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2008 NFL RB Draft Class
Version 3.0

Before the season, I first took a look at the running backs headed for the 2008 NFL Draft in this article. Once the season was underway, we revisited their progress in this update. Now the list of underclassmen who have declared is final and many seniors have shaken their draft status up in all-star games. A weak senior group was bolstered by the addition of eight outstanding underclassmen prospects. As many as five RBs may grade out as first round picks (although it’s unlikely more than three will go that early), and all are likely underclassmen. The first senior may not go until the third round. The theme of this year’s class is speed. I can’t remember a class where so many good RB prospects predict to easily have sub-4.5 40 times. Another noteworthy feature of this year’s draft class is the stellar Conference USA prospects that broke out in 2007 (and/or how horrible run defenses were in C-USA). The two top statistical rushers in FBS came out of the conference, along with the FBS all-purpose yardage leader. This list isn’t an order of ranking, but rather grouping them by how their draft stock has moved as the season wrapped up.

Moving Up | Holding | Moving Down

Key: Name (School - Class) Height Weight

Moving Up
Players improving their draft stock recently.

Felix Jones (Arkansas – 3JR) 6’0” 202 Combine Invite: Yes
As teams went to extremes to avoid kicking off to him, he didn’t have much of an opportunity to hit a home run on special teams in the second half of the season. However, he did have his best day rushing the ball in an upset of #23 South Carolina on 11/3/07. While 3JR Darren McFadden tied a SEC record with 321 rushing yards in the game, Jones had a career-high 166 rushing yards on just 13 carries with three TDs, including scoring runs of 40 and 72 yards on back-to-back drives in the first quarter. The team set an FBS record for most combined rushing yards in a single game with 487. Jones also surpassed 1,000 yards in the game to make him and McFadden just the second set of backs in NCAA history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. Disappointment followed for Jones and the team the following week at #22 Tennessee. Jones had a 48-yard KO return in the first quarter, but suffered a deep thigh bruise on the play. He eventually left for good in the third quarter with just three yards on three carries. He saw just one play in their next game, a win over Mississippi State, due to the thigh. Jones was fine in time for their huge meeting with #1 LSU on 11/23/07. On a third-and-three deep in their own territory with the game tied, Jones would take a pitch from McFadden on a reverse and race 30 yards to set up a go-ahead TD late in the fourth quarter. In the third OT, he took a pitch to the right on a two-point conversion and raced in for the ultimate game-winning score. He finished with 85 yards on just 9 carries, two receptions for ten yards, and returned three kick-offs for 73 yards. The upset led to a Cotton Bowl appearance where Jones had 10-45-0 and 3-65-0, as well as four kick returns for 88 yards. Jones finished with six less yards rushing (1,162) than in 2006, but on 21 less carries. His amazing 8.7 ypc in 2007 shattered school and SEC records, as did his career 7.66 average per rush. He was fourth in the nation with a 29.64 kick return average, while his 28.21 career average set school and SEC records, while being ninth-highest in FBS history. For most of his career, he had just been recognized as a return specialist. Finally stepping out of McFadden’s shadow, he garnered recognition for his running skills with All-SEC second-team honors at RB (he was also first-team return specialist) and AP All-American third-team as an all-purpose back (he was a consensus first-team All American as a return specialist).

Jones is a legit Day One talent on offense before you even factor in he is an elite kick returner. He could have been a feature back on almost any other team in the country. One of the most explosive players in the country, in addition to his exploits as a kick returner, his outstanding ypc confirms his home run ability as a runner. Jones had at least one run of at least thirty yards in nine of 13 games this year and three runs over 70 yards on the season. He has outstanding agility and vision, and is gone in the open field with his world-class speed. Jones can immediately step in as a kick returner and change of pace back with upside and enough size to be a feature back, particularly in a zone blocking scheme where he is asked to be a one-cut runner. Two questions about him that go hand-in-hand relate to his ability to carry the load and succeed in a conventional offense. Many of his big plays came out of gimmick schemes and the every-play concern with McFadden found teams sleeping on Jones, at times. With McFadden carrying the load, Jones wasn’t asked to run between the tackles much and he often bounced the play outside when he did. He isn’t a power runner now, but has very good size. His upper body needs work, but his frame can hold more bulk and his legs are well developed. Jones had previously contended that he would return for his senior year, but the combination of the coaching changing at Arkansas and his first-round projection from the NFL draft advisory committee made the change of heart a no-brainer. Jones seems to have fallen behind a few of the other outstanding underclassmen RB prospects among most pundits, but he remains my second-rated RB, as I have some questions on Stewart’s intangibles, and should be back in the discussion to be the second RB selected when he blows them away at the Combine.

Jonathan Stewart (Oregon – 3JR) 5’11” 232 Combine Invite: Yes
Began last season as the nominal starter, but splitting carries regularly with 3JR Jeremiah Johnson. Stewart posted 14-67-0 in their season opening win against Houston, while Johnson was slightly more productive on a few less carries and had two short TD runs. Stewart also returned three kicks for 103 yards. A week after #5 Michigan was upset by FCS Appalachian State, Oregon went in to the Big House and handed the Wolverines their biggest loss in almost four decades. Stewart rushed for a two yard TD in the second quarter after breaking four tackles for a 14-yard gain on a Statue of Liberty play earlier in the drive. He finished with his first 100-yard game of the season. Johnson was similarly productive, finishing with 89 yards on a couple less carries, but also lost a fumble. Stewart had his first huge game of the season in an easy win against Fresno State on 9/15/07. After rushing four times for 29 yards on their second drive, Stewart finished with a nine-yard TD run to give the Ducks a 7-0 lead. Early in the second quarter, he lined up to the right of QB Dennis Dixon in the shotgun and started out behind a student body left, before bursting up the middle untouched for an 88-yard TD. Stewart also had his only fumble of the year in the third quarter. After catching a pass in the flat, it was knocked out, but Oregon recovered to keep possession. He finished 165 yards rushing on 17 carries, almost 10 ypc. Johnson had a 35-yard TD reception, but finished with just four carries for 22 yards as 3SO Andre Crenshaw saw significant work for the first time in the season. Stewart had another big game the following week at Stanford. He helped the Ducks get off to an early 14-0 lead with a ten-yard TD run in the first quarter. After Stanford tied the game in third quarter, Johnson would get the lead back for good with a 12-yard run, among his 14 carries. Stewart broke off a 55-yard run in the fourth quarter to finish with 160 yards on 19 carries. He also had four kick returns for 150 yards, including one for 64 yards, to finish with a career-high 310 all-purpose yards. The Ducks lost for the first time in 2007 against California on 9/29/07 as Dixon had his first miscues of the season, throwing two late picks. Stewart did his job, putting up his fourth-straight 100-yard game and getting the team to a 10-3 halftime lead with a five-yard run. Johnson only saw eight carries. The team bounced back the following week and slaughtered Washington State, but Steward was limited to 66 yards on 13 carries as he rested most of the second half with a minor hand injury. Johnson’s season ended in the game when he tore his right ACL. Stewart’s workload would increase the rest of the year, starting at Washington the following week. He thrived as the feature back, posting 32-251-2 and 3-20-0 in an easy win. Another solid performance followed in a big win over #9 USC on 10/27/07. Stewart rushed for TDs on back-to-back drives in the second half to give the Ducks the lead, and then the eventual game-winning score. He had his sixth 100-yard game (103) on 25 carries. He rushed for one TD and caught another, but fell a yard short of 100 in another big win over #6 ASU in their next game. The Ducks were up to #2 over their bye week when they faced Arizona on 11/15/07. Dixon, who was dinged in the previous game, left with a knee injury in the first quarter and would be done for the season. Stewart ran for a hard-fought 137 yards on 28 carries, but the team never got over the loss of Dixon and were upset by the Wildcats. Lost in the headlines of losing Dixon, was Stewart leaving the game early with a right ankle and toe injury. He would start the following week, but the team continued to spiral downward behind a pair of redshirt freshmen QBs. Stewart struggled on his sore foot and finished with his worst game of the season, posting just 33 yards on 13 carries. After sitting out practice the next week, the foot didn’t seem to be a problem when they faced Oregon State for the Civil War. Stewart had a career-high 39 carries for 163 yards, but the Ducks lost in OT, dropping their third-straight game. After Rose Bowl dreams a few weeks earlier, the Ducks ended up in a Sun Bowl match-up with South Florida. Stewart went out big, setting a Sun Bowl record with a career-high 253 rushing yards, his second 200-yard game of the season, on just 23 carries. The highlight was a 71-yard run he went untouched on a draw up the middle to give the Ducks their first lead of the game. He also caught an eight-yard TD pass in the game. Stewart finished the season leading the PAC-10 with school records of 1,722 yards rushing and 2,481 all-purpose yards. He received first-team PAC-10 all-conference recognition.

Stewart is built like a freight train, but moves like a bullet train. At just under six feet, he is packed with muscle. His 410-lb. bench was the best by a RB in Oregon history and his power clean of 402 lbs. was bested on the team last year only by former teammate and current Raven Haloti Ngata. A former track star, he is a home run hitter, making him a freakish size/speed package. Despite this, he isn’t the most physical runner at times, but defenders bounce off him once he’s at full speed. He loses some elusiveness when he’s at top speed, unable to maintain his agility. I think this contributes to some of his durability problems, which are one of the rare concerns with his potential in the NFL. His running style is conducive to getting banged up regularly. Although he missed just two games in his college career, he has been plagued by injury problems each season, particularly with his ankles. Ball security is a plus. After four fumbles in 2006 on 226 touches, he had just one on 325 touches last season. Great potential as a blocker, but he needs development in that role. Decent hands for a big man. He is a smart player and selfless to a fault, perhaps lacking the desirable borderline arrogance of a RB who demands the ball with the game on the line. QB Dennis Dixon led this team to great success most of the year and while Stewart put up some great numbers in his absence, he couldn’t carry the team in some unacceptable losses during a three-game losing streak. Stewart should be one of the more impressive RBs at the Combine in testing and continue to be in the running to be the second RB selected overall.

Rashard Mendenhall (Illinois – 3JR) 5’11” 220 Combine Invite: Yes
In the preseason review, I mentioned Mendenhall has the talent to emerge as one of the best RBs in the country this year, and he did that this year. He had just 33 yards on 11 carries, but two TDs, in a loss to Missouri where the Illini struggled. After that, Illinois and Mendenhall went on a tear that featured only a few road bumps on their way to a Rose Bowl appearance. After Mizzou, he had three-straight 100-yard rushing games, including a career-high 214 yards at Indiana on 9/22/07. He posted 18-76-1 and 4-27-0 in a win over #21 Penn State on 9/29/07. An upset the following week of #5 Wisconsin really put the team on the map, and Mendehall led the way. He had 160 yards and two scores on the ground, including a 32-yard run to put Illinois up 7-0 in the first quarter. With less than a TD lead heading in to the fourth quarter, the team went to the ground to eat clock and eventually add to the lead what would be the game-winning difference. In the fourth quarter, they pounded Mendenhall six times for 40 yards and two first downs, including a 24-yard run on the play after a pick early in the period. He also had four receptions for 33 yards and another TD through the air, which was a pitch that was ruled a foward pass. Mendenhall and the team faced a tough two-week stretch in mid-October starting with a disappointing loss at Iowa. He had his first bad game since their season opener, finishing with just 67 yards on 15 carries and not scoring for the first time in 2007. In a mistake-filled loss to Michigan the following week, he was held out of the end zone again, but ran for a respectable 85 yards on 18 carries with four receptions for 26 yards. A visit from Ball State got Mendenhall and the team back on track, as he ran for 189 yards and two TDs in the victory. The following he added two more rushing TDs, including one for 64 yards, and his second 200-yard game of the season as the Illini beat up a struggling Gopher team in Minnesota. The apex of the season for the team this season, and perhaps ever, came on 11/10/07 when they beat the top-ranked Buckeyes in Columbus. Mendenhall had an effective but unspectacular performance, grinding out 88 yards on 26 carries. His most important contribution was 11 carries in two sustained drives in the fourth quarter that helped the Illini protect their lead. They kept the ball all but a minute and change in the fourth quarter on just two possessions, sandwiched by a quick pick thrown by OSU the one time they had the ball. After racking up over 100 yards and two scores rushing in an easy win against Northwestern, a confluence of beneficial upsets in the final games of the season landed the Illini in a BCS bowl, at the Rose Bowl for the first time in 24 years. The biggest underdog in any bowl game, the Illini didn’t disappoint, but Mendenhall was on a different page in the second half of the game. After just 27 rushing yards in the first half, he took their second play from scrimmage in the second half up the middle for a 79-yard TD. He had a season-high five receptions for 59 yards and broke a couple more big runs (18 and 29 yards) late as the Trojans sat in prevent defense after building a significant lead. Mendenhall finished with 155 yards rushing on just 17 carries as the team lost for the first time last season when he rushed for more than 100 yards. Mendenhall left Illinois with single-season school records for 100-yard rushing games (8), rushing yards (1,681), all-purpose yards (1,999), rushing TDs (17), and all-purpose TDs (19). His accomplishments were recognized as the Illini’s first-ever the Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

Despite the loss for the team, Mendenhall made himself some money in the Rose Bowl. Against an opponent full of NFL talent, a team that many considered were playing as good as any in the nation, he had a highlight-reel play and outstanding final numbers. Regardless of most of his numbers coming in garbage time, he etched a spot in the memory banks of some scouts and front offices. A lot of his meteoric rise since then among pundits and draftniks is reactionary hype, but his workouts and measurables should stack up quite nicely for him to be among the top five RBs on the draft board of most teams. In preparation to carry the load this year, Mendenhall hit the weight room hard in the off-season. He emerged almost 20 pounds of muscle heavier and cut like a body builder. He will definitely pass the eyeball test with flying colors at the Combine with the ideal build for a RB. I expect he shows up to the Combine a little lighter to help his 40 time. The conventional wisdom is the weight cost him some speed, but he hit a few home runs this season as his outstanding 6.4 ypc average confirms. His numbers were helped from running in a gimmick option offense with a dual-threat QB who forced LBs to not be able to key on Mendenhall. He ran mostly out of split backfield shotgun sets, with a lot of draws, veers, and pitches. Still, he showed similar success when running more conventional plays out of the I-formation. The offense did benefit his NFL preparation by showcasing his skill as a receiver. Mendenhall was second on the team with 34 receptions. However, most were screens or swing passes, and not executing running routes. Regardless, he showed soft hands and outstanding RAC ability. He is a slasher who accelerates quickly, but loses agility when running at full speed where he slides instead of juking defenders with quick feet. After problems with fumbling in 2006, Mendenhall improved his ball security tremendously. A strong runner who sheds arm tackles easily, delivers a good stiff arm and delivers a blow at the end of the run. In less talented RB classes, he could have been the top prospect at the position, but he still should be off the board by the middle of the second round.

