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2007 NFL RB Draft Class
Version 2.0

Back in July, I first took a look at the running backs headed for the 2007 NFL Draft in this article. Now that the season is underway, we’ll look at how this class is evolving. I haven’t had an opportunity to see or research the small school backs much yet, so we’ll revisit them in the next update.

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

Moving Up (Seniors)
Players improving their draft stock so far this season.

Tony Hunt (Penn State – 4SR) 6’2” 225 - Career Stats

I was higher than most on Hunt heading in to this season, but as I was wondering if my confidence was misplaced, Hunt has gained momentum after a slow start. He managed just 36 yards on 12 carries, but did find the end zone, at home against Akron to start the year. However, he was one of the few highlights when they were trounced at Notre Dame the following week. Hunt rushed for 74 yards on just 12 carries, including a 30-yard run, and caught 3 passes for 26 yards. He also had a 30-yard gain on a screen pass erased by a penalty. Not surprisingly, against D-IAA Youngstown State, he had his best game, rushing 143 yards and a score on 18 carries. The following week, he put the team on his shoulders and almost single-handedly carried them back in Columbus against the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes. The 28-6 final score was misleading because PSU trailed by only 11 midway through the fourth quarter. PSU marched 79 yards to the Ohio State one-yard line on a drive where Hunt accounted for 64 yards on eight carries, including a 34-yard run. Although the team failed to convert the TD and a pair of late picks made the final score a blowout, he finished with 135 yards on 24 carries and the game defined him as a runner. It was his second straight 100-yard game and ninth of his career.
Possessing ideal size, Hunt combines decent speed, power, and fundamentals. He runs with good forward lean and brings solid receiving skills. He leads by example with an excellent work ethic in practice and full effort on game days. Even if he doesn’t put up huge numbers this season, I think he will be a fast riser in a weak senior class come the Senior Bowl and Combine.

Thomas Clayton (KSU – 5SR) 5’10” 220 - Career Stats

After an up-and-down 2005 that saw him leading the nation in rushing after two games, then derailed by a one game suspension for a stupid run-in with a university meter maid and later by a costly fumble, he ended strong. The he bulked up in the off-season and set 2,000 yards rushing as a goal for 2006. However, an unimpressive spring game and conviction on misdemeanor battery in June for his parking problem last year was not a good start for him with new HC Ron Prince. Despite being suspended for a game immediately in 2005 over the parking incident, he was suspended for the season opener against I-AA Illinois State after the conviction. He returned the following week in a rout of Florida Atlantic and put up 89 yards and a score on 16 carries. In another easy victory against Marshall he posted 18-76-1. His breakout game, and main reason I have him moving up, would come against Louisville. Despite the Wildcats offensive struggles, Clayton ran well in a game where KSU was clearly overmatched. He finished with 15-119-1 on the ground and 5-34-0 through the air, playing a “very complete game”, according to Prince.

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, and a 69-yard TD against Louisville this year. He isn’t technically strong as a receiver, but when he gets the ball in stride in the flat, he can turn it in to a big play. He brings a power and speed combo that is very appealing to NFL teams. His legal problem is minor, but ball security is also a problem. With his talent and measurables, if he can turn in a consistent season, he should have a Day One grade.

DeShawn Wynn (Florida – 5SR) 5’11” 238 - Career Stats

After being an underachiever throughout his career, the start of the Urban Meyer Era looked as if it could completely derail the collegiate career of Wynn. He showed up overweight in the spring of 2005, it became an up and down season for Wynn as he tried to fit in to the new offense and battled injury problems. 2006 did not appear to start off much better. Meyer criticized the entire running back corps at the beginning of spring and as none of the backs separated themselves, the issue was undecided heading in to the fall. Somewhere along the line, the light went on for Wynn and he was a different player in the fall, the attitude and work ethic drastically improved. The comments from Meyer began to be positive. He still split carries pretty evenly with Kesthan Moore through the first two games. He had 45 yards rushing and a touchdown in the opener against Southern Mississippi, then had 51 yards and a score the following week against Central Florida, both in easy victories against overmatched opponents. The turning point of his season came at Tennessee. The Vols were still high after a huge season opening win over California and again had the look of a powerhouse team. Wynn seized the feature role in that game as a key contributor to the win. With the Vols down by six midway through the fourth quarter, he got the eventual game-winning drive off to a great start with a 26-yard run. Then, in the closing minutes, he pounded his way to a first down on a third-and-six to get the first down that sealed the victory as the Gators were then able to run out the clock. Meyer was effusive, for him, with praise for Wynn’s effort and toughness in the game. Wynn finished with 104 yards rushing on 22 carries and caught two passes for 13 yards. The next game against Kentucky, he went over 100 yards again, making it the first time in his career he did it in back-to-back games.

