It's never too soon to start thinking about future NFL stars. Here's
an early look at running back, classifying the top senior prospects
and then talking about some of the underclassmen likely to declare.
We'll keep an eye on all of them, and many more, to revisit and
update the list as the season progresses, right up until the draft.
Name (School - Class as of 2004)
Cream of the crop heading into this college season. This group combines
both NFL measurables and significant collegiate success that have
them on the path to being the top RBs selected in the 2005 draft.
Carnell Williams (Auburn - 4SR) 5'11"
Former Alabama high school great, "Cadillac" started
strong as a true freshman in 2001. Missed the final six games
of 2002 after fracturing his left fibula, but still posted 745
rushing yards and 10 TDs. His injury opened the door for Ronnie
Brown to emerge.
2003 Season: Strong finish to the prior season by Brown resulted
in Williams splitting carries to start the season. After an injury
to Brown, he had outstanding workhorse performances in key wins
over Tennessee (36-185-1) and at Arkansas (35-150-1). Against
Miss St., he had 154 yards in the first 18 minutes of the game,
finishing with 161 yards on only 15 carries and an Auburn-record
6 rushing TDs. His stretch of 496 yards and 8 TDs in three games
came to a grinding halt in Baton Rouge. Williams had only 61 yards
as the team fell behind early to LSU and abandoned the run. He
got back on track the following week with 7-113-2 in limited work
against UL-Monroe. Although the team came up short against Ole
Miss, ending their SEC title hopes, he had 20-103-1. In a loss
at Georgia, where the team did little offensively, he was limited
to 45 yards on 12 carries. Provided a dominating performance in
the Iron Bowl the last week of the regular season. Started the
game with an 80-yard TD run on the first play from scrimmage and
ended with a career-high 204 yards on 26 carries and 2 TDs. Split
carries with Brown in a Music City Bowl win over Wisconsin, finishing
with 18-68-2. While still impressive, his statistics were limited
by arguably the best backfield in the country. In addition to
Brown, JUCO transfer Brandon Jacobs took away carries. Honors:
SEC 1st Team All-Conference.
2004 Preview: Somewhat surprising decision to return for his
senior year. Some predicted him to go as high as the third RB
taken, if he had declared for the 2004 draft. His reasoning included
wanting a shot at the Heisman and to ensure he's a first-round
pick. Both are a bit of gamble, considering his injury history
and return of his talented backfield partner. He's the number
one back on the depth chart to start 2004 and enters the season
with Heisman hype, but Ronnie Brown is too talented to not play
a role. The Cadillac was already in high gear for the spring game,
rushing for 45 yards and adding a dazzling run after a screen
pass for a 34-yard gain.
Not much more needs to be said about his pro potential than that
he is the number one rated senior prospect by National Scouting
and number two by Blesto. While not a big back, Cadillac has impressive
tackle-breaking ability. Cutting and vision allow him to bounce
outside, where he can hit a home run with his speed. His slight
frame, tough style, confidence, and electric runs are reminiscent
of Clinton Portis. He put on some weight in 2003 and it may have
helped him stay healthy. Despite sharing carries, he has shown
he can carry the load. Twice he's had 40+ carries in his career
and he posted back-to-back 35+ carry games in 2003. Not used much
in the passing game, but can add value as a kick returner. One
of the pre-season favorites to be the first RB selected in the
Cedric Benson (Texas - 4SR) 6'0"
Fought off turf toe and cracked ribs to rush for 1,293 yards and
12 TDs in 2002 and was among the elite college RBs heading into
his junior year.
2003 Season: Several factors contributed to an inconsistent and
disappointing start to the season. First, after losing three starters,
the OLine needed some time to gell. However, the biggest issue
was the team was still working out the post-Chris Simms plan.
Instead of looking to lean more on Benson as they sorted out the
QB situation, he got less touches. Benson carried the ball no
more than 18 times through the first six games, while he only
carried it less than 17 once in all 2002. It was a Young, but
not promising back-up Selvin Young, that contributed largely to
Benson seeing less touches. The increased use of mobile QB Vince
Young ate into Benson's production as a run option. Young led
the team in rushing yards and had almost as many rushing TDs as
Benson through much of the season. After the Oklahoma loss, everything
changed. Mack Brown apparently remembered he had a workhorse at
RB and went back to riding him. Benson put up 32-140-3 at Iowa
State. As opposed to continuing to cannibalize Benson's production,
the mobility of Vince Young now started to help Benson, spreading
defenses to stop the QB from scrambling outside. Benson was suspended
for the Baylor game after a minor legal incident, but returned
without missing a beat in a huge win over Nebraska. He shredded
the Cornhuskers at a 6.2 ypc clip, ending with 28-174-3. The following
week he ran for 6.7 ypc, posting 27-180-1 in a blowout at Oklahoma
State. In a close win over Texas Tech, he totaled 24-142-2. The
final week of the regular season he rushed for 283 yards at Texas
A&M to put him over 1,000 yards for the third straight season,
and also scored 4 TDs. His string of five straight 100-yard games
was broke in a Holiday Bowl loss to WSU, where he ended with 22-83-1.
Honors: Big XII 2nd Team All-Conference.
2004 Preview: With the strong finish to 2003, he propelled himself
back into the picture of the elite RBs in the land, and talk of
early draft entry began. However, like many celebrated Longhorns
under Mack Brown, he chose to stick around for a shot at a national
championship and more individual accolades. It's unlikely he would
have been a 1st round pick in 2003, so it may prove to be the
right decision. Now he starts the season as an early favorite
for the Heisman Trophy and at or near the top spot for RBs on
most draft boards. The nation's active career rushing yardage
and TD leader saw limited work in the spring game, getting 3 carries
for 22 yards.
From the dreadlocks, to the chiseled physique, along with the
baseball aspirations, the comparisons to Ricky Williams are inevitable.
However, that is a lot of pressure to put on a young man, regardless
of his talent. The bar is now set very high, and anything short
of being a Heisman finalist and leading a national title run will
seem disappointing. As a 2001 12th round draft choice of the Dodgers,
he had spent his summers pursuing baseball in their minor league
system. This lack of complete dedication to football could have
been holding back his seemingly greater potential. However, he's
put baseball behind him now and concentrated only on football
this off-season. With his focus directed, he seems to have plenty
of motivation and dedication for 2004. All that needs to be said
about his qualifications as a feature back is that Texas is 15-0
when he rushes for 100 yards. He has ideal size, proven durability,
and a pounding running style to wear defenses down. While not
extremely fluid catching out of the backfield, he has reliable
hands and is effective in the role. One of the top senior prospects
(rated number ten overall by Blesto) for the 2005 draft, the only
question come next spring will be his speed. If he runs his alleged
4.5 or better, and is coming off a successful season, he could
be the first RB selected.
Ronnie Brown (Auburn - 5SR) 6'1"
After redshirting his freshman year in 2000, he looked to be the
top RB coming out of spring drills in 2001. Injuries and the emergence
of Carnell Williams limited his production in 2001. Took a back
seat to Williams at the start of 2002, but a broken leg for Williams
allowed Brown to be featured the second half of the season. He
capitalized with 831 rushing yards and 11 TDs in the final six
games, ending with 1,008 yards and 13 TDs on the ground, including
outperforming future 1st round pick Larry Johnson in their Capital
One Bowl win over Penn State.