Jamaal Charles (Texas – 3JR) 6’1” 203 Combine Invite: Yes
After beginning the season with three consecutive 100-yard games, Charles fumbled on the first carry against Rice on 9/22/07. It was his third fumble lost in the last two games. In a shocking upset in Austin by Kansas State on 9/29/07, Charles rushed for 72 yards on 17 carries, including a six-yard TD run, giving him a TD in each of his first five games. Another relatively disappointing effort followed in the Red River Shootout the following week. Charles rushed for 79 yards on 17 carries and his scoring streak was stopped. It may have survived if he hadn’t lost his fourth fumble in four games on the Oklahoma four-yard line in the third quarter with the score tied at 14. However, he wouldn’t lose a fumble again for the rest of the season. At Iowa State on 10/13/07, the Longhorns came out passing and got off to a big lead. Charles had 44 yards on just seven carries, including an eight-yard TD, as the rout allowed the other RBs to get some reps and Charles sat out the fourth quarter. On the road the following week, their tenth-straight win over Baylor didn’t come as easy as most of the others, with the result in question until late in the game. Charles struggled to put up 56 yards on 16 carries while redshirt freshman Vondrell McGee outperformed him. Charles failed to rush for 100 yards for the fifth consecutive game. A season that started with his coronation as a feature back was building towards bringing the decision in doubt, until Nebraska came to Austin on 10/27/07. Against one of the worst run defenses in the country, Charles would turn his season around in the game. Actually, in one quarter of the game. Charles had 216 of his career-high 290 yards in the fourth quarter, including all three of his TDs. Down by eight on their first drive of the fourth quarter, Charles took a draw 25 yards for a score. A few drives later, Charles took a handoff out of the shotgun around the right end and went untouched for an 86-yard TD to give the Longhorns their first lead since 3-0 in the first quarter. After the Cornhuskers failed to respond, Charles went 40 yards up the middle on the next drive for the decisive score in an eventual 28-25 victory. At Oklahoma State on 11/3/07, Charles brought more late-game heroics for an encore. With the Longhorns down 21-0 in the second quarter, he got them on the board with a 22-yard TD run. Then with the team behind 35-14, Charles had 119 of his 180 yards, including two scores, to lead another fourth quarter comeback. After an 18-yard TD run earlier in the fourth, he closed the deficit to seven on their next drive. Lined up left in shotgun, he took a handoff and started up the middle before going untouched down 75 yards down the left sideline, gaining separation from the defenders chasing him the farther he ran. Charles kept on rolling in the next game, posting 23-174-3 in a victory over Texas Tech despite sitting most of the second half with a sore left ankle. A bye gave him two weeks to heal before they went to Texas A&M. However, his streak of three games with 100 yards was broken when he finished with 17-92-1, and the team’s five-game winning streak was also snapped in the loss. Charles did have season highs of four receptions and 81 yards in the game. Texas met Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl and kept scoring almost at will after getting off to a fast start. Charles ended the season strong, rushing for 161 yards on 27 carries including TD runs of 15 and 32 yards. In the game, he joined the illustrious company of Ricky Williams, Earl Campbell and Cedric Benson as the only Longhorns to rush for 1,500 yards in a season. After achieving second-team All-Big 12 honor his first two season, he was recognized with first-team honors for his 2007 season. He originally told HC Mack Brown he would return for his senior year, but later qualified that by saying it was contingent on the evaluation returned from the NFL draft advisory committee. He must have liked what he saw, because Charles is headed to the NFL early, a rarity in the Mack Brown era.

A four-time All-American in track, there is no question Charles will be one of the fastest backs at the Combine. His speed translates well on the field, with his 6.28 ypc average in 2007 built on several long runs. He worked hard to add strength in the off-season and it didn’t come at the cost of any speed. He gets up to top speed quickly, but that also poses some other problems. The more I watched him, the more I noticed he lacked elusiveness when he’s running because he gets fast so fast. He doesn’t make people miss in tight spaces. If the hole his there, his quickness through it and ability to get the corner are more than good enough for the next level, but his agility and awareness are not. Although not used much as a receiver, he has above average skills. He catches the ball with his hands, instead of his body, and has good coordination to adjust to balls when running routes. He hasn’t been used as a returner, but appears to have the skills to succeed as one. Excellent physique, well-proportioned, but he could probably use some more bulk to be a workhorse at the next level. While he straightened out his fumbling problems as the season went on, ball security is still a concern. His ascension to elite prospect last season was built on the strength of just a handful of games at the end of the season. They erased memories of his inconsistency and fumbling struggles early in the season, but they remain a concern, although it is noteworthy that the offensive line battled a few key injuries during the season. Charles has all the measurables and some excellent skills with as much potential as any RB in this draft, but he is more raw than most seem to acknowledge. He should have an impressive Combine and keep his stock on the rise to being a lock to go in the first two rounds.

Chris Johnson (East Carolina – 4SR) 5’10” 195 Combine Invite: Yes
After bouncing between slot receiver and RB in 2006, Johnson got off to a sporadic start as the featured runner this season. Once in the Conference USA schedule, he began to settle in and produce as a rusher more consistently. He had 147 yards rushing and 2 TDs on 24 carries in a win at Houston on 9/29/07. The next week he set a school record with 372 all-purpose yards and scored four TDs in a win against Central Florida. He had 89 yards and 2 TDs on the ground, five receptions for 89 yards as a receiver, including a 72-yard TD, and almost 200 yards on 4 kick returns, including a 96-yard return for a TD. He followed that up with his second 100-yard rushing performance of the season in an OT win at UTEP. Johnson and ECU struggled against what had been a poor Wolfpack run defense. He managed just 63 yards on 19 carries and lost a fumble that was converted to a TD in the loss. He bounced back with 79 yards and a score on 15 carries in an easy win against UAB. At Memphis the following week on 11/3/07, Johnson had the crown jewel of his breakout season. He shredded the Tigers with TD runs of 16, 44, 70, and 50 yards on his way to a career-high 301 yards rushing (just over 15 ypc). Out of a single-back set he went untouched until in the end zone on an off-tackle left he bounced outside for the 16-yard run in the first quarter. Up 14-3 early in the second quarter, Johnson ran the same play to the right and weaved through traffic before breaking away for the 44-yard score. After an early TD in the fourth quarter by Memphis kept hope alive, put the game away with just over five minutes left. In an I-formation, he took a handoff right and while QB Rob Kass committed to finishing a fake end round to the receiver, Johnson raced untouched 50-yards to seal the victory. He added 12 yards receiving and 95 in kick returns for another career best of 408 all-purpose yards, breaking the school record he set earlier in the year against Central Florida. In a loss at Marshall the following week, he was limited to 12-72-1 and 2-45-0. After a bye week, Tulane and the conference’s best run defense came to Greenville. Johnson ran over them for 155 yards on 27 carries, including scores on runs of five and seven yards. He also caught four passes for 85 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown pass. ECU drew #24 Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl where Johnson flashed all his skills for a rare national audience. His first impact came with the Pirates down 7-3 in the first quarter as he lined up to the right of the QB in a shotgun. Johnson took the handoff left turned up through the line bouncing off a couple defenders before taking off down the left sideline and gaining separation from pursuers as he raced to a 68-yard TD. He then took a screen 18 yards for a TD reception in the second quarter to help the Pirates build a 21-point lead. With a seven-point lead late in the game, ECU recovered a fumble and looked in position to run out the clock with less than two minutes to play. However, Johnson had the ball knocked out on his second run of the series and it was returned for a TD to tie the game. After a 30-yard return by Johnson on the subsequent kick gave ECU decent field position, they were able to drive for the game-winning FG. Johnson finished the game with 223 rushing yards, 32 receiving yards and 153 yards on six kick returns for an NCAA Bowl record 408 all-purpose yards, tying his total from the Memphis game. Johnson had the misfortune of playing in the same conference with the two top statistical rushers in FBS (Tulane’s Matt Forte' and UCF’s Kevin Smith), so despite finishing with 236-1,423-17 rushing and 37-528-6 receiving, he was only a second-team RB on the C-USA All-Conference team. However, having set multiple team and conference records as a returner, he was also recognized as the C-USA Special Teams Player of the Year. Johnson got an invite to the Senior Bowl, but hurt his left shoulder in the second practice and was done for the week. He is expected to be fine for the Combine.

Johnson was a poor man’s Devin Hester heading in to the 2007. He showed elite speed (the team timed him at sub-4.3 in the 40 last year) to create game-breaking plays and was already a top kick returner, but lacked a true position. After breaking out as the conference’s All-Freshman RB of the year in 2004, his productivity as a runner declined in 2005. Last year he was primarily a receiver, which led to my original exclusion of him. However, he emerged as a feature RB this year and finished the season leading FBS in all-purpose yardage. Johnson lacks the fundamentals and instincts of an RB, getting by on his athleticism, but has improved this year thanks to an excellent work ethic. His obvious improvements as a runner include running low with good pad level through the line and bouncing off arm tackles. However, he tries to bounce everything outside to hit the home run, which won’t work at the next level. He has good hands and has been successful as a receiver, but runs a bit too clunky in routes. Ball security has been a consistent problem, not helped by unusually small hands. He lacks ideal size for a feature RB, but is stronger despite a lean frame. An elite kick returner, he is the perfect prospect for a change of pace back with potential to emerge as more. Johnson should have a ‘wow’ effect on scouts and front office personnel not familiar with him at the Combine and continue rising up draft boards. When you consider his return ability with promising, if raw, skills to be more, I can’t see him going later than the second round.

Raymell “Ray” Rice (Rutgers – 3JR) 5’9” 200 Combine Invite: Yes
After an easy start, the team’s big expectations for the season took a hit with back-to-back loses at home against Maryland and to open the Big East season against Cincinnati. Rutgers fell behind early to Maryland, forcing them away from the running game and leaving Rice with a pedestrian 21-97-1 on the ground. Athletic Terrapin MLB Erin Henderson followed Rice around all night in a game plan constructed and successfully executed to win by containing Rice. Rice got more carries, but found less success against the Bearcats. He 94 yards on 34 carries and scored a one-yard TD run for the second straight game. Things got easier their next game at Syracuse, where Rice originally committed before changing his mind when HC Paul Pasqualoni was fired after the 2004 season. Against one of the worst run defenses in the nation, Rice put up a more Rice-like 36-196-3. One positive factor for Rice across in that stretch of games was his increased use as a receiver. He caught four passes in each, those 12 in just three games were as many as he caught his first two years. With his Heisman hopes dissipating, as well as the team’s national championship dream over, Rice and the Scarlet Knights both salvaged the season after a short week. They defeated surprisingly second-ranked South Florida on 10/18/07. USF hadn’t allowed a rusher 100 yards in 15 games, since they last faced Rice over a year ago and he put up 202. On the Thursday night game for a national TV audience, Rice rushed for 181 yards on 39 carries. The next two games brought more disappointment to the team, as they were blown out by WVU and upset by UConn. Rice did his part, rushing for 142 yards on 30 carries against WVU, then posting 21-117-1 and 4-31-0 at UConn. An easy win at Army padded Rice’s rushing stats with another 243 yards and two TDs. Rice would face one of the worst defenses in FBS at Louisville to close the season on 11/29/07. He got off to a great start, rushing for three first-half TDs and helping Rutgers get up to an 18-point lead early in the third quarter. However, the inconsistent Cardinals woke up half way through the third quarter and started to turn things around against the team that upset them in 2006 when they were ranked third. Louisville responded to Rutgers’ third quarter TD with one of their own. On the subsequent drive, Rutgers got all the way to the Louisville three-yard line, with Rice contributing five carries for 23 yards to get there. Then Rice lost a yard on his sixth carry of the drive and an incomplete pass that followed forced the Scarlet Knights to settle for a FG and a 14-point lead early in the fourth quarter. A big kick-off return gave Louisville great field position, which they quickly converted to a TD. Rice had a nice eight-yard gain on the following drive, but it was sandwiched by an incomplete pass and a sack, forcing a punt. Louisville responded with another quick TD, tying the game. With momentum having swung and Rutgers in chaos at how quickly their lead was gone, Rice was limited to three carries the rest of the game, netting two yards. He finished with 30-120-3 in the loss, handcuffed from helping seal the win by circumstances of how the final period unfolded. Rice finished his collegiate career with another record-breaking day in the International Bowl against Ball State. He had a personal best four rushing TDs, including a rare home run of 90 yards where he shed a Ball State DB with a stiff arm at full speed, and broke his own school-record with 280 yards rushing, giving FBS three 2000-yard runners for the first time ever. In addition to becoming the 13th player in FBS division history to run for 2,000 yard, he left Rutgers with many of their rushing records. Rice was recognized with AP All-American second-team honors for the second consecutive season.

Rice runs with an excellent natural forward lean and cuts at full speed with great balance, always seeming to make the right decision thanks to his vision and instincts. He breaks arm tackles and ends runs with surprising power thanks to his thick legs. He gets to full speed quickly, sometimes too quickly, as he sometimes beats his blockers to the hole, but no wasted movement in the backfield. However, his next gear lacks elite speed. Although he reportedly ran sub-4.5 times consistently at Rutgers, that (if true) doesn’t translate to the field. Rice was caught from behind frequently after easily getting to the second level initially. This may contribute to him being a very disciplined runner. Unlike a lot of college backs, he doesn’t try to bounce everything outside. Rice understands the value of stacking three- or four-yard carries on a defense and not always looking to hit the home run. Although he’s been extremely durable (he never missed a game at Rutgers), he has a lot of wear and tear in his collegiate career. He ended the season second to only senior Mike Hart in career carries for the FBS division, and no FBS player has carried the ball more than him the last three years. He was a consistent workhorse and featuring him was a key factor in the Scarlet Knights going 26-12 in his career and win their first two bowl games ever, after more than a decade of failing to finish above .500 and almost 30 years without a bowl appearance. They were 19-6 when Rice rushed 100+ and 9-2 when he had 30+ carries. However, he has been a feature back almost since day one. After splitting carries with Brian Leonard the first few games of his freshman season, HC Greg Schiano quickly saw he best served featuring Rice and using the multi-talented Leonard as a complimentary player. This means Rice has no special teams experience, much less as a returner. While he improved this past season in the passing game, particularly as a receiver with 25 receptions after just 12 his first two years, he still needs more development. The bottom line is he lacks elite speed and the size of a feature back at the next level, as well as the skills to immediately step in as a change of pace back and returner, or the speed to be an ideal fit there. This means a team will have to be sold on him as a future feature back or have the patience and confidence in developing him in to an outstanding complimentary player. Despite his size, and as a credit to the authority with which he runs between the tackles, he had an excellent nose for the end zone, as his school-record 49 rushing TDs while playing two years with Brian Leonard prove. He could see his stock drop a bit after the Combine if his speed and receiving disappoint. However, his tremendous ability is easily evident on film and what you see on the field makes him worth a Day One pick and an absolute steal if he somehow falls to the fourth round.

Kevin Smith (Central Florida – 3JR) 6’1” 211 Combine Invite: Yes
Pundits talk about him like a one-hit wonder, but Smith was the second-leading D-IA rusher among true freshman in 2005, finishing with 249-1,178-9. He ended the season with a 202 yard rushing day in a Hawaii Bowl win over Nevada, including a game-record 78 yard TD run. In 2006, his season was impeded by a one-game suspension and a right shoulder injury that cost him the final two games. He still ran for 934 yards, including three games over 150 yards, and caught 23 passes for another 158. However, he escaped anonymity and heads to the NFL draft early on the strength of his record-breaking junior year. In their season-opener at NC State, Smith set the tone for 2007 when he ran for a school-record 80 yard TD on the first play of the game. He finished the victory with 35-217-2. In their second game against Texas, Smith and school both rose in national prominence. The Knights gave the #6 Longhorns all they could handle, taking a one-point lead in to the fourth quarter before ultimately falling. Smith led the way with 149 yards and two TDs against a top ten rush defense. His second TD came on a three-yard run in the third quarter, although it should have come on a longer run the previous play. After already breaking a 36 yard run, Smith tried to somersault in to the end zone. However, he stepped out of bounds as he planted for the flip. Fortunately for Smith, he prevented being remembered as a goat in the game by erasing his mistake on the next play. Smith would go over 100-yards in each of the next three games, including a 33-223-3 effort against Louisiana-Lafayette, including a 56-yard TD run. Rare disappointment faced Smith and the team when they visited #5 USF, who also made a national name for themselves in 2007, on 10/13/07. Smith had his worst game on season lows of 18 carries and 55 yards, the only game in the season he didn’t rush for over 100 yards, although he had six carries for 37 yards on the team’s lone TD drive. Smith got back on track going over 170 yards in each of teams next three wins, including four receptions for 48 yards and an 87-yard TD run against Marshall to break his own school-record he set on his first carry of the season. Then at UAB on 11/10/07, Smith had his ultimate career-game in a year full of them. He broke the school’s single-season rushing record in the game, on his way to breaking the school’s single-game rushing record with 320 yards on 41 carries. He also tied the school mark for 100-yard games and, with four TDs in the victory, set a new conference mark for rushing TDs in a season. The following week he rushed for 177 yards and two scores before resting the second half in an easy win at SMU. He broke the 2000-yard mark on his way to 219 yards on a career-high 46 carries in a win over UTEP on 11/24/07. With Tulane’s Matt Forté reaching 2,000 rushing yards the previous week, FBS had two 2K rushers for the first time since 1996. Byron Hanspard and Troy Davis didn’t turn out well in the NFL, but Smith and Forté are much better NFL prospects. In the Conference USA Championship game, he posted his fifth 200-yard game of the season and sixth of his career with 39-284-4 in a win over Tulsa. With just 181 yards needed to pass Barry Sanders for the single-season FBS rushing record, Smith ran in to a Mississippi State defense in the Liberty Bowl that had stopped Darren McFadden and Matt Forté during the regular season. They held him to 119 yards on 35 carries, his second-lowest total of the season and kept him out of the end zone for only the second time this season. Smith finished the season with pretty much every team and conference single-season rushing record. His 450 carries passed Marcus Allen for the most in a single-season by an FBS rusher and he passed Allen for the second highest season total with 2,567 rushing yards. His 29 rushing TDs were the fourth most in FBS single-season history. His record-breaking season was recognized with the Conference USA Player of the Year award and as almost a consensus first-team All-American.

