Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith boasts one of the most impressive resumes in NFL history: A three-time Super Bowl champion. Four-time NFL rushing leader with 18,355 career rushing yards.
So it's safe to say he knows a thing or two about the running back position.
With the 2012 NFL Draft around the corner, Smith agreed to spend a few hours to sit down and evaluate film of running backs prospects from this class. Actually, he insisted. His eyes lit up at the mention of breaking down some football tape. He might have bagged his cleats, but this is still a man who knows and loves the game.
The beauty of scouting: Each evaluator sees the game differently. So what does Emmitt Smith look for when assessing running backs?
"I'm looking for balance, quickness, low center of gravity, the ability to break tackles and get downhill in a hurry," he said. "Quickness, elusiveness. The position is much more than just being built or a good athlete."
We're in agreement that Alabama's Trent Richardson is the top back in this draft and didn't include the surefire first-round pick on our evaluation list.
"Trent is the best," Smith said. "I'm looking at his conference, his competition. Playing against the Auburns, the Floridas, the LSUs -- just on that alone. This kid can play football."
The ties are deeper than their SEC roots. Richardson and Smith are Florida natives and played football at Escambia High School in Pensacola. They developed a close friendship years ago and remain in touch to this day. Just last month, Smith delivered opening remarks during the Doak Walker Award ceremony where Richardson was recognized as the top running back in college football.
"He comes from a pro-style system," Smith added. "Trent is one of the most NFL-ready prospects in the draft. If I have a need for a running back in the top 10, I'm going to go get him."
However, the college running back who stood out most to Smith last season isn't even in this draft class.
"I think Montee Ball [Wisconsin] looked better than most of these guys," Smith said. "From what I saw, Ball looks like the real deal to me. There is something about him that has me convinced. He's a guy to watch for next year."
For this particular afternoon of film evaluation, we focused on four highly ranked very different prospects: Doug Martin (Boise State), Lamar Miller (Miami, Fla.), Robert Turbin (Utah State) and Bernard Pierce (Temple).
LAMAR MILLER, Miami (Fla.) Height: 5-10, 3/4 | Weight: 212 | 40 time: 4.36COLLEGIATE RESUME:
2010: (11 gp/1 st) 646 rush yards on 108 carries (6.0) and six touchdowns with 1 KR for a score.
2011: (12 gp/12 st) 1,272 rush yards on 227 rushes (5.6) and nine touchdowns with 17 catches for 85 yards and one score, earning Second Team All-ACC honors.
GAMES SCOUTED: vs. Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech
SMITH'S TAKE: He's a bigger Clinton Portis, a bigger Clinton Portis. And faster. Look at those moves. He sees the running lanes very well. He knows what to do with the ball once he has the ball in his hands. Miller puts his foot in the ground, cuts back and it's over with. This kid has some talent.
Great vision -- he sees the run lanes nicely. And he's in a pro-style offense. He's a bigger Clinton Portis, I'm telling you. He loves to put his foot in the ground and go get it. He doesn't need a whole lot of room to run, look at that cutback. He's a sprinter. He has that "it" thing plus speed. He's not missing many cuts.
I could see why some would say he's a Felix Jones type of guy. This kid sees it and knows how to go get it. He maneuvers through run lanes, makes himself small and gets big when he has to. Exceptional speed and home-run threat, without a doubt.BRUGLER'S SCOUTING REPORT
STRENGTHS: Balanced athlete with dynamic start-and-stop ability and smooth change-of-direction skills. Stays patient before burst upfield and accelerating to top speed quickly when he sees daylight. Nimble feet to make defenders miss and shows an extra gear to run away from them, too. Very good vision and cutback ability, finding the run lanes, following blocks and staying patient behind the line of scrimmage. Good body strength and stays coordinated through contact, running with a purpose. Very good at forcing defenders to take poor angles with his lateral quickness and natural explosiveness. Effective pass catcher with good ball skills and body control to make tough grabs. Good experience as a kick returner. Very good production in his two seasons on the field with the third-best season rushing total in school history last year. Nine career 100-plus-yard performances.
WEAKNESSES: Upright runner with a narrow frame. Doesn't break many tackles and goes down too easily, struggling to create in tight areas. Too patient at times and looks indecisive with a questionable feel between the tackles. Lacks the strength to power through contact and doesn't have the body type to withstand a heavy beating. Appears to freelance a lot and needs to allow the designed play to develop. Relies too much on the "big-time" play and needs to be content with simple positive gains. Suspect ball security and tends to wear down over the course of a game. Suspect durability playing most of 2011 with a shoulder issue. Part of a tandem backfield and lacks the size to be a bell-cow back. Started 2011 with five straight 100-yard rushing games but finished with just two in the final seven contests. Still growing at the position and there are some questions about whether or not he will put in the necessary work to reach his potential.
FINAL WORD It's easy to get excited about Miller's upside and potential, but there is also some below-average tape on him. He's a smooth, one-cut runner and talented athlete who can turn on the jets with big-play ability. It took about two plays before Smith made the Clinton Portis comparison and he didn't back down from that assessment.
PROJECTION: Top 50