2003 Season: Brown began the season sharing touches with Williams,
while standout JUCO transfer Brandon Jacobs was involved, as well.
Carries were split almost exactly down the middle the first four
games between Brown and Williams, with no discernible difference.
Brown went 41-205-2 and Williams 42-217-2. Then, everything changed
against Tennessee. Williams blew up and Brown blew his hamstring.
Brown would miss the next two games, while Williams went on a
three-game tear. Brown returned at LSU, where neither back accomplished
much in a game dominated by the Tigers defense. While the other
RBs were padding stats in a blowout of UL-Monroe, he posted 4-15-0
before suffering a thigh injury. That limited him to only 5 carries
for 11 yards the following week against Ole Miss. He also saw
only 5 carries in a loss at Georgia, gaining 15 yards. He contributed
8-43-0 in their Iron Bowl win over Alabama, but was overshadowed
by another big day for Williams. Ended the season strong, again
splitting carries with Williams, in a Music City Bowl win over
Wisconsin, finishing with 13-62-2.
2004 Preview: Graduated in December 2003, but chose to return
for his final year of eligibility to try to help his draft status.
On most teams, he would unquestionably be the feature back. However,
his situation doesn't improve much with Williams still around.
There are plans to use them in the same backfield, so Brown should
not be overlooked.
A slasher with ideal size and enough speed, some believe he is
a better long-term NFL prospect than Williams. While very unlikely
he'll join Williams as a 1st round pick, he could carry that grade.
Walter Reyes (Syracuse - 5SR) 5'10"
Set the SU record for rushing TDs with 17 in 2002, to go with
his 1,135 yards at 6.2 ypc.
2003 Season: He was leading the nation with an incredible 170
yards rushing, almost 200 total from scrimmage, and 2.5 TDs per
game, until he and his team ran into a buzzsaw in Blacksburg.
Reyes torched VT for 118 yards and 3 TDs in 2002, but was limited
last year to 16-40-1 in a losing effort. Down 21 in the first
quarter, the running game never had a chance to get on track.
The following week was another tough outing vs. BC, were he produced
22-53-1. He bounced back with 97 yards at Pitt in a loss, but
his streak of consecutive games with a TD was snapped at eleven.
After a bye, he returned to his scoring ways, posting 25-93-2
against Temple. Delivered another strong performance (24-89-1)
in a heart-breaking loss at Miami. He gave his team the lead with
a 2nd quarter TD run, but they couldn't hang on. He suffered a
bruised knee against WVU, but returned in the second half, finishing
with 14-63-0 on the ground and 3-80-1 in the air. After not having
a 100-yard game since the fourth game of the season, he blew up
against ND. The 189 yards on only 19 carries was the lesser of
his accomplishments for the day. He rushed for 5 TDs to break
his own single-season Syracuse record, as well as Floyd Little's
school career record. Honors: 2003 Big East 2nd Team All-Conference.
2004 Preview: Owner of several team records and one of the most
productive RBs in the nation the last two years, he's a lock for
1,000 yards, double digit TDs, and more Syracuse records. Reyes
was in mid-season form for the Orangemen's spring game, rushing
8 times for 97 yards.
Maurice Clarett's cousin has been the best-kept secret in college
football, but is finally getting some national recognition this
year. Although a bit undersized, his breakaway speed and knack
for finding the end zone won't have scouts overlooking him. A
decent option out of the backfield, he was second on the team
in receptions and receiving yards in 2003. He should be the Tatum
Bell of this class, deflecting some questions about his size with
impressive workouts, but still falling to the second or third
Maurice Clarett (formerly Ohio State
- 3JR) 5'11" 230
One of the most dynamic debuts of a true freshman in history,
he posted 1,237 rushing yards, for a 5.6 average, with 18 total
TDs in 2002 and helped lead his team to a National Championship.
However, his collegiate career came to an abrupt end.
2003 Season: Off-field troubles led to a suspension, which ultimately
ended up being for the whole season. This prompted Clarett to
sue the NFL, challenging the requirement that a player be out
of high school for 3 years before entering the draft. While awaiting
the decision, he was out of football for all of 2003.
2004 Preview: He performed adequately in an individual workout
prior to the 2004 draft, but lost the legal case and appeal, so
he was not eligible. His plans are unclear heading into this season.
Returning to OSU does not seem agreeable to either party, so he
faces an unprecedented situation in trying to maintain value heading
into the 2005 draft. It can't be good for his draft value to sit
out of football for another year, but that apparently is his plan.
He's been working out in Texas and declining interviews.
He brings ideal size and sufficient speed, giving a preview of
feature back ability on his limited resume. Despite his achievements,
he was hampered by shoulder problems his only season, bringing
into question his durability and willingness to play injured.
Obviously some character flaws have been exposed the last two
years, as well. His continually deteriorating situation makes
it unlikely he will be viewed as a top prospect, but I didn't
see him fitting in any of the other categories. Bottom line, if
he doesn't play football in 2004, his value will plummet. Someone
will take a flyer on his upside, but it won't be until Day Two.
Looking to Rebound
Whether it was injuries or a down year that didn't match potential
and/or previous achievement, the stock for this group has dropped.
However, the table is set for a comeback year in their final season
of eligibility, and they could rise quickly up draft boards if
Cedric Houston (Tennessee - 4SR) 6'0"
Brought a lot of promise as next great Tennessee RB after a 2002
season in which he posted five 100-yard rushing days and was the
first Vol since Travis Henry in 2000 to have four consecutive.
Mid-season thigh problems and thumb injury required surgery that
limited him for four games, during which he had only 16 yards
rushing, and caused him to miss one game. Finished 2002 leading
the Vols in rushing with 779 yards in only 8 starts.
2003 Season: Not the breakout year many thought it would be,
despite a fast start. He flew out of the gate with back-to-back
160 yard days against Fresno State and Marshall. A rib injury
and hip pointer knocked him out of the Florida game 9/20. He returned
with 86 yards and his first TD in an overtime win against South
Carolina. After posting 83 yards at Alabama on 10/25, he suffered
a high ankle sprain late in the game, and his season began to
unravel. He missed the game against Duke the following week, where
Jabari Davis and Gerald Riggs Jr. got a chance to excel. Davis
got the start the next week against Miami's tough D, but Houston
led the team with 45 hard-fought yards on 9 carries. Despite the
seemingly limited production, OC Randy Sanders called it his best
game. Still hampered by the ankle and rumored disappointment in
his running style and durability by the Vols coaching staff, he
was a non-factor against Miss. State and Vanderbilt. He had only
9 carries for 15 yards in those two games, with Davis and Riggs
getting more work. He called the Vanderbilt game on 11/22, where
he had only 9 yards on 6 carries, his "worst game ever"
and HC Phillip Fulmer was visibly angry with him when he bounced
a 3rd and 1 outside and lost a yard. Things improved the following
week at Kentucky with 87 yards on a 7.3 ypc. Fumbled his first
carry in Peach Bowl loss to Clemson, and then saw only 6 carries,
for 24 yards, as team attempted 55 passes. Honors: 2003 SEC 2nd
2004 Preview: While the team has remained relatively successful,
the RBBC has not provided a consistent running game and left all
the talented participants disappointed and unable to fulfill their
considerable potential. Houston appears the leading candidate
for the starting role in 2004, but HC Phil Fulmer continues to
comment on how he is waiting for one guy to step up and be a feature
back. Davis and Riggs are qualified to succeed in that role, as
well. A solid performance in the spring game, where he rushed
for 83 yards on 15 carries and scored a TD, should help retain
his label as the starter.