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 should develop in that area in Meyer’s offense this season, although he is only averaging one reception a game though four. Toughness and durability are also question marks, but he seems to have had an epiphany in that area sometime this fall. Wynn has the talent and measurables to be a starter at the next level, he just needs to show the consistency the rest of the way this season he hasn’t before to be a Day One pick.

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

The Huskie’s Little Big Man showed he could be just as productive against the big boys when he put up 285 yards of offense on No. 1-ranked Buckeyes in the season opener at Ohio State. On the same field as better publicized Heisman candidates like Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr., Wolfe was arguably the best player. He rushed for 171 yards on 26 carries and caught five passes for 114 yards and a TD. While the MAC has earned well-deserved respect, this performance (and a similar one at home against Michigan last year) helps his value with positive numbers and film on him against a top major conference opponent. In another loss to Ohio in their home opener the following week, Wolfe posted 24-196-2. He was four yards short of his eighth 200-yard game, but it was his 16th 100-yard rushing game in 22 appearances. Against D-IAA Indiana State the following week, he 198 yards on 22 carries and four touchdowns is little more than a half. He was lifted in the third quarter with the game well in hand. His four TD runs give him 47 for his career, one short of the school’s career record. He leads the nation with 207 rushing ypg and 246 all-purpose ypg.

Despite his incredible production, speed and lightning quickness, Wolfe has two strikes against him: size and durability concerns. He can’t do anything about the former, but staying healthy for a full year will help alleviate the latter.

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

A devastating torn left patellar tendon on 9/11/2004 cost him almost two seasons after the JUCO transfer went over 1,000 yards despite starting just 8 of 14 games. Regained his starting role in the spring and ran for 158 yards and three scores in a season opening win over Nevada, his first game in nearly two years. He showed he still had speed on a 40-yard TD spring and his final 9-yard TD run that sealed the victory with less than seven minutes to go was an act of pure will that featured no less than five broken tackles. He went over 150 yards again and ran for a TD in close loss to Oregon the following week. In a one-point loss at Washington in the next game, he posted 28-136-2. He is fifth in the nation is rushing and has carried the load for FSU so far with no less than 26 carries in each game.

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 still has a burst through the line. Wright has surprisingly good hands for a big back, although he hasn’t been involved much in the passing game this year (just 1 reception in each game so far). 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. If he remains healthy and continues to produce consistently, he is lock to declare, and his draft value is on the rise.

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

In my preseason review, I list Smith in a category called "The RBBC'ers and Back-Ups", saying those listed where "an injury away from huge seasons that could shoot them up draft boards". Well, the injury part has happened for Smith. In the second half of their season opener against Kentucky, top RB prospect Michael Bush broke his leg and his season was over. Smith and George Stripling replaced him, with Smith finishing with 66 yards on 12 carries and two receptions for 14 yards. Since then, Smith has gotten the starting nod each game, but shares carries pretty evenly with Stripling. In a rout at Temple the following week, he posted 7-86-1 and 2-21-0. His biggest game so far came the next week against Miami. Smith ran for two touchdowns and 48 yards on 17 carries, helping Louisville beat a ranked opponent from a Bowl Championship Series conference for the first time since 2002. The loss of QB Brian Brohm in that game to a broken thumb puts even more pressure on the running game the next few weeks. The team bounced back well with an easy win at KSU. Smith went over 100 yards combined, finishing with 16-63-0 and 4-33-0.

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 and solid in pass protection. However, Stripling is the better pure runner, hence why HC Bobby Petrino continues to split the work. If Louisville can continue succeed in spite of losing two Heisman candidates, particularly if the running game continues producing, Smith's visibility will continue to grow. Any unlikely candidate for an all-star game and the Combine before the season, he is now improving his chances of both, giving him further opportunity to generate some draft value. His stock is slowly moving up.

Holding (Seniors)
Players whose value remains unchanged (for better or worse) so far this season.

Kenny Irons (Auburn – 5SR) 5’11” 200 - Career Stats

The SEC’s top rusher picked up where he left off last year in their season opener. He hung 20-183-1 and 3-40-0 on WSU in their season opener. The next week at Mississippi State he was held to just 69 yards on 21 carries, ending a streak of seven consecutive 100-yard games. It was insinuated nagging groin and shoulder injuries contributed to his off-day at Miss. St., but HC Tommy Tuberville chalked up to nothing more than normal wear-and-tear every RB goes through. On “Separation Saturday”, LSU came to town and Auburn got away with a win, but Irons was held to 70 yards on 25 tough carries. With just over two minutes left and Auburn clinging to a four-point lead, Irons was stopped on three straight runs. The team had to punt, but the defense held on for the 7-3 win. The game took its toll on him physically, as Irons left with a sprained toe and ankle. He was held out of the Buffalo game the following week due to the injuries, but was back to face his old team for the second time at South Carolina. The injuries didn’t seem a problem as he went over 100 yards rushing and twice dove in for scores from the one-yard line.

