Slaton says he offers speed, toughness

West Virginia running back Steve Slaton is drawing interest from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But where does he fit in a crowded field of running backs? Slaton considers his strengths as he prepares for his combine workout.

West Virginia running back Steve Slaton is trying to separate himself from a large group of small, shifty backs that compare to Maurice Jones-Drew.

Slaton could start by telling potential employers about one of his biggest fans — a Hall of Fame running back.

"I had a chance to meet Tony Dorsett in Connecticut last year and he said I remind him of himself," Slaton said. "We're about the same size. After taking some advice from him I feel confident."

No one's comparing the 5-foot-9, 197-pound back to Dorsett, at least not yet. But the running back class in this draft is loaded with talent and Slaton isn't a sure thing, even as he's projected as a second or third-round pick.

So how does he differentiate himself? Look at his career for clues.

He rushed for 1,000 yards in each of his three collegiate seasons, finishing with 1,053 yards on 210 carries and scoring 17 times, even as he fought injuries. His career numbers raised eyebrows — 3,925 yards and 50 touchdowns.

Slaton, who met with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night, is a confident back and looks at his own history as a way of mapping out his potential NFL impact.

"I feel I succeeded as a freshman in high school, a freshman in college, (and) I think I have the right mentality to be here and be a playmaker," Slaton said.

Scouts like what Slaton does best — run fast. He has breakaway speed (he can run in the low 4.3s), has good lateral movement and he hits the hole fast. Ask his Big East opponents, who watched Slaton roll over them as he earned All-Big East honors all three seasons.

But there are questions. First, there's Slaton's size. Now, no one questions Maurice Jones-Drew's toughness anymore, but MJD has two years in the league and has produced great numbers as Fred Taylor's tandem back.

Slaton looks to Jones-Drew for inspiration and believes he won't be limited to being a specialist in the NFL.

"I'll try to be an every down back," Slaton said. "Third down, second down, fourth down. I think my game is good inside and outside."

Second, there's his versatility. Slaton doesn't have a history of it. He did plenty of rushing out of West Virginia's spread offense, but he didn't catch a lot of passes out of the backfield, nor did he return many kicks and punts for the Mountaineers.

Versatility is going to be a key part of this draft for the Bucs, as they are in search of a skill position player that can also help them in the return game. He even admits that he needs to work on his pass blocking, a key part of being an every-down back.

Finally, there's Slaton's offensive system. The spread offense forces defenses to spread out and limited Slaton's contact with defenders. That won't be the case in the NFL.

But Slaton's talent is undeniable and his playmaking ability will intrigue many teams, including the Buccaneers.

"I think I have the mentality to be good," Slaton said.

But his mentality won't be the issue.

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.

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