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2007 NFL RB Draft Class
Version 1.0

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.

Key: Name (School - Class as of 2006) Height Weight

Blue Chips
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 2006 draft.

Michael Bush (Louisville – 4SR) 6’2” 247 - Career Stats

Freakish size/speed combination in the Brandon Jacobs mold, but he isn’t just a physical anomaly who gets by on power (although he brings plenty of it). The former stud HS QB has outstanding athleticism and agility, as well as exceptionally good hands for a big back (49-643-2 career receiving numbers). Although his timed speed is not expected to be elite, his career 5.7 ypg and two career runs over 70 yards are evidence of his top game speed.

Finally free of a RBBC, Bush was showcased as a runner for the first time and exploded. He had multiple scores in every game he played (he missed two with an ankle sprain), nine straight, until he was shutout in their bowl loss to VaTech. His 24 TDs were the second most in I-A (first in ppg) and a school record. 2005 Honors: 1st Team Big East All-Conference

Unlike elite backs at many schools, Bush didn’t take it easy in the spring game. He led the Red Team with 72 yards on 11 carries and ran for a TD. Although the Cardinals, as usual, have a backfield loaded with talent, Bush will be featured again. In a high-powered offense for a Top 25 team, he is a solid Heisman candidate and an early favorite to be the first senior RB drafted.

Kenny Irons (Auburn – 5SR) 5’11” 202 - Career Stats

A hard-nosed runner with top speed, Irons has the measurables and, after 2005, the production to have him looking like one of the top senior backs. He’ll need to add some bulk, but he showed he could be a workhorse last season. He is a fluid runner who is equally successful at threading the holes inside or bouncing it outside and up field. Despite losing two running backs that were top five picks in the NFL draft, the Tigers running game remained strong in 2005 thanks to the Gamecock transfer. Lost in the shuffle during the changing of regimes in South Carolina, Irons wisely chose to sit out a year to remain at an elite program, instead of rushing to a lower level of play to remain eligible. The move paid off as he led the SEC in rushing in 2005 and rocketed up draft boards. The lack of miles on his tires adds to his appeal. 2005 Honors: 1st Team SEC All-Conference.

He was held out of the spring A-Day Game to protect him from injury, but Irons will be ready to carry the load and possibly be in the Heisman hunt come fall. A similar performance this season means he could challenge Bush to be the first senior RB selected.

Tony Hunt (Penn State – 4SR) 6’2” 219 - Career Stats

When they arrived at Happy Valley together, Austin Scott was perceived as the superior back and got the first shot. However, Hunt wrestled the job away in camp prior to the 2004 season and hasn’t looked back. Possessing ideal size, Hunt combines good speed, power, and fundamentals. He runs with good forward lean and brings solid receiving skills (39 receptions in 2004).

As the team returned to glory in 2005, Hunt led the way on the ground with a breakthrough 1K season. It was a disappointing end for him when he had to leave the Orange Bowl after three plays with an ankle injury. However, he was back leading the way in the spring game with a game-high 20 yards on 4 carries in the first series before being removed as a precaution as he had been nursing a hamstring injury. While Scott should still see work, Hunt should be featured again in 2006 and rise on draft boards with another strong performance. With QB Michael Robinson moving on, the running game will rely more on the running backs (Robinson has 163 carries to Hunt’s 174) and Hunt should see more red zone carries (he had only 6 rushing TDs to Robinson’s 11).

Kenneth Darby (Alabama – 5SR) 5’10” 202 - Career Stats

After being a redshirt in 2002, Darby was limited by a shoulder injury in 2003. He broke out in 2004 after Ray Hudson went down, but ended the season struggling in the Iron Bowl and Music City Bowl due to a sports hernia. He has surgery in March 2005, missing spring work, but picked up where he left off last season, rushing for 1,242 yards and grabbing 29 receptions, both career highs. He became the first Alabama RB since Shaun Alexander to post back-to-back 1K rushing seasons. He could be the first to have three straight. 2005 Honors: 1st Team SEC All-Conference.

Saw 7 carries for 29 yards in limited work at their A-Day spring game. The roster is stocked with young talent at RB, but Darby will again carry the load. With a thick frame and low center of gravity, he is fluid and brings surprising power. His speed is not elite, durability is a concern, and while he has decent hands, he isn’t much of a threat after the catch (just 4.6 ypc). His measurables won’t be spectacular when he hits workouts leading up to the draft, but his production against top competition is consistently outstanding.

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 they produce.

Courtney Lewis (Texas A&M – 5SR) 6’0” 204 - Career Stats

Freshman All-American who went over 1,000 yards rushing in 2003, his career has gone in reverse since. His games played and yards have gone down each year since. Lewis hopes to buck that trend in his final year of eligibility. However, he is not off to a good start. Lewis sat out spring drills to concentrate on academics. It is expected he will be eligible this fall, but he is unlikely to be as productive as 2003. Super-sized soph Jorvorskie Lane emerged during a stretch when Lewis was hurt last year and it should be a full-blown RBBC this season.

While Lewis might not be able to put up big numbers, a healthy season will go a long way to regaining his draft value. Durability and consistency are the biggest question marks. He is a flashy player who will provide some highlights on game film that will catch a GM’s eye. While he needs to add some bulk, he has the height and frame to develop an ideal NFL RB body. He has home run speed and outstanding athleticism, definitely showing potential for success at the next level. He has the skills to be a top kick returner, as well. He could be a late riser who impresses at the Combine.