A hard-nosed runner with decent speed, his size and strength limit him as a runner inside, but he has the quickness to bounce outside. He needs to add some bulk and demonstrate more as a receiver, but his pass blocking ability is a plus. That will help get him on the field right away at the next level. He also benefits from running behind one of the top offensive lines in college football. One thing he will have to change is his propensity to carry the ball only with his right hand. He doesn’t seem to shift it to the left, which is important for ball security when on the left sideline. Ahman Green had a similar tendency and it caused him problems when he got to the next level while he learned. The success of the team helps his recognition and the injury to Michael Bush moves him up by default, but he hasn’t shown he is an elite talent.

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

The departure of Ramonce Taylor thinned out the backfield situation and Young has taken advantage. He was named the starter for their season opener, but effectively splits carries with Jamaal Charles. In a season opening blowout of North Texas, Young ran for a TD and caught another. Despite their loss at home to Ohio State the following week, Young was impressive. He ran for 94 yards on 11 carries and caught 6 passes for 41 yards. The following week had another excellent game on the ground, rushing for 15-101-1 in a blow out of Rice. Off to an excellent start, injury problems returned against Iowa State the next week. Young left the game in the second quarter with a rib injury. He was examined at halftime but did not return to the game. Before leaving, he rushed twice for four yards, but scored a TD and also caught a 17-yard pass. His utilization in the passing game is another plus for his value. His previous season high was nine receptions and he already passed that through four games this year. HC Mack Brown has not commented on the rib injury, but it is not believed to be serious. However, Texas faces D-IAA Sam Houston State this weekend, so Young could be rested before the Red River Shootout the following weekend.

Not just winning the national championship last season, but being a significant contributor in the game, has proven to be a cathartic event for Young. He has always had the ideal measurables and exciting athleticism, but his physical, mental, and emotional health have never aligned until this season. He has put academic problems behind him, emerged as a team leader, and started physically healthy, until he unfortunately ran into injury problems again. The last is important because his durability has always been a huge problem. So, while he won’t put up big numbers in the RBBC, having his ribs heal quickly and maintaining the consistency he shown the first few games will help the former blue chip recruit regain some draft value. I had considering him moving up, until the injury. Now we’ll have to see if and how he rebounds.

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

As sophomore Ray Rice is entrenched as the feature runner and in the middle of becoming a star, Leonard's carries have been cut back dramatically. His 25 carries is the least he has had through four games in his active career as a Scarlet Knight. However, you won't hear a complaint from Leonard, the ultimate team player, as the Scarlet Knights are 4-0 and ranked for the first time in 30 years. His is still utilized in the passing game and on par for his third straight year with 50+ receptions. He is averaging 4 receptions and 38.25 yards receiving per game.

Leonard is a classic tweener with FB size but HB skills. 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 so far. Leonard has the instincts and quickness to succeed as a situational runner at the next level. His receiving skills are outstanding 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 his career. The dip in production doesn't hurt his draft value, as he is a niche player that would be looked at in the mid-to-late rounds even if he were carrying the ball more.

Moving Down (Seniors)
Players whose draft stock has been hurt so far this season.

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

After rushing for 128 yards and three touchdowns in the first half of their home opening win against Kentucky on 9/3/06, he broke his right leg in two places on the second carry of the second half. The surgery to repair it was done two days later and went well. He will miss the rest of the season.

Perhaps he should be listed with the underclassmen now, because he can apply for a redshirt. However, breaking it early in the season gives him plenty of time to be ready for the Combine. Bush doesn’t have anything left to prove at the collegiate level, he could have been a high pick last year. He came back for a chance at, albeit a dark horse for both, a national championship and the Heisman. The injury will likely be a wakeup call that something more serious could happen, and he’ll get down to preparing for the next level.

A freakish size/speed combination in the Brandon Jacobs mold, 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. I group him here simply for the fact out of sight is out of mind. If his rehab goes well and he is fit for the Combine, he will still be among the first backs drafted, possibly still the first senior RB.

