This year's crop of running backs features some very impressive individuals headed by the ever so talented duo of Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch.
Keep in mind one very important and often overlooked factor when considering
a college running back, the professional season (4 pre-season, 16 regular and
potentially 4 playoff games), is virtually twice as long as it's collegiate
Even recent top professional prospects like Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams, and Cedric Benson have all had their problems staying healthy and not breaking, in "this land of the giants" that we have come to know as professional football.
That being said, my "pick to click" at the running back position, may I dare say is a little guy; Florida State's Lorenzo Booker.
Tipping the scale at just over 190 pounds, the super quick Booker has never missed a game due to injury at the collegiate level. As a back, I felt he showed unusual quickness, the speed to press the line of scrimmage, quick feet, vision, and good instincts in space. He is extremely bright and has exceptional pass receiving skills.
Prior to the 2006 season, I had some questions regarding Booker's willingness to hit it up inside (he bounced everything outside), but those doubts were quickly dashed playing behind a sub par (by FSU standards) offensive line as a senior.
Keep in mind, Booker is never going to be an every down back at the professional level, but again in the right system, he has a chance to flourish. I'll take him for my football club any time.
Disappointments at the running back position?
Lets just say I expected a great deal more from the University of Alabama's third all time leading rusher Kenneth Darby and Florida back Deshawn Wynn. Neither, in my opinion, ran with much authority, got tough yards inside, showed top run instincts (make people miss), or got outside consistently.
Give me 11 players like Alabama fullback Le'Ron McClain, and you can schedule
me double headers!!! I absolutely loved his approach to both the game and
practice. As a lead blocker, I likened him to the late Craig "Ironhead"
Heyward, although he does not possess near his running skills.
He lacks top speed for the position, but I want him in the game in every red zone opportunity. Although pure fullbacks are utilized less then 25 % of the time in these so called modern offensive systems, I believe Le'Ron will more then justify his role by being an effective performer on all special teams.
At the wideout position, Calvin Johnson is not only the top pro prospect in this years draft, but also the top player to enter the professional ranks since the great Bo Jackson. He is certainly not an unknown entity and only a catastrophic injury will stop him becoming one of the game's all time greats.
How quickly will Johnson impact? Oh I would have to say probably about the time it takes him to reach baggage claim in the city that drafts him…
Looking for a down the line sleeper?
I really like Courtney Taylor's from Auburn's game. He doesn't possess the race horse speed the pro's crave, but he has excellent size, is a natural catcher, is tough, intelligent, and has excellent sense of where he is on the football field. Again keep in mind, the position is called wide receiver and not wide runner…
Tennessee State's Mike Mason was a prep All American who signed with the North Carolina. After a lack luster career with the Tar Heels, characterized by one too many off the field incidents, he took his game to Nashville and finally performed at the level that was originally expected of him.
At the annual NFL combine in Indianapolis, he showed much better speed than I thought he possessed, to go along with his already impressive receiving and return skills. If there are no off the field concerns, I see him as a good fit at the professional level
Laurent Robinson from Illinois St, Ryne Robinson, of Miami (Ohio), and New Hampshire's catching machine David Ball, are all very different in stature, speed, and playing style, but each bring some very interesting things to the table.
Aundrae Allison, from East Carolina, had an up and down senior season, but he had many scouts and coaches checking their programs at this year's Senior Bowl practices. After viewing his post season workout (a disaster) and his total body of his work in 2006, I have to tell you, I was left wanting. Aundrae is not a natural catcher, and I would seriously question his ability to work inside.
He is a good kid, and does possess a good deal of natural athletic ability and speed, but he has a very long way to come and can be best described as "a project"
Ryan Moore the highly touted Miami receiving prospect (the next Michael
Irvin) who burst on to the scene as a red shirt freshman snatching 44 balls for
637 yards, let his school, teammates, family and most of all himself down with his
eight game suspension as a senior.
The Top Tight End?
Miami junior eligible tight end Greg Olsen from an athletic standpoint, is clearly the top player at the position in the country. At the annual scouting combine in Indianapolis, Olsen looked like a modern day "Secretariat" moving down the track. Another thing that did not go unnoticed to the scouts, coaches, GMs, and officials in attendance was the fact that he confidently led all of his fellow TE's in every skills drill.
He is an enormously gifted player, and I might add, is also an impressive individual off the field. At this stage in his developing , I see him functioning in the role of a slot receiver much like Kellen Winslow. No, not his predecessor with the Canes, but rather his dad, former Charger and Hall of Fame member Kellen Winslow senior…
Based on my exposure, at this stage in his development, he is not yet a pro standard blocker at the point of attack. He doesn't sustain, roll his hips and hit on the rise, or show much in the way of functional playing strength. Can he get there? I see no reason that he can't, but at this stage in that area, he just isn't getting it done.
Another declared underclassman from Arizona State University, Zach Miller is both a very solid player and prospect. I really liked his playing character and demeanor. At his press conference when announcing he was foregoing his senior year, I was very impressed the way he credited everyone associated with the program for his success. A real class act in my opinion.
On the field, Miller is a true warrior whose effort never waned in spite of the team's lack of success in 2006. I liked the fact that he never left the field (65 to 80 snaps a game). Do to his lack of speed, he may never become a great one (few do), but he has a chance to become a 10 to 12 year contributor.
I need to make mention of two other individuals that impressed me in 06 at the tight end position. The first, Ben Patrick, of Delaware via Duke University, is a player who has a chance to become a highly effective TE, slot receiver and H-back at the professional level. A much improved blocker over the last year, I really like his chances.
The next tight end I want to mention, Anthony Pudwell from Nevada (Reno) did
not garnish many headlines over his career, but I feel confident will become an
efficient reliable professional. He's not flashy or very fast, but at the end of
the game, he did a lot of things that contributed to winning. He doesn't truly factor
in the passing game, but in my brief exposure, his hands appeared to be more
then adequate. Overall I see Pudwell as an excellent fit in the role of a second
or third tight end. He factors positively within the running game and as a
Tom Marino is a veteran of 35 years in the player personnel field, most recently with the St. Louis Rams. He has worked in three professional leagues (NFL, USFL, and WFL), and among his many accomplishments, is credited with the discovery of Eric Swann, the first non-collegiate player since 1946 to be selected in the 1st round of the NFL college draft.