Despite his early intentions indicating he would return for his last season of eligibility, and even holding a press conference before the Liberty Bowl to confirm the decision, Smith changed his mind shortly in to 2008. He had relied on the feedback of HC George O’Leary and never requested an official evaluation from the NFL Advisory Committee for underclassmen. Originally citing that he wanted to get “bigger, faster, stronger” before moving to the next level, which apparently occurred during the next three weeks. The loyalty to the program and his desire to chase Ron Dayne’s DI-A career rushing record (of which he was 1,837 yards shy of) also seem to have dissipated after Drew Rosenhaus got in his ear.

Smith comes upright early off the snap, but hits the hole quickly, although sometimes too quickly. He isn’t patient in letting his blocks set up, sometimes passing linemen on sweeps and pitches because defenders aren’t there yet, which won’t be the case at the next level. His vision is very good, but he has some wasted footwork behind the line when the hole is filled, with a tendency to hop or slide, instead of cut and go. Playing in mostly one-back sets or out of the shotgun has not helped him develop the footwork or timing to run in a standard I-formation. He is still an elusive runner and shows better agility in the open field, avoiding big hits once in the second level. However, he runs high and doesn’t show the best ball security when making moves, especially when hopping or sliding around. Smith hits his second gear quickly once in the second level, accelerating as he runs. He adds value as a receiver, but has no experience as a returner. One frequent critique of Smith is that he doesn’t’ have elite speed, but if he doesn’t, it is seems good enough. He had over twenty runs for more than 20 yards, including four of more than 70 yards, all for scores. He is the first player in 64 years (Buddy Young, Illinois) to rush for three TDs of 80+ yards in a season. The other knock on him is related to size, which I agree with. Smith is built more like a receiver and his lanky frame needs bulk, especially in his upper body, which lacks definition. Despite being just a junior, his ridiculous workload this past season gives him 905 carries (third highest most among active players at the end of the season) in just 36 games, so he has put a lot of mileage on his tires quickly. You can downplay his accomplishments as mostly coming against mid-major competition, but you can’t overlook his consistently incredible production. Fundamentally he needs a lot of improvement, so I don’t see him making an impact as an every down player immediately. He is raw, but his natural talent and potential are very good. I think he’ll impress people more than expected at the Combine, except in strength, and his steady rise since his first carry of the season continues.

Matt Forté (Tulane – 4SR) 6’1” 221 Combine Invite: Yes
After three solid, but unspectacular, seasons at mid-major Tulane, no one expected the season Forté dropped in 2007. He started quietly with 14-47-1 and 6-49-0 in a loss to Mississippi State in their season opener, where he lost two fumbles. A slight improvement of 85 yards on 17 carries followed in a loss to Houston before his breakout game against Southeastern Louisiana on 9/22/07. Looking for his first win with the Green Wave, HC Bob Toledo came out with a simple game plan: feeding Forté the ball. Despite a long run of just 44 yards, Forté pounded out 303 yards and five TDs on 40 carries, breaking Mewelde Moore’s school record for rushing yards in a single game and a 77-year old school record for rushing TDs in a single game. They were shellacked at LSU by the #2 Tigers the next game, where Forté was limited to 73 yards rushing and lost a fumble. The Forté Plan got back on track the next week, and beyond. He would rattled off four-straight 200-yard games, highlighted by breaking his own school record set earlier in the season with 342 rushing yards at SMU on 10/20/07, including a career-long 77-yard TD and a game-winning nine-yard TD in OT, among the four he scored. However, it was the only game of the four the team won during the stretch. The string was snapped against Memphis on 10/27/07, where he had “just” 103 yards rushing. He would rush for over a 100 yards in the final three games, highlighted a 39-194-5 performance at Rice on 11/17/07. Forté also went over 2,000 rushing yards for the season in that game. With 4-8 Tulane not in a bowl game, his next stop was the Senior Bowl. After reportedly impressing in practice during the week with his burst and power running, he went on to be the MVP of the game. He led the South with 59 rushing yards and four receptions, netting 97 all-purpose yards. Ball security remained a problem, as he even had a fumble in the Senior Bowl. He had the misfortune of playing not only the same year, but the same conference, as Kevin Smith of UCF, who led FBS in rushing. So despite school records of 2,127 rushing yards and 23 rushing TDs, he did not even lead his conference. He was still recognized with Smith at RB on the C-USA all-conference first team. Forté also was voted an AP third-team All-American.

His biggest games came against some poor competition. In addition to being poor teams overall, they were among the worst run defenses in the country. Out of 119 FBS teams, his five 200-yard games came against the #74 (Southeastern LA), #99 (SMU), #103 (Memphis), #117 (Army), and #119 (UAB) ranked run defenses. In all, he faced six of the twenty worst run defenses in FBS in 2007. The built-in counterpoint to analysis like this always is the fact that the outstanding game the runner had against the team impacts their ranking and hence skews the results. Playing in the same conference as UCF’s Kevin Smith and his 2,500 rushing yards means the ranking of most of those teams was dragged down by him too. Perhaps the real story here is how incredibly poor run defenses were in C-USA in 2007. However, relative to Forté, the consistency of the evidence is overwhelming, especially when juxtaposed against the relatively unimpressive performance he had against an elite run defense like LSU (16-73-0 – although that wasn’t his worst game of the year) or the one non-conference opponent common to Forté and Smith, Mississippi State. On the other hand, Forté had no supporting cast. He wore a bulls-eye on his back every game and still delivered. Furthermore, his outstanding Senior Bowl practice and games performances went a long way to legitimizing his accomplishments. The Combine will be the next step in unraveling this enigma. He doesn’t have elite speed and isn’t a home run hitter. Despite his huge rushing total, he had only one run over 50 yards, so his speed is unlikely to be impressive. A big, bruising back with good burst and balance, as well as plus hands, but with production that was possibly a fluke, he is one of the more intriguing RB prospects. With all the quality and safer bets at RB in this draft, I can’t see a team reaching for him in the first two rounds.

Thomas Brown (Georgia – 4SR) 5’8” 198 Combine Invite: Yes
Splitting carries with just redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno while Lumpkin was out, Brown was building some mid-season momentum. He had a solid 74 yards rushing on 20 carries and five receptions, including a 10-yard TD on the opening drive, in their OT win at Alabama on 9/22/07. The following week, he had the best statistical game of his career, rushing for 180 yards and three TDs on just 16 carries in a big win over Mississippi. However, at some point in that game, Brown broke his collarbone. Brown actually practiced that week, then had six carries and three kick returns before leaving their loss at Tennessee on 10/6/07. He missed the Vanderbilt game on 10/13/07 and, despite a bye leading up to it, also their huge win over Florida and the following week against Troy. Meanwhile, Moreno was blowing up as the feature back. Brown returned for the final four games and while Moreno remained the starter, Brown played well, outperforming him at times. Brown averaged 18 carries and 91.5 rushing yards in the last four games, including a TD in each. After the Bulldogs got off to a big lead behind Moreno in the Sugar Bowl, Brown carried the load to finish the win over Hawaii. Brown had 19 carries for 73 yards in his last game. His stock rose at the Shrine Game, impressing as a runner and, despite just 39 catches in his career, a receiver during practice and at the game. Even the announcers gave him props, including a highlight reel, for an extended segment in the third quarter. He took a screen for a nice 18 yard gain on the drive. East HC Dick Vermeil mentioned Brown as one of two players he wanted to feature in the game because of his skills and ability. Vermeil followed through, giving Brown a game-high ten carries, on which he gained 38 yards.

After an amazing return in less than a year from a torn ACL, Brown again showed incredible dedication and toughness going through a week of practice and part of a game with a broken collarbone. Regardless, durability is a major concern. He never played every game in a season and the last two were particularly injury-plagued. The other strike against him is size. However, he is, pound-for-pound, the strongest Bulldog ever. Prior to his junior season, he benched, squatted, and power-cleaned 1,427 pounds. At a weight of 190 pounds at the time, that gave him 7.55 body index, the highest in UGA history, according to strength coach Dave Van Halanger. Brown translates his strength well as a runner in his ability to pound the line and break tackles despite his size. He runs low with good vision, following his blockers and then good burst in to the hole. Good quickness and agility with better than average speed make him elusive in the second level. He is a willing blocker and special teams player, adding value as a kick returner and gunner, although not having experience as a punt returner. Size and durability are big concerns, but I think they will make him a Day Two steal. Brown wore number 20 because Barry Sanders was his idol, and while I wouldn’t compare his potential to anywhere near Sanders, there are similarities in their games. He remains an intriguing multi-purpose talent whose toughness just adds to the perception, when you roll in his intangibles, of being a player who has “it” to find a role at the next level. I expect he’ll impress at the Combine and the late rise in his draft stock should continue.

Jalen Parmele (Toledo – 4SR) 5’11” 219 Combine Invite: Yes
After being a back-up his first two seasons, Parmele broke out his junior year in 2006 with 1,170 yards, good for third in the MAC. He took the next step forward in 2007, posting career high numbers across the board. The apex of his season being 241 yards and two TDs on 38 carries to come out on the winning end of a conference dual with Kalvin McRae and Ohio on 10/20/07. Parmele was a consistent workhorse, getting at least 16 carries and 74 rushing yards in every game, including seven-straight 100 yard games. He finished with 1,511 rushing yards and 14 TDs on 276 carries and was recognized with first-team All-MAC for the second straight season. With almost 126 ypg, he was the ninth-leading rusher in D-I FBS.

Parmele was the leading rusher in the Hula Bowl with 46 yards on 6 carries, including a one-yard TD run in the fourth quarter and showing nice elusiveness on a game-high 26 yard run, helping the Aina to an easy win. He is a big back with good power, vision, and patience who succeeded with an average line on a mediocre team. The team reported he ran a 4.40 40 and had a vertical of almost 42” this spring. His workouts will be key as his achievements came against mostly mid-major competition. While his college eligibility is up, he still has a semester of school left. However, he is taking it off to train for the Combine. He is known for his work ethic, which will help him on special teams and his perception by teams. He has flown under the radar and his value will continue to rise if he impresses as I expect in the next phase of evaluation and teams start pulling video on him.

Justin Forsett (California – 4SR) 5’8” 190 Combine Invite: Yes
Forsett’s string of four-straight games with 100 yards rushing was snapped in their loss at UCLA on 10/20/07, as was his streak of at least one TD in each of the first seven games, but problems started for Forsett and the Cal running game in the week before in their shocking upset against Oregon State. On first-and-goal from the OSU two-yard line early in the third quarter, Forsett was stopped on four consecutive runs. He still finished with 150 yards rushing and a TD against an excellent run defense, including a 45-yard run on his first carry, but also lost his first fumble of the season earlier in the game. The downward spiral for Cal and Forsett continued with their third consecutive loss at ASU on 10/27/07. Forsett was held to just 62 yards on 17 carries. He got back on track with 129 yards and two TDs, including a game-winning 44-yard run late in the fourth quarter, on 31 carries against Washington State on 11/3/07. Despite Forsett’s best game of the season, Cal couldn’t top USC in the rain on 11/10/07. Forsett ran for 164 yards on 31 carries, including a 17-yard TD to get the Bears a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Down by seven with three minutes to play, he also caught a screen and took it 34 yards to keep hope alive, until QB Nate Longshore threw a pick on the next play. He had his third straight 100-yard game in a loss to Washington and 96 in a loss at Stanford, as the Bears struggled mightily in PAC-10 play. After being on the verge of a #1 ranking on the final play of the Oregon State game, Cal would go on to lose six of their final seven regular season games and just barely qualify for post-season play. However, dreams of a BCS Bowl were replaced by a date at the Armed Forces Bowl with Air Force. Forsett posted 23-140-2 and 3-21-0 in the come-from-behind victory. He was the shortest back at the Senior Bowl, but had unusually large hands (10.5 inches). From all reports, he was extremely impressive during practice both for his unexpected toughness as an inside runner and quickness to the outside, as well as overall elusiveness. He definitely appears to solidified his standing as one of the top change of pace backs in the draft. In the game, he led the North with 9 carries, on which he gained 27 yards. Forsett was recognized with first-team All- PAC-10 honors.

The loss of the left side of their 2006 offensive line didn’t seem to be a problem early in the season, but the running game struggled during the second third of the season. Forsett got back on track, holding off big-play true freshman Jahvid Best and productive redshirt freshman James Montgomery, but the team did not. If there was any doubt that he could be a workhorse runner, his 304 carries answered any skeptics. His 2007 rushing attempts more than doubled his total from his first three years, and he was one of only five FBS backs with more than 300 for the season. Not surprisingly as the feature back, he saw more work in the passing game. His 22 receptions also more than doubled his total from his first three years. He is also a willing and fundamentally solid blocker in the passing game, improving his value as a third-down back. He didn’t work in the kicking game this past season, but has before, although the results weren’t exciting. He did see some work as a returner in Senior Bowl practice, a job he’ll have to develop in to help his opportunities in the NFL. Forsett broke off a couple big runs this year, but doesn’t have breakaway speed and gets caught from behind. His most noticeable asset as a runner is his explosion out of his stance. I expect his 10 yard split and cone drill times will be impressive at the Combine. He isn’t a very smooth runner, a flurry of knees and elbows, so it will be interesting to see if he worked on form leading up to the Combine to help make him more efficient and shave some time off his 40-yard dash. Regardless of how pretty, he is very effective. His acceleration gets him to the hole quickly, where his vision and instincts take over and an elusiveness to make people miss. His toughness is on display when he gets the sideline, as he never runs out of bounds, looking for one more cutback opportunity or to end the run delivering the blow. A solid 190 pounds, he doesn’t have much room to add more bulk on his sub-5’8” frame. Unfortunately for him, without elite speed, there will be concerns if he can translate his impressive skills at the next level. Unless he surprises at the Combine, he is looking locked in as a Day Two selection.

Jacob Hester (Louisiana State – 4SR) 5’11” 230 Combine Invite: Yes
After holding off multiple more athletically talented options throughout his career by being consistent and reliable, Hester went from situational player to captain and starting every game at running back for the national champs in 2007. He led the team in rushing (with his first 1K season) and TDs with 13 (12 rushing). His showcase game came in one of LSU’s miracle late-game victories, a 28-24 win over #7 Florida after being down by ten in the fourth quarter. Hester had his first 100-yard game of his career, putting up 106 yards on 23 carries and scoring the game-winning TD on a two-yard run with a minute left in the game. He suffered a thigh bruise that slowed him the next few games. In the SEC Championship, he had 120 yards on 23 carries, his fourth 100-yard game of the season. In the BCS National Championship, he finished with 86 yards on 21 carries, including a one-yard TD run. He was recognized with second-team All-SEC honors. At the Senior Bowl, he worked at both RB and FB, impressing with his versatility. In the game he had one carry for five yards and one reception for nine.

Hester is a throwback multi-purpose tweener like Peyton Hillis, but a better runner. Hester is closer to Mike Alstott than Brian Leonard, but not as big. Very strong trunk and lower body that generate power for good explosion out of his stance and to move the pile, making him an outstanding short-yardage runner. However, he needs to add some bulk to be a true fullback at the next level. Hester has extremely sound fundamentals that contribute to his success. Good footwork, runs good routes, catches the ball with his hands, and gets in position for blocks. Lack of straight-line speed means he’ll be pigeon-holed in to being looked at as a fullback or H-back, but has surprised before. However, he did have a career-long 87-yard TD against Louisiana Tech. He is also an excellent special teams player, one of the top tacklers on their punt coverage team. Hester will find a role at the next level and be a solid contributor, but probably not as a feature back.