Kenneth Darby (Alabama – 5SR) 5’10” 208 - Career Stats

While he hasn’t disappeared, his production thus far this season has been disappointing. He started with 90 yards on 37 carries (2.43 ypc) against two mediocre opponents (Hawaii and Vandy), playing both at home. Darby suffered a hip pointer in the season opener, but has not blamed his slow start on that. Instead, he has talked about lack of focus as he has been paying too much attention to chasing Shaun Alexander’s Alabama career rushing record. Against ULa-Monroe, he was slightly better, having his best game of the season with 79 yards on 14 carries. At Arkansas the following week, he struggled to keep his feet, stumbling multiple times when he tried to cut. The team lost 24-23 in double overtime. Darby is 784 yards short of Alexander’s record and would be the first Tide RB to post three straight 1K rushing seasons and with another this year. However, those goals seem far in the distance as Darby continues to overanalyze his struggles. After four games the 2005 All-SEC back is averaging 3.0 ypc and has yet to find the end zone. While teammates and coaches offer explanations, backup Jimmy Johns is averaging 5.2 ypc, so the running game isn’t completely breaking down for him.

Darby is substance over style. He won’t blow you away when you watch him, so he has to do it through his numbers. Without consistently superb production, his draft value significantly drops, because he doesn’t have a “wow” factor to him on film or in measurables that will have teams reach beyond his numbers. His current struggles have dropping at an increasing pace.

Tyrone Moss (Miami – 4SR) 5’9” 223 - Career Stats

After tearing his left ACL in early November last year that ended a breakout season and a blood clot complicating his recovery, Moss said he still considered entering the NFL draft in January. He blames problems with the recovery and a loss of focus for skipping a study hall in January that resulted in him being suspended for the season opener. So, despite being ready physically on September 4th when FSU came to town, he was inactive. Charlie Jones was the starter, but the running game struggled overall in a loss against a tough Seminole defense. Still, Jones remained the starter in a rout of Florida A&M where all four of the top backs had good days. In his return that game, Moss ran for 64 yards on eight carries and scored a TD. Despite a successful return by Moss, Jones remained the starter the following week at Louisville. In the game, carries were split evenly between Jones (8-35-0), Moss (7-20-1), and true freshman Javarris James (7-24-0) with similar results. HC Larry Coker says it could be James to get the next start against Houston on Saturday. Jones is averaging a disappointing 3.9 ypc and while Moss has 5.6 ypc on the limited carries he has had the last two game, Coker feels Moss still can't make some cuts because of the knee injury, indicating he's not fully healthy.

Durability is the biggest concern. Aside from the knee, he missed the spring in 2005 with shoulder surgery. While he is a bit short, Moss has a thick frame that runs with good pad level and power in prototypical NFL style. He has an excellent nose for the end zone, with seven multi-TD games despite only eight career starts. He already scored once this year on just 15 carries. However, in addition to health issues, he lacks elite speed and has never broken a run longer than 37 yards. While he was statistically impressive until he was hurt last season, he doesn’t have the highlight reel talent and explosiveness of recent Hurricane backs. With four career receptions, one for a loss, he also needs a lot of work to become a serviceable receiver. His return is reminiscent of former FSU runner Greg Jones, who started slowly recovering from a torn ACL less than a year earlier. When it looked time to write Jones off, he finished the season strong and had an impressive Combine, resulting in still being a second round pick. Moss has to hope for the same to regain his draft value as a talented stable of younger backs leaves no need to rush him back to a full-time role.

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

Despite all the talk about the team wanting to stress the running game more, and Booker personally saying he wanted to beat Warrick Dunn’s single-season school rushing record, FSU has been tremendously disappointing in that facet so far this season. At Miami, the team net one yard rushing in a season opening win. Booker carried 6 times for a loss of 3 yards total. Antone Smith saw 9 carries for 5 yards. While struggling against Miami is one thing, putting up 45 yards on the ground total in a narrow victory over Troy in their home opener is another. Booker had 6 carries for 18 yard and Smith was slightly better with 6 carries for 27 yards. Fullback Joe Surratt had more rushing yards than Booker and the team’s only two rushing scores through the first two games. The team was upset by Clemson the following week, but the output was relatively better. Booker had 45 yards on 10 carries to 38 on 11 for Smith. Their fourth game against Rice was what the running game needed. The Owls had allowed 234.2 ypg rushing in their first three games. Booker and Smith both went off, going over 100 yards and Booker finally found the end zone. However, that doesn’t hide the desperate struggle of Booker and the running game have displayed this season.

The offensive line, considered part of the problem last year, is healthy and doesn’t appear to be the issue now, so the excuses are running out for Booker. He is still has great quickness and speed, but that appears to actually be part of the problem in preventing him from becoming a complete runner. He continues to spend too much time dancing in the backfield and tries to take runs outside too frequently, instead of hitting the hole. This won’t be overlooked on film and NFL teams will have him pegged as no more than a third down back. The fact Smith is doing little more means there will still be an opportunity for Booker to salvage his season, but it isn’t looking like he’ll ever be a feature runner at the next level.

