Combine Preview: Running Backs

The Packers are set with Ryan Grant but could use a capable pass-catching threat out of the backfield. There are 26 running backs (and three fullbacks) slated to attend the Combine. We tell you who could provide some juice in the passing game.

The NFL's ultimate job interview, the Scouting Combine, begins on Wednesday in Indianapolis, with the first on-the-field workouts starting on Friday.

Packer Report gets you ready for the Combine with a position-by-position look at the 329 players on the invitation list.

Running backs

State of the Packers

With back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons to follow up on his breakout 2007, Ryan Grant has been about as productive as any running back in the NFL over the last two-and-a-half seasons. Only Adrian Peterson has rushed for more yards since Grant entered the lineup in 2007. Grant is tough and almost never fumbles.

While backup Brandon Jackson became excellent in picking up blitzes, he doesn't offer much production as a receiver. His career-long reception of 18 yards just isn't good enough. By contrast, Vikings free agent Chester Taylor had five receptions of longer than 20 yards last season alone, including two of 30-plus.

The Packers are a pass-first team without a running back who's a threat as a receiver. Getting one in this draft would be a huge asset.

Combine guest list

Matthew Asiata, Utah

Joique Bell, Wayne State

Jahvid Best, California

LeGarrette Blount, Oregon

Chris Brown, Oklahoma

Andre Dixon, Connecticut

Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State

Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech

Toby Gerhart, Stanford

Montario Hardesty, Tennessee

Javarris James, Miami (Fla.)

Stafon Johnson, USC

Darius Marshall, Marshall

Ryan Mathews, Fresno State

Dexter McCluster, Mississippi

Joe McKnight, USC

Shawnbrey McNeal, SMU

Lonyae Miller, Fresno State

Brandon Minor, Michigan

Pat Paschall, North Dakota State

Charles Scott, LSU

C.J. Spiller, Clemson

James Starks, Buffalo

Ben Tate, Auburn

Keith Toston, Oklahoma State

Keiland Williams, LSU

John Conner, Kentucky (fullback)

Rashawn Jackson, Virginia (fullback)

Manase Tonga, BYU (fullback)


C.J. Spiller is the first player in ACC history with 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in one season.

Who to watch

The obvious choice is Clemson's electric C.J. Spiller, with his ridiculous 7,588 all-purpose yards, but he figures to be gone by No. 23. Cal junior Jahvid Best (62 receptions in three seasons) probably will be available, and he'd bring the added dimension of being a proven kickoff returner (26.4-yard career average). He's a home run threat and a terror one-on-one in the open field, but having two big-budget running backs seems like a luxury on a team with huge concerns looming at cornerback and offensive tackle. Plus, Best has had a laundry list of injuries, including a severe concussion that sidelined him for the final four games.

Mississippi's sensational Dexter McCluster is a receiver/running back/returner rather than purely a running back, as listed here. His size (5-foot-8, 165 pounds) is a concern but his do-it-all ability is not.

If running back is not a first-round target, here are some other names to consider. Heights and weights are from the schools and can be of dubious accuracy.

— Montario Hardesty, Tennessee: In his first season as the full-time starter, Hardesty (6-1, 215) rushed for 1,345 yards and 13 touchdowns. What will make him a third-round prospect, however, are his 25 receptions for 302 yards. He averaged 10-plus yards per reception in five games. He's athletic with good hands but is not great in the open field.

— Javarris James, Miami (Fla.): The cousin of former NFL star Edgerrin James caught 55 passes in his four years. The 6-foot, 208-pound James' one-cut running style would fit the Packers' zone scheme. Late-round prospect.

— Ryan Mathews, Fresno State: Mathews (5-foot-11, 220) has a style similar to Grant. He's a physical, one-cut runner who piled up 1,808 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns last season despite missing one game. He's raw in the passing game (19 catches last two years) but has the ability. Second-round prospect.

— Joe McKnight, USC: McKnight (6-foot, 190) caught 66 passes for 542 yards and two touchdowns during his three seasons. He's got explosive speed. His build probably is too slight to be the main ball-carrier but he wouldn't need to be that for Green Bay. Third-round prospect, but could move up if he blows people away at the Combine.

— Shawnbrey McNeal, SMU: McNeal (5-10, 190) barely played for Miami in 2007 and 2008 but burst onto the scene as a junior last season with 1,188 rushing yards. He caught 31 passes in 2009, including seven in the Mustangs' bowl game, and had receptions of 46 and 36 yards. He left school early to help his family (his mom has diabetes), so he'll be hungry to succeed. Late-round prospect.

— Lonyae Miller, Fresno State: Playing in the same backfield as Mathews, Miller (5-11, 220) caught just 14 passes in four seasons but showed good hands at the Senior Bowl. He's got surprising speed and open-field ability for his size. Late-round prospect.

— Keith Toston, Oklahoma State: Along with rushing for 1,218 yards and 11 touchdowns, Toston (6-foot, 214) was the Cowboys' second-leading receiver with 25 catches, giving him 51 with three touchdowns in his four seasons. He averaged 10-plus yards per reception in 2007 and 2009. He sustained a season-ending knee injury late in 2007. Late-round prospect.

— Keiland Williams, LSU: A reserve for all four seasons on a team that struggled to replace Matt Flynn at quarterback following the 2007 season, Williams (6-foot, 221) caught 28 passes for 273 yards in his career. Plus, he has kickoff return experience. He broke an ankle late in the 2009 season. Late-round prospect.


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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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