Unless he puts it together this season, his durability and reputation
of being a finesse runner will linger come draft day. However,
despite injuries and disappointing outings, he has led an elite
program in rushing the last two years. He has the measurables
and prototypical skills of a feature back to help his draft value.
At this point, he is a borderline Day One pick with the potential
to move up quickly with a big fall.
Ryan Grant (ND - 4SR) 6'1" 211
Won the starting job in 2002 by default when the previous year's
top ground gainer, Julius Jones, was dismissed for academic reasons.
With the opportunity, he burst onto the scene for rookie coach
Ty Willingham as a true sophomore. Started all 13 games in 2002
and led the team in rushing with 261-1,085-9, becoming the first
1,000-yard rusher for ND since Autry Denson in 1998.
2003 Season: His performance in 2002 earned him the starting
tailback spot entering the 2003 season, despite Jones returning
to the team. Grant started well with 17-98-0, for a 5.8 ypc average,
in a win over WSU. However, like Notre Dame's season, he went
downhill fast. Jones quickly forced a RBBC and was significantly
outperforming Grant before long. After the WSU game until FSU
on 11/1, Grant averaged only 2.55 ypc and didn't score a TD. He
broke a 29-yarder against FSU to help his average, after the game
was no longer competitive, and ended with 8-42-0. The second to
last game of the season was his only other noteworthy performance,
posting 84 yards and 3 TDs, his only scores of the season, at
2004 Preview: After a spectacular 2002, the return of Julius
Jones seemed to sap his confidence. He is off to a good start
in putting his abysmal 2003 season behind him, as he led all rushers
in the spring game with 30 yards and 2 TDs on just 3 carries.
He'll be the feature RB again this fall, and now must prove which
of the last two seasons was the fluke.
An excellent athlete, in addition to being a top RB in high school,
was a good DB, as well as excelling in basketball and track. It
appears he benefit tremendously from a great offensive line in
2002, which lost four of five starters in 2003. By the time the
rebuilt line was gelling, Jones had claimed the job. The experience
may help him in the long run, without big holes to simply burst
through, he hopefully improved his vision and running skills to
complement his natural athletic ability. How he responds this
season could move him as high as Day One, or leave him undrafted.
Bobby Purify (Colorado - 5SR) 6'0"
Broke a bone in his foot the first day of practice as a true freshman
in 2000, an event that would foreshadow his collegiate career.
Shared the workload with Chris Brown the next two seasons, forming
arguably the best 1-2 RB combination in the nation. Started and
ended 2002 injured, having shoulder surgery in January that limited
him in the spring and suffering a high ankle sprain that limited
him in the Big XII Championship and kept him out of the Alamo
2003 Season: Brown's departure to the NFL should have been his
chance to shine, but injury problems returned to derail his senior
year. He again suffered a high ankle sprain against WSU in the
third game on 9/13, which kept him out of action and eventually
ended his season. After attempts to return for the season, finally
had season-ending surgery 11/21 to remove a calcium deposit hindering
his rehabilitation. He qualified for a medical redshirt to have
an additional year of eligibility.
2004 Preview: The disarray in Boulder this year may benefit him
personally. After he was injured, Brian Calhoun emerged in 2003,
and it looked like he'd be stuck in another RBBC this year. Now
Calhoun has declared he's transferring and Purify looks to finally
have his opportunity as a feature back. He demonstrated he was
healthy in the spring game, rushing 14 times for 60 yards.
More of a slasher than downhill runner, despite good size, he
is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield, second on
the team in receptions in 2002. When healthy, he offers great
measurables and potential as a running back, a great size/speed
combo. However, his durability has been horrible and he hasn't
demonstrated the ability to carry the load, never having more
than 157 carries in a season.
Best Potential, Little Achievement
While this group has ideal measurables and/or flashed the skills
that could make them Day One picks, unlike those looking to rebound,
they haven't shown any significant production yet. Whether it's
transferring, crowded backfield situations, injuries, or a combination,
they have yet to capitalize on their potential and time is about
to run out.
Marcus Houston (Colorado State - 5SR)
Former blue chip recruit has had his promising career plagued
by injury and controversy. As a true freshman at Colorado he rushed
for 382 yards in his first three games of 2000, but tore a hip
flexor muscle in the third game and missed rest of season. In
2001, he suffered a partially torn abductor muscle, while Chris
Brown and Bobby Purify burst on to the scene. Add in clashes with
the coaching staff, and Houston quickly grew discontent. In 2002,
a partially torn PCL caused him to miss most of season. Combined
with the continued success of Brown and Purify, he decided to
2003 Season: He was released from scholarship in Jan. 2003 and
after moving to Colorado State, appealed the standard requirement
to sit out one year when transferring from one D-1A school to
another. He was granted an unusual waiver by NCAA, causing more
controversy in a situation where he was moving to a state rival.
Started 2003 as the back-up to Rahshaan Sanders, but was plenty
ready to face his old team in the season opener. He rushed for
15-104-0 (6.9 ypc), but the team lost. The season didn't get any
better for him after that, as he wouldn't have another 100-yard
day. For once, durability was not a problem. In fact, he was the
only Rams RB without a significant injury, but fumbling problems
got him in the doghouse. As Sanders battled injuries, Houston
was the more productive back. He was starting to see more work,
18-80-1 against Weber State being his best game early in the season,
but was unable to gain full confidence of HC Sonny Lubick. After
a crucial fumble in a loss to Utah on 9/27, his third of the game,
he lost the starting job again. Despite that, his talent was showing
in his opportunities, scoring 2 TDs against Fresno State and 3
at BYU. He got the start against Air Force, posting a respectable
19-80-1. Healthy again, Sanders was back as starter against Wyoming
the following week, but Houston had his fifth straight game with
a TD and added 62 yards on just 9 carries. Despite the positives,
he fumbled again in the third quarter, which the Cowboys turned
into a go-ahead score for the eventual win. He didn't see another
carry and his playing time was limited the rest of the season.
After a bye week, he led the team in carries with 11, but had
just 22 yards against San Diego State. Jimmy Green began to see
more work, after he was finally healthy, and mobile QB in Bradlee
Van Pelt, who led the team in rushing, further limited Houston's
opportunities. Green got the start at UNLV and played so well
Houston never saw the field. Green also got the start in their
San Francisco Bowl loss to BC, a game in with Houston saw only
2 carries for 2 yards. Despite the end to the season, Houston
committed to returning for his last year of eligibility, saying
he is happy being a Ram. HC Sonny Lubick left the door open for
a better 2004, as well, saying Houston showed improvement in practice
as the season closed.
