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2005 NFL RB Draft Class
Version 3.0

Underclassmen are finalized and the All-Star games are complete. All that remains is the Combine and individual workouts. Those crucial tests of their raw physical skills, particularly speed, will cause big gains or drops.

Name (School - Class as of 2004), Height, Weight, Estimated 40

Blue Chips

Cream of the crop heading into the post-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.

Cedric Benson (Texas - 4SR) 5’11” 220 4.55
Honors: Big XII 1st Team All-Conference, Walter Camp All-American, AP 2nd Team All-American, Doak Walker Award winner.

All-Star Game: Declined an invitation to the Senior Bowl, indicative that he believes/has been told he is a high first round pick.

Strengths: Ideal measurables and durability for a feature back. Prototypical workhorse who gets stronger as game goes on. Excellent power runner, but is agile, with some quickness to get to the edge and enough speed to turn it up field. Decent receiver out of the backfield. Never buckled under pressure of playing for Texas and comparisons to Ricky Williams. One of the most prolific runners in college history.

Weaknesses: Despite dozens of huge games, none came against Oklahoma, their biggest annual game. They were the only team to hold him under 100 yards in 2004. Over 1,000 collegiate carries, he has put some wear and tear on his body already. Distracted by pro baseball aspirations earlier in his career. Claimed he’d rather win Heisman than beat Oklahoma displays a bit of selfishness. Dinged leg on first run, then had an ineffective day in Rose Bowl.

Outlook: He is not as talented in other areas as some feature backs, but he has unquestionably the best potential to be a workhorse Stephen Davis or Eddie George type of back in this class. He would have to blow his workout to fall out of the first round. If he shows legit 4.5 speed, he’ll be the first RB selected and a top 10 pick.

Carnell Williams (Auburn - 4SR) 5’10” 206 4.50
Honors: SEC 1st Team All-Conference, AP 2nd Team All-American

All-Star Game: Despite being widely regarded as a first round pick, Williams chose to accept his invitation to the Senior Bowl, much to the delight of scouts and front offices. He had a strong week of practice, showcasing his tremendous running abilities, while answering questions about his blocking and ability to catch the ball. He even lined up as a WR in some sets. However, he only saw two plays in the game, as a precautionary measure due to a strained back. Height and weight official as of the game.

Strengths: Number one rated senior prospect by National Scouting and number two by Blesto coming into the season. Lets blocks develop, then hits the hole hard, using incredible elusiveness and tremendous vision in traffic to get up field. A slasher who is good at finding the cutback lane when the hole is filled. Despite a slight frame, great leg drive and balance give him impressive tackle-breaking ability. Elusiveness and intuition allow him to elude the big hits when tackled. Outstanding team player, sacrificed individual accomplishment for team success, without complaint. Adds tremendous value with his return skills.

Weaknesses: Smaller than ideal for a feature back. Despite some workhorse games, mostly shared the load in talented backfield throughout career. Sharing touches limited his statistical production. Lacked defining big game, or string of games, where he clearly dominated competition. Problems with durability early in his career, but played in every game the last two years. Utilized a bit more in the passing game in 2004, but underexposed to a pro style passing game. Plays faster than his timed speed, so his 40 may disappoint some expecting elite marks in a plain sprint.

Outlook: His slight frame, tough style, confidence, and electric runs are reminiscent of Clinton Portis. Strong intangibles, especially in simply being a winner and the strong scouts identify those things. Risk of disappointing a bit in the measurables department and as a receiver had him looking like a round two steal, but after his Senior Bowl week of practice, with a decent workout, he’s likely to end up a first rounder. Jon Gruden coached the South squad in the Senior Bowl, so Cadillac had an extended interview with a team with a need at RB and got to impress Gruden first hand.

Ronnie Brown (Auburn - 5SR) 6’0” 225 4.50
Honors: SEC 1st Team All-Conference

All-Star Game: Declined an invitation to the Senior Bowl, indicative that he believes/has been told he is a high first round pick.

Strengths: Outstanding multi-dimensional talent. Size to pound it inside, speed to take it outside, and hands to contribute in the passing game. Ideal measurables and tremendous physical tools. His game may be better suited for the next level than teammate Carnell Williams.

Weaknesses: At once underexposed and overrated. Playing in the same backfield with Williams has limited his touches, but also left many hypothesizing about the possibilities if he didn’t. The reality is he has been in a RBBC most of his career and remained second fiddle to Williams. Minor durability concerns as a nagging hamstring problem that has lingered and cost him games each of the last two seasons.

Outlook: The perception of his potential is tremendous, despite never having had the chance to fully prove himself on the field. He would have benefited from going to the Senior Bowl. Some rate him as the top back in the draft, and his people are obviously telling him he’s a first rounder, but his workouts will greatly influence his draft position one way or the other.

Ciatrick Fason (Florida - 3JR) 6’0” 215 4.45
Honors: SEC 2nd Team All-Conference

All-Star Game: No invitations due to being an underclassmen.

Strengths: Home run hitter with tremendous measurables. Excellent receiver out of the backfield, developed in pro-style system. Shows great motivation and dedication, shedding underachiever label in his breakout 2004. Never quit playing through disappointing losses and coaching controversy.

Weaknesses: Still very raw and got by with superior athleticism than most opponents, which will be nullified at the next level. Has a lot to learn about technique, blocking, and off-field work, such as hitting the weight room and watching film.

