POSITION OVERVIEW: This year's crop of running backs may find the going tough, not because of the lack of talent, but because of the priority that teams have taken at running back the last couple of seasons. Last year, three teams — the Vikings, Saints and Chargers — took running backs in the first round. All of them are seen as starters, as well as Chicago's Anthony Thomas, who was drafted in the second round. Other teams cured their running back problems in the off-season, with Miami trading for Ricky Williams, Carolina signing Lamar Smith and Atlanta picking up Warrick Dunn.
In the end, the only team that looks likely to grab a running back in the first round is Cleveland, which needs a franchise RB to go with an improved defense. The problem is that there are no true gamebreakers among this year's RB crop, and several teams will likely find themselves getting some gifts in the second and third rounds.
THE TOP OF THE HEAP
William Green, Boston College, 6-1, 220 — Third-year junior who came out a year early...Made headlines with a sloth-like 40 time at the Combine, but it was seen as an abberation...In two years as a regular, rushed 452 times for 2,723 yards and 29 TDs...Co-Big East Offensive Player of the Year in 2001...Excellent lower body strength that makes him an effective goal-line runner...Has the speed to break a carry for a touchdown...Has never missed any playing time with injuries...Only a one-year full-time starter...Doesn't have a lot of deceptive moves, he tends to run straight over people...Not an overpowering blocker or receiver...Will fumble. PROJECTION: Hasn't had a lot of wear and tear on his body and is viewed as the top RB prospect in the draft, even though he has less game experience that most of the other top runners. If he doesn't go to Cleveland, somebody may trade up to get him.
T.J. Duckett, Michigan State, 6-1, 251 — A load, he's the biggest RB in the draft and reminds some of Jerome Bettis...One of the most highly recruited high school athletes in history...Came to MSU to play linebacker, but moved to RB...Fourth-year senior...Two-year starter who had a considerable portion of his junior year wiped out with injuries to his ankle, shoulder, hip and groin that he played through, but cost him time in almost every game...In two years as a featured back, he ran 476 times for 2,599 yards and 19 TDs...Has great speed/strength combo...Has better burst through the hole than most backs his size...Tends to run up the middle because he doesn't have corner-turning speed...Caught only 20 passes in the last two years, so he will have to improve his pass receiving...When banged up, he runs like Ron Dayne — tentative for a man his size. PROJECTION: In the minds of some scouts, he has passed Green and could be Cleveland's choice. If not, he could end up with Baltimore at No. 24.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Clinton Portis, Miami, 5-11, 198 — A third-year junior...Hurricanes recruited him to play cornerback because of his outstanding speed...Got to start as a true freshman because of injuries to the starters and responded with 838 yards on 143 carries and eight TDs...After returning to part-time duty as a sophomore, became the featured back last year and carried 220 times for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns...Averaged 6 yards a carry in college...Very small but is surprisingly physical for his size...Has been likened to Fred Taylor without all the injuries...A tough guy who doesn't mind to block, but may be too small to be an effective NFL blocker...For all his speed, wasn't a big breakaway threat at Miami...Rarely used as a receiver. PROJECTION: If you look strictly as his size, you think he's little more than a third-down back, but his desire and toughness can make him an every-down back who could be a steal in the second round.
DeShaun Foster, UCLA, 6-1, 218 — Everyone's All-American coming out of high school, he shattered record books as a high school senior, rushing for a whopping 3,398 yards and 54 touchdowns...Fourth-year senior who was a Freshman All-American with 126 carries for 673 yards and 10 TDs...Missed most of sophomore season with serious high ankle sprain...Had a tough junior year after breaking a bone in his right hand...Was having a banner season in 2001 — 1,100 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns in eight games — but was suspended by the NCAA for receiving money...Didn't get used a lot as a receiver, but has the ability, which has drawn comparisons to Green Bay's Ahman Green...Ideal combination of size, speed and strength...Carries the ball like a loaf of bread too often and is prone to fumbling...Busted with marijuana as a junior...Style allows defenders to get too many big hits on him. PROJECTION: Viewed as a first-round lock a couple of years ago, his play slipped a little and his run-ins with police and the NCAA may scare some teams away. Now looks to go early in the second round.
Lamar Gordon, North Dakota State, 6-1, 215 — A fourth-year senior who dominated his competition at the Division II level...In three years as a starter, he carried 644 times for 4,102 yards and 52 touchdowns...Has leg strength to be a power back and the speed to break off 80-yard runs...Runs a little high, which scares some scouts...Never used as a blocker or pass receiver, so he'll have to learn that to be successful at the NFL level. PROJECTION: Don't let his D-II play fool you. The guy has moved up the draft boards as much as any back in the draft because he has all the physical tools scouts look for. He may need a year or two to make it big, but he has the pedigree to be a starter in the NFL and should go in the second round.