2004 Preview: Houston enters the fall second on the depth chart
to Jimmy Green, but both had identical performances in the spring
game (35 yards for Houston and 39 for Green, both on 7 carries).
It will likely be a RBBC, until the more talented Houston finally
shows some consistency to claim the job, or continues to be plagued
with injury or fumbling, and falls out of the picture again.
Houston is a fantastically talented player, bringing good speed
and receiving skills along with good size. However, regardless
of how well he does this season, he has a college history full
of controversy, including questions of his dedication and durability.
He seems like a solid kid, receiving a lot of recognition at Colorado
for his community service and social involvement, despite all
his problems on the field. He has one last chance to put it all
together and demonstrate what made him one of the most sought-after
recruits in the nation five years ago.
Kevin "Kay-Jay" Harris (WVU
- 4SR) 6'1" 235
Played minor league baseball in the Texas Rangers organization
for three seasons before returning to football at Garden City
(Kansas) Community College. Transferred to West Virginia in 2003.
2003 Season: Tremendous all-purpose back-up to Quincy Wilson.
He was second on the team in rushing yards and kickoff returns.
Demonstrated a knack for the big play, including running for a
TD on his first carry as a Mountaineer and turning a screen into
an 84-yard gain. In limited touches, he had four plays from scrimmage
over 30 yards.
2004 Preview: Missed two weeks of practice with a concussion,
but demonstrated in the spring game he is ready to be the feature
RB. Harris finished the game rushing for 96 yards and 2 TDs. It's
a preview of what the Big East should be ready for this year.
For eight straight seasons, WVU has had a 1,000-yard rusher. This
year should easily make nine.
WVU has been a running back factory of late, with their last
three featured backs all producing and finding work in the NFL.
However, unlike his predecessors, his potential in the NFL is
not limited by measurables. He has the great size and good speed
to be a feature RB. If he can carry on the recent tradition of
Zereoue, Cobourne, and Wilson, he'll be a Day One pick. One knock
on him is he swings for a home run every touch. He tries to turn
everything into a big play, instead of letting short gains set
up bigger things later.
Brandon Jacobs (SIU - 4SR) 6'4"
After failing to qualify academically, the 2001 Auburn signee
went on to be the most prolific NJCAA RB in 2002 at Coffeyville
(Kansas) Community College. Led all junior colleges in 2002 with
1,899 rushing yards and 20 TDs, as well as second in rushing yardage
per game at 158.
2003 Season: Returned to Auburn in January 2003, improving on
what was already one of the best RB groups in the nation. Saw
no action in the first two games, as the coaches felt he needed
to learn the offense better, but made the most of his touches
after that. He primarily saw extended play in mop-up time of their
blowout victories. He led the team in rushing, going 10-103-1
vs. Western Kentucky. Against Miss. State, where 154 yards in
18 minutes got Carnell Williams out of work early, Jacobs finished
with 182 yards, again leading the team in rushing. He posted a
fine 10-61-2 line against UL-Monroe. A bruised kidney held him
without a carry against Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama. As
it began to appear Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown would return
in 2004, the coaching staff tried to sell him on a position change.
He worked out at LB in the practices leading up to their Music
City Bowl loss. However, when both Williams and Brown declared
they were returning for 2004, he was out the door.
2004 Preview: Already missing prime exposure while at a JUCO
and then as a back-up in 2003, he faced little opportunity to
showcase himself as a RB in his last year of eligibility. He finally
transferred to Southern Illinois in March, the past or current
home of four of his former JUCO teammates. These include 2003
grad Muhammad Abdulqaadir, who Jacobs started over at Coffeyville,
and DE Tony McClain, a friend of Jacobs who previously left Auburn.
While the connection was there, and SIU is one of the top D-IAA
programs, the decision to go there still leaves him with a challenge
heading into the season. Former Minnesota Gopher standout RB Terry
Jackson II had already transferred there. Jacobs is at a bit of
a disadvantage heading into the season, he missed time this spring
due to his late transfer, because he couldn't practice until he
was officially registered for the fall.
Even if he shares carries with Jackson, his measurables make
him a tremendously appealing prospect for the 2005 draft. With
the size of a defensive end, he can flat out run over people,
but also has very good speed when he gets in the open field. He
is in the Greg Jones category of freakish size/speed for a RB.
At his height, it's hard not to have an upright running style,
so while it's near impossible to tackle him up high, his legs
can be cut a bit more easily. Despite his size, he is undeveloped
as a blocker, since he's always been the feature back. Although
he finally has the chance to see significant playing time for
scouts to size him up, it will be at a lower level of competition.
He'll have to dominate, as well as blow people away in his workouts,
to hope for a Day One selection. However, his enormous potential
will definitely find him an opportunity somewhere at the next
Lydell Ross (Ohio State - 4SR) 6'0"
Entered the program as a highly-touted recruit in 2001 and quickly
made his mark. He became the youngest player in Big Ten history
to run for 100 yards (124 vs. Indiana at age 17) and finished
the season as the second-leading rusher on the team. Plans to
be the next great Buckeye RB were derailed when Maurice Clarett
exploded on the scene as a true freshman in 2002. The rollercoaster
took another unexpected turn when the Clarett soap opera began
after the season, ending with Clarett out of the program.
2003 Season: Finally with an opportunity to be The Man, the year
didn't start well as a groin pull plagued him through the spring.
He began the season splitting carries with Maurice Hall, and didn't
officially start until the third game of the year. After a few
poor games by Hall, he got the bulk of the work 10/25 at Indiana,
and responded with a 167 yard, 3 TD game. It was the first of
three straight 100-yard days. He finished the regular season with
a poor effort in a loss at Michigan sandwiched by solid efforts
in wins against Purdue and in the Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State.
His final stats were 826 yards rushing, at a 4.3 clip, and 10
2004 Preview: Ross must be experiencing some déjà
vu. While seeing limited action in the spring game, 5 carries
for 17 yards and the only TD of the game, true freshman Tony Pittman
took over in the second quarter and exploded for 105 yards on
21 carries. For the second time in his once promising collegiate
career, a true freshman is a threat to his feature role. The new
recruit isn't the only challenge to Ross's final chance to make
an impression on scouts. The deep Buckeye backfield still features
Hall and a couple powerful FB Tweeners in Branden Joe and Roshawn
Parker. However, the bulk of the work looks to be his to lose
While Ross tries to pattern himself after former Buckeye great
Eddie George, he's more reminiscent of a more recent alum, Jonathan
Wells. While lacking home run speed, he has quick feet through
the hole and good size to handle running between the tackles.
Playing in a marquee program will get him significant exposure
to help his draft status if he has a big season. However, his
upside is as a two-down back and is not likely to go earlier than
David Underwood (Michigan - 4SR) 5'11"
Stuck behind NFL-bound Chris Perry and B.J. Askew since suiting
up as a true freshman in 2001.
