Cardinals Draft Primer: Running Backs

The Cardinals filled enough holes this offseason to provide great flexibility in the first round of the draft. Team expert Amberly Richardson takes a look at the positions most likely to be targeted in this exclusive five-part series. First up is a look at running backs, as the Cardinals seek some young legs to pair with Edgerrin James.

Ken Whisenhunt has said point-blank that the biggest item on the Cardinals' to-do list is to find a player with "home-run ability" who can share the load with Edgerrin James. Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois is the leading candidate if he's still on the board at No. 16.

"I definitely think [being the top back taken] is possible, that's where I see myself," Mendenhall said. "But as far as what is going to happen and where I am projected, that is not under my control. All I can do is present myself well and do well at the Combine. From then on, the NFL teams have got to decide that."

League insiders have already decided he is among the elite trio of Darren McFadden and Jonathan Stewart. With Mendenhall's ability to made defenders miss and hold up after contact, he could be the missing link in the Cardinals ground game.

Oregon's Stewart is also a possibility, as he would fit well into the Cardinals' power running game. His solid build (5'11", 235), explosiveness, lateral movement and vision make him a top prospect. Once in the NFL, he'll need to run with a lower pad level to avoid exposing himself to big hits.

Prior to the Combine, Stewart was working out in Phoenix. His recent toe surgery might make him affordable enough for the Cardinals to extend his stay in the desert.

If not, Arkansas RB Felix Jones (6', 200 pounds) could be an option. He may be a reach at No. 16, but Jones' willingness to fight for each yard makes Arizona want to take a closer look.

When he's not scrounging for the extra gain, Jones is the guy in the end zone. Jones is a big-play back who has the blast the Cardinals need to raise a mediocre rushing average. Jones hit the record books at Arkansas with 7.66 ypc, which is better than Matt Leinart's former teammate Reggie Bush (7.32) and all other college football players with at least 350 attempts, except Army's Glenn Davis (8.26).

South Carolina RB Chris Johnson shares Jones' big-play ability. Johnson already enjoyed a private workout with the Cardinals, as was reported in this exclusive article on

Amberly Richardson is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a correspondent for She has contributed to the official Web sites of several NFL players for Sixthman Communications.

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