Alley Broussard (LSU – 4SR) 6’0” 237 - Career Stats

After emerging in 2004, leading the team in rushing and scoring, he was slated in 2005 to be the feature runner in a crowded backfield that included Joseph Addai. A torn ACL in August ended what should have been a big year for Broussard. Addai took over and ended up a first round pick.

It has been a challenge for Broussard to recover. The knee swelled up unusually a few weeks after his surgery and an infection was found that required additional work, slowing the rehab. He was not ready for the start of spring practice and there were reports he was ready to quit football over the challenging rehab. However, Broussard has returned, but was held out of the spring game while he continues to recover.

Broussard is a big back built to move the pile, but he lacked top speed and elusiveness prior to the injury. If he isn’t viewed as a feature back, he’ll still have draft value as a short yardage and goal-line specialist.

Best Potential, Limited 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 significant and/or consistent production yet. Whether it's transferring, crowded backfield situations, injuries, or a combination, they have to fully capitalize on their potential this season to be an early pick.

Lorenzo Booker (FSU – 5SR) 5’11” 193 - Career Stats

The poster boy for this category. Despite being blessed with tremendous natural talent and remaining healthy, Booker’s career has been a disappointment. He came on the scene in 2003 just as the coverage accompanying high school recruiting was reaching its current fanatical multimedia mainstream peak. His national overexposure established unreal expectations that never having a 1K rushing season and just five career starts obviously fall far short of. Depth of talent has been one explanation, but after rushing for almost 900 yards in 2004, it appeared he had turned the corner. However, the struggles of the Seminole offense in 2005 set him back. They tried to force the issue with the passing game (accounting for almost 75% of their offense) and ended up underutilizing the run (last in the ACC). So Booker’s achievement of leading the team in rushing relative to the fact it was for just 552 yards on 119 carries.

The team looks to stress the running game more this season and demonstrated it early as Antone Smith and Booker were co-MVPs of offense this spring. Smith also was named most dominant player of spring, which doesn’t appear to help Booker’s chances of being a workhorse. However, he should be the starter and be featured significantly.

After flirting with turning pro last season, it seemed Booker may have heard the voices of critics in the back of head about his underachievement and enters the season with a chip on his shoulder. While nothing short of big numbers and a Heisman campaign may stop him from being viewed as a high-profile disappointment. However, he hardly needs that to elevate his draft value. A natural runner with breakaway speed, he has less than optimal size, but has worked to add strength and bulk the last few years. He brings excellent receiving skills and could add value as a returner. He won’t disappoint at the Combine. If he can show some leadership and consistency, he will be a high pick.

Tyrone Moss (Miami – 4SR) 5’9” 221 - Career Stats

Like most backs at the U, he had to wait his turn before getting a shot as the feature back and was fully capitalizing on it in 2005 until a torn ACL in early November ended his breakout season. Despite finishing just 7 games, he had 701 yards and 12 TDs. His value to the offense was seen in their struggles after Moss went down.

He was still rehabbing in the spring, so he sat out the spring game. The talented stable of backs all saw more work with Charlie Jones leading the team in rushing in the game. Jones replaced Moss this year and has impressed enough that he could see more work even if Moss is healthy.

Durability is an issue. Aside from the knee, he missed the spring in 2005 with shoulder surgery. With two career receptions, one for a loss, he needs a lot of work to become a serviceable receiver. Excellent nose for the end zone, he has 7 multi-TD games despite only 8 career starts. He lacks elite speed and has never broken a run longer than 37 yards. A bit short, but a thick frame that runs with good pad level and power. While he was statistically impressive until he was hurt last season, overall, he lacks the highlight reel talent and explosiveness of recent Hurricane backs. The lateness of the injury could affect him early in the season and open a door for Jones that doesn’t close.

Thomas Clayton (KSU – 5SR) 6’0” 220 - Career Stats

Started fast as the feature back in 2005, opening with 329 yards in his first two games to lead the nation in rushing at that point. Then his season was derailed by a stupid off-field decision. A university parking services employee was waiting for a boot to arrive to put on his parked SUV as it did not have the proper parking permit for where it was and was missing a license plate. Clayton got in the vehicle and started to drive away, while the employee attempted to stop him by blocking the vehicle’s path. Clayton hit the employee, was arrested and charged with felony aggravated battery. HC Bill Snyder suspended him the next game, a 54-7 win over North Texas, their biggest win of the season. It not only prevented him from continuing to pad his stats, but for the next several games he was a different player, failing to gain over 50 yards rushing, as the team lost five of six games. He was pulled in the Colorado game after losing a fumble and DNP the following week at Iowa State during that stretch. He ended the season strong, with 85 rushing yards in a close loss at Nebraska and going over 100 for the first time since the second week of the season in their final game, a victory against Missouri.

Despite putting on ten pounds of muscle in the off-season and proclaiming early in the spring his goal for the season was 2,000 yards rushing, 2006 has not started well for him. His clean slate with new HC Ron Prince didn’t last long. Clayton was unimpressive in the spring game, seeing just 4 carries for 19 yards and fumbling once. In June, he was convicted of misdemeanor battery for the 2005 vehicle incident. Despite being suspended a game last year when the incident happened, now that a conviction was handed down, he was suspended another game. He will miss the 2006 season opener against Illinois State. The veterans on the roster how are likely to replace Clayton (Donnie Anders, Carlos Alsup, and injured Parrish Fisher) aren’t threats to take the feature role from him, but All-American JUCO transfer James Johnson is.

