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
Players improving their draft stock so far this season.
Tony Hunt (Penn State – 4SR)
6’2” 225 - Career
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
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
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
Garrett Wolfe (Northern Illinois
– 5SR) 5’7” 177 - Career
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
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
Kolby Smith (Louisville –
4SR) 5’11” 215 - Career
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.
Players whose value remains unchanged (for better or worse) so
far this season.
Kenny Irons (Auburn – 5SR)
5’11” 200 - Career
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
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
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.
Players whose draft stock has been hurt so far this season.
Michael Bush (Louisville –
4SR) 6’2” 247 - Career
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
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
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
Tyrone Moss (Miami – 4SR)
5’9” 223 - Career
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
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
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
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
Justin Vincent (LSU – 5SR)
5’10” 223 - 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 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
Ronnie McGill (North Carolina –
4SR) 5’11” 220 - Career
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
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
Marcus O’Keith (California
– 5SR) 6’1” 190 - Career
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
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
Players no longer in the draft picture for 2007.
Austin Scott (Penn State –
4SR) 6’0” 209 - Career
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.
Players improving their draft stock so far this season.
Adrian Peterson (Oklahoma –
3JR) 6’2” 218 - Career
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
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
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
Antonio Pittman (Ohio State –
JR) 5’11” 200 - Career
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.
Players whose value remains unchanged (for better or worse) so
far this season.
Yvenson Bernard (Oregon State –
4JR) 5’9” 203 - Career
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.
Players whose draft stock has been hurt so far this season.
Lynell Hamilton (San Diego State
– 4JR) 6’0” 220 - Career
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
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
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.
Players no longer in the draft picture for 2007.
Chauncey Washington (USC –
4JR) 6’1” 220 - Career
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
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
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
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.