There has been a lot of noise surrounding the New England Patriots and what they are going to do with their two first round draft picks tonight. They are expected to take a running back in one of the early rounds of the draft so they can have an every-down style back. This is interesting on the heels of BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 1,008 yard, 13 touchdown season on the ground. Bill Belichick is a coach who rewards lesser known guys who bust their ass on the practice squad, which is exactly why he's given opportunities to guys like Green-Ellis and Kyle Arrington, and I don't feel like Belichick would respond to the Law Firm's impressive 2010 season by replacing him with a first-round stud running back out of college. However, with Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead in the backfield, the Patriots don't have much in the way of power running, which is why they are speculated to take a running back.
Heisman winner Mark Ingram projects to be available when the Patriots are first on the clock at No. 17 overall, which is surprising since he was once considered top-10 talent and is still by far the best running back in this draft class. He combines the height of Woodhead (Ingram is 5'-9'', Woodhead 5'-8'') with the size of Green-Ellis (both weigh in at 215 lbs.) and runs with good speed, elite vision, impeccable ball control, and strength. A physical runner, Ingram isn't afraid to run at other defenders and with a good, strong body, he also can be pretty hard to bring down. Although his speed doesn't quite compare to say, Adrian Peterson, Ingram should be a very good back in the NFL and the New England Patriots should definitely like that he should be a threat in the running and passing game. The Pats love to use their backs in the passing game when possible, although Danny Woodhead may just have that role locked up. Woodhead averaged over 11 yards per catch last year, netting 379 yards in all with a touchdown and 15 first downs. Since Green-Ellis and Woodhead appear to be a very functional, dynamic tandem (though by no means flashy or elite), the Pats may shy away from Ingram because he needs to improve his pass protection and isn't quite as powerful of a runner as you'd like in a guy as physical as Ingram.
With a defensive front seven in dire need of a pass rusher or two (maybe even three) and an offensive line that needs improvement (will cover more on this shortly), I have a hard time seeing New England draft a running back early if he's not a top-notch blocker. However, I do believe the Pats could make an exception for Ryan Williams in Round 2 (assuming by then they have shored up their other needs a bit). In the second round of my NFL Mock Draft, I gave the Pats Mikel Leshoure, but because he has been suspended and injured due to fights with teammates and other problems, I don't think his character lives up to the expectations of Bill Belichick and ultimately he probably won't end up with the team. Williams, on the other hand, is not a distraction or a diva, and a very talented, powerful runner. He is overcoming some worrisome injuries from his college career, which depresses his draft value a bit (he's much better than a mid-to-late second round pick), but that's exactly the kind of value Bill Belichick likes to look for when he drafts. Also worth considering with Williams is that he doesn't quite have the size to be an every down back. With Green-Ellis and Woodhead in the fold, that's not a problem for the Pats. This existing depth in the backfield will also help cover up Williams' durability issues while providing the Pats with a really good power complement to the Law Firm.