Senior Bowl: Cards Search for Running Backs

The Cardinals are in dire need of fresh legs at the running back position. Edgerrin James will be 30 years old before next season and has averaged less than 4 yards per carry since moving to the desert. The Cards contingent at the Senior Bowl spent Wednesday scouting the running backs on the South Team. CardinalInsider.com reveals what they saw.

Like Edgerrin James, Tashard Choice (Georgia Tech) is a powerful between-the-tackles runner. Unlike James, Choice has the speed to get to the outside and the versatility to make big plays in the passing game. He moved into the starting lineup as a junior and averaged 279 carries for 1,426 yards (5.1 ypc) and 11 touchdowns over his final two seasons.

Choice was impressive at Wednesday's practice. He read his blocks well and displayed soft hands coming out of the backfield.

"I'm ready to Kill Bill," Choice said. "I'm ready to go wild on the field."

Another option is Tulane's Matt Forte, who enjoyed a monster senior season in which he averaged more than 177 rushing yards per game. His senior stat line included 361 carries for 2,127 yards and 23 touchdowns. Of course, the lower level of competition had something to do with it.

"Where they come from is not always an indicator of what guys will do at the next level," South Team coach Mike Nolan said. "I think (the Senior Bowl) will be a good indicator of some of the potential he might have."

Forte struggled on Wednesday with his post-snap reads. He did, however, show good body lean and impressive power for a north-and-south runner.

The third halfback on the South Team is Rafael Little of Kentucky. There is some question of Little's ability to carry a full-time work load – he had fewer than 200 carries in every season – but he could be a great complementary back to a veteran like James. Little averaged more than 5 yards per carry in all four seasons at Kentucky while piling up 2,996 yards and 26 touchdowns in his collegiate career.

Little was impressive during Wednesday's practice. He showed quick feet and the ability to make jump-cuts to escape pressure in the backfield. He doesn't have great speed, but he knows how to change gears to create separation when coming out of the backfield.

Kentucky LB Wesley Woodyard had high praise for his college teammate.

"The guys that's toughest for me is Rafael Little," Woodyard said. "He's been real tough out of the backfield."


FB Terrelle Smith
Al Messerschmidt/Getty

The Cardinals coaches also scouted a pair of fullbacks who could add a new dimension to the running game. The current starting fullback, Terrelle Smith, carried only one time last season.

Jacob Hester of LSU could be an intriguing option. He finished his college career with 364 carries for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns, while splitting his time between halfback and fullback. One scout not with the Cardinals compared Hester to Brian Leonard of the St. Louis Rams. The scout opined that Hester is good in a lot of areas but not great at any one thing.

"He's a good blocker. He's reliable, he doesn't miss assignments and he doesn't fumble. He can also contribute on special teams – every team needs a guy like him," the scout said.

Hester displayed his well-rounded game on Wednesday. He made a nifty one-handed catch on a barrel route and showed powerful leg drive when running the ball.

The other fullback, Arkansas' Peyton Hillis, is one of the most intense players in this year's draft. His four-year college totals include 203 carries for 959 yards and 12 scores, as well as 118 catches for 1,195 yards and 11 TDs.

Hillis showcased his powerful legs on Wednesday but charging fearlessly through the hole to clear lanes for any back lucky enough to run behind him. He also has the makings of an effective short-yardage and goal-line runner because his legs never start churning.

The Cardinals would greatly benefit by adding any of these backs, all of whom they scouted intimately on Wednesday. Chances are, at least one of them will be dressed in red by the end of April.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network.


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