2003 Season: His career as a back-up continued, with the highlight
of his season being a career-high 108 yard in mop-up work of a
50-3 dismantling of Houston. Appeared to be replaced by Pierre
Rembert as the top back-up by the end of the season.
2004 Preview: His career path could be similar to a lot of past
RBs in Ann Arbor - playing behind future NFL runners, paying dues
as a back-up, and then exploding on the scene when your turn is
up. However, holding the starting job will be no easy challenge.
The Wolverines loaded up on talented recruits at RB the last few
years. Rembert looked like he was being groomed as the next feature
back late last year, but Jerome Jackson and his home run potential
have passed him this spring. Top recruit Max Martin and fellow
senior Tim Bracken remain in the mix, as well. Underwood got off
to a good start to securing the starting job in the spring game.
He started with the first team and led all RBs with 82 yards on
7 carries, featuring a 45-yard trot. He did nothing to lose the
job over the summer, so it looks like the bulk of the carries
this fall should be his to lose, but it will be critical he gets
off to fast start this season. With the competition at RB and
expectations on this team, if he is playing well enough to see
the majority of work, he'll be playing well enough to be rising
up draft boards.
An excellent physical specimen with great measurables on a high-profile
team, he is positioned to be a breakout player in 2004. While
he has great potential, so do a lot of guys, and the bottom line
is if the draft was today, he's a career back-up who wouldn't
be selected. His biggest asset is the logo on his helmet. A successful
season at for a top program like Michigan will fast track your
path to the NFL.
Best Achievement, Questionable Potential
This group is those who lack ideal measurables: either too small
or too slow, by the perceived NFL standard. Despite their tremendous
collegiate success, many teams may see them as limited to situational
roles, lowering their draft value.
Darren Sproles (Kansas State - 4SR)
Diminutive and dangerous define Darren. He exploded on the scene
in 2002 the way he explodes in the open field, posting 16 TDs
and 1,347 yards on the ground at more than 6 ypc and setting several
school records. He ended 2002 with nine straight 100-yard games.
2003 Season: Picked up where he left off, setting a school record
with his tenth-straight 100-yard game in a season-opening victory
against California. His play never declines against top competition.
He had great games at Texas, going 24-128-0, and at Nebraska,
going 25-140-1. His biggest game clinched the division title for
the Wildcats, rushing for a school-record 273 yards in a victory
over Missouri, breaking his own single-season team rushing record.
However, he was contained (13-38-1) by a strong Ohio State defense
in a Fiesta Bowl loss. Sproles finished 2003 with 2,735 all-purpose
yards, first in D-1A, including eight 100-yard games and five
150-yard games. He is the KSU career leader in all-purpose yards,
as well as rushing yards. Honors: Big XII 1st Team All-Conference,
AP 1st Team All-American, and TSN 2nd Team All-American. Finished
fifth in Heisman voting.
2004 Preview: Head Coach Bill Snyder protected the lynchpin of
his offense this spring, holding him out of most contact drills
and the spring game. However, he will be ready to set more records
and carry a Heisman campaign when fall is here.
Sproles received far less national attention than he should of
in 2003. That has changed this year, when the media finally had
a chance to digest his numbers. Now he is on most preseason All-American
teams and a Heisman favorite. While he should once again be one
of the best collegiate RBs in the nation and live up to the expectations,
his size makes him less appealing as a NFL prospect. However,
he has the electrifying quickness and elusiveness that all great
smaller backs display and larger backs cannot possess, simply
because of their size. His good hands and return abilities add
value to the package. All this makes comparisons to Warrick Dunn
inevitable. While there are similarities in their abilities and,
by comparison, potential, Sproles is handicapped by a much stronger
RB class this year than Dunn was in when he came out and was a
first round pick. His measurables will have him pigeon-holed for
a change of pace role before he hits an NFL practice field, which
makes him a borderline Day One selection.
Anthony Davis (Wisconsin - 5SR) 5'8"
As a redshirt freshman and sophomore, he was one of the most productive
RBs in college football. Posted 1,555 at 5.2 clip with 13 TDs
in 2002, and 1,446 at 5.0 per and 11 TDs in 2001.
2003 Season: A preseason Heisman favorite, Davis looked tremendous
start to the season. He had 414 yards and 4 TDs in the first two
games. The season quickly took a turn when an ankle injury vs.
UNLV on 9/13 had him leave that game after only 2 carries and
miss the next two games. He returned for limited work vs. PSU,
but was inactive for the OSU. A solid day against Purdue, posting
18-96-1, seemed to indicate he was recovering. However, he left
the Northwestern game early after aggravating his ankle. A bye
week following Northwestern didn't help, as he missed the next
two games. Managed 2 TDs in the Big Ten finale against Iowa, but
had only 10 yards on 7 carries. Healthier for the Music City Bowl,
he posted 17-77-0 in a losing effort to Auburn.
2004 Preview: After his ankle problem lingered throughout a disappointing
2003, the Badgers took no chances this spring. Davis was limited
in contact drills and held out of the spring game. However, it's
only precautionary, and Davis is expected to be back full strength
and return to form this fall.
Even if he returns to his previous level of success, there will
be skepticism about his upside for the next level. While possessing
tremendous speed and agility, he lacks size to be perceived as
a feature back in the NFL. Wisconsin utilizes spread sets and
zone blocking to create running lanes, as opposed to pounding
between the tackles. NFL offenses won't change their scheme to
accommodate him. Furthermore, the success of Dwayne Smith and
Booker Stanley in his absence generates questions about individual
ability vs. team and scheme. Wisconsin has had many successful
RBs under Head Coach Barry Alvarez that have failed to achieve
in the NFL. Regardless, there is no question he's an extremely
talented runner and he will find some kind of work in the NFL
next year. He could not only be in a heated Heisman race with
Darren Sproles this fall, but also be competing with him to be
the first mighty mite RB to be drafted in April.
Chance Kretschmer (Nevada - 5SR) 6'1"
After redshirting in 2000, he became just the second freshman
(fellow WAC alum Marshall Faulk was the first) in NCAA history
to lead the nation in rushing with 1,732 yards. The record-setting,
accolade-laden Kretschmer was set to build on that debut when
he suffered a concussion in the first game of 2002, then tore
his left ACL in the next game and missed the rest of the season.
2003 Season: He was not asked to be the 300-carry workhorse he
was before the injury, but had a great comeback, nonetheless.
He broke the 1,000-yard mark and tied for the lead in the WAC
in TDs with 12. Honors: WAC 2nd Team All-Conference.
2004 Preview: The off-season started a bit troublesome due to
problems with kidney stones, but he was healthy and looked ready
for another big season in their spring game. He posted 77 yards,
and 3 TDs, including a 30-yard run. While it's unlikely he'll
return to his level of production in 2001, he should be among
the top RBs in the nation and find his name in post-season recognition.
Injury problems resurfaced just weeks before the season was due
to start. He tweaked his knee in camp, requiring minor surgery
to clean it up, and may miss the season-opener.