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

Started the season stuck in a triple-headed RBBC monster with super-sized FB tweener Jorvorskie Lane and freshman sensation Mike Goodson. The carries were distributed fairly evenly, with Lane seeing the short yardage and goal-line work. After being the leading rusher in essentially a practice game to open the year against Citadel, Lewis saw the least work against Louisiana-Lafayette. He was out for a win at Army with an unspecified injury. He suited up, but also missed the La Tech game. HC Dennis Franchione said he could have played after the game, but was recovering from injury. Meanwhile, Lane has seen most of the work.
This situation is not good for a guy whose career has gone in reverse since being a Freshman All-American in 2003. There were some positives at the beginning of the year. Sharing the load should have helped keep him healthy, as durability has, and continues to be, a problem. He accepted sharing the role and emerged as a leader and worked on other facets of his game. He already had four receptions (his season high is 12) and his pass blocking has improved. Now all that is currently for nothing, as his durability again is in the spotlight. While he needs to add some bulk, he has the height and frame to develop an ideal NFL RB body. His value is taking a big hit now, but I expect him to be a late riser during the phase when his home run speed and excellent athleticism are measured and accounted for.

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

It was a challenge for Broussard to recover from a torn ACL in August 2005 that ended his season before it started. 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 by spring and there were reports he was ready to quit football over the challenging rehab. When the season opener against La.-Lafayette arrived, he was cleared to play, but still walking with a limp, at times, and HC Les Miles said his recovery was still a work in progress. He was also about 20 pounds overweight and getting back to his playing weight of 230 is definitely part of what “work” remains in “progress”. Justin Vincent was the starter against La.-Lafayette, but Vincent, Jacob Hester, and Broussard all saw eight carries, while true freshman Charles Scott saw five. Broussard finished the leading rusher with 46 yards and a TD. The following week against Arizona, carries were split almost exactly the same, with Broussard posting 8-30-1. In a defensive battle at Auburn the next game, Broussard saw the most carries (ten), but managed just 16 yards. Tulane came to town next, where Vincent remained the starter and Broussard didn’t get a touch, and Scott went over 100 yards. HC Les Miles said there was no message to Broussard or any other back in the game, but that he still hasn’t seen any one of them emerge sufficiently to be a feature back.

With a four-headed monster of a RBBC and Broussard lacking his coach’s confidence to be featured, his draft value is falling rapidly. He is a big back built to move the pile, but he lacked top speed and elusiveness prior to the injury. With just two career receptions, he is a non-factor in the passing game. If he isn’t viewed as a feature back, he’ll still have some draft value as a short yardage and goal-line specialist, if he impresses at the Combine.

Justin Vincent (LSU – 5SR) 5’10” 223 - 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 through 2005. He added injury issues after the 2005 season when he tore his ACL in the Peach Bowl, then sat out the spring recovering, but was ready for fall practice. He was recognized by HC Les Miles for having a great camp and was made the starter. However, he is just the nominal starter in what is a four-man RBBC. In the season opener against La.-Lafayette, he posted 8-21-0, the least productive of the three backs (Alley Broussard and Jacob Hester were the other two) who had eight carries. True freshman Charles Scott had 39 yards on five carries. Vincent started again against Arizona, and carries were split similarly, with Vincent finishing with 31 yards on eight carries. In a defensive struggle at Auburn, he managed just 16 yards on six carries, but was no less impressive than any other runner. The following week against Tulane, he started for the fourth straight game, but finished with six yards on just two carries. Scott was featured, posting 15-101-2. Miles indicates he is still waiting for one of the backs to emerge and earn the majority of the work.

Coming back healthy and winning the starting job were big steps for Vincent in getting back on the NFL radar. However, the crowded backfield and inability of Miles to commit to Vincent prevents his draft value from improving any. With a poor outlook for being able to show anything statistically or on film, he is left with an all-star game, if he gets an invite, and the Combine to make an impression.

Ronnie McGill (North Carolina – 4SR) 5’11” 220 - Career Stats

In-game cramps were a problem his first two games, keeping him out for key stretches during both games. He finished with 94 yards on 16 carries in a season opening loss to Rutgers and just 15 yards on ten carries against VaTech. He again had to miss time in the first half against I-AA Furman, but he finished with 24-114-3 on the ground and 2-60-1 through the air, carrying the team to victory in a game that shouldn’t have been as close as it was. Against a tough run defense at Clemson, he managed a decent 52 yards on 11 carries.

Durability is an increasing problem. A sprained ankle impacted his 2004 season and a torn pec started his 2005 season late. Now he has missed time in games this year with cramps – not sure why he can’t stay hydrated and stretch a little more before the game. While he has decent size, speed, and strength, but his measurables won’t blow anyone away. However, he hits the hole hard with great agility and runs with excellent toughness, vision, and balance. His receiving skills were finally on display last year, but he hasn’t been involved much so far this year. Until he can show more consistency, he could be overlooked by the NFL the way he was by major college programs when he came out of Clover (South Carolina) High.

