The latest news on Willis McGahee (Miami, Fla) is that he is ahead of schedule in his recovery from knee surgery. I still have no idea where he will go but as teams become more comfortable that he is on the road to a full recovery, the chance that he will be taken in the 1st round increases though it will still take a brave team to make that decision.
Larry Johnson (Penn State) performed exceptionally well at the recent Nittany Lions Pro Day, solidifying his position as the top healthy back in the draft clocking in the very low 4.4 range at 228lb's and displaying exceptional leg strength with a 41" vertical leap. Despite his athletic prowess, I remain unconvinced that he is a great player – the best players should rise to the challenge and play their best in the biggest games, which he didn't – but I'm sure he's a top 20 choice, maybe even top 15.
I'd only ever seen Musa Smith (Georgia) on grass previously but watching him play on turf in both the SEC Championship game against Arkansas and the Bowl game against Florida State, it quickly became apparent that he is a whole lot quicker than I'd given him credit for – he hit and cut through the hole like greased lightning! – and he put in truly dominating performances in both games. After skipping the full workout at the Combine, he ran very well at the Pro Day on a rubber track clocking in the mid 4.4 range and displaying good leg explosion in his jumps.
If he can stay healthy, it wouldn't surprise me if he went on to become a ‘feature back' as a rookie who a team can build around for years to come. I really like him and can now see him as a top 40 pick, his rating helped by the fact he is one of the few ‘complete' backs, ready to fit into an NFL offense with little work on necessities like pass protection and receiving skills. After the injured MacGahee, he is in my opinion the next best back in the draft and I'll be crossing my fingers on draft day and hoping he doesn't end up in Dallas with the sainted Bill Parcells with the 38th pick!!
Justin Fargas (USC) has come ‘out of nowhere' the last few months despite barely 1,000 career rushing yards having had a sensational Combine, clocking 4.38 over 40 yards and proved both the fastest at any position over the first 10 yards and had the longest broad jump of anyone working out as well as bench pressing the 225lb bar 27 times! After gaining over 100 yards in 4 of his last 6 collegiate appearances – including a 122 yard, 2 TD destruction of Iowa in the Bowl game – he has become a ‘hot' back despite not being the recognised starter for his team or ever having been the workhorse. He started out his career at Michigan and I remember he looked very tentative in the few games I saw of him as a freshman but a very serious leg injury took a long time to come back from, he was buried deep on the Wolverines RB depth chart and was switched to the opposite side of the ball before transferring home to California.
At 6', 207lb's he has pretty good size but his speed and mental toughness – he's been through a lot just to get back on the field – are undoubtedly his best assets. I watched him against Washington State recently and he displayed the same speed turning the corner on the field (!!) so he isn't a ‘workout warrior' by any means. He's not just an outside runner either, as he hit the holes up the middle equally quickly, has good cutting ability and though he didn't appear to be a big tackle-breaking type, he finished his runs pretty well. He also showed the willingness to pass protect and catch with his hands which makes him a viable all-around threat. As a change-of-pace back, his big-time play-making ability is an asset most back-up types simply don't have and raises his value ‘sky high' on draft day to the point where he is drafted before some potential starters. Pro teams tend to fall in love with speed and ‘upside' and most information points to his being drafted in the mid-late 2nd round because of that. The Giants have emphasised adding speed through the draft the last few years and with that in mind he may be a player they are enamoured with. That said, I'd be nervous about them taking him with other needs a greater priority due to his long injury history and fact he hasn't proved capable of carrying the load over the course of a season.
Chris Brown (Colorado) ran fairly well on a fast track at the Pro Day clocking in the low 4.5 range but comparison to his team-mates who were timed at the Combine shows they ran about .10 faster than they had at Indy so doubts about his ability to run away from defenders in the NFL likely remain. I still see him as a late 2nd round choice but I don't think it's a coincidence that Giants have entertained a number of veteran backs with the proven ability to add to the receiving game and I see him as a bad fit for us.
Onterrio Smith (Oregon) still hasn't worked out having missed the Pro Day with a nagging injury so has yet to prove he has returned to full speed from the late-season knee injury he suffered. I have also yet to get around to viewing him but should do so fairly soon
Cecil Sapp (Colorado State) ran a little faster than I'd expected at the Pro Day on a fast track clocking in the low 4.5 range but other players running on the same style of turf have clocked about .10 faster than they did at the combine. I can see him being taken in the late 3rd round but his lack of versatility would worry me if the Giants were to draft him.
I got a second viewing of Artose Pinner (Kentucky) recently, this time against Florida and just as he did against LSU, he impressed me greatly with his running skills. In that game, he showed off a nifty spin move off of contact, leapt over the pile at the goal-line for a TD ala Walter Peyton (RIP) and caught the ball very well out of the backfield. In pass protection though he was pretty dreadful, beaten for a sack and a bunch of pressure by LB's smaller than himself. Still recovering from his broken leg, he has yet to work out. I think a team could find themselves with a 2nd day bargain. Could it be the Giants? With the exception of pass protection skills, he looks to have everything needed to complement Barber as a change of pace and late game runner.
Dwone Hicks (Middle Tennessee) is one of the better known small-school types ranked highly in pre-season publications (both pro and college) at his position despite playing at a lower level of competition. He hurt his knee during the season and lost his starting job before regaining it later in the year. At just under 5'10" and 222lb's, he has good size and the pen portraits I've found of him suggest he is a very solid between the tackles runner. His workout at the Pro Day suggest he lacks a little in breakaway speed (clocked in the low 4.6's) and that alone means he is likely to be available on the second day when combined with his small-school status. Most sites seem to indicate at this time that he rates as a 4th/5th round pick.