While rehabbing his knee, he also bulked up to be more of a power
runner, as his speed was not great before the injury. His speed
makes it unlikely any team would consider him as a potential feature
back, but he could find work as a short-yardage specialist or
be converted to FB in the NFL.
Patrick Cobbs (North Texas - 4SR)
Solid, but unspectacular, returner and back-up RB his first two
years in college ball.
2003 Season: The departure of two-time all-conference RB Kevin
Galbreath seemed to leave a hole, but Cobbs quickly filled it
with surprising success. Held in check at Oklahoma to start the
year, Cobbs then posted 10-131-1 in a blowout of Baylor. Missed
2 games early this season with a thigh bruise, then ran off nine
straight 100-yard games, including a school-record 249 at Idaho.
Suffered sprained ankle in 10/30 game against Troy State after
rushing for 106 and 2 TDs, as well as returning a blocked punt
for a TD. Returned the next week with 107 yards at UL-Monroe.
Had 110 yards and 2 TDs in a New Orleans Bowl loss to Memphis.
Finished the season with ten straight 100-yard games, including
four 200-yard games, and 19 rushing TDs. Led the nation in rushing
yards per game with 152.7 - 15.4 more ypg than the next closest
RB. Honors: Sun Belt 1st Team All-Conference and Offensive Player
of the Year.
2004 Preview: From skeptical replacement to one of the nation's
elite RBs, Cobbs looks to finish his career rewriting more of
the North Texas and Sun Belt Conference record books. Playing
on probably the best team in the Sun Belt, he should be able to
match or surpass his performance last year. If he doesn't miss
any games, a 2K year is not out of the question. Opening at Texas
may likely mean an end to his 100-yard game streak, although another
one should start soon after.
Undersized for a feature role at the next level, he brings tremendous
quickness, big play speed, and surprising power for his size.
While he is not used in the passing game much, he looked good
in limited opportunities, grabbing 4 catches for 48 yards and
a TD. Unfortunately, he picked a bad year to head into the draft
as change of pace role-player, with Darren Sproles and Anthony
Davis dominating the undersized, elite college RB landscape. A
Day Two pick is probably the best he can hope for.
Jamaal Branch (Colgate - 5SR) 6'0"
Academically ineligible in 2002.
2003 Season: Returned to team and absolutely dominated Division
I-AA. Started the season as the second string RB, but in the second
game, against DI-A Buffalo, he posted 170 yards, starting a string
of eleven straight 100-yard games. Statistically, he was the top
running back in college football, at any level. He led the nation
in rushing yards (2,326) and rushing TDs (29). He also led his
team to an undefeated regular season and to the D-IAA Championship,
where they lost to Delaware. Honors: Patriot League 1st Team All-Conference
and Offensive Player of the Year, AP Division I-AA 1st Team All-American,
and Walter Payton Award (top D-IAA player) winner.
2004 Preview: After literally coming out of nowhere, Branch will
sneak up on no one this season. Both he and his team, as the DI-AA
runner-up, will be sporting bulls-eyes this season.
Although coming against a lower level of competition, Branch's
achievements last year will put him on the radar of NFL teams.
It's noteworthy he struggled more in the playoffs, against better
teams. However, he has good size and did demonstrate he could
carry the load, averaging 28 carries per game in 2003. As he came
out of nowhere, he'll have to find similar success this year,
or be seen as a fluke. If he can have another good year, he'll
still need to workout well to be a Day Two selection or be picked
up as an undrafted free agent. He's an interesting prospect to
keep tabs on because of the incredible production he had, regardless
of it being in DI-AA.
This group has the physical attributes and potential to succeed
at the next level, but are stuck behind more prominent runners,
either as back-ups or in a RBBC. They are an injury away from
huge seasons that could shoot them up draft boards. If not, they
could be some names to remember as late Day Two picks or undrafted
free agents come April.
Jabari Davis (Tennessee - 4SR) 6'0"
Talented part fullback, part short-yardage/goalline/back-up tailback
in Cedric Houston's shadow for last two years. Saw five starts
in 2002 (when Houston was injured), finishing the year with 569
yards rushing and a team-high 10 rushing TDs.
2003 Season: First carry of the year was a 44-yard TD against
Fresno State. Stepped up big in win at Florida when Houston was
injured, rushing for 20-78-2. With Houston still hurting, Davis
took advantage of a rare opportunity to start against Duke 11/1,
posting 17-113-0. Struggled vs. Miami the following week, totaling
just 27 yards on 12 carries. In the next game against Miss. State,
led the team with 61 yards and 2 TDs. In a blowout of Vanderbilt,
where the whole running game struggled, he had only 29 yards on
8 carries, but scored a TD. Voiced displeasure at team once again
going away from running in a Peach Bowl loss to Clemson, where
he had only one carry. Also disappointed at his career 0-4 record
in his home state of Georgia. Despite seeing about half the carries
Houston did, Davis led the team with 8 rushing TDs.
2004 Preview: Remains in the hunt for a shot at the feature role,
if Houston should falter. Davis provided an almost identical performance
in the Spring game, posting a team-leading 85 yards to Houston's
83. Last year's RBBC was not fruitful for any of the participants.
Head Coach Phil Fulmer has said he is looking for one RB to lean
on this fall, and while the job appears Houston's to lose, Fulmer
has stopped short of saying Houston is clearly that guy. Heading
into the season-opener, it appears to be Houston, for now.
A bruising runner with speed, in the Jamal Lewis mold, he excels
in short-yardage situations and has a nose for the end zone. Excellent
blocking ability has him see time at fullback, as well, which
he did even in high school, although he was considered one of
the top tailbacks in the country. Despite his size and inside
running ability, he has speed to hit the home run. While he's
shown flashes, if he only sees about 125 carries again this year,
he'll have to rely on an all-star game and workouts to help his
Lionel Gates (Louisville - 4SR) 6'0"
Gates started the first two games of 2002, but was ineffective
and gave way to other RBs.
2003 Season: With the eligibility of talented FSU transfer Eric
Shelton restored, Gates was slated for back-up duty. He performed
well in that role, and took advantage of the opportunity when
Shelton went down against TCU with a neck injury. He rushed for
54 yards and a TD, as well as hauling in 9 passes for 134 yards
in a near upset of the then-undefeated Horned Frogs. He was effective
early in a start the following week against Memphis, running in
the first score of the game, but the Cardinals fell behind fast
and abandoned the running game. He ended that game with 48 yards
on 14 carries. Then he had a career day against Houston, rushing
for 140 yards and 4 TDs, as well as adding 91 yards on 2 receptions.
Gates started out well against Miami-Ohio in the GMAC Bowl, including
an 88-yard run to set up a TD before the half, but saw only 2
carries in the second half as the Cardinals tried to catch-up
through the air. Ended the game with 12-128-1 and 3-24-0. He finished
the season as the Cardinals leading rusher, despite Shelton's
early emergence and true freshman Michael Bush breaking out the
last few games.