Outlook: Enormous upside. His low profile heading into the season left his breakout season underexposed and perception of his value underrated by the media and most fans. He has the tools to be an elite NFL back and translated it on the field in 2004. He should blow scouts away in his workouts. Don’t be surprised if he is selected before one of the Cadillac-Brown-Benson trinity.

Vernand Morency (Oklahoma State - 3JR) 5’10” 215 4.50
Honors: Big XII 2nd Team All-Conference

All-Star Game: No invitations due to being an underclassmen.

Strengths: Tremendous all-around athlete. Brings a very complete running game. Can work between the tackles, but has the vision to bounce outside and the speed to hit the home run. Workhorse in a run-first offense who produced big despite being the focus of opposing defenses.

Weaknesses: He missed some time in the spring, including the spring game, and was listed as low as third on depth chart for some time. There is some rumor that there was some kind of legal issue involved that was swept under the table. Durability is a question, he has had injury problems every season. Limited due to blow out in Alamo Bowl. He is an older prospect, whose football development was slowed by four seasons in minor league baseball.

Outlook: Being an older prospect (he’ll be 25 in February) and coming off a great season, it’s no surprise he backed off earlier statements he was returning. The Cowboys produce a lot of quality RBs and Morency is the latest one. He showed flashes in 2003 as he posted a couple 200 yard games when Tatum Bell was injured, before forcing an RBBC with the soon-to-be 2nd round NFL draft pick. As the feature back in 2004, he was one of the most productive runners in the country, with more consistency than his predecessor. In any other conference, he would have been a bigger star, but he was overshadowed by UT’s Cedric Benson and OK’s Adrian Peterson.

Possible Day One
This group has the potential to be Day One picks, but they have concerns in one or more areas regarding measurables, durability, or character. Their collegiate achievement and/or measurables are not enough at this point to guarantee an early pick. They will have to impress front offices in their all-star weeks and/or at the Combine or in individual workouts to have their name called the first day of the draft.

Cedric Houston (Tennessee - 4SR) 5’10” 225 4.55
Honors: SEC 2nd Team All-Conference

All-Star Game: A solid week of practice at the Senior Bowl where, despite not being overly impressive, he quietly performed well in areas of concern. He ran with authority and caught the ball fairly well, two areas that were question marks. In the actual game, he was the most impressive RB. He had a few nice runs, showing speed around the corner, and led the South with 45 yards on 9 carries. Height and weight are official as of the game.

Strengths: Excellent physical tools, a very good size/speed combo package. Great natural running talent and explosiveness through the hole. Tennessee backs have a very good track record in the NFL recently. Good hands for a big man and a decent blocker for a college RB.

Weaknesses: Never fully stepped up and took command of the feature back role. Frequently lost confidence of coaching staff, particularly when plagued with fumbilitis, forcing a RBBC. Outperformed, more often than not, late in the season by 3JR Gerald Riggs in their RBBC. Can play like a finesse runner, at times, despite his size. Durability a big concern, as he was frequently plagued by a variety of injuries. Desire and dedication are questions, because him simply never lived up to the potential he showed his freshman year (before injuries) and inconsistently flashed since. Once again overshadowed by Riggs in Cotton Bowl.

Outlook: This guy definitely passes the eyeball test and should impress in his workouts, but they just leave you wondering why he was such an underachiever and could never put it all together for a full season. His upside is tremendous, and his draft position will likely reflect that, but his likelihood to be a disappointing journeyman who can never consistently produce despite his potential and natural ability is at least as great as his chances of becoming a solid feature back. His Senior Bowl performance helped, but it’s a small sample compared to the questions that came up frequently over his career. If a lot of underclassmen impress in their individual workouts, they will leapfrog him, but he’s hanging onto a Day One grade now.

Eric Shelton (Louisville - 4JR) 6’2” 245 4.55
Honors: C-USA 2nd Team All-Conference

All-Star Game: No invitations due to being an underclassmen.

Strengths: Freakish size and speed combination, in the Greg Jones mold (who is one of the reasons he left FSU), he presents an intriguing package for the next level. Tremendous production, highlighted by a few completely dominating games, despite job-sharing situation - he scored 19 TDs and averaged almost 7 ypc.

Weaknesses: Stuck in one of the most talented backfields in the country, his touches were limited and he was never asked to carry the full load. Tremendous production by all RBs and playing in an offense loaded with talent leaves concern he is a product of the system. Needs improvement as a receiver and a blocker. A few minor health concerns, suffering a serious head and neck injury last year and missing part of the spring with a shoulder injury.

Outlook: Despite Lionel Gates graduating, the Cardinals backfield remains stacked next year, highlighted by the continued emergence of Michael Bush. Remaining in Louisville, Shelton faced another season of sharing touches, so it’s unlikely he could have helped his draft value by staying. Moves up a bit by default, as some other Senior prospects failed to help their stock much in their All-Star games.

Ryan Moats (Louisiana Tech - 3JR) 5’9” 200 4.50
Honors: WAC 1st Team All-Conference, WAC Offensive Player of the Year

All-Star Game: An exception to the rule, he received a rare underclassmen invitation to an All-Star Game, the Shrine Game. He had an outstanding week of practice, earning the start for the East, but offered a mixed bag in the game itself. He showed nice power for a smaller back early, leading the East to a score on the first drive with a 1-yard TD run, but also lost 6 yards on a run during that drive. He finished the game with 11 carries for 27 yards, just 2.5 ypc.

