Draft 2001: Running Backs Analysis

2001 POSITIONAL ANALYSIS

RUNNING BACKS


POSITION OVERVIEW
Barring a trade for Seattle’s Ricky Watters or a low-rent free agent signing, this could be a critical draft position for the Vikings this year. Granted, the team has confidence in Doug Chapman, but the void left by the Robert Smith retirement is massive and the Vikings will likely want to address picking up a speed back who can catch passes — something neither Chapman or Moe Williams has proved they can do to this point. Running back is critical to the success of the Vikings offense, so, if Wisconsin’s Michael Bennett is available at the end of the first round — a very real possibility for football fans who know the main backs for other teams (check out the teams between Kansas City and the Vikings and you see that almost all of them are already financially committed to a big-time RB) — the Vikings may grab him. Otherwise there will still be solid running backs the team might tab for the second or third rounds, but, if a trade for Watters materializes, the point could become moot.


THE BEST OF THE BEST
LaDANIAN TOMLINSON, TCU, 5-10, 222 — A two-year starter who led all Division I RB’s in rushing yards each of the last two years...Two-time WAC Offensive Player of the Year, All-America in 2000, winner of the Doak Walker Award — given the country’s best RB — and took fourth in the Heisman voting...In last two seasons, carried 637 times for 4,008 yards and 40 touchdowns, while catching 22 passes for 95 yards...Has drawn favorable comparisons to Emmitt Smith...Averaged 6.4 yards a carry the last two years...Rarely caught from behind in open field...Made a lot of believers at the Senior Bowl, showing he could catch passes and won the game’s MVP award...Excellent balance and cutting ability into the hole...Strong lower body that can grind out short yardage plays...Main drawback is that he didn’t run a pro style offense and similar RB’s from the same type of veer system (Rashaan Salaam and LeShon Johnson) have been high-pick busts in recent years...Doesn’t have blazing speed, but neither does Emmitt and his career has been O.K....Ran a 4.44 40 at the Combine, as well as fdoing 18 reps with 225 pounds and had a 40-1/2 inch vertical jump.
PROJECTION: Has all the athletic ability teams look for in a running back and, thanks to injury problems for Deuce McAllister and off-field questions about Michael Bennett, he should be the first RB off the board — perhaps as high as No. 3 to Cleveland.


DEUCE McALLISTER, Mississippi, 6-1, 221 — A three-year starter who has been forced to battle numerous injuries in college...In three years as a starter, he carried 526 carries for 2,658 yards and 33 TDs, while catching 56 passes for 545 yards and two TDs...Has suffered through multiple shoulder and ankle injuries in college that have limited his playing time...Is compared at his best moments to Marshall Faulk — much in the same way Edgerrin James was when he was taken ahead of Ricky Williams in 1999...Viewed by many as the best pure rushing-receiving threat to come out of college in years...Great size-speed ratio...Excellent speed into the hole and can accelerate to lose defenders...If running was a problem, he is fast enough and catches passes well enough to play WR...Fumbles too much...Decided not to play in the Senior Bowl, which led to speculation about his pure talent at the top level...Durability is major concern...Didn’t work out at the Combine.
PROJECTION: Has the most pure ability of any RB in the draft, but concerns over his ability to ever hold up over a 16-game NFL schedule will likely drop him behind Tomlinson on most teams’ draft lists.


MICHAEL BENNETT, Wisconsin, 5-9, 208 — Second-year junior...An Olympic quality sprinter who passed on the 2000 Olympic trials to remain at Wisconsin and work on football...Big-10 Men’s Indoor Track Athlete of the Year in 2000, running a 10.22 100-meter dash and 22.76 in the 200 meters...Nephew of former Packer and Colt linebacker Tony Bennett...Only a one-year starter, playing behind...Played behind Ron Dayne in 1999 and, in his only full season as a starter, ran 294 times for 1,598 yards and 10 TDs...Achieved those numbers in 2000 despite missing all or part of three games...A legal problem player similar to what affected the draft status of Randy Moss and Lawrence Phillips...His problems stem from an alleged terroristic threat of a girlfriend, something NFL GM’s frown upon...One of the fastest pure running backs in recent memory...Has ability to wait for holes to open and has burst to get into the secondary in a heartbeat...Runs with explosiveness and toughness...Is a little smaller than most coaches want in a featured back...One year of full-time play is something that has scared off some teams...Not an experienced pass receiver...Ran a 4.31 40 at the Combine, did 13 reps and had a 39-1/2 inch vertical jump.
PROJECTION: If Kansas City takes a plunge, he could go as high as No. 12, but, if the Chiefs pass on him, he could fall all the way to the Vikings at No. 27 or beyond.


THE NEXT BEST THING
LaMONT JORDAN, Maryland, 5-10, 228 — Fourth-year senior...Three-year starter...In those three years, he ran 648 times for 3,538 yards and 33 TDs...Also an adept pass receiver, catching 54 passes for 583 yards and one TD...Was the focus of the Terrapins offense for the better part of four years...Has several minor injuries last season, which dropped him from Heisman contention to the second round of the draft...Strong lower body that allows him to gain yardage after being hit...Rarely brought down by the first guy who hits him...Not a big-time gamebreaker who has the speed to run 80 yards for a TD...Doesn’t have ideal pass catching or blocking skills...Didn’t run or jump at the Combine, but did an impressive 24 reps with 225 pounds — showing off the strength he possesses.
PROJECTION: A guy we really like, he could end up with the Browns on the second round if they don’t take Tomlinson on the first round. He is going through the pains of having a great junior year and a relatively disappointing senior season.