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

Thomas is still the nominal starter and getting the majority of work, but shares carries with Rashard Mendenhall, their top 2005 recruit, and fellow senior E.B. Halsey. Thomas got off to a good start posting 15-126-2 against I-AA Eastern Illinois in the season opener. He saw just seven carries for 38 yards at Rutgers the next game, as the Illini were down by 30 at halftime and had to abandon the run. Same deal the following week as they were down 31-7 in the third quarter, Thomas had just 7 carries for 25 yards. Against Iowa he had a solid performance of 52 yards on 11 carries, considering Illinois was beaten easily again.

The Big Ten all-purpose yardage leader in 2004 has seen his production decrease not because he is playing any worse, but due to the team's struggles and sharing the ball, particularly with Mendenhall, more. As the top running back, he has seen his kickoff duties scaled back, but is an exceptional kick returner and that alone could help find him work on Sundays. Similarly, he is a decent receiver, but the instability at the QB spot for Illinois this year has seen his role their decrease. He is a versatile player with decent measurables and athleticism, but he won’t wow them with his physical skills at the Combine. Fundamentally sound, he does a lot of things well, but nothing great. He has decent size, is a good north-south runner with straight-line speed, but lacks the vision and quick feet to project as a feature runner. He has the skill set to make a roster as a change of pace back and add value as a kick returner at the next level, but a poor team hurts his visibility and opportunities, so he has to be considered moving down.

Marcus O’Keith (California – 5SR) 6’1” 190 - Career Stats

Jeff Tedford’s first major signing as HC at Cal, O’Keith remains third on the depth chart, behind Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett, in arguably the nation’s most talented backfield. He didn’t see a carry in a carry in the first two games, but did catch three passes for 50 yards in their season opening loss at Tennessee. He saw mop-up action in the third game against I-AA Portland State, finishing with 65 yards and a TD on eight carries. He saw just two carries for 12 yards against ASU.

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 6.77 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. When used as a kick returner, he has shown potential there and adds value as an outstanding special teams player - he hits like a safety. So while his opportunity to be drafted with potential to be a RB is all but gone, he could stick at the next level as a special teams player.

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

Unable to overtake Pierre Thomas as the feature runner, he is increasing losing touches to an emerging Rashard Mendenhall. Through four games, the carries were split 50% Thomas, 25% Halsey, and 25% Mendenhall, but most of that was in the first two games. The last two Halsey has gotten 0 carries (Syracuse) and 1 carry (Iowa). He isn't even apart of the passing game now, as Illinois struggles with an identity at QB. After 38 receptions last year, he has just three through four games this year.

The 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, but unlike Pierre Thomas, he hasn't been able to rise above that. He is a better than average receiver and can return both kicks and punts. However, his decreased usage is making him a long shot to even get a shot as an undrafted free agent.

Moving Out (Seniors)
Players no longer in the draft picture for 2007.

Austin Scott (Penn State – 4SR) 6’0” 209 - Career Stats

After reminding people of his potential with a 26-110-2 performance in the Orange Bowl after Tony Hunt was injured, Scott was expected to see more work this season. However a sprained knee kept him out during the spring and an ankle injury has prevented him from playing yet. Because of that, he has decided to redshirt and return for a fifth year. With Hunt having graduated, he has a chance to be the feature back next year. HC Joe Paterno is yet to officially announce it, as an injury to Tony Hunt would necessitate Scott to play, but Scott did not accompany the team to Ohio State.

Moving Up (Underclassmen)
Players improving their draft stock so far this season.

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

After hitting a few bumps in 2005, he is back to the undisputed All-American form he displayed as a freshman in 2004. He had his best game of the year, so far, against their toughest opponent. In a controversial loss at Oregon, he ran for 211 yards and a score on 34 carries. It was his fourth career 200-yard game. He has rushed for 100+ yards in all four games so far this season and is second in the nation in rushing with 160.75 ypg on a 5.5 ypc average. Although still not involved much in the passing game, he turned a short pass in the season opener in to a 69-yard TD.

There isn't much that needs to be said about his draft value. Any questions about his ankle were answered with a reported team-best 4.37 40-yard dash in spring testing. He is on track for a 2,000 yard season. Peterson is perhaps the most exciting combination of size, speed, and raw natural talent at RB since Bo Jackson. He is likely to declare and, barring a setback, a favorite to be not only the top RB selected, but the first player chosen overall.

