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NFL Draft 2012: Scouting Temple RB Bernard Pierce

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In case you missed it, the Seahawks signed Marshawn Lynch to a four-year deal earlier this week, meaning he's likely to be the lead back, barring major injury, for at least two more seasons. Probably three. With that in mind, the Draft analysis done here with respect to the Seahawks' interest in running backs goes from likely 1st, 2nd round guys, to 3rd or 4th round players that the team could look at as depth and insurance. Now, I'm not saying the Seahawks won't draft a guy in the first or second round, but, it just seems less likely now. They may not even draft a running back at all. Either way, it's fun to see what's out there.

With that in mind, over the next few weeks, I'm going to be bringing up some running backs that the Seahawks might have interest in, giving my take, sharing some respected analysts' takes, and providing scouting videos for you so you can make your own judgement. Thus far, we've taken a look at Terrence Ganaway, here. We've looked briefly at Tennesee's Tauren Poole. We've looked at Mike Mayock's pre-Combine top-5. We talked about Robert Turbin, another running back that I'm pretty high on for the Seahawks. I brought up the question as to whether the Hawks might prefer bigger or smaller running backs when building their depth. I really don't have the answer to that, but I prefer a bigger back that can sub in for Lynch if he can't go. A guy that can wear down the defense. The image of Saints' fourth string RB Chris Ivory comes to mind for me (and he's a guy that I've lobbied for the Seahawks to trade for).

Some guys that I haven't talked much about yet are some of my favorites - Doug Martin of Boise State (likely not going to last past the 2nd) and Chris Polk of Washington (same deal). Other guys that I like a lot are David Wilson and Lamar Miller but they're in the first round discussion so almost certainly out of the picture. I've not made up my mind on LaMichael James, but if he falls into the 3rd or 4th you have to think the Seahawks will consider him. This seems fairly likely - Taiwan Jones, Jaquizz Rodgers, and Kendall Hunter, all players of James' ilk, went in the 4th or 5th rounds the past few years so it seems like that's about the range teams are valuing these smaller change-of-pace backs.

Anyway, one player that has caught my eye for the role of 'third' running back on the Seahawks 53-man roster is Temple's Bernard Pierce. Pierce is a versatile running back with some size and speed - quoting his Combine numbers, at 6'0 219 he ran a 4.49 40 (7th), a 4.28 short shuttle and a 7.07 3-cone time (9th). He also had a 36" vert (5th) and a 10'3" broad jump (2nd) so he's got some power in his base.

Some of the knocks on Pierce include durability concerns, lack of experience in the passing game, and top-end speed. From my tape review, he does appear to run upright a little too much, but he makes up for that weakness by being patient and finding lanes. We talked about Tom Cable's ZBS and the importance of getting from point A to point B earlier this year. In this system, a lot of the success comes from interpreting and finding the lanes based on what your blockers are doing for you and how the defense has reacted. He's not going to have to make a ton of people miss, he's not going to have to run a lot of people over, at least from point A to B, but what he's going to have to do is show an ability to see the field and make the right reads. If there's one thing I'm impressed with about Pierce, it's his apparent ability to do this. Without parroting too much from the following expert analyses, he looks like a great ZBS runner with vision and diagnostic skills.

You'll hear people say a running back is a 'put your foot in the ground and go' type of runner. I get the impression that is true for Pierce. You'll see him come to the line, assess the situation with a little choppy feet, then burst through a lane. He does a good job of following his blockers. He doesn't often lose big chucks of yards. He's not flashy, but he gets positive yards. That's pretty much what he'd be asked to do here if he were backing up Lynch. Obviously, the things he would need to work on to see the field more would be his pass protection and receiving skills, and honestly I can't speak too much for those abilities, but for a mid-round prospect (though, some people list him higher than that), he's intriguing. After the jump, check out what some experts have to say, then watch for yourself.

Rob Rang:

Pierce is one of the more interesting backs in the 2012 draft class because he's more of a finesse, zone-read back than the power option that his 6-0, 220 pound frame and school record 53 rushing touchdowns would indicate. The junior helped prove his unique athleticism with an underrated all-around performance at the Combine in which he measured in faster (4.49), quicker (7.07 seconds in the three-cone) and more explosive (123" broad jump) than some of the more highly regarded backs of this class.

Per Dane Brugler:

Strengths: Possesses a bigger frame with a strong, compact build ? has done a nice job adding bulk to his frame the past three years. Flashes initial burst and good lateral quickness to sidestep defenders or bounce runs outside with very good foot quickness. An instinctive runner with elusive, slippery moves with the first defender rarely bringing him down in space. Displays very good feel as an inside and outside runner with above average vision to make sharp cuts ? very good patience and footwork to pick through defenses. A physical runner who doesn?t shy from contact, doing a nice job lowering his pads and absorbing contact with balance ? fights for every yard with toughness to run through arm tackles. Put together a strong collegiate r?sum? the past three seasons with above average production ? holds school single-season records for rush scores (27) and 100-yd rush games (9), plus career record for rush scores (53).

Weaknesses: A tall, upright runner who lacks imposing power as a runner. Not a quick-twitch athlete and is forced to gear down too much. Not very loose throughout his frame and looks tight when quickly redirecting. Lacks great straight-line speed and might struggle to win the edge at the next level, lacking an extra gear to separate himself. Tends to dance too much and go east/west or leave his feet instead of taking what?s there. Has some ball security concerns and offers limited versatility at the next level with little experience as a receiver (only 19 career catches) and as a return man (only 1 career return on special teams) ? raw in pass protection and needs work in this area. Took a beating in college and has strong durability concerns, missing several games over his career and didn?t look 100% most of his career ? missed extensive time with hamstring issue and also a concussion.

NFL Comparison: Chris Ivory, New Orleans Saints

(Oooooooh boy, Chris Ivory you say?)

Optimum Scouting's Eric Galko:

Bernard Pierce's feature ability as both an athlete and a runner is his rare balance, both through contact and in adjusting in traffic, coupled with his presence of mind and body control to adjust and stay level/balanced as a runner. That rare balance, crucial for a zone blocking scheme runner like himself, allows him to pick up extra yards consistently through arm and side tackles. His balance and readjusting ability along with his power and size as a runner should make him continue to be a tough tackle in the NFL.

Pierce's elite vision as a runner is more than just his ability to find openings through blockers. He's outstanding in dissecting defenses at the line of scrimmage, consistently showing the understanding of where to attack a defense through his blocking as well as when, showcasing patience before lowering pad level and powering through hole. He shows great ability to read and react suddenly and process a defense at the 2nd and 3rd level, making his lack of great speed and acceleration more neutralized as a weakness.

Big thanks to DraftBreakdown for the excellent scouting videos they put together, JMPasq, MARI0clp, Aaron Aloysius, and the whole DraftBreakdown crew.