Draft Exclusive 13: Small Backs Lack Speed

The Packers have shied away from small running backs, and are likely to do so again in this draft. While those backs have found a niche in the NFL in recent years, only UConn's Jordan Todman has the speed, athleticism and health to be a top prospect.

For years, whether it was Ron Wolf or Mike Sherman or Ted Thompson, the Green Bay Packers have steered clear of small running backs. Among the reasons, the Packers just like a bigger back running with power when field conditions turn dicey in November and December and into January.

Thompson, almost incredibly, has drafted just three running backs in his six drafts: 5-foot-10 Brandon Jackson and 5-foot-10 DeShawn Wynn in 2007 and 6-foot-2 James Starks in 2010. Jackson and Wynn aren't exactly small; Jackson was 210 and Wynn 232 when they were drafted.

As a byproduct of the Packers' edict against drafting mighty-mite running backs, their return game has suffered. While most of the NFL's top kick returners are smallish wide receivers, Seattle's Leon Washington (5-foot-8), Arizona's LaRod Stephens-Howling (5-foot-7), Jacksonville's Deji Karim (5-foot-8) and San Diego's Darren Sproles (5-foot-6) are running backs probably deemed too small by the Packers.

At the Scouting Combine, however, coach Mike McCarthy hinted that there could be some easing on the no-short-guys edict and that he'd work to involve that kind of player into his offense.

While there might be help at receiver — they're very high on Troy's Jerrel Jernigan (5-9, 185), we've been told — don't expect the Packers to change their tune at running back.

At least in this draft.

Simply, there aren't many explosive little running backs in this draft.

Eight of the 34 tailback prospects at the Scouting Combine last month checked in under 5-feet-9. Not one of them got under the magical 4.4 in the 40-yard dash — though Kentucky's Derrick Locke and Connecticut's Jordan Todman were clocked in exactly 4.4. Two of them — West Virginia's Noel Devine and Notre Dame's Armando Allen — skipped the 40 altogether. One of the most productive of those munchkin-sized backs, Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers (5-foot-6), was timed in 4.64.

If the Packers were to buck their no-small-backs trend, the one guy who probably tops their chart is Todman, who ranks third in Huskies history with 3,179 rushing yards and 31 rushing touchdowns. Todman (203 pounds), who is considered a third-round prospect, handled a heavy workload in 2010, which is why he entered the draft following a junior season in which he carried a whopping 334 times for 1,695 yards and 14 touchdowns. As the featured back, he returned only two kicks in 2010 but averaged 24.2 yards on kickoffs in 2008 and 25.3 with a 96-yard touchdown against Notre Dame in 2009. He caught a combined 40 passes as a sophomore and junior. His 25 reps on the bench press show his impressive strength.

Locke, who a source said talked to the team at the Combine, is an explosive player but tore his MCL and ACL as a sophomore and missed four games as a senior with shoulder and elbow injuries. As a senior, Locke rushed for 887 yards and 10 touchdowns, caught 34 passes and averaged 26.3 yards on kickoff returns. As a junior, Locke rushed for 907 yards and six touchdowns, caught 31 passes with two more scores and averaged 27.8 yards with a touchdown on kickoff returns. He is considered more of a fifth- or sixth-rounder because of the injury history.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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