Draftnik's Corner - RB Draft Overview 2003

There are many people who would love to see the Giants draft a ‘power back' but besides actually being able to convert a short yardage play occasionally why would they be any better a fit in the offense than Dayne?

Ron Dayne wants out and despite the Giants front office contention that they will keep him because he is relatively cheap on the cap, a trade is likely the chance to get something (anything!) in return and move on. Despite Tiki Barber having a career year, the Giants must replace Dayne – the team's only viable back-up RB on the roster – immediately to provide insurance in case of injury and also to give Barber a breather. To do that the Giants first have to decide what they really want from a back-up RB. But do they really know?

There are many people who would love to see the Giants draft a ‘power back' but besides actually being able to convert a short yardage play occasionally why would they be any better a fit in the offense than Dayne? And could they really integrate with the offense were Barber to be injured without changing the entire game plan around them? I don't think so. So what about a scat back type who fits in more with Tiki's attributes? Or a ‘combination' guy who can contribute in the passing game but who leans towards the power running style that would make him potentially more effective in short yardage situations than Barber? Don't be surprised at multiple choices as Dayne aside, none of the other current back-up's was deemed worthy of any real playing time.

Much has been said and written about junior Willis McGahee (Miami, Fla) and having watched him on tape against Boston College, Florida, Virginia Tech and Ohio State with Pittsburgh still in the tape pile I think it's fair to say I have a good grasp on his talents! He is quite clearly in a class by himself this year, assured of a top 5 pick were he healthy and could quite possibly the best player in the entire draft. He is a patient runner with excellent vision, a quick burst to and through the hole, good cutback ability, the speed to break a lot of long runs and the size – listed at 6'1" and 224lb's on Miami's official site – to excel as the workhorse back who can carry a team to victory on his own. He certainly proved that on the field, exploding for 1686 yards and 27TD's at a hugely impressive 6.4 yards per carry and adding another 350 yards receiving out of the backfield in 2001 having played second fiddle to Clinton Portis (Denver's 2nd round choice) last year. Early in the season, he didn't look particularly comfortable in the passing game and dropped a few balls but he grew into the role later in the year and became both a proficient receiver and even a solid blocker by the end of it. Basically, he looked a ‘complete' back, ready to star in the NFL as soon as he signed his first contract.

Of course, we all know that he suffered a very serious injury, tearing his left ACL & MCL in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, but his entry to the draft regardless of his status has left people scratching their heads as to his final draft rating. Some on the message board take for granted that he will make a full recovery and that he'd be taken off the board in the 2nd or 3rd round of the draft. If his recovery were assured, I believe he'd be the first RB taken in the 1st round anyway because ‘super blue chip' prospects like him don't come along every year and there are teams who certainly could afford to wait a year for the impact he'd provide. On the other hand, injured players tend to ‘slide' on draft day as teams get cold feet about choosing someone that can't play immediately – even he doesn't think he can have any contact before June – and it's not beyond the realms of possibilities that McGahee is still available at the start of the draft's 2nd day. In truth, he could go just about anywhere depending on what the doctors say once they've checked out the scans but, as we aren't party to those discussions, we'll have to wait until more info leaks out to get a better idea.

Larry Johnson (Penn State) has been compared often to a collegiate Eddie George because of his similar size/running style and receiving ability but I believe George had far better change of direction skills/elusiveness behind the LOS as well as pure power whilst Johnson is faster in a straight line. Relatively unknown and certainly not highly rated heading into his senior season, he literally exploded for over 2,000 yards and 20TD's on the ground at an astonishing 8 yards per carry average and added another 341 yards and 3 more scores in the passing game. I can't say I'd noticed him at all until this season but after getting an initial impression of his skills against Illinois on a few series early in that game, I watched him closely against both Ohio State and Auburn – the Iowa game still to be viewed – as detractors have made note that his most productive contests have been against overmatched defenses rather than those brimming with future NFL starters. In my viewings against top competition he didn't impress me that much and he doesn't appear as good as his production suggests.

Despite being 6' ½", 221lb's, he's not really a ‘power back' but he breaks plenty of arm tackles (particularly with his legs), is patient enough to wait for his blockers to open a hole, has enough cutting ability to find the crease in the defense and has shown all season long that he can run away from defenders in the open field. He looks only to have average hands – the type of guy who'll catch the screens and dump-off's but not likely to be used as a weapon out of the backfield against LB coverage – but is a willing enough blocker and all-in-all appears ready to be a ‘feature back' on an NFL team though I'm not sure that he'd have the skills to star in all systems. I still have some questions about him though that may go unanswered. Namely, why didn't PSU give him the ball in the shadow of their own goal-line (they had frequent opportunities!) and why does he carry the ball exclusively in his right hand in those games even when busting runs to the left side of the field.? He has lost a few fumbles that maybe wouldn't have occurred had he switched the ball and this looks to me like a problem waiting to happen in the pro ranks. Of course, Penn State RB's have been snake-bitten in the NFL for years but he looks assured of a mid 1st round choice though I rate him slightly lower down than that.

