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Option backs

(This is the third of an eight-part series previewing the NFL Draft on May 8-10. Today’s installment: Running backs.)

The NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year last season was only the fourth running back taken in the draft and lasted to the 61st overall pick.

Eddie Lacy rushed for 1,178 yards for the Green Bay Packers last season, becoming the latest example of how great value at the running back position need not be found in the first round.

For a second straight year, there probably will not be any running backs drafted in the first round of the draft. Last year was the first time a back didn’t go in the first round since 1963. So what?

“I don’t think it’s anything negative on the running back,” said Mike Mayock, NFL Network analyst. “I just think that it’s a pass-first league now, so you’re seeing a lot of different draft picks getting pushed up ahead.”

“I think this running back group: A, is talented; B, is deep; and C, you kind of have to filter through it to see who you like,” Mayock said. “Because there are a lot of different flavors out there depending on what kind of offense you run.”

Want a big back in the mold of Lacy? Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde is the pick.

Hyde rushed for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns in 11 games last season. He’s a 6-foot, 230-pounder with speed very similar to that of Lacy (4.66 seconds in the 40-yard dash). He’s not as fast as Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, who ran 4.46 out of college. But Hyde is a powerful, workhorse back who runs with passion. Hyde was suspended for the first three games of last season due to an altercation with a woman in a nightclub. He was not charged by police in the incident.

The running back rankings probably vary widely from team to team, based on what kind of back each team needs.

Auburn’s Tre Mason likely will be No. 1 on some teams’ boards. He rushed for 1,816 yards, breaking Bo Jackson’s single-season school record. He’s only 5-8, but he’s a solid 207 pounds. He runs with power and decisiveness.

“I compare him to Ray Rice coming out of Rutgers,” said Mayock, referring to the Baltimore Ravens’ diminutive Pro Bowler.

Mason’s production may have been inflated by the great rushing scheme of Tigers coach Gus Malzahn. But he produced against good defenses, including a 195-yard rushing effort vs. Florida State in the national title game.

Hyde and Mason probably will be second-round picks.

The next group of backs includes Bishop Sankey of Washington, Jeremy Hill of LSU, Andre Williams of Boston College, Ka’Deem Carey of Arizona and Lache Seastrunk of Baylor. Pick whatever order you like.

Sankey has great running instincts. He broke Corey Dillon’s school record by rushing for 1,870 yards last season, fourth best in the nation. He was a team captain, and he shows good hands.

The next two big backs behind Hyde are Hill and Williams. Hill, 233 pounds, is a punishing, downhill runner who gets yards after contact. He had 1,401 yards in just 10 games. But he has character red flags, including a guilty plea stemming from a bar fight. Williams, 230 pounds, led the nation with 2,177 rush yards last year. He blocks well, too.

Seastrunk has the best speed and outside running ability of the top backs in the draft. He ran 4.46 at his pro day and plays at least that fast. He makes defenders look bad in the open field, and he’s not wimpy between the tackles. He rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 TDs last season.

Carey is average in shorts (4.7 in the 40) but great on the field. His 3,814 yards and 42 TDs were tops in the nation the past two seasons. He also is a product of a college-style, spread offense. Towson’s Terrance West, a Day Two possibility, will produce in the NFL. He scored 86 TDs in three seasons.

Lots of good backs will be available on the third day. Tiny Dri Archer of Kent State (4.26) is comparable to Kansas City’s Dexter McCluster and probably projects as a situational receiver. Jerick McKinnon of Georgia Southern (4.41) and De’Anthony Thomas of Oregon (4.5) are other speedsters.

Toledo’s David Fluellen, a former All-Western New Yorker from Lockport High School, could be a late-round pick. Over the past two seasons, he rushed for 2,619 yards, an average of 125 a game. He knows how to run, and he caught 80 passes in his Toledo career.