Strengths: One of the most productive RBs in the nation, he was a one-man gang posting multiple huge days (over 200 yards four times) despite lack of supporting cast and defenses keying on stopping him. Didn’t just dominate lesser teams, he had good games against some of the better teams in the nation (e.g. at Miami and at Tennessee, as well as pasting over 200 on bowl qualifiers like Fresno State and Hawaii).

Weaknesses: Undersized for a feature back, lacks the receiving and blocking skills for a third-down back. Durability became a problem as his workload was increased in 2004. He suffered a lingering ankle sprain and several minor injuries throughout the season.

Outlook: The emergence of Moats wasn’t a complete surprise to knowledgeable scouts and fans. He had a tremendous season as a sophomore in 2003, setting multiple team records and finishing first team All-WAC. He rose to a new level this past season, with workhorse performances and tremendous production, despite being the only significant threat on the offense. However, his measurables are a bit less than ideal and the beating he took caught up with him at various points during the season. Hard to knock his decision to declare, it’s unlikely his team will improve, so it will be hard for him to repeat his success and leave Ruston in one piece. On talent and collegiate performance, he’s a top prospect, but he’ll need to impress in his individual workout or measurables will catch up to him on draft day, especially considering the depth of the class this year.

Marion Barber III (Minnesota - 4JR) 5'11" 215 4.50
Honors: Big Ten Honorable Mention All-Conference

All-Star Game: No invitations due to being an underclassmen.

Strengths: Combined with teammate Laurence Maroney, as well as a cast of other talented backs each of his seasons, to form one of the most prolific backfields in college. Good size in a solid frame with good vision and speed. He has an ideal NFL running style, compact and keeping his pads low. So while not a bruising runner, he is effective between the tackles. Nose for the goal line, gets the job done in the red zone. Tremendous returner and has soft hands, but was underutilized in the passing game. Ended year strong in Music City Bowl against a strong Alabama defense.

Weaknesses: Needs to learn to let blocks develop. Not as productive as he was the prior year and fell more into Maroney’s shadow. Playing in high-powered offenses during his career, with a backfield full of options to keep defenses guessing, brings concern of being just a “product of the system”. This also resulted in him never carrying the load as a feature back. He had a few games near or at 30 carries, but regularly had around half that or less. Some health issues and a groin hurt him at the end of 2003, but no serious durability concerns.

Outlook: Although he didn’t build on a breakout 2004, he saw first-hand former teammate Terry Jackson completely disappear from the equation previously, due to Barber’s emergence. If Barber stuck around another year, he could have been on the other end of it, as Maroney was definitely looking like the better weapon after this season. Barber does many things very well, but none truly great. However, he is one of the more complete backs in the second tier, with little baggage. All it would take is catching the eye of one team and/or an impressive workout to solidify being a Day One pick.

Kevin “Kay-Jay” Harris (WVU - 4SR) 6’0” 232 4.55
Honors: Big East 2nd Team All-Conference

All-Star Game: Established himself as a versatile and intense competitor in the practices leading up to the Senior Bowl. His previously unknown blocking ability was decent and he was very aggressive, delivering hits instead of absorbing them, whether it was laying into a blitzer, hitting the hole with authority, or finishing off a run strong. His quickness also impressed for a larger back. However, the game itself was a different story. He was unimpressive between the tackles, particularly in short yardage situations, and created little on his own when he had daylight. He finished with 30 yards on 11 carries, caught 1 pass for 14, and lost a fumble. One of the knocks on him is he is constantly trying to hit the homerun instead of taking what the defense gives, and that was the case in the Senior Bowl, resulting in a poor day overall. Height and weight are official as of the game.

Strengths: Tremendous all-around athlete. Great size/speed package. Can turn any run or pass into a big play. Raw pass catching skills, but decent hands and enough athleticism that he could also be developed into a receiver. Went out strong with huge day against tough FSU defense in Gator Bowl.

Weaknesses: Hampered by lingering hamstring and knee injuries throughout season. Strong performances from teammates in backfield resulted in a RBBC down the stretch, when his health was improved. Raw, with only two seasons in D-IA, and unproven due to inability to remain feature back this past season, his first opportunity to do so at that level. He is an older prospect, whose football development was slowed by three seasons in minor league baseball.

Outlook: Next to Maurice Clarett, Harris is the biggest enigma in this RB class. I would be equally unsurprised to see him selected as high as the late 2nd round and as low as later Day Two. Expectations were high for him stepping into the starting role of a school that has done a good job of developing RBs lately. Unlike his recent RB predecessors at WVU, he has the measurables that gave him a chance as an early Day One pick if he produced similarly. Then injuries struck and a RBBC evolved, so he has a lot to prove leading up to the draft. The Senior Bowl was a mixed bag, as his practice was impressive, but game was not. As a bigger back, the buzz will go up at the Combine and workouts if shows good speed.

Day Two
Upside is significantly limited by one or more of measurables, accomplishments, durability, or character. Weaknesses overshadow the strengths enough for some that they won’t be the early picks they could be. Others are simply Day Two talent. Workout performances could help some move into Day One, or fall to be undrafted free agents.

Walter Reyes (Syracuse - 5SR) 5’9” 205 4.40
Honors: Big East 1st Team All-Conference

All-Star Game: Invited to Senior Bowl, but withdrew due to shoulder injury.

