Running backs come in all shapes and sizes -- perhaps more than any other position in football. They also possess different skill sets, which make them unique and productive in their own fashion. While significant, top-end speed is not always the most important trait of a back. Attributes such as vision, quickness, lateral agility, initial burst through the hole and the ability to make people miss in space are vital qualities. Not all backs possess all or even half of these characteristics, but each one can make a back in the right scheme with the right opportunities a dangerous commodity.
Spread offenses led by zone-stretching backs with great lateral feet have become prevalent in college football, but plenty of teams still employ a traditional downhill, power-running scheme requiring a sturdier, more downhill back. Just look at what Heisman candidate Toby Gerhart is doing at Stanford.
Many of the backs in this 2010 class could fit into multiple categories and offenses; the position as a whole is deep with quality this year. While it lacks a multitude of elite performers, there is still a handful of upper-tier backs we feel have the physical tools and skill sets to become prolific college runners. It was a tight race for the top spot and it could continue into the all-star season, when each back will get a chance to perform versus topflight competition.
Michael Dyer (Little Rock, Ark./Little Rock Christian Academy), Marcus Lattimore (Duncan, S.C./Byrnes), Mack Brown (Lithonia, Ga./Martin Luther King), Jordon James (Corona, Calif.), Storm Johnson (Loganville, Ga.) and Lache Seastrunk (Temple, Texas) head this RB class and each brings a little something different to the table.
Best inside runners
What Scouts Inc. looks for: These backs have a knack for squaring up their shoulder pads quickly, getting downhill and attacking the hole with urgency between the tackles. You have seen us use the term "pick and slide" in our reports, and this is used to describe a back's ability to avoid with patience, find seams and move laterally in-line through the tight creases. The best inside runners consistently break initial contact, fall forward and finish runs.
Michael Dyer; committed to Auburn: Dyer may be on the shorter side, but he is stacked with muscle and has a very low, powerful base. He gets downhill quickly and can slice through the small, in-line creases with great lateral movement, balance and jump-cut skill. The recent Auburn commit is shifty between the tackles and rarely gives defenders a clean shot. A pinball type of runner, he consistently bounces off first contact, keeps his feet and finishes runs.
Storm Johnson; committed to Miami: Johnson attacks the downhill seam with great urgency and is a decisive inside cutter with very good initial burst. The future Hurricane can also be patient, sidestep the first defender through the hole and avoid initial penetration. He's a load to take down when he accelerates north and south and gains striking momentum. Underrated on the national level, Johnson has the size (210 pounds), strength and running leverage to pick up the tough inside yards.
Jordon James; committed to UCLA: James lacks a huge frame, but he has great explosiveness through the hole. He excels at picking and darting his way through inside traffic and consistently breaks initial contact. He runs deceptively hard between the tackles, despite having great outside burst. The in-state UCLA pledge has a low center of gravity along with great vision and suddenness, allowing him to see the small creases open quickly and burst to daylight.