Cory Boyd (South Carolina – 4SR) 6’0” 214 Combine Invite: Yes
After struggling in their loss at LSU, Boyd had solid, but unspectacular, production as a runner in wins against Mississippi State and a huge win over Kentucky. He had three receptions for 47 yards and a TD vs. the Wildcats. However, junior Mike Davis saw a bit more work in the running game in both games. At North Carolina, Davis lost his first fumble as a Gamecock and then had another in the third quarter, but was ruled down. After that, Davis didn’t see much work, allowing Boyd to roll up 95 yards on a season-high 20 carries. The team struggled in the second half and almost blew the game. Despite decent final numbers, Boyd was ineffective late in the second half as the team tried to protect the lead. They had several three-and-outs, mostly featuring Boyd running. The following week at Vanderbilt, neither RB saw much work as the offensive problems from the second half of their previous game continued. The ended up losing to the Commodores at home in a huge upset. Boyd had just 5 carries for 49 yards (Davis had 6 carries), but he did have 5 receptions for 55 yards, as well. After that game, there were some changes in the offensive line and Boyd appears to be an immediate beneficiary. Although they lost their next game at Tennessee on 10/27/07, Boyd ran for a career-high 160 yards and a TD on 20 carries. He also had 25 yards receiving on a career-high six receptions. He had a solid 17-94-1 and 3-38-0 in their loss at Arkansas. Boyd’s one-yard TD run in the fourth quarter brought the Gamecocks within seven, until ARK RB Darren McFadden ran 80 yards for a score on the Razorbacks next play from scrimmage as part of his record-breaking day. The Arkansas game was the start of Boyd seeing separation in carries from Davis, which continued for the final three games. Against Florida on 11/10/07 he was held to 47 yards on 17 carries, but had three short TD runs in the loss. He also caught three passes for 53 yards. Two weeks later, the Gamecocks collapse the second half of the season ended with their fifth loss in a row against Clemson. Boyd finished with 19-74-0 and a 39-yard reception. He finished his career joining Stanley Pritchett as the only Gamecocks to have over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving. An invite to the Shrine Game gave him an opportunity to showcase his receiving ability for scouts in practice and the game. He also worked in at fullback, which he could be a path for him at the next level. He has worked in that role at time with Davis in the backfield at South Carolina, as well. Boyd was one of the most productive players in the Shrine Game, leading the East with three receptions and rushing for 36 yards on nine carries, including a five-yard TD run late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.

Despite possessing good size, Boyd doesn’t have much power as a rusher. He needs to hit the weight room and add strength. This was highlighted in his inability to wear down the defense in the UNC game. He has average speed, but good balance and vision. Not a home run hitter, his longest run in 2007 was 29 yards and he has none over 40 yards for his career. One of his best assets for the next level is his pass catching ability and playing in pro-style spread offense under HC Steve Spurrier. Boyd finished second on the team with 36 receptions. He isn’t limited to screens and dumps, Boyd can run legitimate routes and grab the ball out of the air. His maturity has been an issue in the past, he was suspended in 2005 for multiple off-field, non-academic incidents. However, his perception has improved the last two years and he graduated in December. He is an intriguing prospect who didn’t post great numbers because of splitting carries with Davis. Despite a lackluster end to his season, I think his stock is slightly rising after a strong week at the Shrine Game.

Anthony Alridge (Houston – 5SR) 5’9” 168 Combine Invite: Yes
After a big start to the season at Oregon, Colorado State seemed to have the blue print to stop him. However, Alridge bounced back to impress with not the big play, but as a grinder against East Carolina and at Alabama. Both games were loses, but his efforts were impressive. He posted 21-89-1 on the ground and 5-43-1 through the air against ECU. His 30-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter against the Crimson Tide almost sparked a huge upset. It was one of his team-leading seven catches for 94 yards. Alridge also pounded out 100 yards on the ground at a 5.9 ypc average, despite no run longer than 17 yards. It would be the first of a five-game streak of 100-yard rushing games. Alridge had his second 200-yard rushing game of the season in an offensive extravaganza against Rice on 10/13/07. He followed up a 33-yard TD run with an amazing 50-yard TD run on the next drive in the fourth quarter that finally got him a little recognition on ESPN as one of the top ten plays of the day. He had two other scores for a single-game career best four rushing TDs. The Alridge Express ran through UAB for another 100 yards and 2 score, then blew up at UTEP on a season-high 27 carries for his third 200-yard rushing game of the season on 10/27/07. He tied a school record with the fourth 200-yard game of his career. In a their fourth-straight win against SMU, Alridge had a career-high 31 carries, which got him 154 yards and two TDs. He also caught two passes and threw a TD pass. In a big loss at Tulsa on 11/10/07, he slipped under 100 yards, with 91 on 16 carries. Alridge was back over 100 yards the next two games. He had 103 rushing yards on 25 carries, including a three-yard TD run, and 44 yards on five catches, including a 26-yard TD reception, against Marshall on 11/17/07. He followed that up 11-157-2, including TD runs of 52 and 35 yards, in a win over Texas Southern to end the regular season. Despite over 1,500 rushing yards, over another 400 receiving, and 19 TDs, he was only recognized with second-team All-Conference USA honors. He was unfortunately in the same conference as fellow 2008 prospects Kevin Smith (UCF) and Matt Forté (Tulane), who were the top two rushers in FBS, respectively. The team earned a trip to the Texas Bowl and Alridge entered the game as the nation’s seventh-leading rusher. However, he had a poor showing in the game against TCU in front of his hometown fans at Reliant Stadium. Alridge finished with a season-low 29 yards on 15 carries in the loss. While disappointing, TCU shutting down a running game in a bowl is hardly a surprise recently. In the 2006 Poinsettia Bowl, they held the similarly-diminutive Garrett Wolfe, who led the nation in rushing that year, to 28 yards. The TCU defense also completely stopped Iowa State’s Stevie Hicks in the 2005 Houston Bowl.

Alridge had a chance to redeem himself, back for one more game in Robertson Stadium, his college home field, for the Shrine Game. He had just six yards on four carries, but one of them was a four-yard TD run in third quarter on which he made an ankle-breaking cut before bursting through for the West’s second TD in the victory. He also had two receptions for 39 yards in the game. During the week of practice, he impressed with his speed and quickness, but confounded scouts on where he could play at his size.

“Quick Six”, as he’s known for his ability to take any touch to the house, remained one of the most explosive players in the country despite taking on the role of workhorse in the Cougar offense. After work as a WR in 2005, he broke out as a multi-purpose home threat in 2006, before settling in as the featured runner in 2007. He averaged 20 carries per game and his 42 receptions were good for third on the team. Due to being featured on offense, his kick return duties were scaled back, he had just nine returns in 2007, but he still had two for 32 yards and one for 57 yards. Most of his big plays this year were from scrimmage, where he averaged over 6 ypc on the ground and almost 10 ypr through the air. While his emergence as a feature runner helped gain him recognition, he won’t be looked at for that role at the next level. He goes to the Combine as a RB, but will earn a spot as a returner and look to gain snaps as a change of pace back and/or slot receiver. His size and strength are major obstacles to an opportunity for regular work at the next level. What he brings is elite quickness and speed. He is a candidate to be the fastest RB at the Combine, where he should finally get the wider recognition that has been lacking from the media and fans. While he has been a productive receiver, his hands are inconsistent. It takes his big plays to offset the catches he doesn’t, or because of his size isn’t able, to make. The “Devin Hester Effect” makes him appealing, even if teams will struggle with where to put him on offense.

Dantrell Savage (Oklahoma State – 4SR) 5’8” 187 Combine Invite: Yes
The importance of Savage to the offense was seen in an embarrassing loss at Troy during the time he missed their second and third games of the season with groin and abdomen injuries. Savage returned to roll off ten-straight 100-yard games, including every conference game. The highlight was a career-high 212 yards on 25 carries at Nebraska, including a 30-yard TD run around the left end, to lead the Cowboys to their first win in Lincoln in 20 games. UT RB Jamaal Charles got the best of their head-to-head match-up on 11/3/07, but Savage still got his 100 yards and maintained a two-yard lead over Charles to lead the Big 12 in rushing at the time. Savage had another impressive performance in a rout by the Sooners at Oklahoma. He was their only productive offensive weapon in the loss, rushing for 108 yards on 19 carries and scoring their only two TDs. He caught a 16-yard pass in the first quarter and then briefly brought them in striking distance with a six-yard TD run to make it a 28-17 game before the Sooners ran off 21 unanswered points. The former JUCO transfer ended his career as a Cowboy with exactly 100 yards rushing and a TD in their Insight Bowl win over Indiana. In conference play, he led the Big 12 with 1,002 rushing yards and a 125.2 ypg average. Overall, he was second to Charles in the conference for the year, finishing with 115.6 ypg against all opponents. His outstanding performance was recognized with first-team All-Big 12 honors and was also on the conference’s all-academic team. He originally accepted an invite to the Shrine Game, before getting a call for the Senior Bowl. He performed as expected during practice: struggling inside, but showing burst to the edge with elusiveness and speed in the open field. He also showed good hands, which will be key for the change of pace role that appears his ceiling at the next level. In the game, Savage was stopped for no gain on a fourth-and-one in the second quarter, but then had a nice eight-yard gain on a draw on a third-and-six the following drive. He finished with seven carries for 22 yards.

After getting healthy, Savage quickly turned his season around. He squeezed productive true freshman Kendall Hunter out of the picture and gave the team no reason to let once-promising sophomore Keith Toston out of the dog house due to fumble problems earlier in the season. A slippery runner with great cutback ability, he can also take any touch the distance. Although he has home run speed, his longest run was 30 yards and his longest reception was 40 yards. Still, he averaged 5.7 ypc. He showed significant improvement in the passing game, finishing with 27-259-2 after just eight receptions in 2006. He even threw a TD pass last year. His pass blocking is solid, but he’s overwhelmed by larger defenders. An undersized player with a lean frame, he was the lightest RB at the Senior Bowl and will probably be the second-lightest at the Combine (behind Anthony Alridge). Durability has been an issue, as he’s missed two each of his two seasons at OSU. Savage has little chance of ever being a feature back as, in addition to his size, he dances a lot behind the line and tries to take everything outside or cut back. He also will run out of bounds as opposed to fighting for extra yards when on the sidelines. He needs to add bulk to even be a change of pace back in the NFL, but is a good fit there with his receiving ability and execution on draw plays. He doesn’t have experience as a returner, something else a team would like to see out of a player of his type. His speed and agility should impress at the Combine and improve his changes of being a Day Two pick.

Marcus Thomas (UTEP – 4SR) 6’2” 214 Combine Invite: Yes
One of the top prep players during his Arizona high school days, the former Parade All-American started to emerge in the second half of his sophomore year before having a disappointing 2006. His final season got off to a rough start when he was suspended for the opener due to a minor NCAA violation, allowing a non-scholarship teammate buy school books on his account. After that, Thomas broke out as a workhorse back, leading the team with career rushing highs of 227 carries, 16 TDs, and 1,166 rushing yards, after entering his final game with 1,167 yards. In their season finale loss, he was overshadowed by UCF RB, and fellow 2008 prospect, Kevin Smith. Thomas netted negative one yard on nine carries in the loss, while Smith posted 46-219-1. His seven 100-yard games in the season tied a school record.

He received an invite to the Hula Bowl and unfortunately a fumble was his story in the game. On the Kai’s second possession, he lost a ball which resulted in a score and contributed to the route by the Aina. Thomas finished with six carries for 29 yards in the game. Without much recognition playing mostly mid-major competition, Thomas jumped at the chance to replace Dantrell Savage (who got bumped up to the Senior Bowl) in the Shrine Game just a week later. He faired better in that game, seeing an extended opportunity when Allen Patrick was hurt early in the game. Thomas totaled 51 yards on a team-high eight carries for the West.

Thomas is a raw product. He has a good build, but at almost 6’2” is tall and lanky for a RB. While he is surprisingly elusive despite this, it begets naturally running higher than desired, which opens him up to big hits, which all begets ball security problems. He has had issues every season and, in addition to the fumble in the Hula Bowl, coughed up the ball three other times in 2007. While the Miners recovered two, Thomas lost a key fumble at the Miners’ own two-yard line late, while the result was still in question, in an eventual loss at Texas Tech. At his height, he runs more like a WR than a RB, and catches the ball like one. After averaging almost 36 receptions a year the previous two seasons, he was utilized less as a receiver in 2007, but will still add value in the passing game, as a receiver and blocker. He has experience and willingness to play on all the special teams, which helps the case when considering a Day Two player.

Kalvin McRae (Ohio – 4SR) 5’9” 208 Combine Invite: Yes
After being contained at VaTech and against Wyoming, McRae started building momentum through the MAC schedule. He had 74 yards and a TD against Kent State, then 96 yards and a TD at Buffalo, before finally breaking through with his first 100-yard game of the season since their season opener. Against Eastern Michigan on 10/13/07, McRae had 170 yards and 2 TDs on a season-high 32 carries. The following week at Toledo, he posted 25-182-3 and 3-47-0, including his longest run of the season on a 65-yard TD, against the worst run defense in the MAC. McRae kept pushing the bar of his performance higher, as he ran for 3 more TDs and 200 yards in a win at Bowling Green on 10/27/07. It was his first 200-yard game in two years and he did it on a career high 42 carries. He broke a few team records in the game, becoming the Bobcats all-time career rushing leader and the first to rush for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. He finished the season with over 100 yards rushing and a TD in each of his last three games, including a run of at least 25 yards in each.

McRae’s last season college season ended with single-season school records in rushing attempts (294), rushing yards (1,434), rushing ypg (119.5), and rushing TDs (19). He tied for the conference lead in scoring with 20 total TDs and was recognized on the All-MAC team for the third time in his career. His school career records include: 4,398 rushing yards, including 21 100-yard rushing games, 909 rush attempts, 91.6 yards per game, 5,248 all-purpose yards and tied for the total touchdowns with 49.

After making the MAC Title Game last year, the Bobcats struggled early behind inconsistent QB play and a banged up OLine, allowing teams to focus on McRae. However, as McRae found space and heated up, the team showed significant improvement in the second half of the season. Despite this, McRae’s finishes his career in obscurity with his achievements relative to playing on a mediocre mid-major team and with no noteworthy performances against marquee opponents. McRae participated in the Hula Bowl and led the Aina (East) in carries with seven, but had just 21 yards on them and was overshadowed by fellow MAC RB Jalen Parmele in the game. McRae also had a 14 yard reception and reportedly impressed as a receiver during practice leading up to the Hula Bowl. He has dependable hands and was third on the team with 29 receptions. McRae is a solid, but unspectacular, performer. He has good balance, patience, and awareness as a runner. He bursts through the hole quickly and can find cut backs lanes to turn in big gains despite lacking elite speed. However, he runs tall despite being a shorter back. How his measurables stack up will affect his draft value more than some players who may have less aggregate numbers, but more success against top competition. However, with average strength and speed, as well as lack of size, he is unlikely to stand out.

Louis Rankin (Washington – 5SR) 6’0” 200 Combine Invite: No
Rankin looked on his way in 2005 before a toe injury derailed his season. Then he was stuck in a RBBC with Kenny James in 2006. However, last year Rankin emerged with the best season by a Husky RB in ten years. He rushed for almost 1,300 yards and, as a decent receiver and kick returner, finished second in the PAC-10 with almost 2,400 all-purpose yards. He was recognized with second-team PAC-10 all-conference honors. Participated in the Texas vs the Nation All-Star Challenge.

I’m a bit shocked at how little recognition Rankin gets. He had a great year in a major conference, regardless of it being on a poor team. He is a very good size/speed combo who can hit the home run and brings a lot versatility. He definitely should have been invited to the Combine. He’ll be a priority UDFA and, if given the opportunity, could join the list of recent success stories at RB who went unnoticed in the draft.

Andre Callender (Boston College – 5SR) 5’10” 199 Combine Invite: No
After being RB1b to fellow 5SR L.V. Whitworth through most of their college career, Callender got his opportunity when Whitworth was out with a hamstring injury for the season opener. Despite not being overwhelming productive, Callender pulled away from Whitworth and held the starting job all season, while Whitworth struggled with his hamstring. The result was his first 1,000 yard rushing season, after three years of he and Whitworth cannibalizing each other’s stats. However, he only went over 100 yards twice: against a sub-par North Carolina State squad and D-I FCS UMass. While he racked up TDs early in the season against weaker opponents, he only had one TD against an ACC opponent. Callender participated in the Hula Bowl and was productive on hi five carries, getting 26 yard. He also caught one pass for four yards, but continued to show his ability as a receiver in practices.

