Draft Position Preview: RBs

With Ryan Grant coming off of back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons, running back ranks eighth in our list of the Packers' needs. But from the first round all the way through undrafted free agents, there are a number of intriguing prospects for the Packers to consider.

Packer Report continues its position-by-position looks at the NFL Draft with the running backs.

Packers position rank by need

Eighth of 13.

State of the Packers

Starting halfback Ryan Grant doesn't get much attention nationally, but only Grant, Adrian Peterson, Thomas Jones and Chris Johnson have back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons. Grant might not be a touchdown waiting to happen, like the Vikings' Peterson, but he doesn't lose games, either. Grant hasn't fumbled on 291 consecutive carries dating to the 2008 season.

Third-down back Brandon Jackson, a former second-round pick, offers surprisingly little as a receiver with a career-long reception of just 18 yards. But coach Mike McCarthy recently mentioned the great Marcus Allen when discussing Jackson's skills in picking up blitzes. Veteran Ahman Green could be back, or he could be replaced in the draft or by former Eagles star Brian Westbrook. For a West Coast offense, the Packers have a void on the roster because they don't have a back who can make a play in the passing game.

The Packers are set at fullback with Korey Hall, John Kuhn and Quinn Johnson. They kept all three last year; they'll likely go with the traditional two in 2010.

Forget about ...

Clemson's C.J. Spiller figures to go in the top 15 picks. He's got the rare ability to change the game as a runner, receiver and returner. Oh, and he got his diploma in 3.5 years.

Possible targets

— Fresno State's Ryan Mathews and Cal's Jahvid Best are possibilities for the Packers to select at No. 23. If Grant produces another 1,250-yard season, the Packers will be on the hook for $9 million in 2011. Grant has been remarkably durable for a big back who never shies away from contact. Can he continue to be a workhorse?

At 6 foot and 218 pounds, Mathews is a big back with great quickness and good speed (4.45 in the 40 at the Combine), adept at breaking tackles and then pulling away. After missing five games with a knee injury in 2008, he led the nation in 2009 with 1,808 rushing yards. Importantly for the Packers, Mathews already is good in pass protection — an area in which Grant struggles. He caught only 19 passes for the Bulldogs but he's got good hands.

No. 13: Quarterbacks
No. 12: Specialists
No. 11: Wide receivers
No. 10: Tight ends
No. 9: Nose tackles

Best (5-10, 199) was the fastest back at the Combine (4.35 in the 40). If not for a worrisome injury history that includes elbow and foot surgery and a scary concussion that kept him out of his final four games at Cal, he might be the first back off the board. A brilliant open-field runner, Best averaged 7.3 yards per carry in his three seasons and 9.4 yards per catch over his final two seasons. Plus, his career average on kickoff returns is 26.4.

— If he's available in the second round, the Packers would be hard-pressed to pass on Mississippi's dynamic Dexter McCluster, whom the Packers "love," according to a source. At 5-foot-9 and 172 pounds, McCluster isn't a 20-carries-per-game kind of guy. He's not even a running back, per se. Instead, he's a 15-touches player — five carries, five catches, five returns. An electric player with great quickness and change-of-direction skills and rarely-gets-caught long speed, McCluster rushed for 1,169 yards and caught 44 passes for 520 yards as a senior. Should be superb as a kick returner, too. He was arguably the best skill player at the Senior Bowl.

The other second-round prospect to consider would be Georgia Tech's Jonathan Dwyer (5-11, 229), who had back-to-back 1,395-yard seasons in Tech's wishbone offense. For more on Dwyer, click here.

— Tennessee's Montario Hardesty, Stanford's Toby Gerhart and Auburn's Ben Tate would be great value picks if they're on the board in the third round. Hardesty (6-0, 225) wasn't even on scouts' radar until his senior season, when he rushed for 1,345 yards and caught 25 passes. Had a torn ACL in 2005. Gerhart (6-0, 231) is Mike Alstott with better athletic ability. The Heisman runner-up, Gerhart rushed for 1,871 yards and a ridiculous 27 touchdowns in 2009. Defenses knew he was getting the ball but were helpless to stop him. Almost never loses yards, plus has good hands with 39 career catches. A torn PCL ended his 2007 season after one game. One hardly mentioned concern, however, is he's carried the ball an enormous amount of times, dating back to his record-setting California prep career. Tate (5-11, 220) is a big back who ran a surprising 4.43 40 with a 40.5-inch vertical at the Combine. He ran for 1,362 yards with 20 receptions as a senior.

Joe McKnight (6-0, 198) of USC has tremendous talent and elusiveness that would make him a great addition for the Packers, but his history of nagging injuries makes him a risk to take before the fourth round. He averaged 6.4 yards per carry and 22 receptions in his three seasons. Another injury-plagued fourth-round name to consider is Buffalo's James Starks, who the Packers watched intently at his pro day. He missed all of 2009 with a shoulder injury but rushed for 1,333 yards and caught 52 passes in 2008. His size (6-2, 218) and receiving skills (draft-high 127 catches among running backs) make him an interesting prospect. His skill-set makes him perfect for a zone scheme.

— A few more names to remember as late-round/undrafted picks because of their receiving or special teams ability are Southern Illinois' Deji Karim ( read our Karim feature), Wayne State's Joique Bell (two 2,000-yard seasons and 79 career catches), SMU's Shawnbrey McNeal (1,188 rushing yards, 31 receptions in 2009), Memphis' Curtis Steele (2,462 rushing yards, 26 catches in last two seasons), North Dakota State's Pat Paschall (1,425 rushing yards, 12 catches in 2009), Oklahoma State's Keith Toston (1,218 rushing yards, 25 receptions in 2009), Tulane's Andre Anderson (1,016 rushing yards, 30 receptions in 2009) and Northern Arizona's Alex Henderson (1,166 rushing yards, 28 receptions in 2009). Henderson had a pre-draft visit with the Packers, according to a source.

— There's only one fullback to consider for the Packers, and that's Clay Harbor of Missouri State. Harbor (6-3, 252) is just the type of player that McCarthy likes in that he could line up at tight end or fullback, depending on formation. Harbor, who began his college career at receiver before moving to tight end, caught 59 passes for 729 yards and four touchdowns last season. An explosive athlete with 4.69 speed and a 40-inch vertical, Harbor is viewed by scouts as an H-back, a hybrid fullback/tight end. He should go in the fourth round.

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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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