2004 Season: Per the spring depth chart, he's listed as the number
one HB, but that label means little in one of the best backfields
in the country. With Shelton back healthy, superstar of the future
Michael Bush ready to shine now and the presence of another promising
youngster, Reggie Bradshaw, Gates will be challenged to find the
touches to prove himself to NFL scouts.
Gates is a gifted athlete with an excellent size/speed combination,
great receiving skills, and a knack for hitting the home run.
He has the ideal measurables and appears to have the skills to
be a feature back, but will have a hard time getting the touches
to consistently demonstrate it.
Everyone in this group has at least a year of eligibility left,
but have the talent and/or situation making them the most likely
to declare early for next April's draft.
Marion Barber III (Minnesota - 4JR)
After an outstanding true freshman season in 2001, he was injured
and redshirted in 2002. Terry Jackson took his job and ran with
it to a breakout season.
2003 Season: Barber returned and reclaimed his job by fall. It
was no small accomplishment for Barber to standout in their backfield,
as Minnesota had one of the best RB groups in the nation. And
it wasn't Jackson that he shared most of the work with, but true
freshman Laurence Maroney. Despite the stacked Gopher backfield,
Barber managed seven 100-yard rushing days and had a Minnesota-record
17 rushing TDs, third-most in the Big Ten last year (although
7 of those came in blowout wins of Tulsa and Ohio). His best effort
came against Michigan, where he had 21-197-1, on an incredible
9.4 ypc. He suffered a groin injury at Iowa 11/15, and left the
game after just 2 carries for 25 yards. Although he was said to
be recovered from the injury by their Sun Bowl appearance, he
had a disappointing 37 yards on 16 carries in the victory over
Oregon, while Maroney went 15-131-1. Honors: Big Ten 1st Team
2004 Preview: The presence of Maroney made it possible Barber
could have come out for the 2004 draft, but in choosing to return,
he cannot lose a step in what will again be one of the best backfields
in the country. Having the third best ground game in the nation
allowed the co-existence of two 1,000-yard rushers. In what should
again be a prolific offense, there should again be enough touches
to go around. His year got off to a scary start, spraining his
knee in the spring game. However, he is expected to be ready for
After a tremendous 2002 campaign by former teammate Terry Jackson
in his place, Barber watched Jackson completely disappear from
the equation in 2003 and have to transfer to try to regain some
draft value. The Big Ten's leading returning rusher won't want
to stick around long enough to risk that happening to him, so
another successful season makes him extremely likely to be an
early entry in the 2005 draft. The son of former Gopher and NFL
RB Marion Barber Jr., he plays more like another NFL Barber, Tiki.
A compact frame with a low center of gravity, he runs with power
between the tackles and makes great cuts. He is also an accomplished
kick and punt returner, who developed as a receiving threat out
of the backfield last year.
Tristian "T.A." McClendon
(North Carolina State - 3JR) 5'11" 216
Exploded on the scene as a true freshman in 2002, winning ACC
Rookie of the Year and 1st Team All-Conference honors. After surgery
to insert a screw in a wrist fracture on 10/1, he played the rest
of the season in a cast. He also was plagued by shoulder problems
throughout the season, which forced him to miss the Navy game
and leave a couple others early.
2003 Season: Entered the year with a lot of excitement after
his tremendous true freshman debut, but injuries tarnished his
season. He missed four whole games, and parts of other, with a
variety of problems: strained hamstring, patella tendon strain,
and surgery for a torn MCL. Finished the season with 130-608-9
on the ground and 40-368-2 through the air.
2004 Preview: The expectations are high for him to return to
form, especially as the team moves on without QB Phillip Rivers,
but injury problems have already followed him into the spring
game. He rushed 9 times for just 25 yards and when asked about
McClendon's performance, Head Coach Chuck Amato commented that
T.A. had been "banged up" a little recently and wasn't
at 100 percent. However, he had a strong spring overall and reportedly
is in great shape. If he can stay healthy for a whole season,
ACC offensive player of the year and All-American recognition
are potential outcomes. However, he already is upsetting HC Amato
with injury problems. After straining a hamstring 8/13, his great
start to camp ended and he hasn't practiced since. This prompted
Amato to drop him to fourth on the depth chart, a move unlikely
to last long.
McClendon offers the complete package to be a workhorse runner.
Good size and speed are complemented by excellent hands and a
nose for the end zone. Durability is his biggest negative, not
helped by his physical running style. He is definitely not averse
to contact. If healthy and he returns to form this season, it
might be in his favor to jump to the NFL while his value is high,
and not risk another injury-plagued season hurting his value.
Frank Gore (Miami - 4JR) 5'10"
Rushed for second-highest yardage total (562) ever by a Miami
true freshman in 2001, and did it with an incredible 9.1 ypc.
Ended season as top back-up to Clinton Portis and in line for
a starting job the next season. Torn ACL in right knee (3/19/02)
ended 2002 season before it began, and opened the door for Willis
McGahee to start and blow up.
2003 Season: One of the top runners in nation through first four
games, posting 89-468-4 and 12-105-0 before tearing ACL in left
2004 Preview: The fact the last injury occurred well into the
season will make it difficult for Gore to bounce back, as it won't
even be a year before he's back on the field. He suited up for
spring practice, but did not participate in contact drills. His
status is in question for at least the first game of the season.
Doesn't overwhelm you on the eyeball test, but a tremendous runner,
with great instincts. Excellent receiving and blocking skills
complete the package. If nothing else in the former blue chip
recruit's hard luck career, he'll have displayed some impressive
determination if he makes it back this year. If he does have a
successful return, with his injury history and the young talent
in the Canes backfield, he'll have to consider jumping into the
Eric Shelton (Louisville - 4JR) 6'2"
Once considered a budding star at FSU, transferred to Louisville
and had to sit out 2002.
2003 Season: Won starting job and looked like next superstar
RB the first two weeks of the season. Pasted 151 yards and 2 TDs
at Kentucky and followed that debut up with 24-135-0 in another
road win at Syracuse. Lionel Gates still forced his way into the
picture and Shelton got a little cold, rushing for only 186 yards
at 2.9 ypc and 1 TD in the next 3 games. He heated back up in
the next 3 games, rushing for 316 and 7 TDs. Breakthrough season
came to an abrupt halt in 11/5 game against TCU, as he lay motionless
on the field after a big hit. Suffered temporary paralysis, but
feeling came back and X-rays were negative, so he actually returned
to the field, but didn't go back in the game. Diagnosed as a neck
sprain, spine and nerve tests were fortunately fine, but he missed
the last three games, allowing Gates and superstar slash Michael
Bush to flourish. Returned for GMAC Bowl, posting just 8-34-0.
Honors: 3rd Team All-Conference USA.
2004 Preview: Hampered by a shoulder injury in the spring, Gates
has a loose hold on the RB1 job, but Shelton is hardly just a
back-up. If he can return to his early season 2003 form, it will
be hard to not give him the majority of the touches.
