Positional Draft Analysis: Running Backs

After grabbing Chester Taylor in free agency and having taken a running back in each of the last three drafts, the Vikings have a pretty full stable in the backfield, but they still have been showing interest in others. We analyze in-depth the top dozen running backs on the draft board, some of which may fit right into the team's new West Coast offense.

VIKINGS RUNNING BACKS – Chester Taylor, Mewelde Moore, Tony Richardson, Ciatrick Fason, Joey Goodspeed, Adimchinobe Echemandu, Richard Owens, Onterrio Smith (currently under suspension, but still the property of the Vikings).

2006 POSITIONAL DRAFT NEED – The Vikings have seen an incredible amount of turnaround in a short period of time at the running back spot. With Michael Bennett gone and the advent of the West Coast Offense, suddenly the roster spots available for running backs must also include at least a couple of fullbacks – Tony Richardson is going to be a valuable addition in that regard. The Vikings coaches are convinced Chester Taylor can be a dual-threat impact player much in the same way that Lamont Jordan was for the Raiders a year ago. If the team opts not to take Onterrio Smith back when he returns from his year-long drug suspension, there may be a need to take a running back on draft weekend. But, barring someone falling much too low for where the Vikings have him ranked, there may not be a roster spot available for someone new to the mix this season.

POSITION OVERVIEW – The talk of the pre-draft has been Reggie Bush, who has drawn comparisons to Gale Sayers from Hall of Famer Mike Ditka – no higher praise could probably be given. But the interesting part of this year's draft is for fans of the little guy. Of the top dozen prospects in this year's draft, half of them are shorter than 5-foot-10. LenDale White is the only true bruising between-the-tackles back in the top end of the draft. With so many players with similar sizes, their draft status as a whole may drop. Two months ago it was thought that, prior to signing Chester Taylor in free agency, the Vikings may find themselves with only one of the top four running backs being available when they picked at No. 17. Now there is a growing belief that only Bush will be gone when the Vikings' first-round pick comes up. If recent draft history means anything, we may see several of the top running backs remain on the board until the second day of the draft and then see a mad scramble – the Vikings have been part of that feeding frenzy each of the last three years in the fourth round. With so many smaller backs with similar skill sets, some teams will be more than willing to wait until the third or fourth round, knowing that at least a couple of the top backs will still be there.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Reggie Bush, USC, 5-11, 201 – Third-year junior…Two-time Pac 10 Player of the Year (sharing the title in 2004 with teammate Matt Leinart)…Two-time First-Team All-America…Won the Heisman Trophy in 2005, along with the Walter Camp Player of the Year and Doak Walker Award for best college running back…In three years, he rushed 433 times for 3,312 yards and 25 touchdowns and caught 95 passes for 1,301 yards and 13 touchdowns…Averaged almost 10 yards per touch on offense in 2005 – rushing 200 times for 1,777 yards and 16 TDs, while catching 37 passes for 478 yards and two more scores…Led the country in all-purpose yards (2,559) and broke a 25-year-old school record held by Marcus Allen…Incredible explosion in the open field and can take a pitch the distance on any play…Doesn't have great bulk, but is still effective running in between the tackles…Can cut on a dime and make defenders miss…Has a second gear in the open field…The best receiving running back in the draft…A dangerous kick return specialist…Sees the field and anticipates cut lanes extremely well…Doesn't run to the sidelines when plays aren't going anywhere – will drop his shoulders and fight for yardage…Unbelievable ability to hit full speed within two or three steps…Isn't a polished blocker and has been used sparingly in pass protection…Had a lot of holes opened by a pro-caliber offensive line, so he often got to the second level without having to make any moves…Has never had a full-time NFL workload…Didn't run or lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.42 40 at his pro day.
PROJECTION: There isn't a team in the NFL that wouldn't want Bush for his explosiveness and, as a result, whoever takes him will likely alter the team's offense to finds ways to get him into the open field and play to Bush's strength. Seeing as the Texans currently have the No. 1 pick, nobody else will likely have the opportunity to wonder "what if?"