Strengths: Breakaway speed. Tremendous nose for the end zone. Great hands, excellent option out of the backfield. One of the most productive RBs in the country the last three years without much support or complimentary offensive threats on his team.

Weaknesses: Undersized to be a feature back at the next level, better suited physically for change of pace role. Disappointing, injury-plagued senior season.

Outlook: After a couple of record-breaking seasons in a mediocre program, expectations were high for Maurice Clarett’s cousin this past season. After a slow start, he missed a game with the flu, the first in 42 consecutive games, and then tore three muscles in his left shoulder in his final game at the Carrier Dome and missed the next two games. He was healthy for their Champs Sports Bowl game, but reinjured the shoulder in the second quarter, a disappointing end to a disappointing season. Reinjuring the shoulder also prevented him from participating in the Senior Bowl. He has a long way to go to regain the value he’s lost this year, where concerns are his heavy workload final caught up with his undersized frame. If his shoulder is not healthy, he could freefall into Day Two, reminiscent of what happen to Lee Suggs. If it is, he should impress during his all-star week and in workouts, he could leapfrog some lesser talents who finished the year stronger.

Johnathan “J.J.” Arrington (California - 4SR) 5’8” 206 4.50
Honors: PAC-10 1st Team All-Conference, AP 1st Team All-American

All-Star Game: Seemed to generate no buzz during practice week before Senior Bowl. He had a decent week, demonstrating, despite his size, he has a good base and showed good fundamentals technically in hitting the hole hard and keeping a good pad level when running. However, his blocking and hands did not impress, although he had shown to be a competent receiver during the season. His game was a bit of a disaster. He had only 9 yards on 5 carries and showed no ability to make defenders miss. Height and weight are official as of the game.

Strengths: Extremely productive throughout breakout year in his first season as a starter, rushing for 100+ yards in every game. Demonstrated ability to carry the load and drove an offense that was expected to be led by the passing game. Excellent open field speed gives him great big-play capability. Familiar with pro-style offense. Good receiver, despite being underutilized in that role. Helped himself with another big day in Holiday Bowl, despite lack of complimentary passing game.

Weaknesses: Undersized to be a feature back at the next level, better suited physically for change of pace role. Unknown quantity prior to this year, exceeding expectations so much, his season could be perceived as a fluke or by-product of Cal’s success. Trouble hanging on to the ball early in his Cal career.

Outlook: Burst on the scene in 2004 as the breakout senior RB of the year. A strong Senior Bowl week and game would have helped diminish concerns about his measurables, but now his Combine and individual workout will factor heavily. There’s a lot of depth in this RB class, so he needs to find a way there to separate himself from the pack. That will be the difference between being a Day One and Day Two pick.

Darren Sproles (Kansas State - 4SR) 5’6” 185 4.40
Honors: Big XII 2nd Team All-Conference

All-Star Game: After coming in almost two inches shorter than his listed height, his Senior Bowl week was uphill from there. A solid week of practice led to an Offensive MVP award for the North, as he led the game in rushing with 55 yards on just 6 carries, including a 24-yard TD run the highlighted his tremendous elusiveness and quickness. Height and weight are official as of the game.

Strengths: One of the most productive multi-dimension talents in football the last four years. Great speed, remarkable balance, and amazingly elusive. He gets lost among his blockers, finds the daylight, and burst through it. Good receiver and outstanding return man, as well.

Weaknesses: Vastly undersized. Disappointing season for team and loss of offensive talent led to a decrease in productivity. Lack of blocking skills limits his upside as a third down back.

Outlook: Textbook example of great college player who doesn’t project well at the next level due to lack of size. While still a good year for most RBs, his 2004 performance fell far below the record-braking, award-winning level of expectation he set in his prior two seasons. While that was primarily due to the struggles of the team, it also showed he isn’t the type of player who can single-handedly carry a team when defenses are allowed to focus on him. He bounced back big in the Senior Bowl, showing that despite his frame, his quickness and speed can make him a contributor at the next level. He definitely has the ability to add a spark in a variety of ways. Many front offices will be debating how early to reach for a guy who will never be an everydown player, but who can offer game-breaking explosion in a variety of roles.

Brandon Jacobs (SIU - 4SR) 6’4” 261 4.55
Honors: Gateway 2nd Team All-Conference, Gateway Newcomer of Year

All-Star Game: He was one of the brightest stars at the Shrine Game. After showcasing his tremendous size/speed combo in practices, he flashed during the game, finishing as the game’s leading rusher with 11-102-2, including a 52-yard TD run highlighting his speed. Height and weight are official as of the game.

Strengths: Freakish measurables with the size of a DE, but the speed of a RB. Rarely brought down by the first tackler, devastating stiff arm.

Weaknesses: Regarding his running style, at his size, it’s hard not to have an upright running style. While he has open field speed, if he can’t run you over between the tackles, he’s not going to juke you. He’s followed a long and winding road to get on the field: Signed a LOI with Auburn, but was academically ineligible, so he went on to be a stud in JUCO. Returned to Auburn in 2003, but was stuck behind two guys who will be among the first RBs drafted. When Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown both decided to return, he had to move on again. To not lose a year of eligibility, he went to D-IAA Southern Illinois. However, SIU had just brought in another dissident of a D-IA crowded backfield, Terry Jackson II from Minnesota, and had their own promising prospect in Arkee Whitlock. So he was stuck in another RBBC. This contributed to the fact he did not consistently dominate a lower level of competition as much as scouts and front offices would have liked to have seen after making such a move.

