: third.
5. Franklin: Total score: 26. Projected round: late second to early third.
After applying all major categories for running backs in this year's draft, Randle scores even higher than Lacy—who is projected to go a round before Randle. Clearly it seems that he holds the best value in a running back that fits the offensive system of Cincinnati.
By waiting on a running back selection, the Bengals will not only get great value and a possible future starter, but they will be able to address other very important needs beforehand.
This absolutely looks like a winning formula that will allow the Bengals to continue their successful drafts.