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
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
Michael Bush (Louisville –
4SR) 6’2” 247 - Career
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
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
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
Kenneth Darby (Alabama –
5SR) 5’10” 202 - Career
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.
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
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
Alley Broussard (LSU – 4SR)
6’0” 237 - Career
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Justin Vincent (LSU – 5SR)
5’10” 219 - Career
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Marshawn Lynch (California –
3JR) 5’11” 223 - Career
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
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
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
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
Mike Hart (Michigan – 3JR)
5’9” 193 - Career
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
Darius Walker (Notre Dame –
3JR) 5’10” 215 - Career
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.