Outlook: A tremendously appealing physical prospect, it remains to be seen if teams will consider him for a feature back role. At Auburn, Tom Tuberville tried to convince him to be a LB, and he practiced there some, but he ultimately wanted to remain a running back. It will hurt his draft value if he is reluctant to audition at other positions during workouts, as teams may want to see this. The fact they haven’t seen him do it much against the highest level of collegiate competition will make it hard for any team to spend a high pick with comfort that he can handle the role. He has the body to be a fullback, but is underdeveloped as a blocker, since he’s always been a feature back. At the Shrine Game, he made a statement that there is no doubt he should be a feature back, as he dominated the game as a runner. If his Combine and individual workout create more buzz, he could be a fast riser by the time the draft is here.

Anthony Davis (Wisconsin - 5SR) 5’8” 195 4.45
Honors: Big Ten 2nd Team All-Conference

All-Star Game: Did not participate due to injury.

Strengths: Hits hole hard and explodes into secondary. Successful between tackles because he is decisive and runs with authority, despite his size. Excellent quickness and speed. Tremendous production, when healthy.

Weaknesses: Undersized to be a feature back at the next level, better suited physically for change of pace role, but lack of experience in passing game means he needs development to be a third down back. He needs a lot of work as a blocker and is easily overwhelmed by a bull rush. Durability became a concern the last two seasons. Possible “product of the system”, as Wisconsin has had other successful RBs recently that failed to translate their success at the next level. Some character issues in his past. Unimpressive day in Outback Bowl, his final collegiate game.

Outlook: After looking like a future Heisman winner his first two seasons, an ankle injury ruined 2003 and an eye injury cost him three game this past season, while a thigh injury kept him out of their crucial Big Ten finale at Iowa. Between injuries, he remained tremendously productive, but he really needed a huge season to compensate for the skepticism about his size. Probably the highest upside of the mighty mites in this year’s RB class, but that still means borderline Day One, likely Day Two pick.

Tristian “T.A.” McClendon (North Carolina State - 3JR) 5’11” 215 4.55
Honors: None

All-Star Game: No invitations due to being an underclassmen.

Strengths: Knows to let blocks develop, then hits the hole hard. Punishing running style and tackle-breaking ability complimented by the frame of a workhorse back. Nose for the end zone. Soft hands, very good in the receiving game, which give him upside to be an everydown bruising feature back.

Weaknesses: Durability is a major concern. In addition to the variety of injuries that have prevented him from being on the field enough to reach his potential, his own HC, Chuck Amato, openly questioned the time it took him to recover from a seemingly minor injury in the spring. That brings his toughness and dedication into question, as well. On the field, he giveth, but he giveth away too. Fumbling, especially in crucial situations, has been a problem. Lacks elite speed.

Outlook: After another injury-plagued season, it was a bit of a surprise to see him declare so early. However, rumor has it his academic eligibility was in serious jeopardy, so he was going to make the jump regardless of where the draft advisory board pegged him to go. The bottom line is it will take a riverboat gambler of a GM to reach for him on Day One. When healthy, he’s one of the most talented backs in the country, but the “when” became increasingly rare. Add the other questions about him in, and you have the risks outweighing the rewards for reaching for him early in hope of having a 16-game feature back.

Maurice Clarett (formerly Ohio State - 3JR) 5’11” 230 4.60
Honors: Not applicable

All-Star Game: No invitations due to being an underclassmen/outcast.

Strengths: Ideal size and sufficient speed to be a feature back. One of the most dynamic debuts of a true freshman in history in leading Ohio State to a National Championship. Allegedly been working out in Texas and is focused to perform well in workouts.

Weaknesses: His ongoing soap opera the last two years, with his suspension, leading to dismissal, then suing the NFL to be eligible for the draft, losing and appealing and losing again, and finally claiming he was made a scapegoat for serious improprieties in the Buckeyes program. The biggest impact of all that baggage is that he hasn’t played in a football game in two years. All teams have to go on is one, albeit impressive, season, in which he also displayed some durability issues, and his workouts. There were mixed reviews of his workouts prior to last year’s draft. His reported 40 time of 4.58 is pedestrian for an NFL RB, but some were impressed with the shape he kept himself in. Most were disappointed to just plain angry that he refused to run at the Combine, however. They seemed more turned off by the audacity of his decision to make scouts and front office people travel to see him workout again, instead of doing it during the convenience of the Combine, than they were by some of his other issues.

Outlook: Even if his workouts are solid, this is a complete crapshoot. Some thought last year he still could have been a Day One pick. Now he’s another year removed from football and will have to workout all over again. Some GMs seem to have enough disdain for him that wouldn’t even spend a late pick on him if he were there. I think this class has a little more depth than last year, so I think he falls to Day Two.

Frank Gore (Miami - 4JR) 5’10” 220 4.55
Honors: ACC 2nd Team All-Conference

All-Star Game: No invitations due to being an underclassmen.

Strengths: Great natural instincts and vision. Solid receiving and blocking skills compliment his running ability. Exhibited tremendous determination in twice successfully returning from blown knees. He rushed his rehab and returned after only 9 months from the latest torn ACL, so potential is there for him to improve more by next fall. His production improved as the year went on, finishing strong.