Lee Suggs (Virginia Tech) reminds many of a young Emmitt Smith with his darting style of running, quick feet, ability to follow blocks, find even the smallest holes between the tackles and burst away from defenders in the open field. As a junior, he tore his ACL in the season opener of the 2001 season after opening many eyes as a sophomore with 1207 yards rushing and 27TD's at 6.3 yards per carry average. His return in 2002 was so convincing that he looked like he'd never been away rushing for 1255 yards and scoring 20 times TD's (4.8 ypc) despite sharing time with another very talented RB. He didn't appear to me to have lost any of his quickness, cutting ability or pure speed, but there are some who will continue to question his durability as he never had to carry the load this year.

At 5'11" and 202lb's he lacks some of the tackle-breaking power that sets apart the great smaller backs, versatility in the passing game (has just 15 career receptions) and has never really been asked to block the blitz in pass protection. However, he does have the same nose for the end-zone and he proved that against Miami (Fla) in a game I watched recently scoring 3 times. I don't think the torn ACL will be an issue for him in the future – unless something shows up on the scans at the Combine – and I expect to see him taken off the board in the top 50 choices. If he were to last to the Giants later in the round, he may be the subject of a very lively debate in the Giants ‘War Room'.

Chris Brown (Colorado) is a big guy at 6'3" 2200lb's and is a player I've seen many times before I watched him against both Oklahoma and Missouri this past season. Hugely productive throughout this career and with a nose for the end-zone (just under 4000 yards in 3 seasons with 47 TD's at 6 yards per carry), he's not one I am overly excited about as a prospect! The perfect definition of a ‘power back', with his shoulders squared and head down behind a strong run blocking line, he has the ability to run over or carry would-be tacklers, enough wiggle to make a tackler miss in the hole, enough of a sustained burst to break long runs in the open field and an ability to pound any defense into submission late in a close game.

However, Brown lacks the speed and balance to run the ball outside consistently unless the ball is pitched to him on the option and going east-west with his shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage he is a lot easier to bring down one-on-one. He also has a long history of injuries because he runs too high and takes too many big hits, missing time with concussions and sternum injuries the last two years. A big knock on him is that he is a fumbler– lost 4 of his 8 fumbles last season – and he has poor hands, fighting the ball on even the simplest of receptions and having only 11 career receptions. He'll have many supporters on draft day because of his ability to run the football hard and move the chains but he wasn't even an every-down back in college – Bobby Purify replaced him on passing down – and teams will have his rating ‘all over the board' compared to each other. The NFL Draft Advisory committee told him he'd be a 2nd round choice and that sounds about right but I wouldn't want the Giants to draft him even if he was still available at the end of the round as he'd be as bad a fit in our scheme as Dayne has been.

Musa Smith (Georgia) is a back I do like quite a bit as he reminds me a little of former Giants and Bulldogs star Rodney Hampton when I viewed him in action this season against Florida and Auburn (with more tapes awaiting viewing). He runs a little high at just under 6'2" and 232lb's but with excellent body lean and vision, doing a nice job of getting through the hole up the middle or off tackle then lowering his head, seemingly always falls forward when tackled. He also can grab passes with his hands (though he wasn't used frequently as a receiver) and has shown he can consistently pick up the blitz to help his team. Having struggled in previous years with niggling injuries, he played relatively injury free this time around (suffered a broken thumb but played through it) and he racked up 1179yds at a 5.3 ypc average and 8 TD's, putting in some very powerful down the stretch performances culminating in MVP in his Bowl game against Florida State and entering the draft as a junior.

As I mentioned, the biggest knock on him is durability, as he has a tendency to get banged up each year (has missed time with a broken foot, broken thumb, groin & knee injuries) but a career long gain of just 49 yards highlights there may be a lack of breakaway speed too. I think he'll be a 3rd round pick but it wouldn't surprise me if, with a decent clocking at the Combine, one team or another fell in love with his skills and took him a little earlier. I'd say he was more suited to a power line than the one the Giants have but the fact he can catch the ball pretty well out of the backfield suggests he may be able to fit in anyway and he certainly has the ability to be a lot more than a fill-in starter as well as a quality short-yardage back. He's an interesting prospect and Georgia backs always do well in the NFL…

I haven't got around to watching the highly rated Onterrio Smith (Oregon) as yet this season but remember him in tandem with Maurice Morris (Seattle's 2nd round pick) during 2001 as ‘Mr Outside' with a nice combination of very quick feet and dazzling breakaway speed. That year he racked up 1007 yards at 6.3 per carry and scored 7 times but he didn't improve greatly on those numbers as a senior despite rushing for over 100 yards his first 7 games as he was forced to sit out 3 games with a late season knee injury and wasn't at full strength in another. Even so, his overall production – 1079 yards at 4.8 yards per carry and 12 TD's – suggests that he was having a monster season.

