Positional Analysis: Running Backs

The Vikings don't have to find a starter at running back, but they likely will be looking for additional depth and possibly a return guy from the crop of 2004 draft-eligible running backs. Get analysis, stats and measurables here for the top 15 backs entering the April 24-25 draft.

VIKINGS' RUNNING BACKS — Michael Bennett, Moe Williams, Onterrio Smith, Larry Ned

VIKINGS' NEED — This probably won't be a great area of need early in the draft — the Vikings got Smith in the fourth round last year only because he slipped much farther than the Vikings could have anticipated. The team hasn't re-signed John Avery, so there may be a spot open for a mid- to late-round prospect to battle Larry Ned for the fourth spot on the roster. The most intriguing aspect for the Vikings will come in the first round. Many projections don't have the first running back going until pick No. 21 or 22 (New England and Dallas). With pick No. 19, any team looking for the top running back on their board might be tempted to talk to the Vikings at No. 19 and Miami at No. 20 to move ahead of the Pats and Cowboys, which could allow the Vikes to move down a few spots and stockpile picks.

THE CLASS OF 2004 — There are no LaDainian Tomlinsons in this year's draft, and many teams that had question marks at running back have gone to free agency to get their problems solved. With a player like Corey Dillon on the trading block, that could affect what teams do. The only team currently in the top 15 picks that would likely to take a running back is Detroit, but, at No. 6, it may be just too high to take anyone. There could be two or three RBs go in the first round — Steven Jackson, Kevin Jones and possibly Chris Perry. There are about a dozen backs who could potentially get taken in the first day, with many eyes trained on Ohio State renegade Maurice Clarett. While some assumed when he won his court fight with the NFL that he would be a first-round pick, he might last into the third round — making his selection a late story to watch on draft weekend.


THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Steven Jackson, Oregon State, 6-2, 236 —
Third-year junior…Two-year starter who rushed 669 times for 3,235 yards and 34 touchdowns…Just 20 years old…Suffered right meniscus tear at Las Vegas Bowl in December…Excellent combination of size, power and speed…Carried a huge workload, averaging more than 25 carries a game…As a junior, not only ran the ball 350 times, but caught 44 passes for 470 yards and three touchdowns…Has the speed to turn the corner and break long runs, as well as the bulk to run between the tackles…Doesn't fumble…Runs a little too upright and takes a lot of punishment…Doesn't have great upper body strength, as evidenced at the Combine — his 16 reps with 225 pounds was the third fewest of the RBs who opted to lift…Ran a 4.55 40 at the Combine, along with a 37-1/2 inch vertical jump and a Wonderlic score of 28 (second highest among RBs).

PROJECTION: The first RB that should go on draft day, he could go anywhere from Detroit at No. 6 to New England at No. 21 — but no later.

Kevin Jones, Virginia Tech, 6-0, 225 — Third-year junior…Spent two years in rotations with Lee Suggs (Cleveland), rushing 335 times for 1,828 yards and 14 TDs…In his only full season as a featured back, he ran 281 times for 1,647 yards and 21 touchdowns — including a school-record eight 100-yard games…A Doak Walker Award finalist…The best outside runner in the draft, with great playing speed and change of direction/gear skills…Leaves defenders behind when he hits the hole at full speed…Has jumped as high as 41 inches in the vertical jump, but measured 38 at the Combine…Tends to go down on the first hit a little too often…Isn't a classic between-the-tackles runner…Will string out runs laterally in hopes of gaining big yards and too often taking a loss…Has a fumbling problem…Did 18 reps at the Combine, along with a 4.61 40, a 38-inch vertical jump, a 10-0 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 15 — third worst among running backs tested.

PROJECTION: Don't let the 40 time fool you. He's been compared to Michael Bennett, a player with top-end speed that will make a big run almost every game. He's a first-rounder, most likely to Dallas at No. 22.

Chris Perry, Michigan, 6-0, 222 — Fourth-year senior…Two-year full-time starter that has seen considerable playing time in each of his four years…In the last two seasons, he rushed 605 times for 2,784 yards and 32 touchdowns…In addition to rushing 338 times as a senior, he also caught 42 passes…Doak Walker Award (best running back in the country) winner in 2003 and fourth in the Heisman balloting…Bruising between-the-tackles runner who does have speed to break long runs…Low center of gravity, he picks his holes very well…Usually gains yards after contact…Has never had any serious season-ending injuries but was always banged up until last year…There are concerns about his penchant for fumbling…Had an impressive Combine performance, running a 4.56 40, doing 19 reps and recording a vertical jump of 34-1/2 inches, a broad jump of 10-4 (second-best among RBs) and a Wonderlic score of 20.

