The April 2005 NFL Draft offered an extraordinary class of running backs. Consider three ball carriers were selected by the fifth selection of round one. The last time anything close to that happened was 1983, when a trio of backs were off the board after the eighth pick. Next year's class offers solid potential, but it pales in comparison to what went down last month even before considering the top pair of seniors are both coming off severe injuries.
Without a doubt, the cream of the upperclassmen crop is DeAngelo Williams of Memphis. A dominant ball handler the past two seasons, Williams set a school record with 1,948 yards rushing while also leading the nation with 22 rushing touchdowns last season. An outstanding combination of size (5-10/215) power and explosion, Williams has a darting style and can run around defenders as well as over them. He was headed towards last April's NFL Draft and into the first round before a broken leg suffered during the GMAC Bowl forced him to alter his plans. Now sitting as a Heisman Trophy contender, Williams is a potential top-15 selection in 2006 if he returns to health and builds upon what was an outstanding junior campaign.
DonTrell Moore of New Mexico is also highly considered in scouting circles. A tad smaller than Williams, the speedy Moore has the ability to break games open by outrunning defenders down the field. He is also a shifty runner with the footwork necessary to freeze defenders at the line or down the field. And though undersized, Moore is deceptively strong and a ball carrier who picks up yardage off initial contact. His injury situation is more serious when compared to Williams. Moore also injured his leg in the postseason, tearing a knee ligament during the Emerald Bowl. His status for this year is still up in the air and it will not be known until late this summer whether or not Moore will be available this season.
Tennessee's Gerald Riggs had a breakout season last year as a junior. Sized well at nearly 6-0 and 220 pounds, Riggs is a hard-running interior ball carrier who will get the opportunity to handle the load this season. Good results will catapult him up draft boards.
Mike Bell of Arizona is another between-the-tackles ball carrier with solid running back instincts. He should be the center of the offense in 2005, which will go a long way in determining his draft stock next year.
Leon Washington of Florida State will remind many of former Seminole Warrick Dunn in stature and style, though Washington is a little more resilient carrying the ball on the inside. He may not be a back for everyone, yet in the right system Washington will be a productive NFL ball handler and a top-60 pick next year.
Ultimately, the first running back selected could come from the underclassmen ranks, as several will contend for the top spot.
Laurence Maroney is an outstanding junior from Minnesota, and with the departure of Marion Barber III, Maroney now becomes the focal point of the Big Ten. A shifty back with sensational field vision and instincts, Maroney is very natural in all his actions on the field and consistently displays the ability to create when seemingly nothing is available. Maroney lacks the classic size and has a build similar to Carnell Williams, the fifth pick of April's draft, and like Cadillac will be a very early draft selection.
Helping lead the USC Trojans to the national title last year were a pair of terrific running backs with contrasting styles.
Lendale White is a big-bodied ball carrier who can handle the load at any level. Besides being a powerhouse who runs through defenders, White has the instincts and vision to shoot through the open gaps on the field. Averaging more then 5 yards per carry, White moved his 220-pound frame into the end zone 15 times last season. He has all the makings of a big-time ball carrier at the next level and possesses first-round potential.
His teammate, Reggie Bush, is a slippery scat-back with the versatility to be used in several roles. Bush slides off tackles, then runs to daylight in the open field, breaking games open. He also stands out as a game-impacting return specialist and is lethal catching the ball out of the backfield. He is a perfect fit for a West Coast offense and also looks like a top-32 selection.
There are just three fullbacks to mention as possible early to mid-round picks next April.
Brian Leonard of Rutgers is a legitimate triple-threat fullback who impacts the game as a lead blocker, ball carrier and pass catcher. Yet he has been a productive player for a program with marginal talent. Leonard has the size and skill to be a first-day pick in 2006.
Oklahoma's J.D. Runnels is another explosive fullback who excels handling the football. Runnels is a terrific pass catcher who works hard in all aspects of the game but must improve his blocking strength.
Wisconsin's Matt Bernstein is a lethal blocker out of the backfield and acts almost as a sixth offensive linemen in motion. He clears huge holes for his ball carriers and flashes pass-catching skills when the pass is tossed his way.
Top 15 Running Backs for 2006
|DonTrell Moore||New Mexico|
|Leon Washington||Florida State|
|P.J. Daniel||Georgia Tech|
* denotes underclassmen
Top Five Fullbacks for 2006
|Shawn Willis||Oklahoma State|