2006 Draft Preview: Running Back

The smart money has the Steelers adding a running back to the rotation of Willie Parker, Duce Staley, and Verron Haynes, and that back could be a guy SuperPrep once ranked among its top five ball carriers in the nation.

Back in 1990, the Pittsburgh Steelers used a fifth round draft pick on a little-known halfback/fullback from the University of Arkansas. Two years later, Barry Foster would set a team record with 1,692 yards rushing in Bill Cowher's first season as head coach.

The 5-10, 223-pound Foster carrying the Steelers' offense was one of the early highlights of Cowher's career in Pittsburgh.

It could be one he chooses to revisit to a certain extent this year by taking De'Arrius Howard in the latter parts of the NFL draft.

Like current Steelers' starting running back Willie Parker, the 5-11, 230-pound Howard kind of got lost in the shuffle at Arkansas, spending most of his early career there playing behind Cedric Cobbs. And after Cobbs left, he ended up giving way to some hotshot young recruits, never getting more than the 131 rushing attempts he had as a redshirt freshman in 2002.

Howard finished his career with 1,719 yards rushing on 413 carries and - more importantly – 21 career touchdowns as he showed a tremendous knack for getting into the end zone as a short-yardage specialist for the Razorbacks.

But it was Howard's performance in the East-West Shrine Game that really opened some eyes about him. Howard carried the ball just 15 times in that game, but scored three touchdowns and gained 72 yards. He followed that performance up by posting a 4.44 40-yard dash at his personal workout at Arkansas and is now clearly on the radar of a number of teams as a late-round prospect.

Though he had shoulder surgery in the spring of 2005, Howard seems recovered from the injury and could be the inside running threat the Steelers are looking for, though he doesn't offer much as a receiver.

If the Steelers are looking for an all-around runner who can also help out the return game, UCLA's Maurice Drew could fit the bill, though the 5-7, 205-pound Drew would likely have to be taken in the second round.

Drew is a shifty back with good speed and could help ease the loss of Antwaan Randle El in the return game.

A couple of rounds later, Arizona's Mike Bell, a 6-0, 220-pound runner, or Virginia's Wali Lundi, a 5-11, 215-pound all-round back, could be mid-draft steals.

If the Steelers are looking for a combination running back/fullback, bruising Naufahu Tahi (6-0, 230) could be a nice late-round pick. Tahi only ran a 4.9 40-yard dash at the draft combine but plays faster than his 40-time.

Locally, California University of Pennsylvania's Antoine Bagwell, a former Nebraska recruit, has caught the eye of some NFL teams. But the 5-10, 180-pound Bagwell has some character issues and isn't on the Steelers' radar.

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