Marshawn Lynch (California – 3JR) 5’11” 217 - Career Stats

Despite the loss of All-PAC 10 selections T Ryan O’Callaghan and C Marvin Philip on the offensive line, Lynch hasn’t missed a beat this year. Like the rest of the team, he wasn’t as productive as normal in a season opening loss at Tennessee. He finished with 12-74-0 rushing and 5-22-0 receiving. Since then, he has rattled off three straight 100-yard games. He put up 27-139-2 against Minnesota. Against I-AA Portland State, he ended the day early after rushing for 112 yards on just six carries, including a 71-yard TD run, where he ran over the safety before bouncing outside and doing the rest with his speed. He went for 124 yards on 17 carries and caught two passes for 33 yards.

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. He gets less pub compared to fellow stud underclassmen Adrian Peterson, and playing on the West Coast, but Lynch is a legitimate Heisman contender and could challenged to be the first RB selected if he declares early (especially if Peterson doesn’t, for some reason).

Mike Hart (Michigan – 3JR) 5’9” 196 - Career Stats

After an injury-plagued 2005, Hart has returned to form and is once again one of the most productive runners in the nation. He went over 100 yards his first three games, including pounding out 31-124-1 in a huge win at South Bend that ended Notre Dame’s national championship hopes and put the Wolverines in the discussion instead. Hart was held under 100 yards for the first time against Wisconsin, but still had 91 and a TD with a win.

The team is 14-2 when Hart gets 20+ carries, so HC Lloyd Carr should continue to ride Hart and Kevin Grady will remain just a backup. He isn’t involved as much in the passing game this year, but he has shown he can catch a bit. If he can remain healthy this year, it will alleviate durability concerns, which is a major issue since he is smaller than ideal for the next level. 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. Whether or not he declares early will likely depend on the success of the team this year and what type of feedback he gets from the league’s underclassmen committee as far as where he is expected to go. His measurables leave a bit to be desired, but the senior class this year appears weak, so it might be a good year to make the jump.

Antonio Pittman (Ohio State – JR) 5’11” 200 - Career Stats

Despite being expected to be challenged for carries by sophomore Maurice Well and blue chip recruit Chris Wells, Pittman has firmly entrenched himself as the Buckeyes’ feature back. Strong performances at Texas (16-74-1) and in a tough game against PSU (20-110-1) highlight his season so far. He has gone over 100 yards in three of the first four games and run for a TD in each one.

One noticeable improvement this year is Pittman had bulked up, running with more authority and the ability to break tackles. With decent size and speed, he is fundamentally sound and a hard worker. A cautious runner, but once he gets a feel for the game, he runs stronger. He reminds me of former Wolverine Anthony Thomas. While hardly unnoticed by his teammates, Pittman gets far less hype on the team. He has been just as crucial to the success of the No.1-ranked Buckeyes as some of his more heralded teammates. He is quietly rising steadily and how far, if he declares, will depend on his workouts.

Holding (Underclassmen)
Players whose value remains unchanged (for better or worse) so far this season.

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

A breakout star in 2005, Bernard went from third-string to rushing for over 1,300 yards, catching 37 passes, and scoring 14 total touchdowns last season. Demonstrated he can be a workhorse back with over 30 carries in five of the last six games. He picked up where he left off with 19-124-2 in a season opening win over I-AA Eastern Washington. In a loss at Boise State the following week, he rushed for 89 yards on 24 carries and caught six passes for 28 yards. The following week in a shutout of Idaho, he went over 100 yards again and had two TD runs.

A versatile back, he compliments his running production with good skills as a receiver and blocker. While a bit undersized, the stocky back is built well and has good speed. He is still under the radar, but is off to a good start showing last year wasn’t a fluke behind an offensive line that returns all its starters.

Moving Down (Underclassmen)
Players whose draft stock has been hurt so far this season.

Lynell Hamilton (San Diego State – 4JR) 6’0” 220 - Career Stats

One of the most highly-regarded recruits in SDSU history and the 2003 MWC Freshman of the Year looked forward to rebounding from injury problems. A horribly broken right ankle and fibula cost him 2004 and slowed his start to 2005, then a strained hamstring that hampered him during the season. After finishing with three consecutive 100-yard games last year, he looked ready to back up where he left off in 2003. However, the season started poorly. He managed just 40 yards on 20 carries in a season opening loss to UTEP. The team was shutout at Wisconsin the following week and Hamilton was shutdown, posting just 19 yards on 11 carries. He was running a bit better against Utah until he hurt his left knee in the third quarter. He returned to the game briefly, thinking it was just a bruise, before leaving for good shortly after. He finished with 53 yards on 16 carries, but the knee didn’t feel right after the game. An MRI revealed injury problems struck again when they showed a revealed torn meniscus cartilage in the knee. He had arthroscopic surgery on 9/26/06 and the preliminary prognosis calls for him to be out three to four weeks.

