Draft's Backs Can Carry the Load

In an all-draft notebook, we're talking running backs, Janoris Jenkins, speed at receiver and 3-4 defensive ends.

The mind-set in the league is to not use a top 10 pick on a running back, given the manner in which the position is utilized now, the relatively short shelf-life and the success teams have had in unearthing viable and productive runners in later rounds.

There was only one runner chosen in the first round of the 2011 draft, former Alabama star Mark Ingram by New Orleans, and his onetime Crimson Tide teammate, Trent Richardson, could be the lone back in the first round in two months.

While Richardson is pretty much everyone's pick as the No. 1 back, and seemingly a lock to be chosen in the top 10, as usual there remains considerable debate about who the second back off the board will be, and how high he will be tabbed.

One somewhat surprising result of the Scouting Combine, beyond the fact there are some speedy prospects, is that the running back spot as a group might include more overall durability and toughness than previously believed. Even in a league where time sharing has become so prevalent, those attributes are coveted.

A few scouts noted after the combine that nearly all of the highly rated backs possess some injury history, but have logged 200 carries or more in a college season.

Even a prospect with some definite warts, like Chris Polk of Washington, averaged 276.5 rushing attempts in his final two seasons. Lamar Miller of Miami, the speediest back at the combine (4.40), had a 227-carry season.

Virginia Tech underclass prospect David Wilson, another very fast runner, has a 290-attempt season on his resume. Doug Martin from Boise State had a 263-carry season.

Even the undersized LaMichael James, a player some compare to Darren Sproles and viewed more as a complementary back because of his size, averaged 257.0 carries over three seasons at Oregon.

As one general manager noted, Richardson probably will be the lone back in the first round, certainly in the top 20, but there "will be enough runners to go around."

Saying the right things: Most scouts at the combine felt that North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins handled interrogation about his past indiscretions better than did Arizona State linebacker Vontaz Burfict. And not just in the media interview sessions, but in the sit-downs with individual teams. Jenkins, who was dismissed by the University of Florida after two-marijuana-related incidents, and who has four children aged 3 and under by three different women, is said to have addressed his past problems more head-on. The feeling was that Burfict, a high-round talent whose demeanor could cost him in the draft, was the more defensive of the two.

Need for speed: The combine results at wide receiver were somewhat mixed. While Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill dazzled scouts and Notre Dame's Michael Floyd might have moved himself into the No. 2 hole behind Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State, some players expected to run fast turned in pedestrian times. One guy who helped himself, though, in terms of size (6-0 1/8, 198), speed (4.36), receiving ability, and health status, was Stanford's Chris Owusu. Forced to miss time each of the past two seasons because of concussions, Owusu checked out well with the medical people in Indy, although some teams still want to perform further due diligence on him, and was solid in all aspects. He won't go in the first round, but looks like a second-rounder who could contribute early.

DEs for 3-4 schemes: Unlike last year, when there was a healthy pool of 3-4 "five technique" prospects in the draft -- guys like J.J. Watt and several players who ended up with 4-3 teams but who could have manned the position -- there is a lack of such candidates for 2012. Some of the best "five technique" prospects look to be guys, like Brandon Thompson of Clemson, who played tackle in college and could move outside. One such player sometimes mentioned is Michigan's Mike Martin, but most scouts seem to feel that, while he isn't the 340-something pounder preferred by some 3-4 clubs, his best spot remains as a nose tackle prospect.

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Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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