The FSU transfer has ideal size in a chiseled physique. He has breakaway speed (reportedly ran a sub-4.4 at KSU), demonstrated by several plays over 25 yards in 2005, including an 80-yard TD run against Florida International. He isn’t technically strong as a receiver, but when he gets the ball in stride in the flat, he can up a big play. He brings a power and speed combo that is very appealing to NFL teams. His legal problem is minor, but has impacted his production. Ball security is also a problem. With his talent and measurables, if he can turn in a consistent season, he could have a first round grade.

DeShawn Wynn (Florida – 5SR) 5’11” 230 - Career Stats

After an outstanding debut as a redshirt freshman in 2003, Wynn digressed in 2004, entering the season out-of-shape before suffering a season ending-groin injury at the end of October, missing the final four games. The beginning of the Urban Meyer Era could have wiped the slate clean for him in 2005, but he showed up to the start of spring practice with his weight pushing 250. After Meyer questioned the quality of the running game to the media, Wynn took the cue. He got down to 225 and won the starting job. However, his progress didn’t translate as well as hoped once the season started. He was suspended for the opening game for an unspecified violation of team rules, then was inconsistent and struggled to fit in Meyer’s complex offense. He also dealt with lingering shoulder problems in the second half of the season. When the team wrapped up the season in the Outback Bowl, true freshman Kestahn Moore got the start.

Meyer’s displeasure with the running game was a main theme as 2006 got underway. After a March tirade with scathing criticism for the entire group, he indicated Moore would begin the spring as the starter. Wynn has had a decent spring. He saw 5 carries for 20 yards and a TD in the spring game, which was overshadowed by 96 yards on 10 carries from 3JR Markus Manson. However, Manson has drawn the ire of Meyer for playing to soft and going down on the first tackle. With neither of his main competitors separating themselves, Wynn has hope to get another shot as the starter.

Wynn has excellent size, but conditioning has been a problem, leading to questions about his dedication and work ethic. When fit, he doesn’t have elite speed, but has outstanding explosion, both at the snap and when he plants and cuts. He is a serviceable receiving threat, but to succeed in Meyer’s offense this season will mean he’s made good development in that area by the end of the year. Toughness and durability are also question marks. Wynn has the talent and measurables to be a starter at the next level, but has to answer a lot of questions this season if he hopes to be a Day One pick.

Ronnie McGill (North Carolina – 4SR) 5’11” 212 - Career Stats

Enrolled early in 2003 and six games in to the season was the starter, with a 29-244-3 game (against Wake Forest) and leading the team in rushing on his resume by the end of his true freshman season. Since then, injuries have been a problem. He sprained his ankle against Georgia Tech in the third week of 2004. In addition to missing the rest of that game, the nagging injury cost him five games and part of another. In 2005, he tore a pec lifting in June and it cost him the first four games of the season. He finished the season well, posting 130-530-5 and leading the team in rushing.

While he has decent size, speed, and strength, his measurables won’t blow anyone away. However, he hits the hole hard with great agility and runs with excellent power, vision, and balance. His receiving skills were finally on display last year and continued development there this season will help convince teams he can be a feature back. New OC Frank Gignetti should bring a run-oriented attack this season that will give him the chance to shine. He has played in deep backfields, and will again this year, which limits his touches, but durability has been his biggest problem. He was held out of the spring game allegedly to give the younger backs more work, but it likely was just as much as a precaution to prevent the offensive star from getting hurt. If he can stay healthy for a whole season he won’t be overlooked by the NFL the way he was by major college programs when he came out of Clover (South Carolina) High.

Best Achievement, Questionable Potential
This group is those who lack ideal measurables: too small and/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.

Garrett Wolfe (Northern Illinois – 5SR) 5’7” 177 - Career Stats

The Huskie running game didn’t miss a beat after career rushing leader Michael Turner left for the NFL two years ago. The Little Big Man is the top returning rusher, all-purpose yardage, and career rusher in 1-A. He has seven career 200-yard games, including career highs of 43 carries and 325 yards at Eastern Michigan two years ago. Despite missing three games due to a knee injury, he had over 1,500 yards rushing last season. 2005 Honors: 1st Team MAC All-Conference.

Wolfe missed the spring recovering from right shoulder sublixation surgery in January. He has had recurring shoulder problems and, along with the knee injury and diminutive stature, durability will be a big concern at the next level. However, he has lightning quickness and elite speed, getting lost behind his lineman and darting through small holes with his quick feet. He is very comparable to former KSU star Darren Sproles, who went in the fourth round. Like Sproles, he is not only short, but (unlike a Maurice Drew) lacks bulk and doesn’t have a frame to support much more weight. He isn’t nearly the accomplished return man Sproles was, but has upside in the role. He’ll never be a feature runner, but he is a dynamic playmaker in the same mold as Sproles and Drew, who will find work because he has the talent and speed to take any touch the length of the field.

Brian Leonard (Rutgers – 5SR) 6’2” 235 - Career Stats

Although his recognition is as a fullback, and Ray Rice was a 1K rusher as a true freshman at halfback for the Scarlet Knight last season, Leonard is a classic tweener with FB size but HB skills. The all-time scoring leader in New York state history, he passed opportunities at bigger programs to attend the college that didn’t spurn their commitment to his older brother Nate when he ruined his knee as a high school senior. That loyalty was returned by Brian, who could have declared for the NFL draft last season, but instead returns a leader to finish contributing to the turn around at Rutgers he has been instrumental part of. They went to their first bowl game in 28 years last season. While it was not due to a specific injury, he has sat out most of the spring so far to keep him fresh for the season. He replaced football with yoga to improve his flexibility, but will be the same bruising back on the gridiron this fall. 2005 Honors: 2nd Team Big East All-Conference.