Weaknesses: Major durability concerns. Tore right ACL 3/19/02, ending 2002 season before it began. After successfully returning and being one of the top runners in the nation through the first four games, tore left ACL 10/2/03. Returned again in 2004, sharing carries with Tyrone Moss through the season. He was unable to assert himself as a feature runner, carrying the full load, for a full season. The injuries have sapped some speed and agility he showed as a breakout true freshman in 2001, when he looked like the next great RB.

Outlook: Another season to show his health is all the way back would have helped his draft status, but after being plagued with two major injuries and finally coming off a completely healthy season, he did not want to gamble waiting one more year. Medical exams and workouts will largely determine where he goes. Unlike former teammate Willis McGahee, he never reached his full potential during a season to justify reaching in the early rounds. High probability of being a boom or bust pick with knee concerns make it likely no team will take a chance until Day Two, and that allegedly is where the NFL Draft Advisory Committee told him to expect to land, unless he really blows them away in workouts.

End Game
An assortment of prospects with one or more intriguing facets, but currently looking like no more than undrafted free agents, barring surprising all-star game weeks and/or workouts. Some could sneak into Day Two, most will be undrafted free agents, and some will be in another line of work this fall.

Derrick Wimbush (Fort Valley State - 4SR) 6’1” 220 4.55
Honors: SIAC (DII) 1st Team All-Conference, SIAC Offensive Player of the Year, SIAC MVP, AP 1st Team Little All-American, Harlon Hill Trophy Finalist

All-Star Game: As a DII player, he needed all the exposure he could get, so Wimbush hit the Cactus Bowl, HBCU All-Star Classic, and the Hula Bowl. He shined the brightest in the most important to gaining exposure, the Hula Bowl. He rushed 4 times for 74 yards, including a 59-yard TD run, and won the Offensive MVP for the West squad.

Strengths: Prototypical size and decent speed. Workhorse back who dominated competition.

Weaknesses: Unproven against superior competition.

Outlook: Wimbush is the annual sub-DI intriguing RB prospect. Playing against a significantly lower level of competition in DII skews his accomplishments, but his measurables are ideal. Missed out on a Combine invite, but made a few all-star stops to sell himself and definitely wrapped up at least a look as an undrafted FA.

Lionel Gates (Louisville - 4SR) 6'0" 220 4.50
Honors: None

All-Star Game: 6 carries for just 5 yards in Gridiron Classic.

Strengths: Multi-talented athlete with good size and speed. Adds value as a receiver out of the backfield and kick returner. Good work ethic and team player.

Weaknesses: Underexposed in one of the most talented backfields in the nation. As he never had, or claimed, the opportunity to carry the load in college, there could be untapped potential, but so far he’s only shown he’s a role player. Knee injury at the end of the season pushed him further into the shadow of teammate Eric Shelton. Non-factor in Liberty Bowl.

Outlook: Good at many things, great at nothing. Pro size/speed combo and versatility make him a lock to be on an NFL roster, but his upside may just be that of a special team player and very capable backup RB. Great workout numbers could make him a surprise climber before the draft, but he looks bound for Day Two or being one of the top undrafted free agents.

Alvin Pearman (Virginia - 4SR) 5’9” 205 4.55
Honors: ACC 2nd Team All-Conference

All-Star Game: Injured knee in MPC Computer Bowl that apparently kept him out of all-star games.

Strengths: Outstanding all-purpose back, perhaps the best receiver out of the backfield in the draft, as well as a talented return man. Demonstrated some workhorse capability stepping in as the feature back in the second half of the season. Gamer with great work ethic and determination.

Weaknesses: Undersized to be a feature back at the next level, better suited physically for change of pace role. In addition, he lacks elite speed for a small back. Torn ACL in 2002, reinjured knee in this year’s MPC Computer Bowl.

Outlook: After establishing himself as a triple threat his freshman year in 2001, the emergence of Wali Lundy in 2002 blocked Pearman from a feature role. A knee injury ended 2002 and he remained behind Lundy again in 2003. Exploded on the scene in 2004, returning the favor to Lundy by replacing him as the feature runner when Lundy struggled hanging onto the ball. Finished out the season strong, before leaving their bowl game with a knee injury. The severity of injury will determine if he is a Day Two pick or an undrafted free agent, as he’ll have to prove himself in workouts. Great potential as third-down back and returner, but size and durability concerns will prevent him from being more.

Nehemiah Broughton (The Citadel - 4SR) 5’11” 249 4.55
Honors: Southern Conference (DI-AA) 2nd Team All-Conference

All-Star Game: Spent the week at the Senior Bowl auditioning as a FB. His blocking was better than expected for a guy who has spent his career as a feature RB in single-back sets. His hands need some work, as he dropped a couple of passes in the game. Height and weight are official as of the game.

Strengths: Very physical runner with NFL measurables.

Weaknesses: Did not dominate a lower level of competition. Struggled to produce on a poor team and in their spread offense. Better suited to more traditional running formations, where he can hit the line with a head of steam.

Outlook: The “Nemo-sapien” is a tremendous physical specimen and caught the eye of scouts as seen by the rare invite of a non-Division IA player to the Senior Bowl and Combine. The Senior Bowl showed he could likely make the transition to FB. He might have a future as a Zack Crockett type of short yardage/goal-line back, but it seems likely he’ll have to find his way there via a practice squad as an undrafted free agent.