PROJECTION: A bruiser who has drawn some favorable comparisons to Ricky Williams, he's almost a sure bet to get to Detroit in the second round at the latest, but he may be more in the mold of the type of RB Bill Parcells wants, so he could be a first-round surprise to the Cowboys.


THE NEXT LEVEL

Greg Jones, Florida State, 6-1, 249 —
Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who missed time in two of those season from a torn right ACL…Before the injury, in two seasons he rushed 295 times for 1,651 yards and 14 TDs…Last year played every game but rushed just 144 times for 655 yards and seven touchdowns…The biggest RB in the Class of '04…Is patient and lets plays develop…Blue-collar, between-the-tackles runner…Huge legs that never stop churning…Doesn't have great speed…Had a disappointing Senior Bowl, dropping a lot of catchable passes…ACL injury remains a concern because he never recaptured his pre-injury form last season…Has a muscular body, but isn't big on working in the weight room…Had a solid Combine, running a 4.62 40, doing 23 reps and posting a 38-1/2 inch vertical jump — tied for third among RBs.

PROJECTION: The knee injury and his lack of receiving experience will scare some teams away, but he has drawn favorable comparisons to Jamal Lewis, which could be enough for him to sneak into the second round.

Maurice Clarett, Ohio State, 6-0, 237 — Played just one year of college ball after being named USA Today's Offensive Player of the Year as a high school senior…Started nine of 11 games, rushing 222 times for 1,266 yards and 16 touchdowns…Had his knee scoped for a partial meniscus tear following 2002 season when he led OSU to a national title…Good combination of size and power allows him to be an effective inside runner…Doesn't usually go down on the first hit and gains a lot of extra yardage…Sued the NFL to be allowed into the draft after being suspended by OSU for falsification of reporting more than $10,000 in items being stolen from his car…His durability is another issue, since he had thumb surgery, knee surgery and shoulder problems in the year-plus he spent on campus…Doesn't have coast-to-coast speed…Ran a 4.5 40 at the Combine.

PROJECTION: Clarett will be an interesting player to watch. He's only 20 and can get a lot better. But durability concerns, character questions and a desire for the league to discourage players like Clarett challenging their rules may drop into the third round.

Julius Jones, Notre Dame, 5-10, 216 — Fourth-year senior and brother of NFL RB Thomas Jones…Missed all of the 2002 season for academic reasons…In three years as a part-time starter, he rushed 559 times for 2,716 yards and 23 touchdowns…Returned kickoffs…Good burst and first step…Finds holes quickly…Has the strength to go up the middle and the speed to turn the corner…Is a little undersized by NFL standards…Doesn't excel at receiving or blitz pickup…Ran a sparkling 4.4 40 at the Combine, along with a 37-1/2 inch vertical jump and 10-1 broad jump.

PROJECTION: His Combine and Senior Bowl performances helped his stock rise after there had been red flags about his work habits. He should be a nice fit in a West Coast Offense and should be off the board in the third round.

Tatum Bell, Oklahoma State, 5-11, 213 — Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who rushed 585 times for 3,158 yards and 33 touchdowns, 27 of those coming in the last two seasons…Incredible speed — he ran a Combine-best 4.37 in the 40 among running backs…Good upper body strength — his 25 reps with 225 pounds at the Combine was the third-best among all RBs…Extremely dangerous on the outside…Has neither the size nor leg strength scouts want in a full-time running back…Has been prone to fumbling.

PROJECTION: He could be a third-down type player or a Dante Hall type return specialist, but may never be a full-time carry-the-mail running back in the NFL, which could slide him to Day 2 of the draft. His special teams/return ability would make him interesting to the Vikings.

Mewelde Moore, Tulane, 5-11, 208 — Fourth-year junior…Spent three years in the San Diego Padres organization during the summer months after signing a contract with a $200,000 bonus…Four-year starter who rushed for 4,464 yards and 21 TDs, while catching 192 passes…Only the second player in college history to have 4,000 rushing and 2,000 receiving yards in his career…Good change of direction…Extremely good in passing game — both as a receiver and blocker…Very durable, he not only played four seasons of college ball, but spent all summer playing baseball…Is too small, especially in the lower body to be an every-down back…Ran a 4.6 40 at the Combine with a 35-inch vertical jump and a Wonderlic score of 19.

PROJECTION: His versatility as a runner and receiver will likely get someone to jump early on him — maybe even in front of bigger names like Clarett in the third round.

Michael Turner, Northern Illinois, 5-11, 237 — Fourth-year senior…After gaining 983 yards as a true freshman, he became a full-time starter as a junior, rushing 648 times for 3,653 yards and 33 touchdowns in his final two seasons…Is a bulldozer up the middle who thrives in between the tackles…Constantly drops the shoulder before contact to get leverage and additional yardage…Ran a great 40 at the Combine (4.46 seconds) but doesn't translate that speed on the field…Not a great receiver, in the two years he started he caught just 26 passes…Did 22 reps at the Combine, with a 31-inch vertical jump (worst among all RBs) and a Wonderlic score of 35 — the best of any running back.