Luke Staley, BYU, 6-1, 224 — Third-year junior who may have been better served staying at Brigham Young one more season...Compared to Robert Smith for his explosiveness in a wide open spread offense...Mountain West Freshman of the Year...A great receiver who caught 86 passes in three years while rushing 408 times for 2,523 yards and 41 touchdowns...Monster junior year in which he ran 196 times for 1,582 yards (more than 8 yards a carry), ran in 24 touchdowns and caught four more...Won the Doak Walker Award in 2001, given to the best RB in the country...Has a laundry list of injuries and no less than eight surgical procedures, including knee surgery, shoulder surgery, strained ankle ligaments and a broken leg...Very tough runner inside on goal-line and short-yardage situations...BYU wide open offense credited for much of his success...BYU isn't known for producing NFL running backs. PROJECTION: Came out early because another major injury would drop his draft stock too far. Even so, in a West Coast Offense, he could be dangerous, but his numerous injuries will take him off of some boards and likely drop him into the third round.
Jonathon Wells, Ohio State, 6-1, 236 — A fourth-year senior who came to OSU anointed as the second coming of Eddie George...Had only 92 carries his first two seasons and, as a junior, carried just 136 times for 598 yards and six TDs...Finally lived up to some of his hype as a senior, carrying 232 times for 1,157 yards and 15 touchdowns, playing the best ball of his career late in the season...Big, powerful frame that can grind out yardage...Rarely brought down by arm tackles...Is a decent blocker, but not as good as his size would dictate he should be...Wasn't used much as a receiver, but impressed scouts with his pass catching at the Senior Bowl. PROJECTION: Strong close to the season and Senior Bowl workouts likely will keep him in the third round.
Ladell Betts, Iowa, 5-10, 220 — Fourth-year senior who has been the Hawkeyes leading rusher every season...Only game he ever missed in his career was the Alamo Bowl his senior year after starting eight games as a freshman and every game after that...A consistent threat, in four years he had 829 carries for 3,682 yards and 25 touchdowns...A solid receiver who is also a decent blocker...More of a short-yardage back because he doesn't have the speed to turn the corner with an extra gear when he breaks through the middle. PROJECTION: A solid "3 yards and a cloud of dust" player who will have a difficult time making it off the board on the first day of the draft.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Maurice Morris, Oregon, 6-0, 205
Brian Westbrook, Villanova, 5-9, 202
Josh Scobey, Kansas State, 5-11, 212
Adrian Peterson, Georgia Southern, 5-10, 206
Chester Taylor, Toledo, 5-11, 208
Tellis Redmond, Minnesota, 5-11, 205
Leonard Henry, East Carolina, 6-1, 201
Ennis Haywood, Iowa State, 5-10, 218
Damien Anderson, Northwestern, 5-11, 207
POSITION OVERVIEW: There are no true fullback power players like a pass-catching player in the mold of Larry Centers or a punishing blocker in the style of Jim Kleinsasser — both of whom were high draft selections. Many draft analysts believe there may not be a single fullback taken in the first day of the draft.
THE TOP OF THE HEAP
Najeh Davenport, Miami, 6-1, 240 — Fifth-year senior who redshirted in 1997 and missed the 1999 season after having reconstructive knee surgery to repair a torn ACL...Also had surgery on a broken bone his foot before the 2001 National Championship game...Decent blocker who is an adept receiver...Can play running back or fullback, but, if he had his way, he would be a runner first and a blocker second...Can play out of a single-back or two-back set. PROJECTION: If not for his injuries, would likely have gone in the third round. His lack of being a pure fullback may hurt his chances, but his skills will likely be enough to get him snagged in the fourth round or so.
Jarrod Baxter, New Mexico, 6-1, 248 — A player who has already had a private workout with the Vikings...Fifth-year senior who has played running back, fullback and tailback...Has played through injuries...Decent size and good leg strength needed for a lead blocker...Isn't a great receiver at this point...Excellent short-yardage and goal-line rusher...Dedicated himself to going pro by dropping 10 pounds and working as pass catcher last year...Helped his stock at the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl. PROJECTION: With a weak crop of fullbacks, he stands out more than he would have. The Vikings might take a shot on him at the end of the fourth round, although Mike Tice has told VU that fullback may be more of a position to bring in rookie free agents after the draft..
OTHERS TO WATCH
Will Bartholomew, Tennessee, 6-0, 238
Charlie Stackhouse, Mississippi, 6-2, 246
Vernon Haynes, Georgia, 5-10, 224
Jamar Martin, Ohio State, 6-0, 245
Rock Cartwright, Kansas State, 5-8, 237
Kyle Johnson, Syracuse, 6-1, 242
Omar Easy, Penn State, 6-1, 244
VU Draft Profiles: RB
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