Positional Analysis: Running backs

The Vikings have their top two running backs set for at least this season, but they could look to the future with a mid- to late-round pick, depending on their level of confidence and willingness in signing Chester Taylor to a contract extension. John Holler analyzes the top 10 running backs in the draft with statistics, measurables, perceptions and more.

Vikings Running Backs – Adrian Peterson, Chester Taylor, Naufahu Tahi, Albert Young.

Vikings Draft Outlook – While clearly there is no pressing need for a running back with a premium draft pick, as it currently stands, the Vikings are a bit short-handed in terms of depth at running back and Taylor is entering the final year of his contract. The Vikings have had a long history of taking running backs in the fourth round of the draft (Mewelde Moore, Onterrio Smith and Ciatrick Fason in successive years). With the release of Maurice Hicks, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility for the Vikings to look at taking a running back in the middle to late rounds, but clearly it isn't a draft-day priority.

The Class of 2009 – The last few drafts have produced a number of running backs that have made immediate impacts on their respective teams. This year should be no different, but there isn't an A.D. type of running back out there. Chris "Beanie" Wells of Ohio State is probably the only running back assured of being taken in the first round, but cases can be made for players like Knowshown Moreno, LeSean McCoy and Donald Brown as players who have a chance to go off the board early. Many of the top rushers in recent years have been big backs that are 225 pounds or more, but the Class of 2009 has many more complementary-type backs and only Wells fits in the category of a 25-carry-a-game type of workhorse (if he can stay healthy).

CREAM OF THE CROP

Chris Wells, Ohio State, 6-1, 235 –
Third-year junior … Two-year starter who rushed 481 times for 2,909 yards (a 6.1-yard average) and 23 touchdowns in that span … Has a long list of injuries, including a wrist injury that required surgery as well as ankle, toe, hamstring and concussion problems … Has an ideal size/speed combination that is rare among running backs … Has breakaway speed running straight ahead … Hits the hole hard and is effective in short-yardage and goal-line situations … Gains a lot of yards after contact because of leg strength … Has the speed to take runs to the corner and turn them up … Has good vision and cutback ability … Is a willing and effective blocker … Has never been used consistently as a receiver – in three years, he caught just 15 passes for 84 yards … Has a tendency to take sweeps out of bounds rather than lowering his head, taking a blow and driving for additional yardage … Has a straight-up running style the lends itself to taking a lot of big hits … Injuries are a huge concern since he missed time in all three of his college seasons due to injuries of some kind … Doesn't sidestep tacklers very well … Ran a 4.44 40 at the Combine with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 33½-inch vertical jump and a 10-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: If not for his injury concerns, he would be viewed as a lock to be a top-five pick. He still could be if the Cleveland Browns believe he can stay healthy and be the eventual replacement for Jamal Lewis. But he could slip out of the top half of the first round if the red-flag durability questions persist.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Knowshon Moreno, Georgia, 5-10¾, 217 –
Third-year sophomore … Two-year starter who rushed 498 times for 2,859 yards and 30 touchdowns, while catching 53 passes for 645 yards and two TDs … Only the second Georgia RB to run for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, joining former Viking Herschel Walker … A hard-nosed player who gives his all on the field … At his best running between the tackles … Gets a lot of yards after initial contact … Hits holes hard … A natural receiver who catches the ball away from his body … Makes tacklers miss in space … Will play through pain and didn't miss time due to injuries … Is a willing blocker when asked to do so, which wasn't too often … Doesn't have ideal RB size or strength … Doesn't have the great speed to consistently hit the corner on sweeps … Too often runs into the backs of his offensive linemen before they can open a hole for him … Has only two years of experience and needs to prove he can be a workhorse … Ran a 4.51 40 at the Combine with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: A true double threat as a runner and receiver, he would be an ideal pick for a team like San Diego that is likely to lose one of its top two backs, if not both, in the next couple of years. He won't make it out of the first round.

LeSean McCoy, Pitt, 5-10½, 198 – Third-year sophomore … Suffered a compound fracture of his right ankle his senior year of high school and dropped out of school, enrolling at the Milford Academy in New York … A two-year starter who rushed 584 times for 2,946 yards and 35 touchdowns, while catching 65 passes for 549 yards and one TD … Set a Big East freshman rushing record for yards (1,375) in 2007 and broke Tony Dorsett's school record for rushing touchdowns with 14 … Hits the hole with power and is adept at finding cutback lanes … Has excellent short-area speed and usually makes the first tackler miss … Played in a pro-style offense … Can hit the corner and make sharp cuts when a hole opens up … A solid receiver who catches passes away from his body … A willing blocker when called upon … Needs to work on his blocking because he will leave his feet too often, is slow reacting to blitzes and doesn't have good technique … Doesn't have top-end speed – he can get run down in the open field … Doesn't usually break tackles once defenders have a hold on him … Pushes too many plays to the outside and runs east and west too often and doesn't maximize his yardage potential … Did not work out at the Combine. PROJECTION: "Shady" is a hard-nosed runner who has skill as both a runner and a receiver. His game needs a bit of refinement, but he won't be a home run hitter that can break a touchdown at any time. He has a great nose for the goal line as evidenced by his 35 touchdowns, but his lack of game-breaking speed will likely push him to the end of the first round or into the second.

