News of Eddie Lacy's recent hamstring injury that will keep him from working out this week at the NFL Combine shouldn't concern him too much. He only needs to look to the running back he backed up during the 2011 season for proof that if talent is there, a pre-Combine injury won't hurt your draft stock too much. Knee surgery kept Trent Richardson out of workouts at the Combine last year but he still ended up as the third overall player taken in the draft. Lacy has the benefit of a great year running the ball for evaluators to see and make their decisions off of, just like they did with Richardson the previous year.
Lacy took the mantle this season as Alabama's lead running back and helped take them to a national title. He rushed for 1,322 yards, averaging 6.5 yards per carry, with 17 touchdowns. He was a first-team All-SEC selection, but it was his running down the stretch that held Alabama together. He rushed for a career-high 181 yards in the SEC Championship game against Georgia and added 140 more in the BCS National Championship.
It's those kinds of performances that grab the eye of scouts and Matt Miller of Bleacher Report (@NFLDraftScout) is back once again to offer some insight into Lacy in this week's Draft Spotlight. Miller says scouts take notice of the kind of final two games that Lacy had to end his redshirt junior season.
"It definitely helps Lacy that he showed up in big games," Miller said. "I think most importantly, those big games were viewed by more head coaches and general managers at that time. Lacy dominating Notre Dame gives most NFL general managers a reference point for his success. They've seen him do it in a big game and know he can get the job done. It may not change his draft grade a ton for individual scouts, but showing up big in a marquee game definitely helps your recognition points."
So Lacy grabbed some recognition points, but did he get any from Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff? No one knows for sure what the Falcons will do in the draft because Dimitroff plays his hand extremely close to his vest, but if they were interested in adding the best running back in the draft, their position at No. 30 is a great place to do it.
"If you're going to draft a running back in the first round, this is where you do it," Miller said. "I worry about Lacy's lack of speed as a true first-round grade, but if the Falcons, or another team, decide that running back is a key priority for them, finding one in the late first round is the best bet. This is a good year for second-tier running backs, though, so I would caution teams against reaching for Lacy, or any back, when a good value can be found in other rounds."
Despite possible starting-caliber talent later in the draft at running back, Miller says he rates Lacy as a second-round back, but still believes he's the most qualified back in the draft class to be taken in the top round. He sees a bruising back that can wear down a defense, a role on offense still valued in the NFL.
"The first word that comes to mind is 'power,' " Miller said. "Lacy is a throwback to the days of big, bruising running backs who could control the pace of the game. It's demoralizing as a defense to know the offense is going to run at you and not be able to stop it — and that's what Lacy does. He's a bulldozer who slams into the defense 25 times a game and breaks their will in the process. That type of running can fit at any level as long as the blocking up front can give him a seam."
Miller thinks the Falcons offensive line is capable of doing that and sees Lacy's role with the Falcons in the physical ground game to help develop the playaction pass. He sees a stronger version of San Francisco's Kendall Hunter in Lacy and a pre-injury Rashard Mendenhall, around 2009 and '10 when he rushed for over 2,300 yards for the Steelers.
Lacy doesn't offer up any real character concerns for his potential suitor and the program he comes from is a bonus. As is the case with a handful of college programs, players that typically come from Nick Saban's pro-style Alabama program are well prepared and ready to work and Lacy seems to be no different.
"If the Falcons want a running back who can come in and contribute right away, Lacy is their guy," Miller said.