ANTHONY THOMAS, Michigan, 6-1, 227 — Fourth-year senior who won Big 10 Freshman of the Year award...Two-year started known as the A-Train, he had 450 carries for 2,150 yards and 31 touchdowns, as well as catching 45 passes for 318 yards...Returned kickoffs in college...Michigan’s all-time leading career rusher...Averaged 5.4 yards a carry last season...His success has been credited by some more to an impressive offensive line — three Wolverine front linemen are expected to go in the first round of the draft — than pure ability...Strong runner who hasn’t missed any serious time due to injuries...Doesn’t usually get brought down by the first guy who hits him...Doesn’t have great downfield speed...Ran a 4.54 40 at the Combine, as well as doing 20 reps and a 32-1/2 inch high jump.
PROJECTION: Isn’t the flashiest RB in the draft, but gets the job done and will likely be a solid pro running back selected in the second round of the draft.


KEVAN BARLOW, Pittsburgh, 6-1, 235 —
A fourth-year senior, who didn’t become a full-time starter until last season. In 2000, he had 197 carries for 1,53 yards and eight touchdowns, while catching 13 passes for 134 yards and another TD...Averaged 5.3 yards a carry last year...Can run both inside and around the corner...Has never played a full season, missing time the last two years with ankle injuries...Excellent size for a player with his burst into the hole...Looked better as a receiver at the Senior Bowl than his regular season numbers would indicate...Tends to be a streaky player — looking like a sure-fire blue chipper in one game and an average back in the next game...Has had some fumbling problems...His lack of playing time at the college level is a concern...Didn’t work out the Combine, which hurt his stock.
PROJECTION: A guy who could be the steal of the draft, much like fellow Pitt alum Curtis Martin was when the Patriots snagged him. However, his lack of playing time will likely drop him to the bottom half of the second round.


TRAVIS HENRY, Tennessee, 5-10, 225 — Fourth-year senior who only started one full season because he was playing behind Baltimore’s Jamal Lewis...In his only season as a starter, he carried 253 times for 1,314 yards and 11 touchdowns, as well as catching 13 passes for 65 yards...Never averaged less than 5.2 yards a carry in the last three years...Tennessee’s all-time leading rusher despite running in a platoon for three years...Scored 26 touchdowns in the last three seasons...Pounds the ball and is very tough-minded...Built close to the ground and is hard to undercut...Doesn’t have great speed or ability to make tacklers miss...Hasn’t been involved in the receiving area as much as many coaches would like...Didn’t run or jump at the Combine, but did 23 reps with 225 pounds.
PROJECTION: A guy who may benefit from the success of Lewis, he will likely slip into the end of the second round or third round because of his downsides — size and lack of receiving experience.


HEATH EVANS, Auburn, 6-0, 247 —
A fourth-year junior viewed as the top fullback in the draft...Missed much of his redshirt freshman year with a broken foot...Played FB and TB in 1999, but was used almost exclusively at fullback with Rudi Johnson at tailback last year...Had 77 carries for 297 yards and two touchdowns in 1999, but that total dropped to 42 rushes for 260 yards and two touchdowns last year...An adept pass receiver...Has the look of a prototype NFL fullback...Still needs to work on blocking...Ran a 4.54 40 at the Combine, as well as doing an eye-popping 30 reps and a 34-1/2 inch vertical jump.
PROJECTION: With more teams using three and four receiver sets, the days of the fullback appear to be somewhat numbered for a lot of teams, which should keep competition for his services down and possibly allow Evans to drop into the third round.


JAMES JACKSON, Miami, 5-10, 210 — Fifth-year senior who began his career backing up Edgerrin James...Two-year starter who ran 370 times for 1,788 yards and 20 touchdowns, as well as catching 22 passes for 189 yards and three TDs...Has received a lot of attention from scouts who were looking at Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne...Has been tested in college and has a lot of experience heading into the pro ranks...Has no fear and hits the hole with a burst...Played in a pro style offense, which should let him hit the ground running in the NFL...Has good, but not great speed...Had something of a problem with fumbling...Isn’t a guy who jumps out at you with his skills, but does a lot of things well...Didn’t work out at the Combine due to injuries.
PROJECTION: Isn’t going to be the next Edgerrin James, but, for a guy who will available into the third round, he could make an immediate splash and be one of the pleasant surprises of the 2001 RB crop.


OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH
Dan Alexander, Nebraska, 6-0, 257
Moran Norris, Kansas, 6-1, 245
Ja’Mar Toombs, Texas A & M, 6-0, 281
Rudi Johnson, Auburn, 5-10, 226
Correll Buckhalter, Nebraska, 6-0, 225
Travis Minor, Florida State, 5-10, 198
Derrick Blaylock, Stephen F. Austin, 5-10, 191
Reggie White, Oklahoma State, 5-11, 228
Dominic Rhodes, Midwestern State (Tex.), 5-9, 210
Derek Combs, Ohio State, 6-0, 193
Chris Barnes, New Mexico State, 6-0, 210
Raymond Bowers, Grove City (Pa.), 5-11, 240
Jameel Cook, Illinois, 5-10, 225


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