Donald Brown, Connecticut, 5-10¼, 210 – Fourth-year junior … A track and football star in high school who had a private strength and conditioning coach … In three years at UConn, he rushed 698 times for 4,032 yards and 33 touchdowns and caught 48 passes for 276 yards and two TDs … A one-year full-time starter who carried 367 times for 2,187 yards and 18 touchdowns, making him the school's all-time leading rusher and Big East Offensive Player of the Year in 2008 … Is very strong – can squat in excess of 600 pounds … Is a patient runner who hits the hole hard when it opens … Very explosive first couple of steps to find daylight when the blocking is done right because he gets to full speed very quickly … Has the speed to turn the corner and make big plays … Is undersized and doesn't typically break a lot of tackles when surrounded … Although he has pass-catching ability, wasn't used much in that capacity … Doesn't have much experience as a blocker and, because of his lack of size, will struggle in blitz pickup … Was prone to minor, nagging injuries in college … Ran a 4.49 40 a the Combine with an impressive 41½-inch vertical jump and a 10-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: Although he's not the biggest dog in the fight, he runs hard and had consistently good production in college. He doesn't take a lot of big hits because of his good change-of-direction skills. He could sneak his way into the first round, but more likely will be a premium second-round pick for a team looking for a complementary back for an aging veteran lead back.

BEST OF THE REST

Andre Brown, North Carolina State, 6-0¼, 225 –
Fifth-year senior … A Parade All-American in high school and Associated Press' North Carolina Player of the Year as a senior after setting a state record by rushing for 3,479 yards in 2003 … Did not qualify academically and had to spend a year at Hargrave Military Academy … In four years at NC State, he rushed 523 times for 2,700 yards and 22 touchdowns … Had two seasons shortened with a broken bone in his left foot … A solid kickoff returner … Very compact and powerful with a lot of weight room experience … Has good vision to pick through the garbage and good balance to hit the hole hard … Has a stiff arm that crumples smaller defenders … Solid short-yardage and goal-line runner who uses his lower body strength to consistently finish runs and maximize yardage … Showed improvement as a receiver his last two seasons … Despite having good timed speed, isn't a game-breaker who takes long runs to the house consistently … Has serious durability questions because of continued foot problems … Never had more than 175 carries in a season and averaged just 131 carries a year in his college career … Runs a little too high and is subject to taking big hits … Ran an impressive 4.40 40 at the Combine with 24 reps, a 37-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: Earned himself some money at the Senior Bowl with an impressive showing and, on film, looks like he could be a solid NFL back. But his history of injuries will scare off a lot of teams and he may be viewed as too big a risk to be taken before the third round.

Shonn Greene, Iowa, 5-10½, 227 – Fifth-year junior … Failed to qualify academically and spent a year at Milford Academy in New York and had to sit out the 2007 season after being ruled academically ineligible … Had several injuries, including a right knee injury that required his meniscus to be surgically repaired, along with shoulder and ankle injuries … A one-year starter who exploded on the scene in 2008, rushing 307 times for 1,889 yards and 20 touchdowns, earning him Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors … Has a very solid body and doesn't hesitate to pound the ball inside … Rarely gets stopped by the first defender who hits him and rarely gets knocked backward, maximizing his yardage on most carries … Doesn't rush plays into the hole and get slowed by his own blockers … Is very capable running between the tackles and is a good short-yardage and goal line back … Lacks tangible playing experience, having only been a starter for one year … Doesn't have breakaway speed and struggles to turn the corner on sweeps (see 40 time below) … Will be 24 years old as a rookie … Runs with choppy steps … Has small hands and was never used in the passing game – he had just 11 receptions in three years … Is spotty at best as a blocker – he was rarely used and didn't give great effort in blitz pickup … Ran a disappointing 4.62 40 at the Combine with a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump. PROJECTION: Based on his 2008 numbers, one would be led to believe that he would be a second-round pick, but he was a one-season phenom with a history of academic problems that may force teams away from him until the third round or later.

Cedric Peerman, Virginia, 5-9¾, 211 – Fifth-year senior … Outstanding high school player who was a four-year starter at both running back and linebacker, as well as being a standout in basketball and track … Won the state 100-meter title twice in Virginia and was a medalist in both the long jump and triple jump … In four years with the Cavaliers, he rushed 382 times for 1,885 yards and 15 touchdowns and caught 66 passes for 344 yards and one TD … As a redshirt sophomore, he suffered a painful Lisfranc fracture in his right foot that needed surgery to repair … Has very good field vision and hits the hole with authority … Between rushes, receptions and returns, he had just two fumbles in 485 touches … Good lower-body strength to push the pile forward … Doesn't get brought down by arm tackles … Solid at blitz pickup and more than willing to take on blitzers head on … A coach's dream who displays a willingness to work and leadership ability … Has the speed to turn the corner on sweeps … Is very undersized and doesn't have the type of body that can add a lot of muscle or bulk … Durability is a big red flag since he has been plagued with foot and ankle injuries his entire college career … Is more of a straight-line one-cut runner who doesn't string moves together all that effectively … Has extremely small hands … Averaged less than 100 carries a season and his 153 rushes in 2008 was by far his career high … Ran a 4.41 40 at the Combine with a 40-inch vertical jump and a 9-9 broad jump. PROJECTION: He helped his stock significantly with a strong week at the Senior Bowl, but his lack of production and inability to ever be a featured back that could be counted will drop him into the middle rounds. If he can stay healthy, however, he could be a solid mid-round steal in the right situation.

