Donald Brown, Kevin Smith, Garrett Wolfe, DeAngelo Williams, and J.J. Arrington: the common thread between all these men are that they are former Division I FBS rushing leaders and they are currently on NFL rosters.
Although every back on this list entered the league at different draft points and under different circumstances, they share a common thread. What does Brown's success at the collegiate level tell us about his prospects at the NFL level? Let's take a look.
Detroit's Kevin Smith
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Kevin Smith, 2007:
Smith was dubbed by many to not have the speed or explosiveness to succeed at the next level when he entered the draft following the 2007 college season. He lasted until the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft, where the Lions scooped him up. He ascended the depth chart, but was slightly slowed by injuries.
He ended the 2008 season with 926 yards, a 4.1 yards per carry average, and eight touchdowns. Although he was declared several times to be "the guy" he failed to establish dominance on the depth chart and split some carries with Rudi Johnson.
However, most Colts fans would be ecstatic to see Brown put up the kind of numbers in his rookie season that Smith posted. With Joseph Addai firmly entrenched, it will be difficult for Brown to post the 238 carries that Smith garnered last season.
Garrett Wolfe, 2006:
Wolfe had an historic season in 2006, posting big numbers both as a receiver and rusher. His signature moment came against Ohio State, where he proved that he could still be productive against big-time competition.
He ended up going in the third round to the Chicago Bears, since most scouts feared that, at his size, he would not be able to take the pounding that an NFL running back must endure over the course of a 16 game season. So far, the scouts have proven to be right, since Wolfe has posted only 46 carries for 154 yards and an anemic 3.3 yards per carry average thus far for his career.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
DeAngelo Williams, 2005:
Williams has more in common with Brown than the fact that he also led all Division I FBS backs in rushing. He was also taken in the first round and was second in the depth chart behind a veteran back (DeShaun Foster) that seemed to have a stranglehold on the job.
Battling injuries and ineffectiveness during his rookie campaign, Williams managed only 501 yards and one touchdown, but posted a 4.1 yards per carry average. His yards per carry rose to 5.0 in 2007, but his days in Carolina seemed to be numbered after the Panthers chose Jonathan Stewart in the first round in the 2008 draft.
But, 2008 proved to be his breakout year, as he turned in a monster season, was named to the Pro Bowl, and rushed for 1,515 with a 5.5 yards per carry average and 18 touchdowns.
The future no doubt looks bright for Brown if he can wait out Addai and continue to be productive, but Colts fans are no doubt looking for him to make an impact in 2009.
J.J. Arrington, 2004:
Arrington wowed scouts at the Combine in 2005 with his position drills, catching the ball smoothly and making crisp cuts. He also showed well in the short shuttle and the 40-yard dash, which apparently made the Arizona Cardinals forget about his lack of prototypical size, as they drafted him at the onset of the second round.
He has seen time as a kick returner and, with the Cardinals signing Edgerrin James and drafting Tim Hightower and Chris "Beanie" Wells, his tenure with Arizona ended and he is currently with the Denver Broncos.
His career totals of 654 yards, 3.6 yards per carry average, and three rushing touchdowns should make him wish he were still in college.
Although the list of leading rushers translating their college success to pro production is far from distinguished, the parallels to DeAngelo Williams must leave Colts fans with something to hope for.
There is no doubt that Brown has considerable potential and that his skill set meshes well with what Indianapolis likes to do on offense. The only question is when the coaching staff will decide to loosen the reins and let Brown go free.
The good news is that Williams entered the league under an existing staff that had ties to their former stars and draft picks. The current Colts staff may not have those kinds of allegiances. That means that Brown's time may come sooner rather than later, provided that he is allowed to take advantage of his tremendous potential.
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