Freakish size and speed combination, in the pre-injury Greg Jones
mode (who is one of the reasons he left FSU), he presents an intriguing
package for the next level. While Gates is in his last year of
eligibility, the Cardinals have enough talented youth to remain
one of the best backfields in the country for the next couple
of years. The threat of that may have Shelton take his mouth-watering
measurables and make the jump, if he has sufficient success in
DeAngelo Williams (Memphis - 3JR)
One of the most highly touted recruits in Memphis history was
an impact player at RB and returning kicks as a true freshman
2003 Season: One of the top RBs in country, he a breakout season
with many accolades and record achievements. Set Conference USA
record with ten consecutive 100+ yard games. In addition to his
outstanding running, he was third on team in receptions and the
leading kick returner. He was statistically the most productive
offensive force in Division I-A, leading in all-purpose yardage
per game. Helped lead his team to first bowl appearance since
1971, but a torn MCL in his left knee did not allow him to participate
in the regular season finale or New Orleans Bowl win over North
Texas. Honors: Conference USA 1st Team All-Conference and Offensive
Player of the Year.
2004 Preview: Showed in spring game he was back from his knee
injury and ready to continue his onslaught on Memphis and Conference
USA records. Rushed for 45 yards on 7 carries in the spring scrimmage,
including a 33-yard TD run.
Williams has had a tremendous impact and is a classic triple
threat. However, he is a bit undersized and broke down after carrying
a record-breaking load. It appears the Memphis staff may be exaggerating
his weight a bit, as he would have put on almost 50 pounds in
the off-season to go from his listed weight last year to 217.
Regardless, his accomplishments will draw scouts and they should
be impressed when they see this electric runner in games. He appears
to have the intangibles of a "special" back, as he was
instrumental in lifting a Memphis football program back into the
DonTrell Moore (New Mexico - 4JR)
A high ankle sprain in camp his first year in 2001 resulted in
a medical redshirt. As a redshirt freshman in 2002, missed most
of spring practice with a knee injury. However, he was ready for
the season and took over as starter after Quincy Wright suffered
a season-ending knee injury in the fourth game. He led the team,
and was fourth in the Mountain West, in rushing with 1,134 yards
and 13 TDs. He suffered a right ankle sprain in the Las Vegas
Bowl and left after gaining only 17 yards on 14 carries.
2003 Season: Picked up where he left off as one of the top young
RBs in the nation. He had eight 100-yard games, including a career-high
242 against Colorado State. Led the Mountain West in rushing attempts,
yards, and TDs. One of the top scorers in Division I-A with 21
TDs, a school single-season record. Return to the Las Vegas Bowl
in 2003 was no better, as he managed only 5 yards on 11 carries,
and had a fumble that setting up a score for Oregon State. Honors:
MWC 1st Team All-Conference.
2004 Preview: A sore toe kept him out of action in the spring
game, but he'll be ready to resume his assault on the MWC come
this fall. He is 1,278 yards shy of the school rushing record
and will add to his own school rushing TD record each time he
enters the end zone this fall. Also, he is 246 yards and 12 rushing
TDs short of the MWC career records.
Moore replaces Walter Reyes as the best running back in the country
that nobody knows. While a bit smaller than ideal, his great strength
makes him a power back with good speed and quickness. He has benefited
from a good offensive line and looks to again this year, with
perhaps the largest line in the country. He is likely to own most
career school and conference rushing records by the end of 2004,
so there aren't many individual goals left for him to achieve.
Playing for an average mid-major team, a Heisman campaign or major
bowl appearance are unlikely if he sticks around for 2005. Draft
position is all he has left to play for. Depending on how injuries
and other underclassmen declaring pan out, he could choose to
make the jump after this season.
Wali Lundy (Virginia - 3JR) 5'10"
One of the top all-purpose freshmen RBs in 2002, he had an immediate
impact on the Cavaliers. Led the team in rushing and kickoff returns,
as well as was second in receptions.
2003 Season: Great start to the season, having his three 100-yard
rushing days of the year in consecutive weeks, including a career-high
137 against Wake Forest and 28-129-3 in a win at North Carolina.
Slowed down by mid-season after getting injured at Clemson on
10/11 and missed the following game against FSU. Ended the season
better, with three straight solid games, all victories for the
Cavaliers. Rushed for 96 yards against a tough GaTech D, rushed
for 89 with 4 combined TDs against VaTech, and ended the season
with 23-90-1 in the Continental Bowl against Pittsburgh. Led the
ACC with 14 TDs, including three games were he scored 3 or more.
Honors: ACC 2nd Team All-Conference.
2004 Preview: Solid start to the year in the spring game. Rushed
23 times for a game-high 75 yards and completed a 15-yard pass
for a TD. With record-breaking QB Matt Schaub off to the NFL and
no one standing out as his replacement, the offense should feature
more of Lundy on the ground. However, the shifty Alvin Pearman
remains in the picture at RB to cost Lundy some touches.
A tremendous athlete, Lundy is one of the top all-purpose backs
in the country. Combines good size and speed with tremendous balance
and hands. While he has put up some great numbers, it has been
in an offense run through the aerial attack of a NFL-bound QB,
so he has not seen the huge workload on the ground that some other
top collegiate feature backs have had. Scouts will want to see
him shoulder more work as a runner to see if he can be a workhorse
at the next level. If he gets those touches, he could deliver
a 1,000/500 rush/receiving year, race up draft boards as an elite
dual-threat everydown back, and be a hot name to declare early.
A strong RB class and the chance to break school records may be
incentive to stay.
Vernand Morency (Oklahoma State -
3JR) 5'10" 215
Two-sport H.S. star spent four years in Colorado Rockies organization
before coming to OSU as 22 year-old true freshman in 2002. Missed
last five games with ankle injury, finishing his first year with
2003 Season: Buried behind future NFL-draftee Tatum Bell and
Seymore Shaw, he exploded on the scene when both went down with
injuries late in the season. In back-to-back regular season victories
to end the season, he pasted 269 yards and 3 TDs on Kansas, followed
by 227 yards and a TD at Baylor. Split carries with Bell in the
Cotton Bowl, finishing with 15-59-1 in a loss to Ole Miss.
2004 Preview: He missed some time this spring, including the
spring game, and is currently listed as third on the depth chart,
but that should change quickly in the fall. With questions at
QB and the loss of Rashaun Woods, the team should look to feature
the run behind a strong veteran line and could pave the way for
a huge season for Morency. Injury-plagued Seymore Shaw, once ahead
of Tatum Bell and Morency on the depth chart, as well as emerging
Greg Gold, will challenge for carries. However, Morency has the
game-breaking potential to be the star.
In limited opportunities, Morency has been a home run hitter,
demonstrating the ability to take over a game. However, all his
great performances have come against lesser competition. The biggest
question is if he can sustain his production over a whole season.
It remains to be seen what he can do against elite opponents.
Durability has also been an issue, missing the end of his freshman
year and time the last two springs. Finally, OSU features a deep
backfield and Head Coach Les Miles will have no problem sitting
him down if he's not performing. If he can overcome those challenges
and consistently produce at the level he's shown he can play at,
Morency will rise up draft boards like Tatum Bell did last year.
As an older player, he would be likely to decide to declare if
he projects as a Day One pick.