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NFL scouting combine preview: running backs

The NFL scouting combine starts Feb. 22. In advance of the NFL’s annual meat market in Indianapolis, staff writer Matt Vensel will examine each position and give Ravens fans the 4-1-1. Today he looks at running backs

.

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The top prospects:

Trent Richardson

, a

Heisman Trophy

finalist in 2011, is the consensus top back in this year's draft. He has good size and speed for such a powerful runner and he has great patience and vision. He was also an excellent third-down back at Alabama. In his final college season in Tuscaloosa, Richardson rushed for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns. But after Richardson, there might not be another running back who is selected in the first round of April’s

NFL draft

. Miami’s

Lamar Miller

, Virginia Tech’s

David Wilson

or Oregon’s

LaMichael James

might be able to crack the first round with a strong showing in pre-draft workouts.

Other intriguing names:

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The Ravens may be in the market for big-bodied change-of-pace back to replace

Ricky Williams

, who announced that he was retiring last week. Temple's

Bernard Pierce

would fit the bill.  The 5-foot-11, 216-pound bruiser finished second in

NCAA

Div. I-FBS with 27 rushing touchdowns and he was 12th in rushing yards. San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman and Baylor's Terrance Ganaway are under-the-radar prospects who could garner some attention with strong workouts. Bryce Brown was a former five-star recruit who was a disappointment at Tennessee and Kansas State. Cincinnati’s

Isaiah Pead

impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl and flashed potential as a returner, an area the Ravens are interested in addressing in the draft.

Grading the class:

Richardson appears to be a can’t-miss prospect (he has the skills to go in the top five picks), but there is a big drop-off after him in terms of top-end talent. The running back class isn’t very deep, but there could be steals later in the draft like

DeMarco Murray

of the

Dallas Cowboys

a year ago. I’ll give the running backs a C-plus.

Fitting the Ravens:

Re-signing

Pro Bowl

running back

Ray Rice

is one of the team’s top offseason priorities and they like the other young running backs on their roster.

Anthony Allen

could potentially fill the power back role for the Ravens, but Pierce and Washington’s

Chris Polk

were productive between-the-tackle runners in college who could go in the middle rounds. There is a decent chance the Ravens could draft a running back in April, but it isn’t believed to be a high priority.

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