While not the pounding inside force Mike Alstott was, Leonard is a very similar player who they won’t attempt to convert him to a lead blocker at the next level. Despite lacking elite timed speed, his elusiveness and outstanding game speed have allowed him to break off a 50+ yard run each season. Leonard has the instincts and quickness to succeed as a runner at the next level. His receiving skills are outstanding (over 50 receptions each of his seasons) and he has a nose for end zone. Bias against his tweener status and that he likely won’t wow them in physical tests could result in his draft status not being commensurate with his skills, production, and intangibles. All the punishment he’s absorbed will be a bit of a concern, as well, but he has proved extremely tough and durable, missing just one game in three years.

The RBBC’ers and Back-Ups
This group has the physical attributes and potential to succeed at the next level, but don’t stand out or get as much recognition because of a RBBC or being stuck behind a more prominent runner. They are an injury away from huge seasons that could shoot them up draft boards.

Austin Scott (Penn State – 4SR) 6’0” 214 - Career Stats

Came to campus with high expectations and saw featured work as a true freshman in 2003. Struggled to produce as the team went through a challenging season. Scott was surpassed by Tony Hunt prior to the 2004 season and missed an opportunity to regain more of a role the following season when he broke his ankle in March 2005. He continued to remain in the background while Hunt steadily improved, until an injury to Hunt in the Orange Bowl gave him an opportunity. He reminded people of his potential with a 26-110-2 performance giving him momentum heading in to his last season. Again injuries have become a problem, as he missed the 2006 spring game with a sprained knee.

While Hunt should again be featured in 2006, Scott should see more work with Michael Robinson no longer around to supplement the running game. Scott has excellent measurables and would be productive if Hunt were hurt. However, his physical appeal comes with an incomplete resume and durability concerns that will prevent him from being more than a Day Two flyer with another similar season.

Justin Vincent (LSU – 5SR) 5’10” 219 - Career Stats

The highly-touted recruit put together the best freshman season ever by a Tiger RB, capped with a Sugar Bowl/National Championship MVP in 2003. However, ball security and attitude problems have made him an afterthought since. He added injury issues after the 2005 season when he tore his ACL in the Peach Bowl. He has sat out the spring recovering and unable to do anything to return to favor.

If he comes back healthy and Broussard does not, or otherwise struggles, Vincent will still have to compete with a group of talented young backs, so it will be a challenge for him to get back on the NFL radar. He has to prove he is healthy and dedicated, while remaining productive for a whole season.

Selvin Young (Texas – 5SR) 6’0” 215 - Career Stats

After living in the shadow of Cedric Benson for three years, appeared to finally have his chance in 2005. He ended 2004 with a broken ankle, which cost him much of the spring and allowed Ramonce Taylor to continue to earn recognition. Come fall, true freshmen Jamaal Charles and Henry Melton were immediately in the mix too. Still, he earned the starting job and managed to keep it for almost a half. After posting 8-67-1 early in the season opener, he sat out most of the second half after twisting his left ankle. The ankle injury plagued him throughout the season, but more detrimental to his production was the emergence of Charles and all-purpose production of Taylor. The two took turns leading the rushing game most of the season, although Young was the most productive in the National Championship.

He started the spring strong, drawing praise from HC Mack Brown showing up fit and confident and running well. However, durability was an issue again, as he was held out of the spring game with a “slight pull”. With Ramonce Taylor’s future on the team in doubt (off the team for spring semester due to academic and legal problems) and Vince Young no longer the main running threat, the opportunity is there once again for Selvin. However, he will still at least rotate regularly with at least Charles.

Young passes the eyeball test and brings nice measurables. He was also a tremendous return man (one kickoff and two punt return TDs in his career) before his work there was scaled back due to injuries. His potential is enormous, and if he stays healthy, should test terrifically at the Combine and in individual workouts, however durability has been a major problem. Other issues are his ball security and the fact he will never have demonstrated he can carry the load of a feature back. He is definitely a player to watch and could be a fast riser if he stays healthy.

Pierre Thomas (Illinois – 4SR) 5’11” 210 - Career Stats

After leading the Big Ten in all-purpose yards in 2004, his performance took a step back in 2005 as the team continued to struggle and stud freshman Rashard Mendenhall got his touches. While Thomas projects to again see the majority of work, he was already in a RBBC with E.B. Halsey and Mendenhall will continue to see more work. He was his usual solid but unspectacular self in the 2006 spring game, where he led the team with 55 yards on 12 carries. Thomas is a versatile player with decent measurables and athleticism, but he won’t wow them with his physical skills. He has been consistent and relatively productive for such a poor offense without much blocking. Fundamentally sound, he does a lot of things well, but nothing great. He has decent size and runs hard with some power between the tackles. A good north-south runner, he has straight-line speed, but lacks burst or exceptional quickness. However, it is his versatility that will get him drafted. In addition to solid hands, he is an exceptional kick returner.

Kolby Smith (Louisville – 4SR) 5’11” 215 - Career Stats

Once again, Louisville has one of the most talented backfields in the country. Smith has been a career back-up, but productive when given a chance. He is built thick and runs with authority, proving to be a reliable receiver out of the backfield.

Smith will battle George Stripling, who emerged last year, for carries behind Bush. Smith posted 10-48-1 on the ground in the spring game. He is one of the better non-starting running backs in the nation and if he tests well, his potential and the fact he hasn’t taken a beating the last four years could make him a Day Two pick,

Marcus O’Keith (California – 5SR) 6’1” 195 - Career Stats

Jeff Tedford’s first major signing as HC at Cal, O’Keith has been stuck behind a string of talented runners over his career in the potent Cal offense. Although he is third on the depth chart in arguably the nation’s most talented backfield, the speedy back has the talent to start for a lot of programs. He is a home run hitter (sub-4.5 speed) with a 6.66 ypc average over his career, including TD runs of 48 and 71 yards on his resume. Despite only seeing a few passes in games, he has great skills as a receiver. While rarely used as a return man, he has shown potential there and adds value as an outstanding special teams player - he hits like a safety.