Laurence Maroney, Minnesota, 6-0, 217 – Third-year junior…Spent first two years of his college career in a time-share with Marion Barber III – along the way, they became the first RB tandem in NCAA Division I history to rush for 1,000 yards or more each in two consecutive seasons…Big 10 Freshman of the Year in 2003…Finished his three years at Minnesota with 660 carries for 4,076 yards and 32 touchdowns rushing and 21 receptions for 197 yards and one TD receiving…Blossomed as the feature back in 2005 with 281-1,524-10 rushing numbers and 17-170-1 receiving despite missing all or part of three games with a high ankle sprain…Weighs 217, but can get bigger…Intense, slashing runner between the tackles…Has the speed to turn the corner on sweeps…Picks his holes well and has the patience to let plays develop…Excellent body control…Was not used much as a blocker, in pass protection or as a receiver, so he'll need to get up to speed quickly at the next level…Takes a while to get up to full speed…Takes a lot of big hits because he runs with his shoulders high…Has never been asked to carry a full RB workload, although he did have 281 carries last year…Tweaked a hamstring at the Combine, so he didn't lift or jump, but ran a 4.50 40.
PROJECTION: Maroney was thought to be the odd man out of the three guys behind Bush in the RB pecking order, but his slashing running style fits more teams than that of DeAngelo Williams or LenDale White. Don't be surprised if Maroney goes off the board in the middle third of the first round and becomes a starter by the end of the season.

DeAngelo Williams, Memphis, 5-9, 214 – Fourth-year senior…Highly recruited out of high school, but chose to stay close to home with his mother, who was battling cancer at the time…In three years as a starter, he rushed 865 times for 5,654 yards and 50 touchdowns, while catching 65 passes for 674 yards and more TDs…Three-time Conference USA Player of the Year…Led the country in all-purpose yards (192 yards a game) as a sophomore, led the country in rushing touchdowns with 22 in 2004 and set the NCAA Division I all-time record for all-purpose yards with 7,573…Set NCAA record with 34 100-yard games…Has a powerful body and can hit the hole quickly and find daylight in a hurry…Has the patience to let plays develop instead of jumping into holes that aren't there for short gains…Has become a surprisingly good short-yardage and goal-line runner…The first tackler rarely wraps him up…Likely won't get any bigger as far as adding bulk…Because of his lack of height, he could be a liability in pass coverage, although he is a willing blocker…Has a history of injuries, including a right knee sprain, a torn left MCL and broken right fibula…Doesn't suck it up and play injured…Is cocky and may rub some scouts the wrong way…Made himself money at the Combine, running a 4.50 40 with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 35½ inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Many see Williams as a Brian Westbrook type that can be utilized as a 25-touch runner/receiver combo. His injuries and his attitude could be viewed as a problem, but he will go somewhere in the first round and the Colts would be ecstatic if he could drop all the way to them.

LenDale White, USC, 6-0½, 238 – Third-year junior…Cousin of NBA star Chauncey Billups…Had left ankle surgery following the 2004 season to remove torn cartilage…In three years at USC, he rushed 541 times for 3,228 yards and 52 touchdowns, while catching 35 passes for 331 yards and five TDs…His 52 rushing TDs are a team and Pac-10 record, despite playing just 39 career games, and his 24 rushing TDs in 2005 also set a school and Pac-10 record for a single season…The biggest running back by far in the 2006 draft…Has tremendous lower body strength that pushes the pile in goal-line and short-yardage situations…Has saved his best for some of USC's biggest must-win games…Didn't fumble once last year…Seems to enjoy contact and will run over linebackers at the second level…Has good initial quickness to turn the corner…Once in the open field, he isn't a big threat to break off long touchdowns…Isn't elusive in the open field…Is a decent blocker, but will need refinement in pass protection…Is not a natural pass catcher, but does have good hands…Had a horrible pro day outing, which had some scouts dropping him out of the first round…Didn't jump or lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.50 40.
PROJECTION: White is something of an enigma. He was a teammate of the last two Heisman Trophy winners, but made a case for himself as a legitimate first-round pick. He will be hard for the teams like the Patriots or Panthers to pass on when they get on the clock in the first round. For teams looking for a power runner, he's by far the biggest and the best in the Class of '06.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Joseph Addai, LSU, 5-11¼, 214 – A fifth-year senior who played as a true freshman but was granted a medical redshirt after tearing his right ACL early in his freshman season…An option quarterback in high school who switched to RB in college…Didn't become a full-time starter until last year, when he rushed 187 times for 941 yards and nine touchdowns, while catching 20 passes for 180 yards and another score…Is thickly built and hits the hole with authority between the tackles…Runs with a low center of gravity and is rarely stopped cold on first contact…Has strong legs to surge forward in traffic…A very strong blocker who will be ready for the transition to the NFL…Very good at blitz pickup…Injuries are a concern – despite never carrying a full-time workload, he has been sidelined with a torn ACL, knee surgery in 2003, a strained left MCL and ankle injuries…Although he runs a blistering 4.40 40, his speed doesn't translate to pads-on playing speed…Isn't shifty and doesn't have the tight cuts that make defenders miss…Wears down late in games when carrying a heavy workload…Made himself a lot of money at the Combine, running the 40 in 4.40 seconds, doing 18 reps with 225 pounds, showing off a 38½ inch vertical jump and a 10-5 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Addai is a player that has a ton of ability and is impressive when healthy, but that will be one of his biggest issues. His Combine performance surely helped his stock, but more teams will likely view him as a third-down back. If given a chance to succeed, he could be a big-time NFL runner, but his injury history will likely lead him to be a complementary-type back like Tiki Barber was early in his career – or Kevin Faulk has been his entire career – which should drop him into the second round at least.