Oregon don't throw a lot to their RB's even though they have a pro style passing attack (21 career receptions) but he appeared to catch the ball well enough in the little I've seen of him to suggest that he could contribute in the passing game. He will also offer his future employer some versatility as he has shown explosive ability as a kick returner, averaging 26.7 yards on 20 career returns, most of which came as a junior. I'm not sure about his size though – was 5'10", 220lb's at the combine but never played above 205lb's – and I can't remember much about his between the tackles running, toughness or blocking ability without studying him so I can't say for sure that he could fit the Giants offense but he's certainly worth looking at. Currently, opinion on him seems a little divided on him with some draft sites believing him to be a 2nd round choice, others at least a round lower.

Cecil Sapp (Colorado State) is another solidly built guy at 5'10", 226lb's player and I saw him for the first time this year – in a Thursday night game against Air Force played in bad weather – and while the competition wasn't exactly NFL calibre, his slashing style of running, good size, ability to find the holes up the middle, break tackles and convert the tough yards in short yardage situations had me thinking immediately of him as a potential short-yardage guy for the Giants. After a decent junior year (841 yds, 10 TD's at 5.6 per carry), he sat out the 2001 campaign (benign tumour on a heel) before returning better than ever as a senior, finishing with 1495 yards and an impressive 17TD's on the ground.

I can't see him as an every down guy as he didn't appear particularly elusive, is primarily a ‘hand off between the tackles' type in an option offense (has just 14 career receptions), doesn't appear to be very comfortable in the passing game – like Brown, he's replaced when his team wants to pass – and doesn't look to have anything like breakaway speed in the open field. If he breaks 4.55 in his 40 yard dash at the combine, he could lift himself into the 2nd round on some teams boards but I just wouldn't be comfortable using that high a pick on him and hope the Giants don't choose to do so as I don't believe he's a good fit for us.

I hadn't seen Artose Pinner (Kentucky) before but in watching him against LSU, he looked like a quality back whose abilities, at least in my view, would fit in nicely with the Giants multi-dimensional offense as he plays in both one and two back sets and has experience as a runner, receiver and blocker against top competition. He wasn't overly productive until his senior year but it's hard to argue about that when he rushed for 1414 yards and 13 TD's at a 5 ypc average and added a further 264 yards receiving with 2 more scores. At 5'9 ½", 226lb's he has a very solid build but though he doesn't appear fast, he says he runs a 4.52 consistently in the 40 yard dash and that is more than acceptable for a starting RB in the NFL ranks.

Primarily a between the tackles runner, he lets the hole develop in front of him and gets to it fairly quickly, taking on tacklers and churning his legs through contact, often moving the pile back for extra yards consistently. He also showed enough burst to get outside both on pitch-out's and off tackle with a lead blocker though so doesn't appear limited to inside running only in the NFL. While he can catch, he didn't get much opportunity to do so in the LSU game so I don't know whether he has the hands to do more than just catch screen passes and dump-off's. I was impressed with this ability to pick up the blitz though but he needs to anchor better when doing so as was driven back some a few times and he didn't really ‘help out' when he had the chance to. Unfortunately, he broke his right leg at the Senior Bowl and is currently still on crutches which will almost certainly hurt his stock heading into the drafts key evaluation period and he may last a lot longer on draft day than his skills merit. I'd say he was worthy of a 3rd round choice but if he doesn't work out pre-draft, he could be a bargain on the 2nd day and one I'd love the Giants to get. At worst, he's a potentially very good short-yardage back and I think he'd be the sort who could do a whole lot more given the opportunity.

Avon Cobourne (West Virginia) isn't a player I've seen much of over the course of his career but his production throughout his career – four straight 1000+ yard rushing seasons – speaks for itself and he has done it against some top competition without the help of a single NFL calibre blocker on the line, at TE or at FB. I caught most of the Boston College game (at least until it turned into a blow-out) earlier in the year and he hits the hole fast, has good balance and cutting ability but is shifty rather than fast in the open field. I've seen reports from the East-West practices that suggested that he continued to stand out from the crowd with his quickness through the hole, decisive running and At 5'9" and 190lb's, he is considered to have a poor size/speed ratio – is believed to run the 40 yard dash in 4.6 seconds – and has to do a lot to convince NFL teams that he can be anything more than a ‘change of pace' back and will hurt his stock in the draft. The consensus around the draft sites is that he rates as a second day pick and if that is correct, the Giants could well have an interest in him.

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