While I don’t think he has elite speed, he still has quickness and showed enough speed to occasionally turn in the big play. He had a career-long 69-yard TD run against North Carolina State and a 45-yard TD against Miami. He is not much of an option to wear down a defense or in short-yardage. The biggest development in his game this season was in the passing game. After averaging 21 receptions a year his first three seasons, he set a single-season team-record with 76 receptions in 2007. He also is solid in pass protection. A good all-around back, he’ll benefit from association with QB Matt Ryan, a top QB prospect, and being on his highlight reel, but was hurt by not getting a Combine invite.

Danny Woodhead (Chadron State College – 4SR) 5’7” 195 Combine Invite: No
Despite being one of the top prep players in Nebraska for 2003, after a career in which he broke several state HS records, Woodhead received no D-I scholarship offers because of his size. Like most kids in the state, he wanted to go to Nebraska to play football. When the only chance he had there was to walk-on there and compete for a special teams spot, he chose CSC, a DII school in a town of the same name in the northern panhandle of the state. All he did from there was go on to be the most productive runner at any level in NCAA history. The school, conference, division, and NCAA records are numerous, but the one that lifted him from obscurity is the NCAA all-divisions career rushing record of 7,962 yards. His numbers could have been even greater, but he missed three weeks with a foot injury in 2007.

An invite to the Hula Bowl got him his first opportunity against D-I FBS competition and Kai HC Mike Riley (Oregon State) gave him the start. Unfortunately, turnovers limited Woodhead’s opportunities and he only saw three carries, totaling two yards, in the game. While he benefited from a strong OLine, particularly All-RMAC OT John Strand, Woodhead’s speed was one of the keys to his success. Woodhead reportedly was timed at 4.43 in the 40 this year. The two-time Harlon Trophy winner will have to display that kind of elite speed to draw the attention of teams as a late Day Two/UDFA as he again faces bias against his size. He’ll have to do it in individual workouts, which he has already had with some teams, as he didn’t get a Combine invite.

Chad Simpson (Morgan State – 5SR) 5’10” 195 Combine Invite: Yes
An excellent kick returner at South Florida, Simpson transferred to FCS Morgan State to take on a larger role in 2006. Last season, he emerged as one of the most productive backs in FCS as a workhorse for the Bears. He set a school record with 1,402 rushing yards and was the conference (MEAC) Offensive Player of the Year. A bit of a surprise invite, Simpson is a multi-purpose talent with decent size and good speed, an elusive player who has flashed the ability to score from anywhere on the field. He wasn’t used much as a receiver and returner last season, but has ability in both that could serve in a change of pace role.

Players whose value is stagnant (for better or worse) at this time.

Darren McFadden (Arkansas – 3JR) 6’2” 212 Combine Invite: Yes
The impact of some early season injuries took their toll on McFadden after a fast start. He suffered a concussion in their loss at Alabama the second game of the season and was reported to have been battling the flu and heat exhaustion in their loss to Kentucky the following week. He also revealed, while refusing to blame it for his decline in production, that he bruised his ribs pretty badly against the Wildcats. He still managed to rush for over 100 yards in easy wins over North Texas and FCS Chattanooga, including a 51-yard run against the Mean Green. However, he didn’t have a run over 30 yards in four October games and averaged just 4.0 ypc in those games. Both he and 3JR Felix Jones were shutdown by in a 9-7 loss to Auburn on 10/13/07. McFadden had his worst game of the season, posting just 43 yards on 17 carries. He became the school’s all-time leader in carries in an easy win against Florida International on 10/27/07. During this stretch, his ribs seemed to be impacting his ability to hang on to the ball, as well. After his injury in the Kentucky game through the October games, McFadden fumbled seven times and lost three. He also had a career-best four TD runs despite just 61 yards on 19 carries in that game. He was rested the second half after the Razorbacks ran up a big lead early. After a mostly unspectacular October, he faced #23 South Carolina, the team he had the most success against his first two seasons, on 11/3/07. McFadden blew up for 321 rushing yards, tying an SEC single-game record, including an 80-yard TD on which he joined Herschel Walker as the second player in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards in his first three seasons. He also threw his second TD pass of the season in the upset victory. The inconsistent offense disappeared the following week in a loss at #22 Tennessee. McFadden rushed for 117 yards, most of it in the second half when the team was already down big. In a win over Mississippi State on 11/17/07, he rushed for just 88 yards on 28 carries. However, he had a long TD reception when took a dump-off pass from QB Casey Dick escaping the pass rush and McFadden raced 57 yards for the score. McFadden ended the season with legendary performance in one of the biggest wins in Arkansas history against eventual National Champion LSU’s vaunted defense in Baton Rogue on 11/23/07. After fumbling the opening kick-off to spot the Tigers an easy three-point lead, McFadden got rolling in the second quarter. He took the direct snap from shotgun and faked a handoff to Jones before sprinting up the middle untouched for a 16-yard TD run in the second quarter to give the Razorbacks a 7-6 lead at halftime. On a similar misdirection play where he lined up at QB early in the third quarter, McFadden ripped off a 73-yard TD run after breaking a tackle and assisted by a key block way downfield from QB Casey Dick. After LSU tied the game on the next drive, McFadden would take the snap and hand off on a draw to 4SR Peyton Hillis who would take it 65 yards for a score. McFadden completed his involvement in every one of their scores in regulation when he took another snap in shotgun, faked a QB draw, then stepped back and lobbed a 24-yard TD pass to Hillis. In the second OT, McFadden broke an off-tackle outside a nine-yard TD run before Hillis and Jones finished LSU off in the third OT. In the end, McFadden had the third 200-yard rushing game of his career, finishing with 32-206-3, as well as completing three of six passes for 34 yards and a TD. The win propelled the Razorbacks in the Top 25 at No. 25, earning them a trip to the Cotton Bowl against Missouri and fellow Heisman candidate QB Chase Daniels. McFadden rushed for 105 yards, his school-record tenth 100-yard game of the season and 22nd of his career, including three-yard TD run on a sweep. He also had a 33-yard KO return in the game. McFadden got more involved as a kick returner the second half of the season as teams avoided Jones. However, it was Missouri RB Tony Temple who stole the show, as the Tigers easily defeated Arkansas. Among the single-season records McFadden set, his 1,830 yards rushing and 2,310 all-purpose yards broke his own school-record from 2006. They were second and first, respectively, in SEC history, as well. He is the school’s career leader in both categories, as well. Largely off the strength of a few huge games, McFadden was recognized as the SEC Offensive Player of the Year and with first-team All-SEC, consensus first-team All-American, and the Doak Walker award all for the second consecutive year. The one repeat that was a disappointment was him finishing as the Heisman runner-up for the second straight year.

What seemingly was a mildly disappointing year for McFadden at the mid-point of the season resulted in a record-breaking season and another trophy case full of awards. It was the product of how ridiculously high he set the bar in his sophomore season. Expectations are hard to exceed when every carry is expected to an ESPN SportsCenter highlight. It is worth noting a gimmick offense that included the presence of fellow NFL prospects Jones and Hillis contributed significantly to McFadden’s numbers. The “Wildcat” packages that one-and-done OC Gus Malzahn incorporated in 2006 utilizing McFadden’s ability to be a threat throwing the ball was replaced by the “Wild Hog” formation by OC David Lee. The latter succeeded to the extent of setting several school records for yards and points despite yielding on of the worst passing games in the nation (112 out of 119 FBS teams). Some of the success of the formation came from the legitimate threat of McFadden as a passer. He finished his career completing 14 of 22 passes for 205 yards and seven TDs. It’s important to note a good number of his 15 fumbles came out of the Wild Hog package on things like aborted exchanges, where they might have been asking him to do too much with the ball too often. He needs to learn to switch the ball to the outside arm when running, he heavily favors carrying the ball with his left hand. Working in such an unconventional offense for most of his college career means McFadden will need some development in fundamentals and have more of a learning curve, but his phenomenal ability should overcome that deficit quickly. He does have some questions about maturity, particularly in lieu of a few incidents since the end of the regular season, but it doesn’t appear like anything to be overly concerned with. Prior to the Cotton Bowl, a story came out of a potentially inappropriate relationship with an agent in the purchase of a vehicle that briefly appeared to threaten his eligibility for the game. In early January there was a fight at a bar involving McFadden and/or his brother that resulted in police temporarily restraining him. No charges resulted, but you would have thought McFadden, who is still a minor, would have learned his lesson about the dangers of nightlife in the summer of 2006. He was involved in another fight at a club after someone tried to steal his brother’s car and almost lost one of his toes. Most recently, a Little Rock woman filed a paternity suit claiming McFadden is the father of her four-month old daughter. While none of these incidents in a vacuum are cause for particular alarm, the aggregation of them will at least cause a player who will represent a significant financial investment for a team to face some grilling from front offices at the Combine. Last year I said Adrian Peterson was the most exciting combination of size, speed and raw natural talent since Bo Jackson. Not much more needs to be said about his talent than Run DMC is as much the prospect that AD was. A triple threat on offense who could be an elite kick returner if asked to, with ideal size and elite speed, the only question that remains is how high in the first round he goes. He was already recognized as the top RB in the land coming in to the season and while I’m tempted to overvalue the effect of his performance at LSU, the few bumps in the road during the season and the off-field incidents after it tend to make say his draft stock is pretty much where it has always been, high first-round lock.

Tashard Choice (Georgia Tech – 5SR) 5’11” 210 Combine Invite: Yes
After being limited by a strained right hamstring against Boston College and at Virginia, Choice was back to his workhorse 2006 form as he rattled off thee-straight games over 100 yards (at least 135 in each) in which he had at least 30 carries in each. The string culminated in a career day at Miami on 10/13/07, with career highs of 37 carries and 204 yards. Tech was down 7-0 at halftime before coming out and feeding Choice the ball. Choice led them to scores on three consecutive drives, featuring a 54-yard run on the first drive that resulted in a TD. Out of an I-formation, Choice went right up the gut untouched and threw a strong stiff arm in to CB Glenn Sharpe to gain an extra seven of his 54 yards on the run. Choice’s resurgence was derailed against Army on 10/20/07. On his ninth carry, already having scored a TD on the day to give Tech at 10-7 lead, Choice bounced a play outside and twisted his right leg awkwardly as he went down. He had surgery a minor arthroscopic procedure on his right knee on 10/23/07 to clean it up and began practicing after their bye week, but also missed their loss to Virginia Tech in a Thursday night game on 11/1/07. At Duke on 11/10/07, Choice picked up where he left off in Miami. He posted 24-170-2, despite the still being bothered by his right knee and hamstring. However, he did lose a fumble that was returned for a TD. Choice kept rolling against North Carolina in the next game. He rushed for 142 yards on a season-high 33 carries, including four straight carries for 23 yards on their last four offensive plays to set up the game-winning FG for the Yellow Jackets. He also attempted his first career pass in the game, and completed it for a 17-yard throwback TD to QB Taylor Bennett. Choice finished his career winless against rival Georgia, as they lost to the #6 Bulldogs at home on 11/24/07. He did his part, rushing for 134 yards on 25 carries, including a 12-yard TD run. Georgia Tech lost to Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl on New Year’s Eve and Choice had to leave the game early when he aggravated his knee. Choice left in the third quarter after rushing 12 times for 69 yards, including a 22-yard run on their first drive of the game that led to a TD. Choice was healthy for the Senior Bowl and had an impressive week of practice. His toughness and hard work, as well as his ability, sounds like it stood out to coaches. In the game, he rushed seven times for 29 yards and caught a pass for 23 yards. He led the ACC in rushing, ypg and total yards, for the second straight season despite missing a game and parts of three others. He was recognized with first-team All-ACC honors for the second straight year.

In lieu of his injury problems this year, it is worth recalling again that he had a school-record 297 carries in 2006, fourth in FBS, his first season as a feature runner. Whether or not that workload caught up with him, the fact is he battled two significant injuries last season. His toughness and dedication were evident in the effort he put in, and production he still achieved, while battling the hamstring problem the entire season. He spent hours every day in the training room most of the season getting treatment for the hamstring to make sure he could play each week. The timing of his knee injury was poor as Choice was starting to really heat up, but had to miss a marquee match-up with the Hokies. However, he also bounced back fast, and strong, from the surgery. Choice isn’t flashy and lacks home run speed, but has a good toolbox of running skills. Good size with big legs, though his upper body could use some more definition. An instinctive runner, he has good natural forward lean and ends runs strong, putting his helmet down and delivering the blow while continuing to drive his legs. He breaks arm tackles and packs a punch with his stiff arm. What impressed me most in watching Choice is his outstanding cutting ability. He has a stutter step that absolutely freezes defenders. His toughness and leadership add to the package. Choice was my top-rated senior RB heading in to the season and ends it that way. Unfortunately the addition of several top underclassmen has pushed him down, perhaps even to Day Two. If he falls that far, he will be a huge steal.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Mississippi – 5SR) 5’11” 221 Combine Invite: Yes
After being the leading rusher at Indiana for two years, the New Orleans native transferred to Mississippi to be closer to home. He rushed for 1,000 yards (exactly 1,000, as a matter of fact) his first season as a Rebel in 2006 and earned All-SEC recognition. He cemented his reputation as a tough player when his two front teeth were knocked in the Georgia game that year and, after getting stitched up at halftime, returned to the game to rush for 135 yards in the near-upset before an official made him leave for good because of the bleeding. This past season, he became the only Rebel to run for 1K twice. He finished the season with 1,137 rushing yards, second most in Ole’ Miss history, on 230 carries and scored six TDs. Green-Ellis had five 100-yard games, including career highs of 33 carries and 226 yards when they played Missouri tough despite ultimately losing on 9/8/07. He had another banner day when the Rebels almost knocked off Alabama on 10/13/07. Green-Ellis rushed for 131 yards on 20 carries. He was invited to the Shrine Game where his performance was a mixed bag during practice and in the game. He had just five carries for 17 yards and caught nine-yard pass in the game.

Green-Ellis has found consistent success in both the Big Ten and SEC despite playing on one of the worst teams in each conference and being the focus of opposing defenses as the main offensive threat on each team. A technically strong runner, with good footwork and pad level, he has ideal size and a chiseled physique. Definitely passes the eyeball test. However, with his size, quickness and speed are lacking. A willing blocker in the passing game, but he is a non-factor as a receiver, with just two receptions in 2007. Very durable, never missed a game in his collegiate career and started every game since his sophomore season. An underrated performer, his stock was pushed down by the slew of underclassmen talent who entered the draft. However, he still remains one of the top bigger backs (over 215) available.

Peyton Hillis (Arkansas – 4SR) 6’1” 240 Combine Invite: Yes
While the plans to use him as a punt returner were aborted, Hillis became significantly more involved in the offense than in 2006. With 3JR Felix Jones hurting, Hillis saw extra work and finished with 65 rushing yards on 11 carries and two catches for 14 yards in a win over Mississippi State on 11/17/07. Hillis saved his best for his last regular season game the following week. In a huge upset at LSU, he flashed his array of multi-purpose skills in his best all-around statistical performance of his career. Just a few plays after LSU tied the game halfway through the third quarter, Hillis took the handoff from 3JR Darren McFadden on a draw and raced untouched 65 yards up the middle for his first rushing TD of the season. Again with the game tied in the fourth quarter, Hillis took a 24-yard pass from McFadden for a TD. Then in overtime, Hillis would really shine. With the game on the line down seven in the first OT, Hillis caught a 13-yard pass on fourth-and-ten to preserve the drive. Two plays later, he grabbed a ten-yard pass for a TD. The catch showcased his ability as a receiver with a nice grab out of the air in stride with the defender right on him. Hillis would then rush for a three-yard TD in the third OT to set up the eventual game-winning two-point conversion by Jones. Hillis finished with his best all-purpose numbers as a Razorback, 11-89-2 on the ground and 5-62-2 through the air. He was the top target in an otherwise impotent passing gaming, finishing the season leading the team across the board with career highs of 49 receptions, 537 yards and 5 TDs. Hillis received an invite to the Senior Bowl as a fullback. During practice, he impressed with his versatility and inside running inability. He led the South with nine carries on which he gained 44 yards (4.9 ypc), highlighted by an 18-yard burst through the middle.