Brian Calhoun, Wisconsin, 5-9¼, 204 – Fourth-year junior who sat out the 2004 season after transferring from Colorado to Wisconsin when the Buffaloes coaching staff wanted him to shift from running back to wide receiver…In his only year with Wisconsin, he rushed 348 times for 1,728 yards and 22 touchdowns, while catching 53 passes for 571 yards and two TDs…Ran track at Wisconsin – winning a Big Ten championship with the 400-meter relay team…Opened and ended his Badgers career with huge games that got scouts' attention – running 43 times for 258 yards and five TDs in a Week 1 blowout of Bowling Green and a 30-216-1 game on his way to being named MVP of the Capital One Bowl vs. Auburn…Is a very good receiver and can be lined up in the slot as a receiver in given situations…Has the speed to get the outside, but too often gets stretched to the sidelines…Has patience on off-tackle sweeps and is quick and decisive when he picks a hole…Defied critics by showing he could be a workhorse if called upon last season…Is too small to be an effective blocking back in the NFL…Doesn't have a powerful lower body and won't be effective as a goal-line or short-yardage back…Wore down late last season…Began the Combine awfully, running a dismal 4.65 in his first attempt. But was healthy at his pro day and ran a blistering 4.38 40, to go with 18 reps, a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Calhoun may never be more than a third-down or change-of-pace back, but, if given the chance to be a 10-15 carries guy, he could be a smaller version of Julius Jones and have value to a team with a West Coast Offense.

Leon Washington, Florida State, 5-8, 204 – Fourth-year senior…Never became a full-time starter, missing time a dislocated right elbow, right ankle surgery to remove a bone chip, a separated shoulder and a sprained ankle…He finished his four-year career with just 369 carries for 2,159 yards (a sparkling 5.9-yard average) and 12 TDs, while catching 55 passes for 493 yards and one TD…Built like a fire plug…Excellent lower body strength for a man his size…Doesn't fumble often and avoids a lot of head-on direct hits…Returns kicks…Excellent change of direction skills and hits his cuts with authority…A very good receiver who will create mismatches with linebackers for big gains…Durability is his primary drawback…Has never been asked to be a full-time RB in college…Will likely be a liability in pass protection trying to pick up blitzers…Won't have much value in short-yardage or goal-line situations…Some question his work ethic because he wasn't in shape at the start of his senior season, which should have been his showcase…Ran an impressive 4.42 40 at the Combine with 17 reps, a 32½ inch vertical jump and a 8-9 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He has the potential to be a big-play specialty back, but his lack of durability and lack of tangible experience will make him a project that at first projects only as return man and third-down back, which should drop into the third round or beyond.

Jerious Norwood, Mississippi State, 5-11¾, 210 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter who rushed 386 times for 2,180 yards and 13 touchdowns in the span…Solid between-the-tackles runner who hits the hole hard when he sees an opening…Strong and physical despite size limitations…Has speed to turn the corner and go the distance…Rarely fumbles…Leader on the field that coaches and teammates love…Has decent receiving skills, but was rarely used – catching just 43 passes in four years at MSU…Doesn't have great lower-body strength…Ends up with a lot of carries for minimal yardage because he's not always decisive and gets caught up in the garbage…Needs to improve as a blocker…Ran an impressive 4.33 40 at the Combine, with 15 reps of 225 pounds, a 36½ inch vertical jump and a 10-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: Norwood is one of the fastest running backs in the draft and has the potential to get bigger and become a Willie Parker or Tatum Bell type of RB. But, because of his deficiencies and lack of starting experience, he will likely fall to very late on Day One or more likely early on Day Two.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Maurice Drew, UCLA, 5-6¾, 207 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who ran 346 times for 2,030 yards and 21 TDs, while catching 49 passes for 715 yards and seven TDs in that span…Set a school record with 322 yards rushing and five touchdowns in a Pac-10 game vs. Washington in 2004…Led the country in punt return average in 2005, returning 15 punts for 427 yards (a whopping 28.7-yard average) and three TDs…Broke the school record held by former Bronco Gaston Green with 4,688 yards and did it in just three years…A home run threat that can beat you as a runner, receiver or return man…Has good lower body strength and is tougher than he appears…Runs low and is hard to take down with a glancing hit…Very good cutback runner…His size is his main detriment, because it is believed he will never be an every-down back in the NFL…Has missed time with recurring ankle injuries…A liability in pass protection because he gets run over by blitzing defenders…Fumbles too often…Helped himself at the Combine, running a 4.39 40 with 18 reps, a 36-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump.
PROJECTION: His lack of size will force teams to admit that he will likely never be more than a change-of-pace back and return specialist. While he has special ability and can be a dangerous playmaker, teams rarely use picks on the first day on players they know won't be starters, which should drop Drew to the fourth round at the earliest.