Alex Haynes (Central Florida - 5SR) 5’10” 220 4.55
Honors: None

All-Star Game: 3 carries for –2 yards in the Gridiron Classic.

Strengths: Excellent size and strength for RB. Powerful runner with solid build. Versatile player, capable as a blocker and receiver. Found success on bad team.

Weaknesses: Lacks second gear in open field. Durability a concern.

Outlook: Good at many things, very good at none. While he’s shown he can be a workhorse back, it’s been interrupted with frequent injury problems. He’s the type of player who needs some scout or GM to have a strong gut feeling about to get drafted in the last round or two.

Manuel White (UCLA - 5SR) 6’2” 242 4.65
Honors: PAC-10 Honorable Mention All-Conference

All-Star Game: Practiced for Senior Bowl, but DNP in game. Height and weight are official as of the game.

Strengths: Powerful runner with excellent strength. Decent hands for a big man.

Weaknesses: Speed. Blocking is raw, he is really an RB trapped in a FB body. Durability has been a problem.

Outlook: The thunder to Maurice Drew’s lightning is a tweener whose value is handicapped by not being a good enough blocker to step in as a FB and not being fast enough to be a feature RB. He’s a good football player, though, and could find a niche to contribute.

Ryan Grant (ND - 4SR) 6’1” 207 4.50
Honors: None

All-Star Game: Good week of practice for the Shrine Game, showcasing his athleticism. Finished the game with 7 carries for 24 yards and 2 receptions for 19 yards. Height and weight are official as of the game.

Strengths: Tremendous physical specimen and all-around athlete. Ideal size/speed package.

Weaknesses: Better athlete than football player. Durability is an issue. Confidence and motivation are questionable, doesn’t seem to respond to challenges well.

Outlook: Breakout 2002 (behind an offensive line with a few future NFL players), then disappeared when Julius Jones was reinstated in 2003. This past season should have been a bounce back year that propelled him into a Day One pick, but he struggled, being outplayed by freshman Darius Walker, and battled nagging injuries. Extremely disappointing season leaves him looking like not even worth drafting, but someone could be really impressed by his workouts and want to find a way to motivate him.

Damien Nash (Missouri - 4JR) 5’11” 215 4.50
Honors: None

All-Star Game: No invitations due to being an underclassmen.

Strengths: Ideal measurables and big play ability.

Weaknesses: Significant durability concern with twice tearing his ACL. Incomplete resume, serious lack of accomplishment at D-IA level after only one season as starter.

Outlook: Tremendously disappointing season for Missouri culminated for Nash when he was suspended for a game in late October after criticizing the play calling of HC Gary Pinkel. Their differences were apparently irreconcilable, as Nash left the team at the end of the season. With one year of eligibility left, instead of transferring to a D-IAA program to try and build some more draft value, he decided to declare. In leaner years at RB, maybe, but in this class he won’t be drafted. Has enough potential that he could be picked up as an undrafted free agent and in a training camp this summer.

Noah Herron (Northwestern - 5SR) 5’11” 221 4.65
Honors: Big Ten 2nd Team All-Conference

All-Star Game: A quiet Senior Bowl week was highlighted by a 24-yard TD reception to seal the North’s victory. He ran for only 17 yards on 5 carries, but grabbed 2 passes for 40 yards. Height and weight are official as of the game.

Strengths: Size and strength. Punishing runner between tackles. Soft hands make him an excellent receiver out of the backfield, big man or otherwise.

Weaknesses: Speed.

Outlook: Great college player, but lack of speed makes in unlikely he can transfer his success to the next level. Upside probably limited to fullback and short yardage runner. They didn’t look at him as a FB much at the Senior Bowl, but he did impress with his hands as a receiver out of the backfield.

DeCori Birmingham (Arkansas - 4SR) 5’10” 200 4.56
Honors: None

All-Star Game: Impressed at Las Vegas Classic, earning East MVP and noted as one of the few players with NFL potential.

Strengths: Excellent hands. Exceptional quickness. Knack for the big-play. Adds value with versatility, especially as a returner.

Weaknesses: Too short and slow for a WR, still learning to be RB.

Outlook: Former HS RB was converted to WR due to depth at RB, but was moved back to RB out of necessity in 2003 due to injuries. Blew up at Kentucky, but returned to RBBC for rest of season and in 2004, failing to build on that breakout game. Talented utility player with questionable NFL measurables. Upside is return specialist and third down back, if he can learn how to block.

Lydell Ross (Ohio State - 4SR) 6’0” 225 4.55
Honors: None

All-Star Game: Impressive week of practice and then 8 carries for 32 yards and a TD in the Villages Gridiron Classic. Accepted invitation to Hula Bowl, but did not show.

Strengths: Ideal size and good pedigree.

Weaknesses: Consistently failed to live up to expectations after strong freshman debut. Lacks elusiveness, runs into the pile and goes down. Plays slower than his speed. Fumbling was a problem this past season. Off-field incident at strip club brings into question his maturity and behavior.

Outlook: What finally should have been Ross’s breakthrough year was derailed by inconsistency and trouble. He was passed first by freshman Tony Pittman, déjà vu of what happen to him when Maurice Clarett arrived, then gave way to sharing carries with Maurice Hall upon returning from suspension. Has the physical tools, but not the talent, and perhaps not the dedication.