While his role wasn’t to post numbers with the dynamic duo of juniors McFadden and Felix Jones, Hillis was more involved than expected thanks to a record-setting offense under new OC David Lee. As the team’s leading receiver, he wasn’t kept in as a pass blocker much, but he has developed in to a solid lead blocker since the arrival of McFadden and Jones. Hillis is a true multi-purpose threat who can line up at any skill position but QB. FB, H-Back, or TE seems his likely NFL calling. While comparisons to Mike Alstott and Brian Leonard seem obvious, his strengths and weaknesses differ significantly. He lacks the speed of either, but unlike both, Hillis is an outstanding blocker who can be a true FB. Like both, Hillis is an outstanding receiver for a big man and, like Leonard, he can do it running routes and not just out of the backfield. Hillis has Alstott’s size, bigger than Leonard, but isn’t the short-yardage hammer as a runner that Alstott was. Durability has been a bit of a problem in the past, so staying healthy all season was important. He should be one of the few fullbacks taken in the draft.

Chauncey Washington (Southern California – 5SR) 5’11” 216 Combine Invite: Yes
After a shoulder sprain in their final preseason scrimmage, Washington missed their season-opening win over Idaho. He returned at Nebraska and scored twice in the win, then took over as the starter in their third game against Washington State and would start the rest of the season. He rushed for a TD and posted a 100-yard game. 2SO C.J. Gable, who started the first two games, was done for the season after their win over the Cougars. However, 2SO Stefan Johnson (when not bothered by a lingering foot sprain) and stud 1FR Joe McKnight would remain heavily involved with the running game, each seeing about half as many carries as Washington. By far the highlight of his season came on a rainy night at #24 Cal on 11/10/07. With Johnson and McKnight struggling, Washington would pound out yards like a mudder race horse and have the performance the Trojans have been waiting five years for him to have. Washington got USC their first lead in the game in the second quarter, when went over the left guard for a 36-yard TD. He would finish with career highs of 29 carries and 220 yards. He was invited to the Senior Bowl were he reportedly had a solid, but unspectacular, week of practice. In the game, he led the North with 38 yards on five carries.

Washington came to USC with Reggie Bush and LenDale White and finally leaves after academic ineligibility derailed his career for two seasons. When he has played, he has dealt with a number of minor injuries, so his durability is a question. He was the nominal starter most of the last two seasons, and led the team in rushing for both, but everyone knows about the crowded situation in the USC backfield. Washington made the best of it, being a team player and leader. However, for a player whose looks the role of a workhorse, he never had over 200 carries in a season. He isn’t a home run hitter, so it took a game like his career-high 29 carries at Cal for him to put together a noteworthy performance. Definitely passes the eyeball test with ideal size and build. He is a true power runner with a natural forward lean and good balance, breaking tackles and dragging defenders with him for extra yards. However, he has pedestrian speed and unreliable hands. A decent blocker, he is a good candidate to be converted to FB and serve in short-yardage situations. He’s unlikely to impress at the Combine and will hope he has overcome his baggage to get a call on Day Two. If not, he’ll be a priority UDFA.

Lance Ball (Maryland – 5SR) 5’9” 223 Combine Invite: No
Part of a Thunder and Thunder backfield duo with 4SR teammate Keon Lattimore last year, Ball was the team’s leading rusher the previous two seasons before Lattimore started to take over as RB1a early in 2007. It returned to a RBBC by mid-season, as Lattimore’s performance hit a plateau and Ball was more productive while the team dealt with injuries on the offensive line. He had his biggest games against a couple of quality opponents in 2007. In an upset of the Scarlet Knight as Rutgers on 9/29/07, Ball had 90 yards and two TD runs on just 12 carries as both he and Lattimore outperformed the more highly-regarded Rutgers junior RB Ray Rice. With Lattimore out with a hamstring injury against BC on 11/10/07, Ball had his best game of the year as the feature back. Ball grinded out season-highs of 32 carries and 109 rushing yards, including a five-yard TD run, in another upset for the Terrapins. He also had a three-TD day in a win against GaTech and was more productive (17-72-1) than Lattimore in a one-point lost to Virginia and their lose to Clemson (10-53-1). He finished the season with a career-high 12 TDs, one less than Lattimore.

Although he had a career-high 12 TDs in 2007 (one less than Lattimore), Ball’s rushing production has slightly declined each season since he led the team (and was third in the ACC) with 903 yards on a 4.8 ypc average as a redshirt sophomore in 2005. An early season surge by Lattimore that gave him the better aggregate numbers, but Ball was again the superior back by the second half (although both disappeared in the Emerald Bowl). Despite this, most pundits and draftniks seem to perceive Lattimore as a significantly superior NFL prospect and I disagree. Ball’s weight is distributed well, he doesn’t appear “squatty” despite his height/weight combo. He generates good initial explosion through his massive thighs that also give him solid speed for a bigger back. He has good vision and quick feet for a big man, but those also contribute to the biggest weakness I see in him for the next level. Despite his size, he regularly looked to bounce runs outside or looks for the cut-back lanes. He isn’t elusive enough to succeed like that at the next level and this is a pretty significant issue because it requires changing the instincts of a runner, as opposed to some technical flaw. That isn’t to say he can’t run with authority between the tackles, he uses his strength to deliver a blow at the end of a run and packs a nice stiff arm in the open field. While he didn’t have many opportunities as a receiver in space, he does a great job of both setting up and executing screens, with soft hands for a big back. He is also a decent blocker and, like Lattimore, could be converted to a multi-purpose fullback at the next level. While not the typical build of a change of pace back, I think he could really surprise in that role, where his natural running style is a better fit.

Jamar Brittingham (Bloomsburg – 4SR) 6’0” 208 Combine Invite: No
The former Rutgers recruit was thriving again last season after battling injury problems, particularly a left knee, in 2006. After a career-high 257 yard (his ninth career 200-yard game) and four TD rushing day on 10/22/07, he went over 1,000 yards (at 6.1 ypc) for the season. He had an 81-yard TD run among the four, his second 80+ yard TD of the season. He finished the game with 5,129 career rushing yards, passing former Harlon Hill winner Irv Sigler as the school’s all-time leader. That also moved him to second on the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) all-time career list. He ran for 190 yards and a score in a come-from-behind win at East Stroudsburg the following week, then put up 160 yards in a rout of Cheyney on 11/3/07. He finished his collegiate career with 120 yards in a win against IUP, his seventh 100-yard rushing game of the season, and passed Wesley Cales of California to be the PSAC all-time career rushing leader.

A Harlon Hill Award finalist as the nation's top Division II player, Brittingham was the 2007 PSAC Eastern Division Player of the Year for the second time in his career. He led the conference this past season with 1,435 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns and all-time with 5,689 yards rushing yards, 516 points scored and 6,867 all-purpose yards. He ran for 100+ yards in 29 games in his career, including 10 of those for 200+ yards. In all, Brittingham holds 28 school and conference records. He is fifth all-time in Division II history in career scoring and 14th in total rushing yards. He got an invite to Cactus Bowl (DII all-star game) where he led all rushers in the game with 84 yards on 12 carries for the East in a convincing win.

While the fact his success has come in DII, Brittingham has completely dominated the competition and has decent NFL measurables. He also is solid as a receiver and a returner. I thought Brittingham was the most intriguing small school RB prospect and I was surprised he didn’t get a Combine invite. At least the Saints will definitely be familiar with him, as they should have seen plenty of film on Brittingham since they drafted his former teammate, OT Jahri Evans in the fourth round last year.

Yvenson Bernard (Oregon State – 5SR) 5’9” 202 Combine Invite: Yes
Bernard bounced back from a couple tough non-conference performances early last season to put together four-straight 100-yard rushing days to start the PAC-10 schedule. The highlight of his season was leading the Beavers to an upset at California for the second time in his career on 10/13/07. With #1 LSU having already lost that day, the second-ranked Golden Bears were in line for the top spot with the first cut of BSC rankings about to come out. A one-yard TD leap by Bernard on fourth-and-goal in the fourth quarter helped end Cal’s quest to be ranked No.1 for the first time in 56 years. Bernard had another one-yard TD run in the third quarter after touching the ball on nine of 12 plays as the team leaned on their workhorse in the second half. He finished with 33 carries for 110 yards, as well as catching eight of the 18 passes OSU completed for 53 more yards. After a bye, Stanford came to Covallis and things were looking good for Bernard to keep his 100-yard game steak alive at five. He had 62 yards and a TD on just nine carries when he hurt his left shoulder in the second quarter. The impact of his absence was seen in that the Beavers were three-for-three on third down conversions with him in the game, but only one of 12 after he left. The team also gave up four sacks after he left. An MRI indicated the injury was a sprain, not a separation, but he was still not available for their loss at USC on 11/3/07. Bernard returned in a wild win against the Washington the following week, where the Huskies’ QB was taken off the field in an ambulance and several players were ejected as personal fouls escalated on both sides. Bernard had his helmet knocked off at one point during a post-whistle skirmish. Bernard rushed for a career-high 36 yards for 149 yards and caught three passes for 26 yards. However, he almost cost them the game when he coughed up the ball on what appeared to be a TD with less than three minutes left in the game. However, the Beavers’ defense held in their own territory for a 29-23 win. Next at Washington State on 11/17/07, Bernard rushed for 74 yards and two TDs on 17 carries in the first half on the way to a rout of the Cougars. Bernard had to leave after the first half suffering a right knee injury. He had the knee scoped to clean it up a few days after and, despite a bye, was unavailable for their win in the Civil War at Oregon. Well rested for their Emerald Bowl match-up with Maryland, Bernard pounded out 38-177-1, the most rushing yards he had since his sophomore year, in the rain in San Francisco. After the Terrapins went up 14-7 in the first quarter, Bernard tied it on a two-yard run in the second. On his way in for the go-heard TD late in the third quarter, Bernard lost the ball, but WR James Rodgers recovered it in the end zone for the decisive score. Bernard was recognized on the PAC-10 All-Conference second team. He was invited to the Hula Bowl, where he rushed for 23 yards on six carries, before getting a call half way through the week to participate in the Senior Bowl as an injury replacement. He only practiced in the walk-through on Friday, but got eight carries fro 35 yards in the game.

After missing last year’s upset of the top-ranked Trojans, Bernard got to participate in the Beavers inspired upset performance of the season this year at Cal, but unfortunately missed not only the USC game for the second straight year, but his final Civil War meeting with state rival Oregon. In the Cal game, his ability to allow OSU to control the ball with his season-high 33 carries helped increase the visibility he gets from the big win. His eight receptions in the game also showcased his added value as a receiving threat out of the backfield. With QB Sean Canfield dialing down the picks and the OLine beginning to mesh, the rest of the season went well for Bernard when he was healthy. Although he missed two games and parts of two others, he posted ridiculously consistent rushing numbers for the third consecutive year. Despite his success, the undersized Bernard isn’t expected to have the measurables to merit much consideration as a feature back prospect. The squatty Bernard has lined up at FB in some sets in a sort of option to capitalize on his strong interior running or as a diversion when they run outside with some of their speedier backs. While he doesn’t project as a likely convert to FB at the next level (unless perhaps a Mike Shanahan gets his hands on him), it is an example of the versatility he can bring. A great college player whose game likely doesn’t translate to the next level.

Owen Schmitt (WVU – 5SR) 6’2” 247 Combine Invite: Yes
A walk-on after transferring from DIII Wisconsin-River Falls, Schmitt developed in to one of the more devastating lead blockers in college while showing surprising ball skills for a big man. He even executed the patented “Brian Leonard Leap” on a 15-yard reception at Cincinnati. He was impressing at practice for the Senior Bowl before suffering a minor knee injury that shut him down. He should be fine for the Combine. I expected his tested bench strength could disappoint a bit at the Combine, but it shouldn’t be a concern. He is naturally strong with a thick frame, if one that can support more definition, and brings a fierce tenacity needed to succeed in the role. The cult legend in Wisconsin and West Virginia should battle Peyton Hillis to be the first true fullback (i.e. not including Jacob Hester) off the board when they start going on Day Two and should be an immediate fan favorite again where ever he lands.

Jehuu Caulcrick (Michigan State – 5SR) 6’0” 258 Combine Invite: Yes
Caulcrick was the Thunder to junior Javon Ringer’s lightning what was an outstanding running game for MSU last season. He posted career bests of 222 carries for 872 yards, including a school-record 21 rushing TDs, while splitting carries with Ringer. As the complimentary back most of his career, Caulcrick never had more than 113 carries or 619 yards prior to 2007. He declined an invite to the Hula Bowl to begin immediately preparing for the Combine after the team’s loss to BC in the Champs Sports Bowl. He is the latest in a series of recent super-sized runners trying to prove they are more than candidates for conversion to FB, following in the footsteps of Greg Jones, Brandon Jacobs, and Michael Bush. However, Caulcrick is no where near the same level of prospect at RB as any of those three. He lacks the speed to be a RB and does not have the skills of a true blocking FB, but is a monster at the goal line, hence the Combine invite.

Archibong “Xavier” Omon (Northwest Missouri State – 5SR) 5’10” 220 Combine Invite: Yes
Omon capped his extremely consistent and successful career with his best season. He led DII in rushing yards (2,337) and rushing TDs (37) as he led the Bearcats to the DII National Championship game for the third straight season. Participated in Texas vs the Nation All-Star Challenge and won the MVP of the game, leading Lone Star side with nine carries and 95 yards. He is the first player in NCAA history (all divisions) to rush for 1,500 yards in four seasons. His success and size earned him a trip to the Combine to see how he stacks up.

Hugh Charles (Colorado – 4SR) 5’8” 190 Combine Invite: No
A pulled left hamstring slowed his start to the season, but after a tune up against Miami (Ohio), Charles has exploded to begin the Big XII season. Starting with Miami (Ohio), Charles ran off four straight 100-yard games. He had their lone score, a 25-yard run, in the first half against Oklahoma that helped give them enough confidence they could score on the Sooners to pull a shocking upset with an incredible fourth quarter. Charles finished the game with 110 yards on 24 carries and led the team in receiving with five receptions for 48 yards. He became the first RB to go over 100 yards against Kansas State this year as he put up a career-high 171 yards in a loss. His string of 100-yard games was snapped in their loss against Kansas. Charles managed just 39 yards on 11 carries and lost a huge fumble in the red zone, his first of the season, which bought him some time on the bench as per HC Dan Hawkins’ policy. Charles bounced back with 20-121-1 on the ground and 5-26-1 through the air in a win at Texas Tech on 10/27/07, but had only 55 yards on 14 carries in a loss to Missouri the following week. The Tigers talked after the game about being able to game plan to contain Charles by forcing everything inside and restricting his ability to get the corner and use his speed for big gains. However, he was installed as the primary kick returner in the game, a move with would prove quite productive over the final four games. Charles failed to break 100 yards again in a loss at Iowa State on 11/10/07, but returned six kicks for 161 yards. After a bye, Charles saved his career day for his final Big 12 game in a thrilling 65-52 defeat of Nebraska on 11/23/07. He scored on runs of 9, 1, and 2 yards in a second half comeback, finishing with 169 yards on 33 carries against a poor Cornhusker run defense. He also returned five kicks for 125 yards and caught a 33-yard pass. The Buffalos returned to the post-season after a one-year hiatus and faced Alabama in the Independence Bowl. Charles was limited to 69 yards on 14 carries in the loss, but returned six kicks for 126 yards. Surprisingly, Charles didn’t participate in an all-star game.

One of the big hurdles he overcame was establishing trust and a rapport with HC Dan Hawkins. Charles has admitted the coaching change was rough and contributed to his disappointing 2006 season. However, both Charles and the team were on the same page with Hawkins last season and both improved. He had a few nice games, but hasn’t produced consistently over his career. A standout on the track team, he is a superb, if small, physical specimen. He can’t pack much more weight on his frame, but has outstanding strength for his size. His primary attribute as a runner, and only outstanding one, is his elite speed. However, he tries to bounce everything outside. His impressive late audition as a kick return gives him a bit more appeal, but without a Combine invite, he’ll only have an opportunity to impress scouts and front office personnel at Colorado’s Pro Day and in individual workouts. He looks like an UDFA.

Tony Temple II (Missouri – 4SR) 5’9” 200 Combine Invite: No
Former blue chip recruit broke out in 2006 with his first 1K season. He started last season with two 100-yard games in his first four before suffering an ankle sprain early in a win over Nebraska on 10/6/07. He would miss the next two games and have unspectacular performances in two more before having his best game of the season. He put up a season-high 141 yards rushing in a win over Texas A&M on 11/10/07. After missing their regular season match-up with Oklahoma due to injury, he disappeared, figuratively this time, against the Sooners in Missouri’s Big 12 Championship loss. With their national championship aspirations dashed, Missouri met Arkansas, and their stellar RBs, in the Cotton Bowl. However, it was Temple who stole the show. He rushed for a Cotton Bowl record, and career-high, 281 yards. The record came on his final carry of the game, a 40-yard TD run.