PROJECTION: Could be a Jerome Bettis type bruiser, but the lack of top-notch competition will probably drop him to third or even the fourth round.

Cedric Cobbs, Arkansas, 6-0, 223 — Fifth-year senior who got a medical redshirt in 2000 after having surgery on the A-C joint of his right shoulder…In one year as a full-time starter, he rushed 200 times for 1,179 yards and nine TDs, including six 100-yard games…Has dropped about 15 pounds and has become a very good combination of size and speed…Hits cutback lanes quickly…Good short-yardage/goal line runner…Solid receiver…Durability has been a big question and doesn't play through injuries well…Was arrested for DUI and marijuana possession in 2002…Runs with his pads high and, for someone who doesn't play through pain, takes too many big hits…Was an anomaly at the Combine — his vertical jump (40 inches) was second best of all RBs and his broad jump (10-3) was third best, but his 40 time (4.71) was the worst among the entire class and his Wonderlic score (14) was the second-worst.

PROJECTION: Seen as a between-the-tackles threat, if not for the substance issues, he would probably be looking at late second or early third round. As it is, he is looking more likely at Day 2 and the potential to be this year's Onterrio Smith — the self-proclaimed "Steal of the Draft."


OTHER DAY TWO PROSPECTS

Quincy Wilson, West Virginia, 5-10, 225 —
Fifth-year senior who missed 2000 season with a torn right ACL…One-year starter who gained 901 yards on just 140 carries as a junior…As a senior, All-Big East with 282-1,380-12 rushing numbers…Excellent balance and vision between the tackles…Keeps pads low and always gets the most out of each run…Son of former Chicago Bears LB Otis Wilson…Is too short to be deemed and every-down back and too slow to be a third-down change-of-pace guy…Isn't much of a receiving threat…Tied for the most reps of 225 pounds at the Combine with 26 and ran a 4.62 40 with a 33-1/2-inch vertical jump…Powerful player who may be too small to be a full-time back and have to adjust to be a Moe Williams type backup.

Clarence Farmer, Arizona, 6-0, 231 — Fourth-year senior and three-year starter…College career peaked as a sophomore when he led the Pac-10 in rushing with 1,229 yards on 209 carries with 10 touchdowns…Tore his right ACL in 2002 and never got to start under new coach John Mackovic, who eventually suspended him last year for what was termed "insubordination"…Classic downhill runner who has great leg strength…Hard for the first guy to bring him down…Has patience to let plays develop and hit the cutback lanes when they come…Attitude is major issue, since he was kicked off the team, didn't participate beyond required weight room work and didn't like to block on passing downs…Did 21 reps at the Combine, with a slow 40 time of 4.62, a 34-1/2 inch vertical jump and Wonderlic score of 25…Has the ability to be a very good NFL player, but his downsides are very significant and many teams won't even put him on their boards. Even those that do will be willing to let him slide until Day 2.

Derrick Knight, Boston College, 5-9, 207 — Fifth-year senior and two-year starter…In last two years, rushed 574 times for 3,153 yards and 23 touchdowns, while also catching 63 passes…Has good burst and hits the corner in a hurry…Breaks a lot of tackles…Very solid in pass protection…Backed up William Green his first two seasons…Undersized and lacking bulk…Inconsistent in passing game…Matchup liability in blitz pickup…Ran a 4.64 40 at the Combine, along with 18 reps, a 33-inch vertical jump and a 27 on the Wonderlic test…Too small to be an every-down back, he has a chance to make a roster as a third-down back.

Adimchinobe Echemandu, California, 5-11, 226 — Fifth-year senior who missed 2001 season because of academic problems and 2002 with a torn right ACL…In only season as a starter, he rushed 225 times for 1,161 yards and 12 touchdowns…Very quick off the snap and good power between the tackles…Decent pass catcher…Returns kicks…A little too much of a north-south runner…Won't make defenders miss…Ran a 4.52 40 at the Combine, but managed just 15 reps…One year of full-time ball makes him a risk — even in the late rounds.

Fred Russell, Iowa, 5-7, 195 — All-time leading rusher in Michigan high school history…Fourth-year senior…In two years as a starter, he rushed 502 times for 2,619 yards and 16 touchdowns…Good quickness…Reads blocks very well…Undersized without the strength or size to be an every-down back in the NFL…Doesn't have much kick return experience, which he might need to make a roster…Ran a 4.5 40 at the Combine, with a 21 reps, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump…A Catch-22 among the RB crop, his best chance in the NFL is as a third-down back or return man — neither of which he has much experience at.


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