Andre Hall, South Florida, 5-8¼, 206 – Fourth-year senior…Played only one year of football in high school…Spent one at Georgia Military Academy and another at Garden City (Kansas) Community College…In his two years at UCF, he rushed 480 times for 2,818 and 24 touchdowns, while catching 44 passes for 470 yards and three TDs…He set or tied 20 school records despite playing at UCF just two seasons…Very strongly built and doesn't mind running between the tackles despite small size…Dangerous on the outside, where he hits his cuts at full speed and makes people miss…Will lower his head and get extra yardage…Doesn't fumble…Projects as a potentially valuable return man…Is about as big as he's going to get, which most scouts see as being too small…Blocking is a problem because of his size and gets knocked backwards in pass protection too often…Ran a 4.42 40 at the Combine with 18 reps of 225 pounds, a 33-inch vertical jump, a 9-5 broad jump and a poor Wonderlic score of just 13.
PROJECTION: He's a project considering his lack of tangible football experience – one year of high school and just two years of D-I college ball. His size will likely prevent him from ever being a featured back, so he'll have to adjust to be a role player and special teamer, which should keep him on the board until somewhere in the early part of Day Two.

Jerome Harrison, Washington State, 5-9¼, 201 – Fourth-year senior…Originally signed to play for Eastern Michigan, but didn't meet the academic standards and spent two years at Pasadena (Calif.) City College, where he had a pair of 1,000 yard rushing seasons…In two years at WSU, he rushed for 2,963 yards and 25 TDs…Had a huge 2005 season as a full-time starter, rushing 308 times for 1,996 yards (third best in the country) and 16 touchdowns, while catching 24 passes for 206 yards and one TD…His rushing yardage and TD total both broke school records…Has very good quickness and can change directions on a dime…Can hit full speed in just a couple of strides…Hard for the first tackler to bring down…Good upper body strength…Doesn't have NFL-style lower body strength and leg drive…Always seems to be looking for the breakaway outside run and gets strung out to the sidelines for no gain too often…Hurt his stock at the Senior Bowl when asked to be a return man – misjudging and dropping several punts…Is not going to be an efficient blocker…Got the tag of being a fumbler…Ran a 4.47 40 at the Combine with 19 reps, a 34½ inch vertical jump and a 10-4 board jump.
PROJECTION: Harrison showed last year that he can be a big-time runner at the college level, but his size limitations and lack of experience on special teams will play against him, most likely pushing him into the fourth or fifth round of the draft at the earliest.

Dontrell Moore, New Mexico, 5-9½, 208 – Fifth-year senior and four-year starter who rushed 1,028 times for 5,233 yards and 51 touchdowns, while catching 92 passes for 857 yards and eight TDs…Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year as a redshirt in 2002…Four-time All MWC first-team pick who had four years with at least 1,150 rushing yards…Played through a lot of injuries, including foot and ankle problems, a sprained right MCL, sprained left MCL and a torn left ACL in 2004 that required knee surgery…A strong between-the-tackles runner despite his lack of size…Very good toughness – didn't let injuries keep him sidelined…Patient runner who waits for plays to develop and hits the hole and/or cutback lane hard…Has speed to bounce plays outside and get to the corner…Good receiver out of the backfield…Willing blocker…Doesn't have ideal size or speed and his Combine running was poor…Doesn't always show ability to break away from tacklers if they get through his stiff-arm…Took a beating in college, so his multiple knee injuries will likely get some teams to shy away from him completely…Ran a 4.62 40 at the Combine with 17 reps, a 36½ inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump.
PROJECTION: There's no denying his production at the college level, but his lack of size and injury history will probably drop him into the middle or later section of the second day of the draft. But he's a student of the game who loves playing and could be a strong special teamer and a change-of-pace running back who could see spot duty.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Mike Bell, Arizona, 6-0¼, 221
Quinton Ganther, Utah, 5-9½, 218
Taurean Henderson, Texas Tech, 5-9½, 204
Cedric Humes, Virginia Tech, 5-9¾, 211
Wali Lundy, Virginia, 5-11, 214
Wendell Mathis, Fresno State, 5-11½, 210
Gerald Riggs, Tennessee, 5-10¾, 229
Cory Ross, Nebraska, 5-6¼, 201
Derrick Ross, Tarleton (Texas) State, 5-10½, 226


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