Ibraham “E.B.” Halsey (Illinois – 4SR) 5’10” 200 - Career Stats

Highly-touted recruit from New Jersey failed to develop in to the big play threat he has the skills to be. An offense with out the skill level to use him properly and inconsistent play have impeded his development.

He is a better than average receiver and can add value as a punt returner. Quickness with better than average timed speed and decent size, he has the potential to have relatively more success at the next level as a change of pace back and return specialist.

Small School
These lower division players have the talent and measurables, but their achievement is always looked at as relative to the competition. It is a much harder road to the NFL for sub-Division I-A players, but every year there are a few small school surprises. These are the most likely candidates at RB.

Germaine Race (Pittsburgh State – 4SR) 5’11” 227

His numbers are incredible regardless of the level of competition. He went over 2,000 yards rushing on a DII record 8.96 ypc in 2004, with 26 TDs. He finished with 33 TDs and 1,846 rushing yards in 2005, but a hamstring injury in late October prevented him from even bigger numbers. He missed two games and parts of three others at the end of the season into the playoffs. 2005 Honors: 1st Team AP Little All-American; MIAA Offensive Player of the Year and 1st Team All-Conference.

One of the eight national finalists for the Harlon Hill Trophy (DII equivalent of the Heisman), Race enters 2006 as one of the favorites. A bowling ball with quick feet in the Jerome Bettis mold, he never goes down on the first hit and piles up yards after first contact. Race will impress with his tremendous strength in workouts. However his speed is a question mark, although it is alleged to be in the 4.5 range and he has had at least one run over 70 yards each of his three years. To have a chance at being a feature back at the next level, he’ll need to develop some blocking and receiving skills, a few things he hasn’t worked on much in his collegiate career. His accomplishments are relative to the competition level, but Race has NFL measurables and a bruising running style that should translate well. He is the most intriguing lower level senior back to watch this year.

Clifton Dawson (Harvard – 4SR) 5’10” 197 - Career Stats

The first freshman to rush for 1K in Ivy League history, he is on the verge of becoming the most productive Ivy League runner ever. He already holds every significant single-season and career record for the school. After going over 1K in each of his first three seasons, he is 1,008 yards behind Cornell’s Ed Marinaro for the conference record. His fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season would also have make him only the seventh Division I runner to accomplish the feat. He would join DonTrell Moore (New Mexico), Cedric Benson (Texas), Ron Dayne (Wisconsin), Tony Dorsett, Denvis Manns (New Mexico State), and Amos Lawrence (North Carolina). The official list does not include bowl games, to make the standard consistent. Ricky Williams (Texas) and Avon Cobourne (West Virginia) would otherwise be included. 2005 Honors: 1st Team Ivy League All-Conference.

Dawson is a pure natural talent on the football field. In addition to his running skills, he is a talented receiver and although not used much as a returner, when need dictated last season, he flashed talent there, including a 92-yard TD return. His ball security is tremendous, just seven career fumbles in almost 800 touches. He had the skills and potential to play I-AA. The Northwestern recruit transferred after redshirting in 2002. However, his success has come against significantly lesser competition. He brings top speed, but is undersized and needs to bulk up. Dawson is a tremendous small school success story, but it is unlikely to translate as a runner to the next level, although he could get a shot as a return man. However, the Ontario native already could have had a job in the CFL if he wanted one. Toronto drafted him in the sixth round despite the fact he had a year of eligibility left. He’ll be a top pick in the CFL next year if his NFL prospects are looking thin.

Arkee Whitlock (Southern Illinois – 5SR) 5’9” 200 - Career Stats

A 2004 transfer from Coffeyville Community College, he joined a recruiting class that featured two RB transfers from major programs. Despite lacking the accolades and upside of the other two, Whitlock won the starting role over a former I-A 1K starter (Terry Jackson at Minnesota) and a future fourth round pick in the NFL (Brandon Jacobs from Auburn). Despite sharing the ball, he broke out for 959 rushing yards and 12 TDs, helping the Salukis to a 10-1 conference championship season and top seed in the I-AA playoffs. After the departures of Jacobs and Jackson, he was just as successful in 2005 as the workhorse behind a completely new offensive line. He rushed for 1,457 yards and 14 TDs, while catching 24 passes and returning kicks for 408 yards. In the first playoff win by the team in 22 years, he rushed for three scores. 2005 Honors: AFCA I-AA All-American, 1st Team Gateway All-Conference.

With top JUCO transfer Kendrick Smith and talented redshirt freshman Naji Shinskia, the Salukis once again have one of the most talented backfields in I-AA in 2006, but Whitlock is now the man. He did not participate in spring game as HC Jerry Kill rested most of his veteran starters to evaluate the youngsters.

An instinctive runner with quickness to get the edge and breakaway speed to hit the home run, Whitlock is an explosive all-purpose threat who has demonstrated he can block, as well. However, in addition to his accomplishments coming at a lower level, he is a bit undersized. Still, he has been on the radar of NFL teams since holding his own against Brandon Jacobs.

Steve Baylark (UMass – 5SR) 6’0” 225 - Career Stats

Amazingly consistent, Baylark has carried between 243 and 268 his first three seasons, producing from 1,057 to 1,117 yards and 8 to 10 TDs. Like Dawson, he is looking to join the short list of runners with four consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. 2005 Honors: 1st Team Atlantic 10 All-Conference.

