Running Backs

Class Review: This class has 4-5 top prospects and then there's a dropoff in talent. William Green and T.J. Duckett headline this class. DeShaun Foster and Clinton Portis may be able to sneak into the last 3 or so picks in the first round, but are truly second round talents. Behind them is Lamar Gordon (North Dakota State), a player with much talent from a small school. Then in the 3rd and 4th rounds there may be quite a few backs chosen, but there is not a whole lot of difference between the prospects. Of these, Luke Staley (Brigham Young), Adrian Peterson (Georgia Southern), Jonathan Wells (Ohio State), Maurice Morris, Chester Taylor, and Ladell Betts (Iowa) will probably be the top players chosen. After that, there are some decent players, but almost none with any upside as future starters. This class is the opposite of last year's. In 2001, there was a good crop of 1st day talent, but a huge dropoff on the second day. This draft should have onyl a few solid first day prospects, with a large number of players that could be selected late in the third all the way through the sixth round.



FIRST ROUND


William Green
(6' 221) Boston College (4.55)

Green exploded out of nowhere with an excellent junior campaign at BC. Green's stock as a prospect was hurt by his poor timed speed in the 40. But Green more than makes up for it with his on-field speed. He is a pure burner and big play threat the running back position. Green shares many similarities with last year's top back in LaDainian Tomlinson. Both were excellent all-around runners. Green is a solid receiver and can outrun or overrun defenders. He has good vision. But I do not think Green is as explosive or elusive as Tomlinson was. But Tomlinson is not as as powerful as Green is. He definitely will be able to carry a load of 20 or more carries a game. There are some questions of off-field concerns, but Green is an excellent prospect, and those may keep him from being a top ten selection.

T.J. Duckett
(6'1" 250) Michigan State (4.4)

I have some concerns about Duckett, although the upside is definitely there. Duckett was a powerful running quarterback coming out of high school. His abilities as a runner were so great that Michigan State started him almost immediately at running back. Duckett is very powerful, and everyone wants to compare him to Jerome Bettis. And that comparison is definitely warranted, but I'm afraid Duckett is closer to Ron Dayne than Bettis. Dayne was a magnificent college runner, like Duckett, but has yet to prove he was worth the 11th overall selection in 2000 and has yet to prove he is a feature back. Duckett has plenty of upside considering that he's still learning the running back position. He is fast for his size, but probably not as fast as his timed speed. He can be explosive and powerful with good vision on some downs, but then just average on the next. He was too inconsistent a college runner. Duckett has far greater upside than Dayne, but if he is not a feature back, then he won't be worth a first round selection. I think Duckett will be better than Dayne, but how much better is up to him.


SECOND ROUND


DeShaun Foster
(6'1" 222) UCLA (4.55)

I don't think it's too bold a statement to call Foster the best running back in this class. That is if you add on his best days after that statement. Foster has more potential than Green and Duckett. On his good days, he was the best runner in the nation, and has arguably held that title for the past two seasons. But Foster had a subpar senior season, which probably dropped him from being a potential top five selection to not cutting it in the first round. Foster has a perfect blend of size and power, but was plagued by injuries far too much during his college career, and fumbled way too often. Injuries and fumbles are the biggest enemies to a running back. Otherwise, Foster is a grand talent. He has great vision, speed, and power, and can catch the football out the backfield, although he's not great in the latter area. Foster has that potential to be the best back in NFL, but has so much against him that he's going to have work three times as hard as everyone else to get anywhere close to it.

Clinton Portis
(5'11" 205) Miami FL (4.35)

Portis is this class' top scatback. Initially he was viewed as a change of pace back, but added some muscle after the season and carried it well. He has burner speed as a runner, coupled with good vision. I'm not too sure if he'll ever be 20-carry runner, but he can definitely be the feature runner somewhere if he has a backup who can alleviate him at times. What hurts Portis a little more is that unlike most runners his size, his hands are not special. He is a decent receiver, but will need to improve in that area because teams will be reluctant to use him as a workhorse.


THIRD ROUND


Travis Stephens
(5'8" 195) Tennessee (4.45)

Stephens is going to make one NFL team very happy. He's one of the better receiving backs in this class, and can immediately have a big impact on third downs. Stephens has good speed, but not great for a player his size. But he makes up for it with his quickness and ability to dodge defenders. He packs some punch in his little body, but there is not much body there. He does not really have enough size to be more than a change of pace back. Because of this, he probably won't go on the first day of the draft, despite his obvious skill. It would seem that NFL teams do not put too much stock in third down backs to prove otherwise.


FOURTH ROUND


Chester Taylor
(5'11" 213) Toledo (4.55)

Taylor is a gifted runner who plays bigger than his slight frame shows. He has good speed, despite an average 40 time. He can be an excellent homerun threat at the running back position. He seems to know this, and can dance a bit too much in the backfield looking for the 40-yarder rather than the 8-yarder. He could be a good feature back in the NFL, but he's no workhorse. There just seems to be something holding Taylor back, and I think it will continue to do so on the next level.

Maurice Morris
(5'11" 208) Oregon (4.5)

Morris lost his starting job as a senior to Onterrio Smith. But considering that Smith could be a first round selection next season does not make the demotion seem so bad. Morris should be a good #2 runner in the NFL, but really does not project very well as a feature back. He has good hands and looks to be a solid third down guy. He is quick, fast, and elusive, and can hit the homeruns. He can be used as a complementary backup, but I don't think he'll ever really achieve more than 10-15 carries a game.

