Davenport is a keeper

The rumors started almost immediately after Ricky Williams announced his retirement on July 23. The Dolphins, who had built their offense around Williams' ability to carry the ball 25 or more times a game, were suddenly desperate for a running back and were obviously looking to acquire one via a trade. The Packers have three talented halfbacks on their roster so in theory they could afford to spare one.<p>

Ahman Green is untouchable and Tony Fisher is not what the Dolphins had in mind so that left Najeh Davenport, the intriguing second string halfback who attended the University of Miami. Miami area newspapers began to publish reports about a possible trade that would bring Davenport back to South Florida shortly after Williams' called it quits.

With Williams retired, the Dolphins top back is Travis Minor. Minor, a fourth year pro out of Florida State had 41 carries for 193 yards in 2003. The main concern the Dolphins have about Minor is his size or lack thereof. He stands only 5-foot-10, 205 pounds and many scouts question whether or not he has the durability to carry the football 300 times a season. As backups, the Dolphins have only rookie Fred Russell, who stands 5-7 and third year man Leonard Henry, who has never run from scrimmage in his NFL career. There is simply no running back on the Miami roster that is an adequate replacement Ricky Williams, nobody who the Dolphins can build their offense around.

Davenport makes sense for Miami. They need a big back and Najeh stands 6-1 and weighs 250 pounds. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry last year while spelling Green and clearly has the potential to be a starter for an NFL team. In only 77 attempts, Davenport gained 420 yards for the Pack last year. Davenport also contributed on special teams. By mid-season, Najeh became the Packers primary kick returner and averaged 31.6 yards on 16 returns. The big native of Raleigh, N.C., came close to breaking a return for a touchdown many times with four returns of over 40 yards and a long runback of 60 yards.

The Packers may lose Davenport to free agency in a year or two. His contract expires after the 2004 season and with three years NFL experience behind him, Davenport is scheduled to become a restricted free agent. Green Bay would have to make a fairly high tender offer to keep Davenport in Green Bay in 2005, but it is likely they will try to do so. After his fourth NFL season, Davenport would be eligible for unrestricted free agency when his next contract expires and certainly would draw interest from other clubs.

So far, the Packers have proved reluctant to trade Ahman Green's backup. "We don't want to deal him and I think they (the Dolphins) know that," said Packers director of pro personnel Reggie McKenzie. "They haven't really gone into any details whatsoever."

The Packers want to hold on to Davenport in case anything should happen to Ahman Green this season. They need someone on the roster who is reliable and can handle a large workload. While Davenport and Fisher would both see incre ased touches should Green go down, Davenport would likely get the majority of carries. When you consider the number of hits Green took last year on 355 carries and 50 receptions, keeping Davenport in Green Bay makes sense.

Davenport is happy with his present situation and isn't eager to head to Miami, even if it means becoming a full-time starter. "I like Green Bay," he told reporters. "I'm learning too much now. Every rep I take behind ‘AG', I look at it as a learning experience." Davenport also doesn't like the circumstances surrounding a potential trade to the Dolphins. "I wanted somebody that really wants me instead of being backed up against a wall where their starting running back retired, quit or what have you."

The Packers should not let Davenport go so easily. While he is not a starter, he plays an important role on the team and the Packers are a better team right now with him than without him. Unless Miami makes an outstanding offer that the Packers can't refuse, the Pack would be wise to keep Najeh in Green Bay.

– Brad Kurtzberg is a freelance writer from Melville, N.Y.

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