Temple sought to avoid moving on this year by petitioning for an extra year of eligibility. He was originally redshirt as a freshman in 2004, until needs at RB dictated he suit up towards the end of the season. Unfortunately, six carries in to his first game, an ankle injury ended his season. Instead, he dropped his appeal and is headed to the draft. Temple is a fragile underachiever who sprinkled some flashes of potential in with too much mediocrity over his career.

Moving Down
Players whose draft stock has dropped.

Leon “Mike” Hart (Michigan – 4SR) 5’9” 196 Combine Invite: Yes
Michigan and Hart went on a roll after their early season disaster. On a 14-yard run during Michigan’s second drive against Eastern Michigan in early October, Hart passed Anthony Thomas to become the school’s career rushing leader. Hart finished the victory rushing for over 200 yards for the fifth time is his career, extending his own school record. He entered their game against Purdue on 10/13/07 as the leading rusher in FBS. In the game, Hart went over 100 yards in the first half to become the only Wolverine to begin the season rushing for over 100 yards in seven consecutive games. He also ran for two TDs, his fourth multi-TD game of the year (eight of his career), including a highlight-reel 11-yard run. However, on a carry for no gain with two minutes left in the half, Hart rolled his right ankle and would not return to the game after spraining it. Michigan rode a 24-point lead Hart helped them build before the half to victory. Hart finished the game with 4,757 career rushing yards, moving past Anthony Davis to fifth in Big Ten history. Hart would miss victories at Illinois and against Minnesota the next two weeks due to his ankle injury. He returned at Michigan State on 11/3/07 and ran for 99 yards on 13 carries in the first half to help the Wolverines get out to an early 14-3 lead. However, after 21 unanswered points by the Spartans in the second half, Michigan took to the air to come from behind in the victory and take home the Paul Bunyan Trophy for the sixth straight year. Hart didn’t see much more work, getting just two more carries, but finished with 110 yards, the fourth consecutive time he ran for over 100 yards against MSU. After the game, Hart left the Spartans bulletin board material for next season when he talked about laughing at the excitement on the MSU sideline when they had a 21-14 lead in the fourth quarter before the comeback. He compared it to letting a “little brother” take the lead when you play him in basketball before eventually beating him, which even drew the ire of MSU HC Mark Dantonio. It wasn’t the first time last season Hart made headlines with comments on opponents. He guaranteed a win over Notre Dame (which he helped deliver) and, before the season, talked about returning for his senior season to finally beat Ohio State. He would get his chance in the next game he participated in, as he didn’t play in a loss at Wisconsin the following week, despite dressing for the game, to keep his right ankle healthy. Against Ohio State, Hart found little room to run in the defensive battle. He finished with just 44 yards on 18 carries as the whole offense struggled. After a month to rest his ankle, Hart wrapped up his career on a high note with an upset of #9 Florida in the Capital One Bowl. He rushed for 129 yards and two scores on 32 carries, but could have been the goat of the game if the Wolverines had not hung on for a 41-35 win. Hart twice lost fumbles inside the Gators’ five-yard line. It was only the second and third fumbles of his career, having not lost one since his first early his freshman year, a span of an incredible 1,005 carries. Hart finished the season as the sixth-leading rusher at just over 136 ypg. Despite missing three games, his excellent production and contributions to turning around the season for Michigan were recognized with both the second-team Big Ten All-Conference and AP All-American team honors. He finished his four years with 1,015 carries, the most among active players and a school-record, as well Michigan’s all-time record for rushing yards with 5,040. His 28 career 100-yard games were another Michigan record, and the team with 24-4 when he rushed for 100 yards. Hart received an invite to the Senior Bowl, but didn’t participate. If it was for injury-related reasons, he was healthy enough the following week to participate in the State Farm College Football All-Star Challenge where he won the obstacle course and hands competition.

With the passing game inconsistent due to struggles and injuries to QB Chad Henne, Hart literally carried the team through an incredible turnaround after the first two losses. No other back in FBS had as many carries before he was missed time with an ankle sprain. The injury brought back a spotlight on questions about his durability. After a breakout season as a true freshman, he struggled through an injury-plagued 2005 season. This past season feeds more ammunition for skeptics about his durability, particularly as it relates to his size, for the next level. He is a physical runner despite his size, with outstanding leg strength giving him surprising power. He was a non-factor as a receiver, with just eight receptions on the year, but is a solid pass blocker despite his size. In addition to concerns about his size and durability, Hart lacks elite speed. His success as a runner came from an outstanding combination of agility, balance, and vision. What he lacks in straight-line speed, he makes up for in acceleration in busting through the hole and quickly getting to his top speed, while not having to sacrifice it when cutting or making moves. Great instincts complete the package, he is a natural runner and seems to always make the right choice on where to hit the hole or when to cut back. Hart appears next in the recent line of Michigan runners who were great in college to disappoint at the next level. His potential compares well to Anthony Thomas and Hart could find similar moderate success as a featured runner if given the chance, but likely won’t due to his size. He shares another shortcoming with Thomas in not adding value on special teams. Hart was a feature back from almost the start of his career, and has never had to contribute on special teams or have experience as a returner, not that he couldn’t learn, but impacts his draft stock in terms of the perception of immediate value he can add as a change of pace back. Hart came in to the season as one of the top RB prospects in a weak crop. A boost to his value after great production in the first half of the season was derailed by injury and even a strong performance in his final game was tempered by the unexpected appearance of ball security problems. Several top underclassmen RB prospects joining the draft and Hart’s decision to skip the Senior Bowl have kept his draft stock tumbling. An outstanding Combine and Pro Day are necessary to pull him out of Day Two.

Steve Slaton (West Virginia – 3JR) 5’10” 194 Combine Invite: Yes
After starting the season with four consecutive 100-yard rushing games, Slaton finished the season with inconsistent production contributed to by the emergence of blue chip freshman Noel Devine. In the fifth game of the season, WVU was upset on the road by an emerging South Florida team on 9/28/07. He was held to 54 yards on 13 carries. The following week against Syracuse, he was limited to 15 carries for 69 yards in the blowout victory. Slaton saw little work in the second half as QB Pat White was already injured in the game and HC Rich Rodriguez worked back-up QB Jarrett Brown extensively. Slaton did have four receptions for 51 yards in the game. In a homecoming win against Mississippi on 10/20/07, White was back over 100 yards again, as he had his best all-around game of the season. He posted 23-127-1 on the ground and 4-36-0 through the air, as well as returning a kick-off for 26 yards. During the game, broke the school-record for career rushing TDs. He won a big showdown at #25 Rutgers with fellow underclassmen star RB prospect Ray Rice the following week. Rice had more yards, but Slaton found the end zone three times on runs of 38, 1, and 6 yards. The 38-yard TD started as a draw to the left before Slaton cut back and In addition to 73 rushing yards on 16 carries, Slaton had a 21-yard kick return and took a screen pass 51 yards, finishing with a nice stiff arm to gain an additional eight yards. He struggled at Louisville on 11/8/07, rushing for 60 yards on 17 carries. He had a one-yard TD run in the first half, but after the team built up a 17-point lead halfway through the third quarter, Slaton had a costly fumble that let the Cardinals back in the game before QB Pat White sealed the victory. After being held under 100 yards rushing for four of the last five games, he had 103 yards on 23 carries in a win over Cincinnati. He had a 32-yard reception to set up the Mountaineers first TD and then assumed the workhorse role in the fourth quarter to seal the victory after two fumbles by QB Pat White let the Bearcats back in the game. On the first drive of the fourth quarter, Slaton rushed four times for 21 yards and a first down, then caught a 13-yard pass for another first down, before ending the drive with a one-yard TD run to put WVU up 28-10. After Cinci responded with a TD, White turned the ball over on the first play of the subsequent drive. The defense forced a three-and-out, then Slaton took over with nine yards on consecutive runs. After an illegal procedure pushed them back to a third-and-six, White lost another fumble. Another Bearcat TD, with a failed two-point conversion, closed the lead to five points when the offense took over with 2:25 left in the game. Slaton closed the game out with three runs for two first downs, forcing Cinci to burn all their timeouts and White to down the ball the last two plays for the win. The Mountaineers won the Big East with an easy victory over #20 UConn the following week. Slaton ran for a 31-yard TD in the second quarter, which put him over 1,000 yards for the third consecutive season. It also made he and White just the third set of teammates in FBS history (Darren McFadden and Felix Jones of Arkansas becoming the second earlier in the season) to rush for 1,000 yards in two consecutive season. Slaton finished with just 54 yards on ten carries, including another short TD run in the fourth quarter, as he was rested much of the second half as freshmen Noel Devine and Jock Sanders got a chance to flash their skills. Things were on the upswing for WVU and Slaton when a struggling Pittsburgh team came to Morgantown for the Backyard Brawl the following week. The team was ranked #1 in the coaches’ poll and #2 in the BCS with a seemingly easy path to the National Championship when the Panthers arrived the first day of December. However, the offense, particularly Slaton, forgot to show up for the game. Slaton managed just 11 yards on nine carries as their national championship dreams disappeared in a 31-9 loss. The consolation prize was a Fiesta Bowl match-up with Oklahoma, where WVU ended with a big win, but Slaton faced another disappointment. For the second straight year, he bowed out of a bowl game early with injury. After just one run for a loss of two yards and a reception for two yards, he left the game with a pulled hamstring and was in street clothes after halftime. The team hardly missed him, as the game turned in to Devine’s nation coming-out party. After finishing fourth in the Heisman voting in 2006, among multiple other honors, Slaton settled for second-team All-Big East honors last season.

In addition to a premier scrambling QB in White, Slaton had another mobile QB to contend with in the offensive game plan in back-up Jarrett Brown. Most importantly was the impact of true freshman Noel Devine on his decline in rushing yards. Slaton almost seemed to defer to Devine, at times, lacking the fire and/or necessary arrogance of a star to demand the ball. More likely, he was playing this year not to get hurt. The ease with which he left the Fiesta Bowl doing little to spurn opinions and rumors. While defenses focused on stopping Slaton and the team dealt with some growing pains of a younger offensive line, he can’t only look to scapegoats to explain his rushing average dropping from just over 7 ypc to just under 5 ypc. Ball security has been a bit of problem each season and at times this season he appeared to overcompensate, hugging the ball with both hands in the open field fearing the hit was coming from a side or behind. That may have contributed to his more conservative average production, as well. Slaton’s lean build belies surprising power. He is an effective short-yardage runner with an outstanding nose for the end zone. At the end of 2007, he was the leader in career rushing TDs with 50. However, he runs a bit upright and his fundamentals as an interior runner and footwork out of the conventional I-formation will need work. He frequently worked out of the shotgun, which gave him to see the blocks set up before hitting the hole. Most of his big plays came from that set. When he did run between the tackles, he also benefit from running behind FB Owen Schmitt, one of the best lead blockers in college. While Slaton’s interior potential makes being a feature back a possibility, his home run ability as a runner and receiver will get him paid on Sundays. A slasher with top speed, he elusively glides by defenders in the open field. Slaton had a very good, if inconsistent, season overall. The disappointment is relative to his previous achievements. The emergence of Devine and departure of HC Rich Rodriguez to Michigan undoubtedly weighed heavily on his decision to turn pro in a class where every top underclassmen, and a lot of them, declared. Slaton reported the NFL draft advisory committee assessed him as a second round pick, which seems about right, but his value has still dipped a bit as he struggled toward the end of the season (only going over 100 yards twice in his last seven games) after looking like the next best RB prospect behind McFadden before the season began.

Allen Patrick (Oklahoma – 5SR) 6’0” 195 Combine Invite: Yes
After a right ankle sprain slowed his start to the season, Patrick put a couple of back-to-back 100-yard games before starting the conference schedule. At Colorado, he came up just short, rushing for 96 yards and 2 scores in a surprising loss. In their big win over Texas, he missed almost half the game for the second time this year (Miami was the first) with cramping problems. Patrick rushed for ten yards on 11 carries before leaving after the first play of the third quarter. Redshirt freshman DeMarco Murray once again took advantage of the opportunity for more carries, rushing for 128 yards on just 17 carries, including a dazzling 65-yard TD run. Patrick had modest performances in a wins against Missouri (11-44-0) and at Iowa State (13-57-0), as well as lost a fumble in a close win over the Cyclones. He put the ball down on the Sooners’ 20-yard line on the second possession of the game, which put them behind by a TD early. Sophomore Chris Brown has seen just as much work, and is stealing all the TDs. Brown had 13-67-3 against Missouri and 13-50-2 at Iowa State. Patrick and Murray had almost identical performances (71 and 70 yards, respectively, both on 15 carries), with Murray also scoring a short TD run, in a win over Texas A&M. In another easy win over Baylor, Murray (98 yards and 3 TDs) was significantly more productive (98 yards and 3 TDs) than Patrick (46 yards) on the same number of carries (13). Murray also had a 91-yard KO return TD. On the first play from scrimmage at Texas Tech the following week on 11/17/07, Patrick fumbled and it set the tone for an upset that ultimately knocked them out of the national title picture. Patrick just got one carry in the game after that. Patrick may have been in danger of losing his starting job, but Murray dislocated his knee cap in the game, so Patrick remained the starter for their regular season finale against in-state rival Oklahoma State. Patrick responded to his worst game of the year the previous week by rushing for a career-high 202 yards on 29 carries in an easy win against one of the worst rushing defenses in the country. He rushed for two short TDs and caught an 11-yard TD pass. Patrick started and had a solid 13-88-1 in their upset of Missouri in the Big 12 Championship, but the game also featured a heavy does of Brown (23 carries), who scored the first two Sooner TDs. The team ended the season with a loss to WVU in the Fiesta Bowl where Patrick (14-82-0) and Brown (16-50-1) split carries. Patrick also had a 73-yard KO return. Patrick got an invite to the Shrine Game and his efforts in practice got him the start for the West in the game. Unfortunately, he suffered a mild knee sprain on the first drive on his only carry (three yards), and did not return.

Coming off his big debut filling in for Adrian Peterson as a junior, Patrick was considered one of the top senior prospects at RB prospects heading in to the 2007 season. While there were some highlights, the emergence of DeMarco Murray was the bigger backfield story in Norman. Patrick has a chiseled upper body, but thin legs. His physique leads to an unusually low body fat (low 4s), which has been attributed to his frequent cramping problems. His tremendous physical abilities contribute to his appeal as a prospect and his stock should rise at the Combine. Patrick reportedly has sub-4.5 speed and the best vertical (37.5) on the team. He has the frame to add weight, and he will need it at the next level, because while he is a physical runner and blocker, he won’t last long trying to do it under 195 pounds. While he runs hard and breaks arm tackles, he doesn’t show great agility or vision. Focus is an issue, getting unnecessary penalties, as well as likely contributing to his vision, durability, and fumbling problems. Durability and fumbling are major issues. After taking over for Peterson in 2006, Patrick carried the load for just three games before a sprained ankle knocked him out of two. Ankle problems resurfaced to start 2007 and then his cramping became a recurring issue, while a knee sprain ended his Shrine Game appearance. While his low body fat combined with the heat and humidity in the games cramping surfaced are offered as explanations, they either impact him more than most players or demonstrate his lack of focus and mental toughness. Most players leave briefly or get an I.V. and return when inflicted with cramping, Patrick repeatedly had to completely leave a game due to them. Ball security has also been a recurring problem. He hasn’t shown much as a receiver, but was never asked to do much in that role at Oklahoma. He has explosion and the speed to hit the home once he gets to the second level, which he also displayed giving him great potential as a kick returner in the few opportunities he had in taking over the role after Murray went down. Patrick’s greatest value on special teams may be in punt coverage, where he excelled. His upside is great and potential is obvious, but his inability to produce consistently and durability left the door open for a RBBC in 2007. Along with the entry of several top underclassmen, Patrick’s draft outlook has fallen to Day Two. He should be a Combine star, however, and be rising back up draft boards when it is over.