Leonard Henry
(6'1" 206) East Carolina (4.55)

Henry is not as gifted a runner as some of the players ranked ahead of him, but he's not too far behind. He has a tall, thin frame, so durability becomes a concern, especially since he runs a little too upright. His hands are pretty solid, if not great, and he can be used as a third down back in the NFL. He has some room to grow, and his upside is probably not as good as the other players ahead of him. He's a borderline 4th/5th round prospect.


FIFTH ROUND


Ennis Haywood
(5'10" 218) Iowa State (4.75)

He projects well as a reserve in the NFL. Does not have a lot of upside to be a potential starter. Has good power and can be a nice inside runner. Lacks speed, and won't outrun anybody on the next level. If he is to be more than a steady reserve, he'll need a very good line ahead of him to sustain holes long enough for him to run through. Although he has little potential as a feature back, his running skills cannot be ignored. He should develop into one of the league's better role players at running back.

Josh Scobey
(5'11" 218) Kansas State (4.4)

His size is misleading. Scobey's playing style seems to fit the mold of a 5'9" 205 runner. He has good speed and is a breakaway threat at runner. He lacks power and will probably never be a feature back. He has good hands. Overall, Scobey is a nice all-around runner who does not excel in any area.


SIXTH ROUND


Ricky Williams
(5'7" 190) Texas Tech (4.45)

In 1998, Williams was being compared with the other Ricky Williams as the Big 12's best running backs. He then tore his ACL in the season opener in 1999. That was a major setback, but Williams came back hard. He had more yards in 1998 than he did combined in 2000 and 2001, but he improved as a receiver. A change in offensive schemes allowed Williams to emerge as the nation's top receiving back. Williams has potential to be a top receiver like Marshall Faulk, Amp Lee, and Larry Centers at running back. He lacks size, but has good speed and explosion. But he'll never be anything more than a limited change of pace back. The injury slowed him down a bit. He won't break any tackles and is not elusive enough despite his size. An NFL team could easily line him up in the slot as a receiver.

James Mungro
(5'8" 215) Syracuse (4.55)

Mungro is not gifted as a runner. His best assets would probably be his vision and hands, but neither are spectacular. He has decent speed, but not enough to be a breakaway threat. Mungro won't ever be a starter, but should be able to contribute some things off the bench.


SEVENTH ROUND


Ray Robinson
(5'10" 200) N.C. State (4.5)

He's what you'd call the perfect average player. Although he's below average in more categories than average. He lacks good size or speed. He's got average speed, acceleration, and agility. He packs almost no punch in his body whatsoever. His hands are probably his best asset, but he is no star there. He lacks upside as a runer, and will have to make his impact as a receiver in the NFL.

Eric Crouch
(6' 195) Nebraska (4.45)

I don't know what Crouch is. Some think that he'll play running back, others wide receiver or safety. My bets would be either running back or safety. Crouch is a very good runner with excellent speed and to make people miss in the open field. The biggest concerns for him at running back will be his ability to quickly grasp the position quickly and his durability. Crouch was an excellent playmaker in his days as a passer at Nebraska, so much so that it will be hard to justify not keeping him on offense. He could develop as a slash-type player that can fill in at quarterback, running back, or wide receiver. Whoever takes Crouch will probably give him a few reps at quarterback, but he'll probably never play more than a series at quarterback in the NFL.

Verron Haynes
(5'11" 223) Georgia (4.55)

Haynes is nothing special as a runner. He played fullback this past year, but is not good enough a blocker and is undersized to really project there in the NFL. He has decent running skills, but will never be anything more than an inside runner. He has nice power and decent speed. He's nothing special, but could be a good reserve.

Paris Gaines
(5'11" 230) Fresno State (4.5)

Some project Gaines as a fullback on the next level. He has borderline fullback size, and is not really anything as a runner. He has some skills, but has a ways to develop as a runner and blocker. A decent all-around player who could be a nice inside runner and decent receiver, but nothing much more than that. Gaines is a project that may go undrafted.


UNDRAFTED


Ray Jackson
(6'1" 215) Cincinnati (4.55)

Jackson's best asset is his skill as a receiver. He is only an average runner, with nice speed and vision, but nothing more than average in both areas. He played fullback at Cincinnati and it should help him develop since he'll need to translate those skills into pass protecting on third downs. Jackson will likely have to prove himself on special teams to make an NFL roster as a rookie.

Robert Gillespie
(5'9" 188) Florida (4.4)

Gillespie will have to play solely on third downs in the NFL. He has good speed and is an elusive runner. But he lacks size and will be an injury concern if he got a significant amount of carries. His hands are his best asset though. He can be a homerun threat that's dangerous in the open field. Caught 41 passes this past season as a reserve. He'll get opportunities to prove his worth as a return man also.

Cortlen Johnson
(5'9" 200) Colorado (4.55)

Johnson is another prospect who projects solely as a third down back. He has good hands and speed. He's dangerous in the open field, but gets little opportunities to do so as a runner due to his inferior skills at that position. He may have some potential as a return specialist.

Woodrow Dantzler
(5'10" 205) Clemson (4.6)

Dantzler was the quarterback at Clemson and was a top playmaker there. But his skills as a passer have progressed little, and most would prefer to see his athleticism better used at running back than being stagnant at quarterback. Dantzler has good speed and running skills, but whether he can adjust to the position is still a concern. His durability will also be questioned.


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