Positional Analysis: RBs

The running backs in this year's draft all come with question marks, and many of them have major question marks because of injuries. Consider it fortunate that the Vikings have Michael Bennett and re-signed Moe Williams and Doug Chapman, because there isn't a surefire runner in this pack.

VIKINGS RUNNING BACKS: Michael Bennett, Moe Williams, Doug Chapman, James Wofford, John Avery, Larry Ned.

VIKINGS DRAFT EXPECTIONS – Re-signing Moe Williams was a sign that the Vikings, who have spent recent high choices on Bennett and Chapman, may not be looking for a halfback early in the draft. If they are to draft a RB, it will almost assuredly be on the second day and possibly not before the sixth round. While there may be a need to add another RB to the stable and push Wofford or Chapman for a roster spot, unless someone falls in their lap it's unlikely we'll see a player taken until late Sunday afternoon at the earliest on draft weekend.

THE CLASS OF '03 – Most of the buzz is concerning a player who may not even see action this year – Miami RB Willis McGahee. Seen as a top five pick before the college championship game Jan. 4, his horrific knee injury put all that talk on the back burner. Yet, McGahee claims he will be ready to go when the regular season starts – there's a lot of varied opinions on that statement. But, for the first time since the NFL/AFL merger, the possibility exists that not a single RB will be drafted in the first round. There are no locks, as Larry Johnson of Penn State and Lee Suggs of Virginia Tech have emerged as the top two guys in most eyes, but both may still be available when the second round begins.

FIRST ROUNDERS (IF ANY)

Larry Johnson, Penn State, 6-1, 228 –
Fourth-year senior who was only a full-time player for one season…Was huge last year, rushing 271 times for 2,087 yards and 20 TDs while catching 41 passes and three more scores…Excellent size and strength as an inside runner and can turn the corner…Played special teams for three years and returned kickoffs…No major injuries in his past…Decent blocker who needs to improve on blitz pickups…North-South type runner…Doesn't have breakaway speed. PROJECTION: Any other year, he'd probably be ranked around No. 5, but, as the top RB available, has a chance to still go in the first round.

Lee Suggs, Virginia Tech, 6-0, 202 – Ran sub-4.4 40s prior to tearing left ACL and medial meniscus in 2001…Came back strong in 2002, rushing 238 times for 1,255 yards and 20 TDs…Still has good speed, but not the explosion seen before the '01 injury…Has the strength to be a short-yardage back…Not a great receiver (caught just 11 passes last year) but coaches say he has soft hands and will be a NFL receiving threat out of the backfield…Is a little undersized…Isn't a bull power runner or a lightning speed runner, but does both pretty well. PROJECTION: His stock will drop because of his injury past, but his solid production in 2002 likely will have someone like the Texans or Lions jumping on him early in the second round, if not the Raiders late in the first round.

SECOND/THIRD ROUNDERS

Willis McGahee, Miami, 6-0, 223 –
A third-year sophomore who opted out way too early, considering one healthy year later and he could have been back in the top 10 picks…One-year starter who was an All-American and Heisman finalist…Ran 262 times for 1,686 yards and 27 TDs as well as catching 24 passes…Ideal mix of speed and power (pre-injury)…Excellent knack for stopping on a dime and starting at full speed two steps later…Had moves and power that brought comparisons to Walter Payton…Never too interested or good in blocking…Some teams won't have him rated as a premium pick. PROJECTION: First- and second-round draft picks are expected to contribute immediately – especially running backs. It's doubtful a team will give the kind of signing bonus money needed for a first-rounder to McGahee, but he claims he will lead the NFL in rushing in 2004. He's working hard and could be a steal in the second or third round if he fully recovers, but there's no guarantee he'll play in 2003 and no certainty he will regain the speed from an injury that effectively ended the careers of Pro Bowlers like Terrell Davis and Jamal Anderson.

Onterrio Smith, Oregon, 5-10, 220 – Fourth-year junior…Started career as a true freshman at Tennessee but was kicked off the team and transferred to Oregon…Played in a time share in 2001 with Seahawk RB Maurice Morris and still managed to run for 1,000 yards on just 161 carries…Carried 244 times for 1,141 yards and 12 TDs last year…May be the fastest RB in this year's draft when turning the corner…Undersized, but decent inside runner…Has been injured, but plays through it…Off-field concerns will lower his stock in some teams' eyes. PROJECTION: Off-field issues will let him drop farther than his value would dictate, but he should still go in the second round.

Musa Smith, Georgia, 6-1, 232 – Third-year junior…Missed two games in 2000 with knee injury, had a hip injury in '01 and broke a thumb and suffered a groin injury in 2002…Only full season was last year when he rushed 260 times for 1,324 yards and eight TDs…Finished college career by rushing for 145 yards vs. Florida State and winning MVP honors at the Sugar Bowl…Good combination of size and speed…Strong short-yardage/goal line rusher…Not a great receiver…Chose not to run or work out at the Combine. PROJECTION: Durability is clearly an issue and refusal to work out for scouts at the Combine should result in his stock dropping from late in the second round into the third.