Ryan Torain (Arizona State – 4SR) 6’0” 213 Combine Invite: Yes (injured)
After knocking out back-to-back 100-yard rushing games in road victories since we last checked on Torain’s progress, his final season came to an early end. In the first quarter of their win against Washington on 10/13/07, Torain suffered a tear in the ligament of the Lisfranc joint connecting his left big toe, as well as some separation of the bone. He had surgery on 10/19/07 and missed the rest of the season. His value to the team can be seen in their struggles after losing him. The Sun Devils began the season 7-0 with Torain (although he also missed a win over SDSU on 9/15/07 with an ankle sprain) and led the nation in time of possession. They finished 3-3 without him, including rushing for just 22 yards and having the ball for under 24 minutes, a season-low, in their loss to Texas at the Holiday Bowl.

His recovery from the notoriously unpredictable Lisfranc injury has gone according to schedule, but that still makes it unlikely he’ll be 100% for the Combine. He came out of a cast he had on since the surgery in early December. The optimistic rehab time from there was two to three months. He sounded positive in a December interview with The Arizona Republic, commenting he was just proceeding with caution in his rehab, not risking re-injury in pushing himself to be ready for the Combine, and still working on his upper body regularly.

The injury is a setback, but I’ve been impressed with Torain over the last two years. With attributes like his great measurables and receiving ability, I believe he has more NFL potential than some of the more heralded RB names. He is a slasher who is a good fit for a one-cut zone blocking scheme. He hits the hole hard with good size to run between the tackles, but doesn’t have superior agility to make people miss in the open field at the next level. Out of sight and out of mind for several months due to the injury, while several strong juniors have declared, Torain has slipped down charts. However, he remains a major sleeper and could be a steal if he slips out of Day One. Even if he isn’t 100% for the Combine, his medical reports will be highly sought after.

Rafael Little (Kentucky – 4SR) 5’9” 194 Combine Invite: Yes (injured)
Little bounced back from his thigh bruise in their win at Arkansas on 9/22/07 and got right back on track. He went over 100 yards rushing in back-to-back games, their win against Florida Atlantic and their first lost of the season at South Carolina. He had a crucial fumble against the Gamecocks on a third-and-goal where he looked to be on his way to a TD. He finished with 135 yards on a season-high 25 carries, as well as three catches for 23 yards, but also aggravated his thigh injury in the game. He missed their huge upset of LSU, as well as losses to Florida and MSU in a shocking upset, after complications with calcium deposits building up on the deep bruise. After rushing for over 100 yards in five of their first six games, he missed the next three. While he was, the success of redshirt junior Tony Dixon and true freshman Derrick Lock in his placed undermined some perception of his value. It was no longer Little and top QB prospect Andre Woodson both driving the team’s explosive offense and success, but Woodson and his supporting cast, including who ever they plugged in at RB. Little returned for a win at Vanderbilt on 11/10/07, but had to leave the game early. After posting 15-70-0 on the ground and 4-49-0 through the air, he hurt his back on the first drive of the second half and didn’t return to the game. Little was back for one of the best games of the year, a quadruple OT loss against Tennessee in their regular season finale. He rushed for 77 tough yards on 24 carries and caught 11 passes for a career-high 108 yards in the thriller. With a month to get, and stay, healthy, Little had his best game of the year in their Music City Bowl win over Florida State. He rushed for season highs of 28 carries and 152 yards (although he had two fumbles) and caught eight passes for 50 yards, including a two-yard slant for a TD to put the Wildcats up for good in the third quarter. Little went to the Senior Bowl and reportedly showed some flashes in practice, but generally didn’t stand out. In the game, he had three carries for 14 yards and returned a punt for 11 yards before the injury bug bit him again. On his final touch, a four-yard carry off-tackle just before half time, Little went down with an injury to his left knee. Originally diagnosed as a sprained MCL, he was expected to be ready for the Combine and Kentucky’s Pro Day in March. However, a recent rumors have surfaced that it was a significant knee injury requiring major surgery and he will miss the Combine.

In my last update, I talked about the key for Little is just to stay healthy. Unfortunately, that once again isn’t the case. His durability was a major concern in his draft evaluation before his injury in the Senior Bowl, but the latest one is potentially devastating to it. Little has excellent quickness and agility, but doesn’t have home run speed. Excellent stop-and-go speed, including in running routes as a receiver. He is the ideal candidate for a change of pace back, bringing solid running skills with excellent receiving and return ability.

Amir Pinnix (Minnesota – 5SR) 5’11” 204 Combine Invite: No
The Gophers’ co-captain lost his starting job because of fumble problems early in the season. True freshman Duane Bennett took over as the starter against Ohio State on 9/29/07, ending a string of fourteen consecutive starts for Pinnix. Although Bennett was unspectacular, Pinnix saw just four carries and got all of four yards with them in the loss. Bennett started again at Indiana the following week, but sprained his right ankle in the first quarter and didn’t return. Redshirt sophomore Jay Thomas got the start at Northwestern the following week and rushed for over 100 yards. Bennett was inactive and Pinnix was productive, on limited touches, in the game. On just four carries, Pinnix rushed for 56 yards, including a 37-yard TD, his team-leading fourth of the season. It seemed the turf toe problem in his right foot that Pinnix had battled all season was beginning to improve, but then injury problems struck again against in the game. Pinnix pulled up lame on a 37-yard run in the third quarter, suffering a pulled left quad. He wouldn’t return in what ended up another loss for Minnesota. In an embarrassing loss to D-I FCS North Dakota State on 10/20/07, Bennett returned as the starter, but Pinnix returned and was involved early when Jay Thomas went down with a knee injury early in the second quarter. Pinnix took over that drive, rushing six times for 26 yards, including a one-yard TD to tie the game. However, he saw only two more carries the rest of the game after he pulled a hip muscle and couldn’t return again. Although Thomas was done for the season, Pinnix couldn’t capitalize the following week in another loss at Michigan. Pinnix saw just two carries for two yards, limited by turf toe and his pulled quad, while Bennett ran for over 100 yards in the Big House. Including the Michigan game, Pinnix had just five carries for three yards in the final four games as the Gophers lost ten straight in a horrible season. The Gophers went from a team that couldn’t win a big game in the Big Ten under Glen Mason, to a team that doesn’t win any games under HC Tim Brewster. For the first time in nine years they did not have a 1K rusher or rush for 2K as a team.

Pinnix finished the season second on the team (behind QB Adam Weber) with 563 yards rushing, but most of it came in the first three games before ball security and injury problems derailed his season. However, Pinnix, a team captain, showed maintained a positive attitude and was noted for being a team leader on the sidelines when hurt, despite the team and his draft value spiraling downward. He still got an invite to the Hula Bowl, but showed little for the Kai (West) team as a runner, as the Kai fell behind early and went to the air. Pinnix had four carries for nine yards and two receptions for four yards in the game, but did a nice job in pass protection.

After the 2006 season, Pinnix looked to be next great runner off the assembly line at the Minnesota RB factory. While none of his injuries should have a long-term impact, he only has one year of success on his resume and his durability is now a major concern. He slid from Day One potential to a UDFA possibility. On the plus side, he does bring solid size and tremendous character to the table. His workouts will be critical because he does not have elite speed, and it will be even more challenging without a Combine invite, but he has sleeper upside as late pick or UDFA.

Keon Lattimore (Maryland – 4SR) 5’11” 218 Combine Invite: No
After a strong start to the season where he appeared to be gaining some separation from backfield mate 5SR Lance Ball, Lattimore had his best game of the season in a huge upset at Rutgers on 9/29/07. Lattimore rushed for career highs of 34 carries and 124 yards, including a TD, while Ball had 90 yards and two TDs on just 12 carries, including a 14-yard TD run after a turnover with less than two minutes to play to seal the victory. Both Lattimore and Ball outshone the more highly-regarded Rutgers junior RB Ray Rice with their performances. However, Lattimore struggled the rest of the season. After rushing over 100 yards and having over 20 carries in four of the first five games, he wouldn’t have over 18 carries or 72 yards in the final eight games. He had just 16 yards on seven carries in a loss to Oregon State in the Emerald Bowl, his final collegiate game. Multiple injuries on the offensive line contributed to their struggles in the running game, particularly at LT, where they were down to third-string walk-on 2FR Paul Pinegar by the mid-point of the ACC schedule.

A Hula Bowl invite brought Lattimore as a player to a venue he’d been at as a fan before. He’d been to Aloha Stadium before to support his stepbrother, Ray Lewis, at the Pro Bowl. Ironically, Lattimore is a criminal justice major, but I digress. He had just six yards on five carries in the game, but did have a nice fourth-and-one conversion despite being first hit behind the line of scrimmage. After a surge in his stock at the beginning of the season, he has had a slow decline through the second half and in to the post-season so far.

Durability is a concern as a right shoulder injury has plagued his collegiate career. He dislocated it as a freshman and missed four games. After taking over the starting role a few games in to his sophomore season and starting to break out, he missed most of the second half of the season after aggravating the shoulder. He missed spring practice his junior year while continuing rehab on the shoulder, but played in every game. He also missed spring practice his senior year with a back injury and missed the BC game on 11/10/07 with a hamstring injury.

Lattimore is a nice size for the position, but runs upright and isn’t very instinctual. While strong with excellent leg drive, his leverage isn’t very good and won’t be able to overpower players the same way at the next level. He has some initial burst, but takes a while to get up to full speed if he’s in the open field. One problem is he is prone to losing yards from not hitting the hole right away or trying to cut back too often. It will be a huge problem at the next level if he doesn’t commit with authority. After being involved in the passing game early, Lattimore was ignored as a receiver in the middle of the season, before seeing sporadic work in that facet late in the season. He led the team in all-purpose ypg. While he has shown flashes of talent and had sporadic success at the collegiate level, he doesn’t project as a feature back in the NFL. His blocking is solid and could be converted to a multi-purpose fullback at the next level.

Kregg Lumpkin (Georgia – 5SR) 6’0” 222 Combine Invite: Yes
After breaking his right thumb in the season opener, Lumpkin missed two games before being eased back in with special teams work and then a limited role on offense, due to a special pad he wore to protect the thumb. He finally got four carries in their loss at Tennessee. The following week at Vanderbilt on 10/13/07, Georgia’s running game and Lumpkin’s NFL hopes took another hit. On his second carry, Lumpkin was stood up and then hit low. He tried to get taped up and limber up on the sidelines for a return, but his left knee wasn’t stable. He suffered a torn lateral meniscus and a sprained posterior lateral complex, for which he had surgery the following week. After just nine carries for 37 yards, Lumpkin was done for the regular season. He returned for the Sugar Bowl, but was buried behind 2FR Knowshon Moreno and fellow 2008 RB prospect 4SR Thomas Brown. Lumpkin had three carries for seven yards.

Durability was already a huge concern, but after two more injuries this year, Lumpkin’s draft value is plummeting. I was surprised by his Combine invite. He does not have good speed, but has good size and is well-built, so he could be looked at as a fullback at the next level and why he received consideration.

Chris Markey (UCLA – 4SR) 5’11” 204 Combine Invite: No
After filling the void left by the departure of Maurice Drew in 2006 with a 1K season, Markey looked to take his performance to the next level in 2007. However, junior Kahlil Bell was more productive early in the season and soon took over the starting role. The two still split carries, but Markey continued to get in his own way as he battled turf toe and missed their loss to Notre Dame on 10/6/07. When Bell blew his right ACL at Washington State on 10/27/07, the door opened for Markey to finish his career strong. However, injury problems returned when he sprained his ankle in a loss at Arizona the following week. He played sparingly against Arizona State on 11/10/07, their fifth straight loss. He started the last three games and average just over 85 ypg, but failed to reach the end zone as the team went 1-2 to close the season.

I liked Markey’s potential after the 2006 season. He had excellent game speed and flashed some talent as a runner, but he is off the grid after a disappointing final year. He still has potential as a returner if he gets a chance as an UDFA.

Lennox “L.V.” Whitworth (Boston College – 5SR) 5’11” 216 Combine Invite: No
After leading the RBBC with 5SR backfield-mate Andre Callender for all of both their collegiate careers, Whitworth was passed by him in their final season at BC. A hamstring injury in fall camp was the genesis of what would be Whitworth’s worst year. He missed the season opener and it would plague him early in the season, missing another game in September and limiting him in several others. Callender took hold of the starting job and never looked back. Whitworth never had more than seven carries after their sixth game, resulting in the biggest disparity of carries between the two (218 for Callender to just 84 for Whitworth) in what was a full-fledged RBBC the rest of their time at BC.

Whitworth has decent size and good hands for a big man, but pedestrian quickness and speed. He was a marginal prospect even when he was ahead of Callender, now he is completely off the radar. As expected, he doesn’t have a Combine invite, so BC’s Pro Day will be his opportunity to generate interest as even a UDFA.

Albert Young (Iowa – 5SR) 5’8” 209
Blew his knee out as a redshirt freshman in 2004, the came back with a huge year in 2005, finishing with 249-1,334-8 and 24-244-0. Hit another bump in 2006 when injury problems returned and he fell in to a RBBC with Damian Sims that continued last season. Finished 2007 with better production, but no where near what he did as one of ten Doak Walker semi-finalists in 2005.

Young looked promising as a multi-purpose back with some explosion not long ago, but failed to meet his potential the last two seasons. With questionable durability and sub-par measurables, he is an UDFA at best.

Lynell Hamilton (San Diego State – 5SR) 6’0” 225 Combine Invite: No
One of the more promising RB prospects as a freshman in 2003 had his career derailed by injuries. There was hope he could revive his career as a fullback, but swelling in his surgically-repaired left knee continued to give him problems this year. He was active for most of their games, but even the most remote glimmer of hope is followed by more disappointment. On just his second touch of the entire season, Hamilton got a seven-yard TD reception against Cincinnati on 9/29/07. On the play, he hurt his rotator cuff and missed the following game. Unbelievable. He returned the following week, but didn’t see another touch until his final collegiate game, when he had two receptions for seven yards and a TD in a loss to BHYU. He had one carry for no yards on the season. Hamilton is no longer a viable candidate to be drafted.

Alley Broussard (Missouri Southern State – 5SR) 6’0” 240 Combine Invite: No
After a tumultuous career at LSU where he previously thought about quitting, Broussard appeared done with football in July 2007. He indicated he was going to focus on getting his degree, which he was expected to complete last December. However, by August he was reportedly headed to D-II North Alabama to continue playing. Then Missouri Southern DC Daryl Daye, a former LSU player, convinced Broussard to become a Lion. He wasn’t expected to start the season because of more injury problems, this time a quad strain, but he has played in every game but one and faired well against DII competition. He finished the season with 165-892-12, an average of 89.2 ypg and 5.4 ypc, while splitting carries with redshirt freshman Renard Johnson. He participated in Texas vs Nation All-Star Game with an unimpressive effort overall. He rushed five times for six yards, including a one-yard TD run, for the Lone Star squad.

It’s a nice story for Broussard that his college football career had a happy ending. However, between his health and weight problems, questions about his commitment, and moving down to D-II competition, he is off the grid as far as consideration for the next level.

Austin Scott (Penn State – 5SR) 5’11” 222 Combine Invite: No
As fumble problems were already derailing his final season on the field, Scott’s disappointing collegiate career came to an early close. When he didn’t suit up against Iowa on 10/6/07, the explanation from Joe Paterno was the standard line of it being an undisclosed violation of team rules. While sources reported it was just a seemingly innocent broken curfew, Paterno went on to say his future status was “very much in doubt” and Scott’s mother reported he had cleaned out his locker and returned home. The gravity of the situation was revealed when Scott was charged with rape a week later, stemming from an encounter the night before the Iowa game. Scott has pleaded not guilty, and some of the associated felony charges were withdrawn due to lack of evidence, but his trial for felony rape is underway.

Regardless of the veracity of the charges, Scott has admitted to at least consensual sex with the woman he did not know well. At best, he is still guilty of some poor decision-making the night before a game and in the tone of some his comments during questioning that have been released. While his peers are preparing for workouts, he’s preparing for trial, and no team is going to touch him until this issue is resolved. Even if he is ultimately absolved, in the iron-fisted Roger Goodell Era, this is not the type of baggage a team is going to welcome on a player who wouldn’t be a top prospect under different circumstances. When you consider his injury-plagued underperformance since his freshman year and that the former blue-chip recruit has not shown any consistency on the field this year, except in fumbling regularly, he was looking at the UDFA route if the charges never occurred.