Bobby Purify (Colorado - 5SR) 6’1” 209 4.60
Honors: Big XII Honorable Mention All-Conference

All-Star Game: Gained no ground with an unspectacular week at the Shrine Game. He finished the game with 19 yards on 5 carries. Height and weight are official as of the game

Strengths: Displayed tremendous perseverance the second half of the season in playing through serious injuries to both shoulders and helping his team to win the Big XII North. Prototypical size and hands for an NFL RB. Produced his first 1,000 yard season in his first opportunity to be the feature back.

Weakness: Durability a major concern as he’s been plagued by several minor and major injuries throughout his careers. Injuries have sapped his speed.

Outlook: While showing a lot playing hurt down the stretch, the bigger issue is that he was hurt again and has been incredibly injury-prone his whole collegiate career. It’s unlikely he’ll impress in workouts. Late Day Two pick, at best.

Dominique Dorsey (UNLV - 4SR) 5’7” 170 4.50
Honors: Mountain West 1st Team All-Conference

All-Star Game: Participated in the Villages Gridiron Classic in FLA, then went cross-country and over the Pacific to attend the Hula Bowl the following Saturday. Led all rushers in the Gridiron Classic with 57 yards on 8 carries, including a game-winning 28-yard TD run for the South. At Maui, he saw only 3 carries, but produced 20 yards on them for the West.

Strengths: Exploded as feature back in 2004 to lead conference in rushing. Quick and explosive, hides behind blockers, then darts upfield. Home run hitter. Adds value as tremendous kick returner.

Weaknesses: Size and durability. Carried the whole load for the first time this year and broke down by the end. Only one year of great production and a feature role on his resume.

Outlook: Too little (literally and figuratively), too late. It would take another couple of inches and a lot more pounds for scouts to reconcile his measurables with the accomplishments and talent he flashed during the season. Lack of invitation to Combine hurts as he won’t have the chance to be tested directly with his peers. Found himself in a similar situation to former teammate Larry Croom, who took to barnstorming all-star games to showcase himself last year, eventually finding work as an undrafted free agent and getting an opportunity with the Cardinals at the end of the year when injuries struck. Dorsey looks to be hoping for the same after hitting the Gridiron Classic and Hula Bowl.

DeAndra Cobb (Michigan State - 4SR) 5’10” 185 4.50
Honors: None

All-Star Game: After a quiet week of practice, had 17 yards on 4 carries in Hula Bowl.

Strengths: Quick and elusive home run hitter. Very good kick returner.

Weaknesses: Not a feature back, upside is limited to change of pace and returner.

Outlook: Kick return ability is the only thing that could land him on a roster. If it does, he’s a guy you could give 1-2 touches a game trying for the big play, but he’s not even a solid back-up.

DeWhitt Betterson (Troy - 5SR) 6’0” 218 4.65
Honors: Sun Belt 1st Team All-Conference

All-Star Game: As a Combine snub, he took to hitting the All-Star circuit to showcase himself. Solid performance at the Villages Gridiron Classic, where he had 44 yards on 11 carries and caught a couple of rare passes thrown his way. Really impressed the following week at the Hula Bowl where he earned Offensive MVP for the East, leading all rushers with 77 yards on 10 carries, including a 31-yard run that set up a TD.

Strengths: Pounding workhorse who can carry the load.

Weaknesses: Speed. Non-factor at catching the ball. Some health concerns after requiring back surgery after 2003 season.

Outlook: Cranked out back-to-back 1K seasons despite being the focus of opposing defenses, as Troy’s passing attack has been one of the worst in the country. He has the size and strength to be a feature back, but his quickness and speed are problems. Being overlooked for the Combine makes his chances of being drafted very slim, despite a good All-Star performance. If he can develop blocking skills, probably has a better shot at the next level, if given a chance as an undrafted FA, as a short-yardage specialist FB.

The following senior running backs (or players who could get a look as a running back) were invited to the Combine. Last year, the only RBs drafted on Day One who were not invited to the Combine were underclassmen (who are not eligible to participate). Of 17 RBs drafted overall last year, only 3 of them were seniors who were not invited to the Combine. Recent prior drafts yield similar ratios. Bottom line, the only notable RBs that will be drafted and are not on this list, are underclassmen. The Combine will be held 2/23/05 – 3/1/05 in Indianapolis, IN.

J.J. Arrington, Cal
Cedric Benson, Texas
DeCori Birmingham, Arkansas
Nehemiah Broughton, Citadel
Ronnie Brown, Auburn
DeAndra Cobb, Michigan State
Anthony Davis, Wisconsin
Kevin Dudley, Michigan (FB)
Lionel Gates, Louisville
Ryan Grant, ND
Justin Green, Montana (FB)
Kay-Jay Harris, WVU
Alex Haynes, Central Florida
Madison Hedgecock, UNC (FB)
Noah Herron, Northwestern
Cedric Houston, Tennessee
Ray Hudson, Alabama
Brandon Jacobs, SIU
Keith Joseph, Texas A&M (FB)
Rasheed Marshall, WVU (QB/WR)
Will Matthews, Texas (FB)
Alvin Pearman, VA
Bobby Purify, Colorado
Bryan Randall, Virginia Tech (QB/WR)
Walter Reyes, Syracuse
Darren Sproles, KSU
Zach Tuiasosopo, Washington (FB)
Manuel White, UCLA (FB)
Carnell Williams, Auburn

Maurice Clarett’s agent has indicated he’ll be attending the Combine, but I’ve found no independent confirmation of that.