Javon Ringer, Michigan State, 5-9¼, 205 – Fourth-year senior … A standout prep weightlifter who won the Ohio State Powerlifting Championship as a senior and earned a black belt in karate … Has a long injury history that includes a torn right ACL in high school that needed surgery and a torn right MCL, a shoulder injury that required surgery, ankle injuries and arthroscopic knee surgery that forced him to miss the Combine … A two-year starter who carried 635 times for 3,217 yards and 28 touchdowns, as well as catching 63 passes for 485 yards … Has a very muscular body and extremely good lower body strength to keep his legs churning to pick up additional yardage … Follows his blockers extremely well and hits the hole hard … A gym rat in the weight room … A respected teammate and natural leader … Has improved a lot as a receiver and can make plays in the open field … Does a solid job in blitz pickup and can stand up defenders … Is undersized and can't get much bigger than he already is … Has had three different knee surgeries, as well as shoulder surgery … Doesn't have home run speed and can be caught from behind … Doesn't break a lot of tackles after defenders get their hands on him … Has trouble hitting the corner on sweeps and doesn't leave players in his wake … Didn't work out at the Combine because of his injury, but at his Pro Day, he ran a 4.55 40 with 23 reps, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: Showed he could be a workhorse in his last two years at MSU, but his injury history and multiple knee problems will scare away some teams completely. He likely will still be on the board in the late portions of the third round or fourth round, but could be a decent contributor who finds a specialty as a backup RB.

Glen Coffee, Alabama, 6-0¼, 208 – Fourth-year junior … Won the Florida State Powerlifting Championship as a high school senior with a bench press of 390 pounds and a squat of 500 pounds … Had arthroscopic knee surgery as a high school senior, missed the 2006 season after suffering a sports hernia injury that also required surgery and had right shoulder surgery in the spring of 2008 … Became a full-time starter in 2008, rushing 233 times for 1,417 yards and 10 touchdowns and catching 16 passes for 118 yards and another score … Excellent lower-body strength and can move the pile and pick up additional yardage after initial contact … Gets to top speed quickly and attacks the hole when he runs up the middle … Rarely stopped or slowed down by arm tackles … Showed in 2008 that he could be a difference maker who could carry the mail on a game-to-game basis against top competition … Is a patient runner who follows his blockers well … Very good at blocking and is willing to lower his head and take on defenders … Doesn't make many cutback moves or multiple run moves that make tacklers miss … Doesn't have top-end speed or a second gear in the open field and will get caught by players with an angle … Tends to get bottled up when defenders get their hands on him … Only a one-year starter due to numerous injuries … Has a history of fumbling … Ran a 4.52 40 at the Combine with 24 reps of 225 pounds, a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump. PROJECTION: He would have benefited from staying in school another year and taking his chances. He has the ability to be a between-the-tackles secondary back because of his exceptional lower body strength, but his injury history and lack of consistent production over time will likely drop him into the fourth round.

Korey Sheets, Purdue, 5-11½, 207 – Fifth-year senior … Three-year starter who ran 560 times for 2,881 yards and 38 touchdowns in that span, as well as catching 95 passes for 682 yards and five TDs … Has good balance and explodes into and out of the hole … Sheds a lot of tacklers and is rarely brought down by the first player who hits him … Has good lower-body strength and grinds out tough yards between the tackles … Has shown himself to be a capable pass catcher out of the backfield … Was a scoring machine who scored 48 rushing touchdowns (10 or more each season) on 664 career carries … Never averaged less than five yards a carry in a season … Doesn't have size or bulk and doesn't have the kind of frame to add muscle … Doesn't have top-end speed or a second gear in the open field … Played in a spread offense that optimized his rushing average … Has had some fumbling problems … While he rarely missed full games, he had several minor, nagging injuries that consistently cut into his playing time … Has little experience blocking and didn't show much interest in taking of defenders head-on … Ran a 4.43 40 at the Combine with 15 reps, a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump. PROJECTION: He has quick between-the-tackles moves that impress on film, but he hasn't showed the toughness or full-time workload to be viewed as a featured back. As a result, he will fall well into the second day of the draft before coming off the board.

Others To Watch
Aaron Brown, TCU, 6-0½, 196
James Davis, Clemson, 5-11, 217
Tyrell Fenroy, Louisiana-Lafayette, 5-10, 205
Mike Goodson, Texas A&M, 6-0, 208
P.J. Hill, Wisconsin, 5-10¼, 218
Rashad Jennings, Liberty, 6-1, 231
Jeremiah Johnson, Oregon, 5-9, 213



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