The lasting impact of the leg injury, particularly on his speed, was troublesome, but after another injury in 2005 and yet another this season, his durability is a serious concern. However, with his size, running and receiving skills, he has the potential to be a dominant feature back. His receiving ability is better than average. His 26 receptions in 2005 made him the second-leading returning receiver and he already had 15 for 102 yards through three games. A return to 2003 form this season would have made him a likely candidate to declare early and be a Day One pick. That now seems out of the question, so we’ll have to wait and see how he rebounds from his latest injury. For now, his draft value is in decline.

Darius Walker (Notre Dame – 3JR) 5’10” 208 - Career Stats

He broke out as a 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. He was effective rushing for 99 yards and a score on 22 carries in a close victory at GaTech to open the season. He was substantially less effective posting 65 yards on 20 carries in a win against Penn State. Travis Thomas, who is now a starter at LB but still sees spot duty at RB, replaced him in a goal-line situation and ran for a TD. Walker and the team bottomed out in rout by Michigan at home the following week. He managed just 25 yards on ten carries. He was limited to 47 yards on just 11 carries as the team fell behind early and took to the air to come from behind at Michigan State. While he hasn’t done much as a runner the last two games, he remains an important asset as a receiver. He already has 23-140-1 as a receiver and is on pace to go over 60 receptions for the year.

While lacking elite timed speed, he brings more than sufficient game speed and works well between the tackles. Along with very good receiving skills, he’s a bit reminiscent of Travis Henry. Walker seemed to burn out around mid-season last year with a couple sub-par games before finishing strong. He has been limited as the running game has struggled the last two games this year. He’ll have to be a more consistent performer the rest of the way to consider making the jump early. At this point, his value is down and it is looking less likely he’ll leave.

Albert Young (Iowa – 4JR) 5’10” 209 - Career Stats

Young returned from a torn right ACL in 2004 to emerge as the feature back in 2005. He led the Big Ten in rushing (125.2) in conference play and fourth overall (111.2) for the season. He posted 19-93-1 in an easy season opening win over I-AA Montana. Since then, his productivity has decreased each game against mediocre to poor opponents and he has been sharing carries with Damian Sims. He had 57 yards against Iowa State (18 carries) and at Illinois (14) carries in the last two games. He has been a big contributor in the passing game, already having 18 receptions for 152 yards and a score.

Young could still turn his season around, he ran off seven straight 100-yard games starting with the fifth game of the season last year, but his draft value is on the decline early in the season. 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, as well.

Moving Out (Underclassmen)
Players no longer in the draft picture for 2007.

Chauncey Washington (USC – 4JR) 6’1” 220 - Career Stats

Academically ineligible the last two years, Washington watched from the sidelines as fellow runners in the 2003 USC recruiting class, Reggie Bush and LenDale White, have contributed to national championships and left for the NFL. Washington’s disappointment ended in May, when his passing spring grades allow him to be eligible this fall. Freshman C.J. Gable started the season opener at Arkansas and freshman Emmanuel Moody has started the next two. Washington has split carries with all three. Moody seemed to separate himself from the pack in the last game at ASU, where he ran for 130 yards and a score on 21 carries, the most by a USC back in a game this year. Washington’s top contribution was 12-52-1 against Nebraska the second game. He has battled hamstring problems and struggled at ASU with some personal issues on his mind, a cousin was killed and his grandmother suffered a stroke the week before the game.

With Moody establishing himself as the breakaway threat, HC Pete Carroll is hoping Washington can assume the big-back role to have a thunder and lightning one-two punch like they did with White and Bush last year. Carroll was complimentary of Washington’s practices last week, saying he appears to have some speed and burst back after his hamstring problems. Still, he has a long way to go to be a productive runner. At this point, he has almost no draft value and it seems unlikely he would consider declaring early.

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

When Laurence Maroney declared early for the draft last year, 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 poor academic performance. 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. However, school officials confirmed he didn’t enroll for summer school that began in mid-June. 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 was impossible for him to do and play football. 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 left Russell options of enrolling at a NAIA school (which aren't subject to NCAA rules) or JUCO or sitting out a year and preparing for the 2007 draft a la Demetrius Summers. He was ineligible for the supplemental draft because he is not yet three years removed from his high school graduating class. The Ohio native is back at home now and was at the team's season opener at Kent State. He said he hopes to be readmitted to Minnesota for the winter semester after enrolling at Columbus (Ohio) State Community College. If not Minnesota, than "somewhere else", of which Cincinnati is apparently an option, as he will visit the 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 a school-record 18 rushing TDs as a back-up and rushing for over 1,000 yards. At this point he plans appear to be to return to college, where he would still have two years of eligibility left, so we can stop tracking him this year until we hear otherwise.