LaBrandon Toefield (LSU) missed much of his junior year but entered early anyway despite questions about his durability (or lack of it), likely hoping that his haul of 19 rushing TD's as a sophomore would see him in good stead. At 5'11" and 229lb's, he has the sort of size I would look for in a short yardage runner and having seen him a few times as a sophomore, he looked like a hard-nosed slashing type of runner with a nose for the end zone. I didn't think he looked particularly fast and he had a longest run of just 19 yards that year (!!) but it must be said that he played behind an awful line and he did have a 74 yard run as a freshman and a 59 yarder as a junior before he got hurt. He clocked 4.55 at the recent Pro Day but he isn't getting much attention on sites and publications and I can't see him being nabbed before the 2nd day.
Santonio Beard (Alabama) entered the draft as a junior but opinions about him are ‘all over the place' and I'm not one of those talking him up having seen a number of games on the ‘Bama schedule this year! Though he has a little of Shaun Alexander's style (the running parallel to the LOS with his shoulders square and the cutback ability) and was considered by some a little faster in the open field (he clocked 4.56 at the Combine), he wasn't able to win the starting spot – he got it by default when Ahmaad Galloway was lost for the year early on – and was outplayed in every game I saw by a smaller back with lesser physical tools.
A ‘flashy' back, he appears a bit impatient running the ball inside showing the tendency to try to bounce everything wide unless a hole was opened right in front of him and really only turned the corner a couple of times. He's also not one that takes advantage of his size (just under 6' and 222lb's) in short yardage situations, though he will take on and carry DB's when through the line with a head of steam up. He did a good job in pass protection however and showed decent enough hands to suggest that he could prove a better NFL player than he was at the collegiate level provided he's given time to develop. I see him being taken in the 5th round also.
Dominack Davis (LSU) is shorter than ideal at 5'9" but isn't undersized by any means, packing 213lb's onto his frame. I'd seen him a few times prior to this years viewing against Kentucky and though not the recognised starter, he has filled in frequently as such without carrying the whole load due to injuries to LaBrandon Toefield. More a quality utility back than a potential pro starter, Davis has a great deal of experience in the return game and can do a little of everything without really excelling in any one area. As you'd expect of a punt returner, he has very good first step quickness, cutting ability and good vision. I actually consider him a better inside than outside runner – unusual for a utility back – but he's not powerful and won't break many tackles. Had the Giants not brought on board Brian Mitchell via free agency, he's be a player they may have had more interest in. Despite not being fast – runs the 40 yard dash in 4.6 – I can see someone taking him in the 5th round because of what he offers overall.
Quentin Griffin (Oklahoma) has always been a very productive player in both the running and receiving games but at just 5'7" and 190lb's and coming from the background of a spread offense, there are questions about how his skills would transfer to the NFL where 6 men in the box would be rarely seen. An explosive inside runner with a great burst to and through the hole – few players at any position proved faster over the first 10 yards at the Combine – he also has the sustained speed to pull away from defenders over a long distance (runs the 40 yard dash in 4.47). However, he can't be compared with other smaller backs like the Tiki Barber's and Warrick Dunn's of the NFL due to the nature of the Sooners offense, with many questions about whether he could follow the blocks to turn the corner behind a FB, H-back or TE that probably likely unanswered until he gets to an NFL camp. At the very worst, I think he'll be a quality utility down back as he has a lot of experience in the receiving game and can return kicks but he may have a lot of problems in pass protection if kept ‘in' on 3rd downs due to his lack of overall size.
Avon Cobourne (West Virginia) was thought to have a lousy size/speed ratio and he probably hurt himself at his Pro day running a slower than expected 4.7 at just 199lb's. He'll probably be a late round choice now and he could be the classic case of a guy whose football skills don't transfer to the NFL because of a lack of physical ability. The thing is, with his pedigree in college, he'll be hard to write off and he may be worth giving a chance to as he could surprise. The real problem may be that to make a roster as a late pick or undrafted free agent, he will have to prove capable of handling a role as either a returner or 3rd down back, neither of which he appears particularly suited to.
Earnest Graham (Florida) was a player I had an interest in before the college season started because at a stocky 5'9", 225lb's he had proven over the course of his career to already be a good short-yardage runner, slashing through the line and making yards on his own as well as showing decent receiving skills and solid pass protection ability. On the downside, he never appeared to have anything like breakaway speed, had a tendency to get banged up and had some serious ball security issues!
While he remained healthy enough to break the 1,000 yard barrier for the first time this year, he didn't look any quicker, was still bothered with knee problems and fumbled too often for my liking. Though he skipped the workouts at the Combine, his times at the recent Pro Day suggest that he may not be drafted at all as clocking in the 4.8 range won't impress the scouts one iota. At best, he'll be a 6th round pick.
The Giants have also been checking into a few small school RB prospects and aside from Chad Brinker (Ohio University) one they may have an interest in is Randy Bell (Carson-Newman), a ‘sleeper' from Division II who averaged a sub-lime 7.8 yards per carry last year. I'm not sure how he ended up at the lower level of play but at 5'9", 210lb's with sub 4.4 speed it's fair to say that he was athletically head and shoulders above the majority of the crowd. He's expected to be taken around the 5th round and was one who the Giants scouts checked out at the Mississippi State Pro Day.