Patriots Draft: Versatile RB On The List

While the running back position appeared to be all set after their '04 Super Bowl, struggles in '05 have the Patriots looking at the Draft as a way to rebuild the unit. One such prospect that spoke with the team reminds some scouts of Marshall Faulk or Brian Westbrook. He's on a number of teams' boards, including Chicago and New England.

Patriots' scouts have been to the far corners of the college world interviewing players who can help them boost production. The one area in need of significant improvement is the ground game. The Patriots didn't have to travel far from their perch at the RCA dome at the NFL Combine last week to find one player who might be able to help them. Mississippi State's Jerious Norwood performed well in the running back drills, drawing the attention of a number of teams, including New England.

In four years with the Bulldogs, Norwood rushed for 3,222 yards with 15 touchdowns. On 573 carries, he averaged 5.6 yards per attempt. However, there are still questions if Norwood can be a feature back in the pros because he never reached 200 carries in a season.

"A lot of people are saying I'm not an every-down back but I know I can get the job done if I have the opportunity," Norwood said. "Me carrying the ball at Mississippi State as many times as I did, I think it showed some of the coaches in the NFL that I can do it."

Norwood posted times of 4.42 and 4.40 seconds in the forty, which would be a significant upgrade over what the Patriots have currently. Kevin Faulk covered the distance close to that at a reported 4.48 when he was getting ready for the Draft in 1999. Now that Faulk has seven years of wear and tear, including a broken bone last season, he may not be the same back he was when he came out of LSU. Norwood's build and his style are a lot like Faulk in many regards. He has even drawn comparisons to another Faulk, Marshall Faulk of the St. Louis Rams.

Many NFL teams are projecting the five-foot-11, 210-pound Norwood as a receiver. Even though Norwood has good hands, the move would seem to be a long-term project because he only caught 43 balls in college. He also averaged more yards per rushing attempt (5.6) than when he caught the ball (4.3).

Norwood runs with a slashing style, which makes him hard to hit. He could easily fit the Patriots offense like Faulk to be a threat either as a receiver or a back. Should the Patriots think of Norwood as more of a third-down back, he very likely could be a younger version of Faulk. Although, in the backfield next to Brady, he'll need to improve in is his blocking. Despite having experience blocking on occasion in the Mississippi State offense, it is regarded as part of the game he could use improvement in.

The Vikings, Bears and Panthers are among some of the other teams showing significant interest in Norwood. Minnesota is in the market for a general-purpose back now that new head coach Brad Childress is in charge. Childress would like to find a Brian Westbrook all-purpose player. Chicago may be inclined to take Norwood as a late round pick. Bears head coach Lovie Smith comes from St. Louis where he had to plan against Marshall Faulk. Norwood has elements of both players in his game. Carolina is in need of another back now that Stephen Davis and Rod Smart are out of the picture.

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