Chris Brown, Colorado, 6-3, 220 – Fourth-year junior…Began college career at Northwestern and transferred to Colorado…One-year starter, he made the most of it, rushing 275 times for 1,744 yards and 18 TDs – and missed the last two games with a sternum injury…Well proportioned and strong…Excellent goal-line plunger…Runs too upright and takes a lot of big hits, which have led to durability questions and concerns…Wasn't used much as a receiver, but has good hands…Wasn't asked to pass block much…Has handle of being a fumbler. PROJECTION: Has the running style of Eddie George and Roger Craig – too upright. This concern will likely see him fall into the late stages of the second round.

Justin Fargas, USC, 6-1, 219 – The son of TV's Huggy Bear (Antonio Fargas) from "Starsky and Hutch"…Enrolled at Michigan and endured a living hell as a true freshman. He broke his right tibia and fibula in 1998, which resulted in two titanium rods inserted in his leg. When it didn't heal properly, the leg was rebroken and a pair of metal plates put in. He also required a third surgery to repair tendon damage…Transferred to USC in 2001 and played one year with the Trojans, rushing 161 times for 715 yards and seven TDs in half a season…Has never been a full-time ball carrier…Jumped his standing at the Senior Bowl and ran a 4.4 40 at the Combine…Has a stride that reminds coaches of Robert Smith with long strides and deceptive speed…Had best Combine numbers of any RB. PROJECTION: He's a reach because of injuries, but has the physical tools to be a good NFL RB if he stays healthy, or could just be a tease. Probably goes in third round because of injury history.

DAY TWO PROJECTIONS

Cecil Sapp, Colorado State, 5-11, 229 –
Fifth-year senior…Broke right leg in 2001…Only full season as a starter in '02 when he ran 328 times for 1,495 yards and 17 TDs…Good combination of size and strength…Very tough and wears down defenses in the second half of games…Durability is major concern…Not a home-run back or a great receiver…A guy who could project to be a Jerome Bettis type, he'll likely fall to the fourth round for a team looking for a short-yardage back.

Artrose Pinner, Kentucky, 5-10, 229 – Fourth-year senior who likely would have been a third-rounder, but broke his foot at the Senior Bowl and didn't work out at the Combine…In his only year as a featured back, he rushed 283 times for 1,467 yards and 13 TDs…Good bulk and power…Solid pass blocker…Doesn't have top-end speed and tends to get lazy at times…His lack of pure speed and healing foot are concerns, but he should still find his way to some team in the fourth or fifth round.

Domanick Davis, LSU, 5-9, 213 – Fouth-year senior…Never was a full-time back, splitting time with LaBrandon Toefield…As a senior, he carried 193 times for 931 yards and seven touchdowns…Viewed as a third-down specialist, change of pace back…Very quick to the outside…Good hands and experienced pass catcher…Isn't bit or strong running between the tackles…Not used as a blocker…With his speed to make plays on third downs, return kickoffs and solid week at the Senior Bowl, he'll be drafted, but likely not until the fourth round at the earliest and more likely the fifth.

LaBrandon Toefield, LSU, 5-11, 233 – Fourth-year junior…Tore his right ACL in high school…Freshman All-American…In 2001, ran 230 times for 992 yards and 19 TDs before tearing left ACL…Missed four games last year after breaking his left arm…Strong north-south runner between the tackles…Good mix of size and power…Solid pass blocker…Had he remained healthy, he would have been a first-day pick if not a first-rounder. Two ACL tears may be enough to scare some teams away completely, but he has the skills to produce and will likely slide to the fifth or sixth round.

Dahrran Diedrick, Nebraska, 6-0, 220 – Fifth-year senior…Two-year starter who ran for 2,138 yards in those years…Ideal size in terms of NFL prototype RB…Thrives in between the tackles…Can deliver a hit as a runner and lay out a linebacker as a blocker…Doesn't make defenders miss and doesn't live up to what his skills should produce…Not a great receiver and prone to fumbling…Doesn't have good upper body strength…Nebraska backs from the triple option school have been a mixed bag in the NFL. Some think Diedrick can be a solid pro, while other smell bust all over him, which could drop him into the fifth round.

Santonio Beard, Alabama, 6-0, 222 – Fourth-year junior…Tennessee's Mr. Football as a senior in high school…Didn't become full-time runner until 2002, when he rushed 165 times for 858 yards and 12 TDs…Came out this year because of those numbers and likelihood he would be a backup next season…Good size/quickness combination that scouts like…Too impatient to hit the holes…Isn't a strong blocker picking up blitzes…Still a raw prospect who could develop into something special, his lack of full-time experience should drop him into the fifth or sixth round at best.

Earnest Graham, Florida, 5-9, 225 – Fifth-year senior…Had surgery in 1998 (right foot), missed time in 1999 with thigh injury, suffered knee and ankle problems in 2000 and didn't run at the Combine because of toe surgery…Only year as full-time rusher was in '02, when he carried 218 times for 965 yards and 9 TDs, along with 22 receptions…Hard to tackle because of low center of gravity…Durability is a huge concern…Isn't elusive…Getting a lot of national attention at Florida got him noticed and should be enough to get him drafted despite concerns about his injuries.

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