NFL Draft preview: Running back analysis

Knowshon Moreno is the head of the class, but the Packers' need would be for a pass-catching threat on passing downs. Packer Report breaks down the running backs, with an emphasis on catching the ball.

Editor's note: This is Part 4 of our 14-part position-by-position breakdown heading to the April 25-26 NFL Draft. We continue with the running backs. The prospects are listed in order based on analysis by Scout.com draft expert Chris Steuber and Packer Report, with the comments that follow them based on the beliefs of league experts and insiders.

The Packers' perspective:

Ryan Grant isn't going anywhere. Grant earned a big contract after a stunning run during the final two-thirds of the 2007 season, but he only occasionally flashed that explosiveness last season. But Grant just pocketed a $2.75 million roster bonus, so chances are, he'll be the feature back in 2009. The hope is that a full offseason in the Packers' program will help him avoid a repeat of the nagging hamstring injury that slowed him early last year.

That doesn't mean the Packers might not be shopping for a running back. Brandon Jackson, a second-round pick in 2007, has been wildly inconsistent and, based on his limited touches last season, hasn't earned the coaches' trust. The Packers like Kregg Lumpkin, who spent most of last season on injured reserve, and DeShawn Wynn, who flashed some promise in the finale against Detroit. Neither, however, have proven they truly are NFL-caliber running backs.

If the Packers are going to draft a back, it will be one who can make an immediate impact on passing downs. Because of other needs, the Packers probably wouldn't use one of their first two picks on a back, but with two third-rounders and an early fourth at their disposal, there are several third-down backs who might fit the bill.

Cream of the crop:

Knowshon Moreno, Georgia: It's never bad to be compared to Barry Sanders and LaDainian Tomlinson. Moreno's combination of quickness, catching ability and shiftiness make him clearly the best prospect. He rushed for 2,734 yards and 30 touchdown the last two seasons, and he had 33 receptions last year as a redshirt sophomore. Only thing he lacks is an extra gear in the open field.

First-round prospects:

Chris Wells, Ohio State: Wells rushed for 1,609 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2007 but a foot injury limited him to 1,197 yards and eight touchdowns last year. At 237 pounds, he's big and explosive and a load in the open field. There are questions about his durability and ability to catch the ball.

LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh: A true sophomore, McCoy rushed for 1,328 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2007 and 1,488 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2008. Big-time receiver with 32 receptions last year. The 5-foot-11 and 210-pounder has a good combination of open-field speed and elusiveness and is tough between the tackles.

Donald Brown, Connecticut: Brown led the nation in rushing last season as a redshirt junior with 2,083 yards and was among the leaders with 18 touchdowns. The 5-foot-10, 210-pounder posted the fifth-fastest 40 time among running backs at the Combine and was the fastest among the elite runners. He's more of a north-south runner and has soft hands.

Just a notch below:

Rashad Jennings, Liberty: Transferred from Pittsburgh and posted three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Despite needing surgery on a broken pinkie, he rushed for 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns with 24 receptions as a senior. His 3,633 rushing yards and 42 TDs are Big South records. He's a load at 231 pounds, and he's got surprisingly nimble feet. Played in a zone blocking scheme, and had 24 catches as a senior. Fumbles are an issue.

Andre Brown, North Carolina State: Brown is a north-south runner with good speed (fourth-fastest at Combine). Is an NFL-ready player because of his receiving and blocking skills. His draft stock might have been higher had he ever been a focal point of the offense; he never got more than 175 carries in a season. Seems well-suited to a zone scheme.

— Shonn Green, Iowa: The 5-foot-11, 235-pound bruiser started only one season for Iowa, but it was a big one. He gained 100 yards in every game, and finished with 1,850 yards and 20 touchdowns. Won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top runner. He runs low to the ground, making him even tougher to bring down. Needs to improve as a receiver.

Javon Ringer, Michigan State: He rushed for 1,637 yards and a nation-high 22 touchdowns as a senior. One of the elite receiving backs with 63 receptions the last two seasons, making him Steuber's top third-down back. The 5-foot-9, 202-pounder is a shifty runner who's quick to get through a hole, but doesn't have elite strength of speed. His whopping 418 touches last season are an issue considering a back's limited career.

James Davis, Clemson: The Packers have shown considerable interest in Davis, whose 751 yards as a senior was the lowest of his four years. Career 3,881 yards and 47 touchdowns. Good size at 5-11, 207. He's not a breakaway threat but he's shifty, quick and tough. Only 51 catches in four years but scouts like his hands. He's Steuber's second-ranked third-down back.

