Our running backs preview actually started on Wednesday with a love letter to Darren McFadden. After all, he’s the best back in this draft, by far. Yet this is definitely a deep running back class in 2008 and there could be several guys who end up being solid players in the NFL. There are even a couple of guys that would be elite backs in any other year, but get dwarfed by McFadden this year. Anyway, on with the preview…
Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois
5’11” 210 lbs, 4.45
Rashard Mendenhall is pretty much the only reason, besides the defense, Illinois had their breakout 2007 season. Then again, who else would carry the offense when the quarterback can’t actually throw? Sorry, Juice, but your meal ticket just left town.
He’s essentially the perfect size for an NFL back, plus or minus a few pounds. He’s fast, he’s strong. He doesn’t have a ton of miles on his odometer. In any other year, he’d be the best back in the draft. Alas, this isn’t any other year.
Jonathan Stewart, Oregon
5’11” 235, 4.48
We ran our “Free Jonathan Stewart” campaign for a season and a half before Oregon finally made him their featured back. Naturally, the Ducks took off when they started using him correctly.
He’s easily the most physically gifted non-McFadden running back in the draft. He’s bigger than Mendenhall, and he’s basically as fast too. He can run out of pretty much any formation and can catch the ball out of the backfield too. Downside? He’s 235 pounds, but he’s not particularly physical. That said, would YOU want to mess with near-perfection by needlessly running into linebackers and safeties? I think not.
He may end up being the second-best back in this year’s draft. If it were my team, and I couldn’t get Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart would be my guy.
Felix Jones, Arkansas
6’0″ 200 lbs, 4.47
It’s amazing to think that teams with Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney and Darren McFadden and Felix Jones weren’t very good. Arkansas with McFadden and Jones was definitely better than Minnesota with Maroney and Barber, however. Plus they took down the number one team in the country.
Alas, Jones is coming out in a tough year with so many other talented backs and he’s STILL ranked pretty high. He’ll have to start out as a platoon back with most teams, but don’t be surprised if he ends up a solid starter.
Jamaal Charles, Texas
6’1″ 200 lbs, 4.38
Some people like to think that his incredible production in the fourth quarter is a good thing, like he’s clutch or something. He did put away quite a few comeback wins for Texas because he’d blow the opposition away late in the game. Instead, I wonder where he was for the other three quarters. That might not be totally fair of me, but that was my first thought.
I also remember when people thought Charles was the next Reggie Bush. Turns out Reggie Bush may not have done so well in the zone-read offense because it sure seemed to limit some of Charles’ skills. Still, he’s got some real ability and could be a playmaker for the right team in, ironically, a Reggie Bush role.
Chris Johnson, East Carolina
5’11” 195 lbs, 4.24
All I know is he’s fast and a little undersized. Other than that, I’ve got nothing. I mean, who watches East Carolina football? Besides, as fast as he is and as good as his measurables are, he would have made more noise if he was great on the field, not just physically gifted, right?
Ray Rice, Rutgers
5’9″ 195 lbs, 4.44
I tend to like guys that were the only reason their team’s offense could function. The experience thoes guys get is very valuable, especially in the passing game. Sometimes it means they have a ton of miles on them, but Rice is a junior, so that may not be too big a problem. He’s not terribly big, but he’s got decent speed and knows how to run as a featured back. That counts for something. Guys his size tend to have trouble in the NFL, though. The linebackers are too fast and huge and the beating can be pretty severe.
Mike Hart, Michigan
5’9″ 195 lbs, 4.67
I said it about Chad Henne and I’ll say it about Mike Hart: you have to wonder about a guy who comes back for his senior year only to get hurt and watch his team melt down in amazing fashion. It wasn’t his fault, just like Henne, but still, the bad karma has to mess with a guy’s head. It doesn’t help that Hart is small, slow, and while he has good feet and quickness, he isn’t shifty enough to avoid the big hit in the NFL. Bad times. He did serious damage to his chances with his showing at the combine too. One more example of how, as good as Lloyd Carr’s program was, it didn’t produce many NFL-caliber and all-pro type guys at the skill positions.
Kevin Smith, Central Florida
6’1″ 212 lbs, 4.49
Had an amazing 2007 season for Central Florida and led them to a good season as a team too. Problem is, no one had heard of the guy before this past season. Other than that, he’s kind of an unknown quantity. He ran a decent 40-yard dash and seems to be kind of a poor man’s McFadden, but there has to be something wrong. The experts seem to think he plays slower than his 40 time, but it really just seems like he’s a very raw talent that needs a lot of coaching.
Steve Slaton, West Virginia
5’10” 195 lbs, 4.44
Finally, a smaller back who actually has some shiftiness and real home run potential. Problem is, he’s a finesse runner and isn’t very big. It’s crazy how a guy can be so good in college, but project so poorly as a pro, but Slaton is one of those guys. He probably should have gone back for his senior year.
Danny Woodhead, Chadron State
5’6″ 198 lbs, 4.46
He’s the all-division single-season and career rushing yardage record holder, among others, who ran a 10.5 100-meters in high school. Woodhead is also really small, but I’m putting him on here because he deserves it with that kind of career in college. Watch for him to be a special teams demon for some one.
Other guys: Allen Patrick (Oklahoma), Chauncey Washington (USC), Thomas Brown (Georgia), Benjarvus Green-Ellis (Ole Miss), Ryan Torain (Arizona State), Tashard Choice (Georgia Tech)