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Falcons Draft Spotlight: Is RB Eddie Lacy worth a top pick?

The Falcons need a running back. Did you know Alabama is pretty good at sending those to the NFL?

Lacy breaks a would-be Manti Te'o tackle in the BCS National Championship game.
Lacy breaks a would-be Manti Te'o tackle in the BCS National Championship game.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Eddie Lacy is just the latest in a long line of Alabama running backs to find success under Nick Saban: Trent Richardson, Mark Ingram, and even Glen Coffee were all highly touted leading up to the NFL draft.

Michael Turner, who as we know is due almost $7M in salary next season, may not be long for the world of Atlanta sports (if only the Georgia Force were still in existence). Jacquizz Rodgers probably won't carry the load himself. Could the Lacy train be coming to town?

Position: RB
School: Alabama
Projection: 2nd round
Measurables: 5'11, 220 pounds, projected to run a 4.55 40-yard dash
NFL Comparison: Frank Gore

Stats (2012): 1182 rush yards, 16 rush TD, 172 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD (averaged 6.42 YPC)

Why He'll Work: Lacy is not the fastest back you'll come across, but he and has one ability that Michael Turner sorely lacked in 2012: explosiveness. He hits the hole with decisiveness and authority, and he has the lower body strength to handle the tough runs when eight men are stacked in the box. He is a patient runner, yes, but he gets upfield like you wouldn't believe. As a Georgia fan, I can assure you that Lacy exceeded every one of my expectations in that SEC title game. Guys in the secondary were getting run over. Mike Gilliard looked downright silly. Even the mighty Alec Ogeltree tackled him with difficulty.

In essence, he's the perfect example of a reliable, one-cut running back that has enough speed to hold his own in the open field. But he also has that hard-nosed strength that makes him so difficult for opposing defenses to contain. He is consistent in his ability to gain positive yardage - a 6.8 yards per carry average over his career with the Tide shows that - and because he split a lot of time in college, he will have a relatively fresh set of legs as a rookie in the NFL.

With Turner on his way out the door, the Falcons need a reliable inside runner that can take some pressure off of Matt Ryan and help this team put games away, specifically in the second half of playoff games. He finishes his runs like a younger Turner would, and that's a trait the Falcons could use.

Simply put, he is a back that could immediately revive Atlanta's once-heralded rushing attack.

Why He Won't Work: The most obvious question to ask here is "do the Falcons need to spend one of their top two picks on a running back?" Even though Lacy is projected as a second-rounder, he could just as easily be gone before Day Two. Given recent trends and the way the NFL game has evolved in recent years, is it even wise to spend a top pick on a running back?

Let's examine last year's most productive rookie running backs:

Alfred Morris (6th round): 335 carries, 1613 yards, 13 TD, 4.8 YPC
Doug Martin (1st round): 319 carries, 1454 yards, 11 TD, 4.6 YPC
Trent Richardson (1st round): 267 carries, 950 yards, 11 TD, 3.6 YPC
Vick Ballard (5th round): 211 carries, 814 yards, 2 TD, 3.9 YPC
Bryce Brown (7th round): 115 carries, 564 yards, 4 TD, 4.9 YPC

If it wasn't obvious before, it is now: teams can find quality running backs in rounds four, five, six and seven. It could also be argued that the Falcons have more pressing needs to handle, the most obvious one being the pass-rush.

There are other questions to consider, too. Just how much of Lacy's success is tied to Alabama's offensive line, a unit most considered the best in the nation in 2012? Are his numbers a product of a playing in the Tide's run-heavy system?

Lacy also spent most of his career in singleback sets. How would he handle playing for a team that employs the I-formation as much as the Falcons do?

Lastly: should we even be concerned about Atlanta's rushing attack? The Falcons went 13-3 and lost the NFC Championship game by four points without having a reliable ground game all season. Jacquizz Rodgers has shown versatility and promise. Jason Snelling is an offensive stalwart that should remain with the team a little longer. The offensive line should improve with time as Peter Konz grows into his role at right guard.

Lacy is talented, but most running backs are only as talented as the offensive line they play behind, and the Falcons would be wise to pass on using their top pick on that position.


Eddie Lacy SEC Championship Highlights vs Georgia (via SECDigitalNetwork)