Others to remember:

Cedric Peerman, Virginia: Peerman (5-9, 210) rushed for 774 yards and seven touchdowns last season. His 44 catches and proven kickoff-return ability could intrigue the Packers. He's quick to the hole, can make tacklers miss and has some power. He posted the fastest 40 time at the Combine. Small hands lead to ball-security concerns. Steuber thinks Peerman can be a feature back; otherwise, he'd rank ahead of Davis on his third-down list.

— Mike Goodson, Texas A&M: A boom-or-bust player. He has electric athletic ability and is a superb receiver with 75 catches the last two seasons. Scouts worry about his build (6-0, 190) and maturity. Fell out of favor with coach Mike Sherman and his staff. He rushed for 847 yards as a freshman, 711 as a sophomore but only 408 last year as a junior as his carries were slashed.

Jeremiah Johnson, Oregon: Johnson (5-9, 198) tore an ACL in 2007 but bounced back to rush for 1,201 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Got better season progressed, with 219 yards in season finale against Oregon State and 119 yards (on 12 carries) in bowl win vs. Oklahoma State. Good hands but wasn't asked to catch the ball. A top third-down prospect.

Kory Sheets, Purdue: Sheets (5-11, 203) was a productive four-year player. Rushed for 1,131 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior with a career-high 37 receptions. Followed strong Senior Bowl with third-fastest 40 time at Combine. Played out of a spread offense, but cutback ability makes him a natural for zone scheme.

Ian Johnson, Boise State: The hero of Boise's Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma saw his production fall and carries slash as a senior. Great attitude and played special teams last season to help the team. Had second-fastest 40 time at Combine. He's a good receiver with 47 catches last two years, but upright style had him absorbing too much punishment. A top third-down prospect.

Devin Moore, Wyoming: Moore (5-10, 182) is too small to be an every-down back but his electric speed and good hands make him a change-of-pace prospect. Proven kick-returning ability. Had 45 catches in 2006 and 2007. Steuber's fifth-ranked third-down talent.

Tyrell Sutton, Northwestern: At 5-8, 210, he's reminiscent of Darren Sproles but lacks big-time speed. Rushed for 1,474 yards and 16 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2005. Injuries have been issue the past two seasons. His 159 career receptions add to the attraction.

Glen Coffee, Alabama: Coffee (5-11, 208) entered draft after rushing for 1,383 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior. Is neither strong nor fast, but he's got good vision and is quick through the hole. Decent receiver but was not utilized in that role.

— Jarvarris Williams, Tennessee State: Williams (5-10, 223) rushed for 4,132 yards and 41 touchdowns in four seasons. He's quick through the hole, can power for an extra yard and is a good receiver with make-you-miss ability after the catch. Faced lower-level competition but played well in the East-West all-star game.

Arian Foster, Tennessee: The 6-foot, 232-pounder is an enigma. He rushed for 1,193 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior but 892 yards and six touchdowns combined as a sophomore and senior. Lost carries because of early-season fumbling problems last year.

Marlon Lucky, Nebraska: Lucky (6-0, 210) rushed for 1,019 yards with a stunning 75 receptions as a junior, but new coach Bo Pelini went with a committee approach last season. A patient runner who lacks explosion.

Chris Ogbonnaya, Texas: Ogbonnaya (6-0, 220) is an intriguing talent who played some receiver and some running back until his senior season. His rushing totals are negligible but his 46 catches for 540 yards last year show good hands and explosiveness.

Aaron Brown, TCU: At 6-1, 196, he has the build of a receiver but his open-field skills and a career average of more than 27 yards on kickoff returns will merit him a shot.

Chris Steuber's sleeper:

Antone Smith, Florida State: His 2,253 career rushing yards rank rank eighth in school history, so you'd think he'd be generating more buzz. At 5-9, 190, he's not an every-down back but he's got big-time speed (4.32 40 at his pro day), surprising strength (32 reps on the 225-pound bench), good hands (43 catches in 2006 and 2007) and a nose for the end zone (15 TDs as a senior).

Third-down rankings

1, Ringer; 2, Peerman; 3, Davis; 4, Ian Johnson; 5, Jeremiah Johnson; 6, Devin Moore; 7, Tyrell Sutton.


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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. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport


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