Marshall Faulk, Steven Jackson, and the life cycle of Rams running backs

Marshall Faulk is all smiles, now that his job isn’t on the line.Only seven years ago, Rams legend Marshall Faulk was coming off an 11 touchdown season when the team pulled somewhat of a shocker and selected Steven Jackson 24th overall in the 2004 draft out of Oregon State.

Ironically, Faulk was selected Thursday to announce St. Louis’ second round pick this year and could be calling for Jackson’s eventual replacement when the Rams turn in their choice.

Despite rushing for over 1,200 yards and six touchdowns last season, Rams GM Billy Devaney made it clear they are looking for someone to spell Jackson in the increasingly running-back-by-committee NFL. This draft is rife with talented backs; here is a look at five prospects that could be selections for the Rams:

Mark Ingram, Alabama 5-9, 215 pounds

Ingram is regarded by most as the best prospect at running back in the draft this year and dominated at Alabama. He reportedly visited the Rams earlier in the offseason and has been mentioned at 14 if they miss out on Julio Jones.

There are questions about a knee injury and he isn’t particularly shifty or fast, but he never shies away from contact and has been compared to Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith for his field vision. Ingram also won the Heisman Trophy and a National Championship in 2009 after rushing for almost 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns in the brutal SEC.

His projected draft slot is a little high for me and the Rams have other more pressing  needs to fill but Ingram would add instant power to the offense and would be a nightmare one-two punch along with S-Jax for opposing defenses.

[Note: fellow RamsHerd writer Maurice Walker offered a full exploration of the case for and against picking Mark Ingram this weekend.]

Mikel Leshoure, Illinois 6-0, 227 pounds

Leshoure is a bigger back and runs with the same style and physicality as Jackson. He doesn’t have elite speed or elusiveness but is regarded for his pass blocking. He has the ability to catch the ball, though was little utilized as a receiver at Illinois.

After rushing for 1,697 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, He could become a multi-dimensional weapon for Sam Bradford and could be available when the Rams are making their second round pick.

[Note: Leshoure was the pick of the Rams War Room in MockThree, and fellow RamsHerd writer Tim Shields makes his case for the pick.]

Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech 5-9, 212 pounds

Williams was a monster in 2009 with 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns but had a down year in 2010 while missing four games with a hamstring injury.

Still, he rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns a few weeks after he returned against Miami and produced 477 yards and nine touchdowns.

He is also regarded for his field vision and has a powerful running style but struggles with pass protection and could drop a bit based on injury concerns. However, he could be a good option in the middle of the second round where the Rams pick.

Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State 5-7 199 pounds

Hunter is the smallest back on this list but could be a perfect compliment to Jackson. He is more of a shifty runner and eludes tackles but also has a strong frame. He had 1,548 yards and 16 touchdowns last year, including at least 100 yards in nine of 12 regular season games.

However, he missed most of 2009 with an ankle injury and has a lot of mileage on his legs after playing all four years in college. His shorter stature may be a downfall if the Rams need him to be an eventual every down running back.

He is more of a third round prospect and will probably go a bit later than Leshoure and Williams.

Daniel Thomas, Kansas State 6-0, 230 pounds

Thomas only started two seasons at Kansas State but was dominant in both years with a combined 2,850 yards and 30 touchdowns. He is a strong runner and piles up yards after contact. He is also very physical and has no significant injury concerns.

However, he isn’t very fast and will be 24-years-old entering the league when NFL running backs have a short shelf life to begin with. He is not much of a pass catching threat and probably won’t be a feature back at the next level.

Thomas will probably go late in the third round or early in the fourth and could be an option if the Rams go with a defensive lineman and receiver in the first two rounds.

Other options: