By the time the 2011 NFL Draft kicked off, the Carolina Panthers knew they would be selecting Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall pick.
With the 2012 NFL Draft a little more than a month away, the Panthers can't say with much confidence who they'll pick at No. 9 overall.
The Panthers will know who the No. 9 player on their draft board is and will have a detailed strategy for the first round, but what teams do in front of them will play into what they ultimately decide to do.
Given everything that can happen leading up to the pick, nearly every position is a possibility. And, of course, the draft doesn't end with the first round on April 26; the future will be further forged by two more rounds on April 27 and the final four rounds on April 28.
Over the next month, Panthers.com will break down the draft class, position by position, and take a closer look at intriguing individuals at each position along the way.
Today, we will begin the breakdown with a look at the top running back prospects as ranked by NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock.
5-9, 228, Alabama
Taking over for Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, Richardson made his own run at the honor by rushing for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns to help the Crimson Tide capture the national championship. … Finished third in Heisman voting and won Doak Walker Award as nation's top running back. …Fumbled just once over 300-plus touches last season … Powerful inside runner who also has the speed to get outside.
5-9, 223, Boise State
Capped three strong seasons as the Broncos' feature back by earning MVP honors with a Las Vegas Bowl record 301 all-purpose yards, including a 100-yard return on the game's opening kickoff. … Rushed for 3,431 yards and 43 touchdowns after moving from defensive back a month into the 2009 season. … A north-to-south runner with sneaky speed to get around the edge.
5-10, 206, Virginia Tech
In one season as a starter, set school record with 1,709 rushing yards in 2011 before entering the draft with a year of eligibility remaining. … Played extensively behind an experienced group of backs for two seasons, making a name for himself as a dangerous option in the return game. … A freakish athlete with great balance and work ethic.
5-11, 212, Miami
A one-year starter like Wilson, Miller finished second to Wilson in the ACC with 1,272 yards before turning pro with two seasons of eligibility left. … Started the year with five consecutive 100-yard games but had just two the rest of the way thanks in part to a nagging shoulder injury. … A big play waiting to happen who is also a threat in the return game. … A good receiver that didn't get many chances in college.
5-8, 194, Oregon
Small in stature but not in stats, became just the second back in Pac-12 history to surpass 5,000 career rushing yards. … Accomplished feat in just three seasons, passing on final year of eligibility. … Rushed for 1,805 yards in 2011, averaging 7.3 yards per carry for the season and 142 yards per game over the final five games.