Thin class of backs

OWINGS MILLS - Don't hold your breath waiting to discover the next Jim Brown, or for the Baltimore Ravens to execute any rapid selections of running backs. At best, this is viewed as a group of complementary players since Miami's Willis McGahee, the only legitimate potential franchise runner, shredded his knee in the Fiesta Bowl and now carries a seven-inch surgical scar.

Beyond McGahee, who hopes to become a medical marvel and hear his name called during the first day of Saturday's NFL draft, it's a collection of one-dimensional prospects and suspects.

McGahee is probably headed for injured reserve this fall, but represents the top long-term solution. Still, there's plenty of quantity and not a total absence of quality.

 There just aren't many immediate starter types evident from a group that includes Penn State's Larry Johnson, Georgia's Musa Smith, Oregon's Onterrio Smith, Colorado's Chris Brown, Virginia Tech's Lee Suggs and USC's Justin Fargas.

The situation sits fine with the Ravens since they're already well-equipped in the backfield with an established tailback in Jamal Lewis, an improving backup in Chester Taylor and a solid young fullback in Alan Ricard.

That doesn't mean Baltimore would ignore backs that could upgrade its short-yardage game, adept pass-catchers or an oversized fullback to act in reserve behind Ricard. It just makes the Ravens unlikely to draft a back within the first couple of rounds.

"We need some other bodies back there," Ravens director of player personnel Phil Savage said. "We have one fullback in Alan Ricard, another, Harold Morrow, who's mainly a special-teamer, and two running backs.

"If we can find a back who can do some things, maybe a one-back runner, that would certainly be of interest to us. If there's a guy we have rated highly, even during the first day, we wouldn't hesitate."

Although Lewis rushed for 1,327 yards last season with 47 receptions, he's just two years removed from tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.

McGahee and Johnson are the only likely first-round selections as candidates for the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers, respectively. If they don't go in the first round, it would mark the first time a back hasn't gone in the first round since the draft was merged between the NFL and AFL.

That could push players like Musa Smith and Suggs down into the third round, or even the fourth.

"If Musa Smith is still sitting there in the third round, you're going to take him because you feel he's just that good," Savage said. "You don't pass someone like that up."

Onterrio Smith is viewed as one of the best backs in terms of having breakaway skills, but caused enough trouble in Knoxville, Tenn., and his hometown of Sacramento, Calif., that he wore out his welcome with the Tennessee Volunteers.

 The Ravens did host former Middle Tennessee State option quarterback Rashard Lee, a 5-9, 228-pounder, but he will probably be available after seven rounds are completed as an undrafted free agent.

As far as fullback, Stanford's Casey Moore, Colorado's Brandon Drumm and Wake Forest's Ovie Mughelli are all highly regarded for having several positive attributes.

And Western Kentucky's Jeremi Johnson (5-11, 265), Georgia's J.T. Wall (5-11, 257) and South Carolina's Andrew Pinnock (5-10, 265) certainly don't lack for bulk.

"We just have to wait and see what develops," Savage said. "I think there will be a situation at some point where we add someone to our backfield"


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