In addition to durability and reliable production, he brings NFL size. However, he is more of a naturally strong runner, so his strength tests may disappoint. His speed is also a liability. A pure north-south pounder, his speed and quickness are also a liabilities for the next level.

All have 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.

Adrian Peterson (Oklahoma – 3JR) 6’2” 218 - Career Stats

Blue chip recruit wasted no time justifying the hype as a true freshman in 2004, establishing himself as on of the great freshman in the history of college football. His 1,925 rushing yards broke Ron Dayne’s record by a freshman. His 339 attempts, nine consecutive 100-yard games, and 11 100-yard games were also freshman record. He was the first Sooner to be an All-American as a freshman and the first named by AP since Dre’ Bly in 1996. Peterson also finished second in the Heisman balloting, the best finish ever by a freshman. The only disappointment of the season was getting drubbed by USC in the national championship, one of only two games he was held under 100 yards.

While everyone was on their way to putting him in the Hall of Fame, he hit a few bumps in the road in 2005. First, he had off-season shoulder surgery, which he rehabilitated through the spring. Once the season arrived, the effects of the losses on the offensive line and of QB Jason White were immediately felt as the Sooners were shocked by TCU in the season opener. Peterson failed to go over 100 yards. After a 220 yard, 3 TD performance against Tulsa the second game of the year, he was suspended from two practices for missing classes. The third game he was held under 100 yards again, in another shocking loss at UCLA. Then his real problem of the season came in the second quarter against Kansas State. Peterson sprained his ankle in the second quarter. The injury would hamper him the next two games and then cost him one. He finally got on track at the end of October. He would end the regular season with four straight 100 yard games, including a season-high 237 yards against Oklahoma State, which featured a career-high 84 yard TD run. He would be held under 100 yards against Oregon in the Pacific Bowl, but had 84 yards and a TD rushing in the 17-14 win. Despite all the challenges in the season, he finished with over 1,000 and 14 TDs. 2005 Honors: 1st Team Big 12 All-Conference.

So far, 2006 has had a more auspicious start. Although he wore a no-contact blue jersey most of spring as a precaution, Peterson has been more involved in the passing game, a facet of his game that will make him even more dangerous with development. He caught three passes for 31 yards in the spring game. Any questions about his fitness or ankle were answered with a reported team-best 4.37 40-yard dash in spring testing.

There isn’t much that needs to be said about his draft value. Regardless of the challenges of last season and questions about his durability, Peterson is the most exciting combination of size, speed, and raw natural talent at RB since possibly Bo Jackson.

Marshawn Lynch (California – 3JR) 5’11” 223 - Career Stats

Exploded on the scene as an outstanding back-up to J.J. Arrington and all-purpose player as true freshman in 2004. Showcased his home run hitting ability with five TD runs over 30 yards for a PAC-10 best 8.8 ypc. Given the opportunity to be the feature back in 2005, he provided similarly stunning results. He posted 196-1,246-10 (6.4 ypc) despite missing two games with a broken finger. He did run behind one of the best offensive lines in the nation, back-up Justin Forsett also went over 1K. How quickly the line meshes after the loss of All-PAC 10 selections T Ryan O’Callaghan and C Marvin Philip could have an impact in 2006. However, Lynch was in mid-season form in the spring game, running for two TDs.

With prototype size and elite speed, Lynch is also a truly multi-faceted threat. He is an excellent receiver and kick returner, even has thrown a TD each of the last two years. Less recognized than the underclassmen legend Adrian Peterson has prematurely become, Lynch is a Heisman contender and will challenge to be the first RB selected if he declares early.

Lynell Hamilton (San Diego State – 4JR) 6’1” 220 - Career Stats

One of the most highly-regarded recruits in SDSU history did not disappoint as a true freshman in 2003, evoking memories of former Aztec Marshall Faulk. The soon-to-be 2003 MWC Freshman of the Year went over 1K on his third carry in the tenth game of the season. He joined Faulk as the only other Aztec freshman in history to run for 1,000 yards. In the fourth quarter of the same game he would suffer a horrific broken right ankle and fibula. He missed the final two games, and after three surgeries and ten screws the leg was not ready for 2004.

His return started solid, but unspectacular, in 2005. He finally broke through in the fifth game of the season, rushing for 161 yards and 2 scores. However, in the next game at UNLV, injury problems would haunt him again at Sam Boyd Stadium. Hamilton had to leave in the first quarter with a strained hamstring and would miss the next game. The injury would hamper him for a couple more games before he broke out to end season, finishing with three consecutive 100-yard games.

In understandably limited work in the spring game, Hamilton saw four carries and grabbed a game-high four passes. His receiving ability is better than average. His 26 reception in 2005 make him the second-leading returning receiver. Durability is a problem and the lasting impact of the leg injury, particularly on his speed, impact his draft value. However, with his size, running and receiving skills, he has the potential to be a dominant feature back. A return to 2003 form this season would make him a likely candidate to declare early and be a Day One pick.

Gary Russell (Minnesota – 3JR) 5’11” 215 - Career Stats

Saw little action as a freshman behind the Gophers 1K duo of Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III in 2004. While Barber declared early, Minnesota had another dynamic duo in 2005 as both Maroney and Russell went over 1K.

