When a team has a running back that has great skills as a runner and the dynamic ability to be a receiver, it poses a tough element for a defense to contain. It keeps the defense guessing, and it allows the offense to use the running back as a decoy to exploit the opposition in other areas.
An offense that needs a pass catching running back more than any other is the West Coast offense. The West Coast offense uses the screen pass religiously, and having a multi-dimensional threat in the backfield who can consistently make catches in the flat is crucial.
One of the best receiving backfield threats in the NFL is Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook. Westbrook was a third-round selection by the Eagles in the 2002 NFL Draft. With the draft changing its setup next April, the third round will now take place on Day Two. That means that a lot of talented running backs will fall into the second day.
With that said, here's a look at five Day-Two receiving threats out of the backfield that teams will be thrilled to get their hands around… if they can catch them.
Chris Johnson (Sr.), East Carolina
Height: 5-11 | Weight: 195
Johnson is a speedy, shifty runner who's still developing his overall game. He's an explosive receiver out of the backfield and can break open a game on any given play. He possesses elite speed, great hands and tremendous elusiveness in the open field. He has a great burst and gets through a seam quicker than a hiccup. He has to show more patience in his running, but his athleticism and vision are second to none. Johnson has a lot of tools and is an accomplished receiver. He's been a playmaker out of the backfield since his freshman year with East Carolina and has averaged 29 receptions for 256 yards from 2004–2006. This season, Johnson has 26 receptions for 354 yards and four touchdowns. HIs draft stock has a chance to escalate with a solid performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, but at this point he's an early second-day selection as a high third-round pick.
Yvenson Bernard (Sr.), Oregon State
Height: 5-9 | Weight: 201
Benson is a strong, powerful runner who has a lot of versatility out of the backfield. He's not a burner, but he's deceptively quick and has great vision. He has great cutback ability, slides off defenders and picks up tough yards. He has natural pass receiving ability and is an explosive weapon in the open field. He runs smooth routes out of the backfield and is exceptional on a screen pass. He's a patient runner who dissects a defense and quickly hits a seam. Benson is a polished receiver out of the backfield who runs with a lot of aggression. The last two seasons (2005 and 2006), Benson has averaged 40 receptions for 296 yards. Through eight games this year, he's caught 32 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown. Benson is an early second-day selection who will most likely be a high third-round pick.
Cory Boyd (Sr.), South Carolina
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 214
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Boyd is a big, physical runner who has reliable hands out of the backfield. He has great vision and instincts with the ball in his hands. He sees the field well, waits patiently for his blocks to set up in front of him and quickly chooses his spot to run through. He plays with great balance, breaks the initial tackle and picks up positive yards with his aggressive running style. Boyd has great speed for a back of his size, and his combination of running and receiving ability makes him a dangerous threat out of the backfield. He redshirted during the 2005 season for undisclosed reasons, but in 2004 and 2006 he averaged 35 receptions for 376 yards. So far this year, through nine games, Boyd has 29 receptions for 275 yards and a touchdown. A solid all-around running back, Boyd's a great option in the third- or fourth-round.
Rafael Little (Sr.), Kentucky
Height: 5-10 | Weight: 195
An elusive runner with featured back potential, Little is your classic all-purpose threat out of the backfield. He has great hands out of the backfield and immediately starts up field for positive yards. He's a patient runner when the ball is in his hands and is a difficult player to bring down. He picks his spots, quickly hits the hole, and avoids taking big hits in the open field. Little has big-play potential, but has been hampered by injuries during his career. When healthy, Little is an explosive player who defenses have to game plan around. In 2005 and 2006, Little averaged 38 receptions for 420 yards. With only 14 receptions for 115 yards this season, he hasn't had the same production as a receiver due to a thigh injury that's kept him out of the lineup the last three games. Despite the injury and the lack of production as a receiver this season, Little is still a great threat out of the backfield who'll receive draft consideration in the third round.
Anthony Aldridge (Sr.), Houston
Height: 5-9 | Weight: 175
Aldridge is a small runner who has explosive skill out of the backfield. He has great vision, speed and elusiveness as a receiver. He has soft hands, runs precise routes and gives his quarterback a consistent weapon to utilize. He runs with great shiftiness and can squeeze through the smallest crevices available. He's a game breaker in the open field and is an experienced return specialist. Aldridge benefits from being in a pass-oriented offense, but his presence allows the Cougars to run the ball more. He's a big-play threat as a receiver, and in 2005 and 2006 Aldridge averaged 16 receptions for 284 yards (17.8 YPC) and two touchdowns. His production has dramatically increased this season in the passing game, hauling in 31 passes for 343 yards and four touchdowns. Aldridge's size will work against him heading into next year's draft, but if he's used as a situational player, he can be effective. At this point he's a fourth- or fifth-round selection.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.