With Maroney declaring early, Russell appeared to be the heir to the coveted feature role in Minnesota’s potent offense. However, he seemed to have forgotten the “student” part of student-athlete. Russell withdrew (or, depending on the source, was dismissed) from school in February over academic eligibility issues. Before being eligible to reapply for admission, he had to successfully complete a spring semester at a JUCO and pass several summer school courses at Minnesota. He enrolled at Inver Hills Community College and completed his class schedule in May. There was no word on his grades, but the outlook deteriorated when school officials confirmed he didn’t enroll for summer school that began in mid-June. While there hasn’t been an official statement, the rumors are he will not return. His father had previously stated he would enroll at a Division I-AA or II school if he didn’t return to Minnesota, but that seems unlikely as NCAA rules require a player to be in good academic standing at his previous institution at the time of transfer to be eligible for athletics at his new school. That leaves Russell’s options as enrolling at a NAIA school or JUCO, or sitting out a year and preparing for the 2007 draft a la Demetrius Summers. It has been reported he is ineligible for the supplemental draft because he is not yet three years removed from his high school graduating class.

Russell started as a change of pace back, but bulked up without losing agility or speed. While not used much in the role, he can return kicks and proved to be a capable receiver when targeted. Russell demonstrated being a solid interior runner and quickly became the preferred goal-line option, finishing second in the Big Ten with 18 rushing TDs as a back-up. Still a work in progress, not being able to return to Minnesota is a major hit to his draft value.

Mike Hart (Michigan – 3JR) 5’9” 193 - Career Stats

Incredible his first season, Hart became just the third true freshman to lead the Big Ten in rushing on his way to 1st team All-Conference and Freshman of the Year honors. He had a disappointing encore in 2005, as he struggled with injuries. He would leave early with a hamstring injury against Notre Dame the second game of the season. It cost him two games but he looked in his freshman form when he returned with 218 yards at Michigan State. He’d rattle off two more 100-yard games before spraining an ankle at Iowa, an injury that would cost him two more games.

Blue chip recruit Kevin Grady filled in well when Hart was injured, but did overwhelm with his performances. The team is 11-2 when Hart gets 20+ carries, so HC Lloyd Carr should be looking to ride a healthy Hart in 2006 with Grady backing him up. Grady had a very strong spring while Hart was limited as a precaution. Despite being listed as running a sub-4.5, he doesn’t appear to have elite speed in the open field, but Hart has outstanding quickness and surprising power for his size. He can catch a bit and provides excellent ball security, but is a non-factor as a blocker. Already smaller than ideal for the next level, he needs to prove durability isn’t a problem with a return to health and elite production. If he does, he could be an early entrant, but I think his measurables leave a bit to be desired and he would be best served by staying four years.

Darius Walker (Notre Dame – 3JR) 5’10” 215 - Career Stats

Split carries with Ryan Grant as a true freshman in 2004, but quickly showed he was already the superior back. Broke out as the feature runner in 2005, going over 1,000 yards and proving to be an excellent receiving option (43 receptions) in the pro-style offense of HC Charlie Weis. Ran for three scores and had seven receptions against an outstanding Ohio State defense in their Fiesta Bowl loss.

Rushed 13 times for 78 yards in the spring game, but the rushing highlight was an 83-yard TD run by Travis Thomas. Walker should be the workhorse back again, and he is very productive in that role, but he lacks the home run speed Thomas brings, so Thomas remains in the picture. While lacking elite timed speed, he brings more than sufficient game speed and works well between the tackles. Along with his competent receiving skills, he’s a bit reminiscent of Travis Henry. He seemed to burn out around mid-season with a couple sub-par games before finishing strong. He’ll have to demonstrate the ability to sustain a full season with consistent performance in 2006. With Notre Dame back in the national spotlight, a similar year by Walker should ensure plenty of exposure, which could prompt him to declare early.

Dwayne Wright (Fresno State – 5JR) 6’1” 220 - Career Stats

JUCO transfer who was expected to be a back up in 2003, but instead went over 1K despite starting just 8 of 14 games. Seemed on track for another huge season in 2004 before tearing his left patellar tendon after a 61-yard reception in the second game of the year. The devastating injury has cost him almost two seasons.

Leading rusher in spring game with 46 yards on 7 carries, including a 32-yard run, Wright looks to pick up where he left off. Between JUCO and his injury, he has an extra year of eligibility after 2006. However, he is already 23 with a wife and two kids. Even if he doesn’t return to his 2003 form, if he remains healthy and produces consistently, he is lock to declare. Wright passes the eyeball test. He has a thick, well-defined frame and is a hard-nosed runner. He didn’t have top speed before the injury, but had a burst through the line. He has surprisingly good hands for a big back, adding to his draft value.

Albert Young (Iowa – 4JR) 5’10” 207 - Career Stats

After a plethora of injuries in the 2004 Hawkeye backfield, Young emerged to lead the Big Ten in rushing (125.2) in conference play and fourth overall (111.2) for the season. 2005 Honors: 2nd Team Big Ten All-Conference.

Durability has been a major problem. He missed three games his junior year in HS with a knee injury, was redshirted as a freshman in 2003 after an injury in camp, and tore his right ACL the second game of 2004. He lacks breakaway speed, but is a slasher with excellent elusiveness, vision, and instincts. A decent receiver, he also can be a dynamic kick returner. With Iowa in shape to return to being a BCS contender, he should get plenty of coverage and a lot more recognition in 2006.

Yvenson Bernard (Oregon State – 4JR) 5’9” 203 - Career Stats

After Steven Jackson let in 2003, the Beavers had one of the worst rushing attacks in Division I in 2004. That changed in 2005 when Bernard went from third-string the previous year to surprise star. He ran for over 1,300 yards, catch 37 passes, and score 14 total TDs last season. Demonstrated he can be a workhorse back with over 30 carries in five of the last six games. 2005 Honors: Honorable Mentioned PAC-10 All-Conference.

HC Mike Riley held him out of the spring game as precaution, but he will be ready to return as one of the premier backs in the PAC-10 this fall. The versatile back complimented his running production in showing good skills as a receiver and blocker. While a bit undersized, the stocky back is built well and has good speed. Rarely used prior to last year, he has a good opportunity to show last year wasn’t a fluke behind an offensive line that returns all its starters. If he has a similar season, he is a candidate to declare early.

Chauncey Washington (USC – 4JR) 6’1” 208 - Career Stats

Came to USC in the highly-regarded class of 2003 with Reggie Bush and Lendale White. While the thunder and lightning combination of White and Bush led USC the last two years, Washington has been academically ineligible since seeing just a handful of carries as a freshman. His disappointment ended in May, when his passing spring grades allow him to be eligible this fall. He missed the spring game as he was still ineligible that semester, but he now is in the running to start for the Trojans this fall.

At this point, Washington is a complete unknown. While many pundits are already inserting him into the starting lineup, he won’t have played a college football game in almost three years when the season starts. While lacking the bulk, and likely the power, of White, he brings a similar bruising running style. He lacked elite speed as a recruit, so it seems unlikely he’ll have it after being a way for a couple years. While his academic struggles are a bit of a concern, his dedication to remaining at USC and regaining eligibility is relatively impressive. If Washington is the feature back and has an impressive season, he seems a likely candidate to declare early.

Jamario Thomas (North Texas – 3JR) 5’11” 195 - Career Stats

After Patrick Cobbs led the nation in rushing in 2003, it looked like it would be a while before the blue chip recruit got his chance. However, Cobbs went down early in 2004 and the Mean Green running game didn’t miss a beat. Thomas simply rushed for 1,801 yards, despite missing two games and getting just 1 yard in his first game, thanks to an amazing six 100-yard games. He led the nation in rushing (189.9 ypg), winning Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, and Freshman of the Year.

Cobbs returned in 2005 and the team struggled to integrate both. Thomas was also hampered by a lingering hamstring injury which cost him the last three games of the season. With Cobbs gone, he returns to the feature role. In limited action he had 25 yards on four carries in the spring game.

Unlike Cobbs, Thomas has decent measurables and can run with speed or power. He is a significantly better prospect for the next level. He has rarely been used as a receiver, so that is an area he’ll need to demonstrate more in. Returning to prolific production could make him consider declaring early, but he’ll be deprived of much recognition in the Sun Belt.

Tony Pittman (Ohio State – JR) 5’11” 195 - Career Stats

One man’s loss (Maurice Clarett) is another man’s gain. Pittman took advantage of his opportunity in 2004, then followed it up in 2005 taking the next step and developing in to a feature back.

He sat out the spring game with a pulled hammy. If he produces similarly in 2006, the smart move would be to jump with a talented pair of young RBs named Wells behind him. He doesn’t have ideal size or speed, but he is fundamentally sound and a hard worker. I don’t think he is an elite talent, but on an explosive offense for a national champ contender, he can ride the coattails to an opportunity to be drafted.

Jamar Brittingham (Bloomsburg – 3JR) 6’0” 203

After rushing for over 2,500 yards and 30 TDs to lead Neshaminy to the Class AAAA state championship with a 15-0 record in 2001, the Pennsylvania HS legend was set to attend Rutgers. His grades were not good enough to qualify in 2002, so he spent a year at Kiski Prep. A year later, he was still academically ineligible, and his football future seemed in doubt. He found a home at Division II Bloomsburg in the spring of 2004 and teamed with Mike Ceroli to give the Huskies a pair of 1K rushers that fall.

As the feature back in 2005, he looked like he was back in HS again. Brittingham ran for 2,260 yards (188.3 ypg) and 32 TDs, breaking multiple school and conference records, leading the Huskies to their first undefeated regular season since 1985. 2005 Honors: 1st Team AP Little All-American, PSAC East Player of the Year.

His size and speed are NFL quality, so the only question is if his talent will be, which is challenging to evaluate against this level of competition. Although he’ll have a year of eligibility left after this season, he’ll be five years removed from his HS graduating class. He should also be motivated to declare because he can’t prove much more at this level, so his draft value won’t get much higher even if he managed to exceed last season’s production.

Georgia Bulldogs Trio: (Thomas Brown – 3JR, Danny Ware – 3JR, Kregg Lumpkin – 4JR)

HC Mark Richt has been very complimentary of Thomas Brown this spring, noting how he has had a “dominating spring” and “has really set himself apart from almost everyone on the team”. Limited to 4 carries for 25 yards in the spring G-Day game, the light load being another sign he has moved to the head of the RB pack. Brown was named Best All-Around Offensive Player and Most Consistent Running Back, at conclusion of Spring drills.

Danny Ware saw 6 carries for 26 yards and Kregg Lumpkin had 8 carries for 44 yards in their spring game. After looking like a future feature back as a true freshman, he suffered a torn ACL in the spring of 2004, opening the door for Brown and Ware. Late last season Lumpkin was returning to form and back in the rotation, starting to pass Ware. However, shoulder problems have limited Lumpkin this spring, so the competition is wide open for who will be next in line behind Brown. Brown is a bit undersized, so he would likely need a huge year to make leaving early a smart choice. A year older than the other two and proving fragile, Lumpkin probably has the most motivation to declare early, but is off the NFL radar right now, needing more exposure. Ware seems the least likely, especially if Brown sees the bulk of work.