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2009 NFL RB Draft Class
Version 2.0 - Combine Primer

Blue Chips | Borderline Day 1 | Early Day Two
Mid-To-Late Round | End Game | Best Of The Rest
Before the season, I took a look at the running backs headed for the 2009 NFL Draft. With the season over and underclassmen declared, let’s look at how this class evolved heading to the Combine and Pro Day workouts. As usual, the underclassmen are the class of the class. Unusual this year is the presence, and quality, of a few sophomores. They are eligible because they are three years removed from their high school graduating class. Two of the first three RBs selected should be sophomores (LeSean McCoy and Knowshon Moreno). There is no senior who will be selected in the first round…probably not at all Day One.

Blue Chips

Key: Name (School - Class) Height Weight

Three backs, all underclassmen and two of them sophomores, separated themselves from the pack during the season. Each carries a first round grade and locks like a lock for Day One (first two rounds).

Chris “Beanie” Wells (Ohio State – 3JR) 6’1’ 237
Combine Invite: Yes
Everyone’s top prospect at RB for the 2009 draft heading in to the season, Wells got off to a fast start in the first game against FCS Youngstown State. Halfway through the third quarter, he already had 113 yards on 12 just 12 carries, including a 43-yard TD, when he lined up on a first-and-goal from the Penguins’ two-yard line. He took the handoff and lost his footing as he attempted to make a cut. The ball squirted out as he went down for a two-yard loss and YSU recovered. Wells was carted to the locker room and returned to the sidelines with a protective boot on his right foot. The mysterious foot injury (reportedly a toe injury, but not turf toe) kept him out of the next three games, including OSU getting trounced at USC in a game where the running backs for the Buckeyes managed just 59 yards. Wells returned for the Big Ten opener against Minnesota on 9/27/08 wearing a special larger shoe with a steel plate that he would wear most of the season. Wells broke off a 28-yard run on his second carry of the game and had 80 yards in the first half to help the Buckeyes to a 20-3 halftime lead. He finished with 106 yards on 14 carries in the victory.

Next up was a trip to Madison to face the Top-20 Badgers. At Wisconsin, Wells had a season-high 168 yards on 22 carries, including a 33-yard run for the first TD of the game and four carries for 17 yards on the game-winning drive. He fell short of his third-straight 100-yard rushing game when he posted 22-94-0 in a win over Purdue. Wells dominated the match-up with MSU RB Javon Ringer at East Lansing, as the Buckeyes demolished the Spartans 45-7. Wells ran for 140 yards and two TDs on a season-high 31 carries. An uncharacteristic poor performance against a strong opponent followed as they fell to Penn State. Wells rushed for a season-low 55 yards on 22 carries. He closed out the Big Ten schedule with three extremely consistent games, averaging 140 ypg and rushing for four TDs. Wells had a 55-yard TD run in at Northwestern and an instant YouTube classic when he hurdled Illinois S Donsay Hardeman on a 25-yard run. He also ripped off a 42-yard run and a season-long 59-yard TD run in a rout of Michigan in The Big Game. The Buckeyes finished 10-2 with at least a share of the Big Ten title for the fourth-straight year. Being in the same conference with Iowa’s Shonn Greene and MSU’s Javon Ringer resulted in Wells receiving just second-team All-Big Ten honors. The Buckeyes headed to a Fiesta Bowl match-up with Texas, their fourth-straight BCS bowl and seventh in the 11-year history of the BCS. Wells had a spectacular first half, rushing for 96 yards on 12 carries as he helped the Buckeyes stake out a 6-0 lead. However, after suffering a concussion, he missed most of the second half, getting just four more carries for ten yards as OSU lost a heartbreaker with seconds left.

The nickname “Beanie”, which he prefers to go by, comes from his older brother Ray, who likened his tall and thin brother to a string bean when he was young. No one will make that mistake about him these days. Wells is a beast. At over six foot he runs high, but carries his 240 pounds like a 14-point buck. His weight is distributed well over his well-defined frame. He hits the hole at full speed and is quickly in the second level. He has 34 runs of over 20 yards the last two seasons and a handful of 50+ runs that demonstrate his second gear in the open field after bursting through the line. He will need to develop more patience to allow his blocks to be set up in the NFL. Wells won’t see the same type of holes on Sundays as he did behind OSU’s OLine. Wells isn’t expected to have an elite 40 time, but he has outstanding speed in pads. Tacklers who come in too high bounce off him or are knocked down with a seemingly effortless stiff arm that throws them to the ground. His ability to shed defenders also demonstrates his excellent balance. He is allergic to the sideline, always looking to cut back in field for one more tackle to break or defender to punish. One thing about the outstanding production by Wells in his two-year stint as a feature back is he didn’t just pad his stats against weak opponents. In ten games against ranked teams the last two seasons, he rushed for 1,224 yards and nine scores. His 122.4 ypg in those contests is a smidge above the flat 122 ypg overall he averaged the last two season, while he also had an almost identical ypc (5.7 to 5.8 overall). His participation in the passing game was almost non-existent, and that is clearly the area he needs the most work.

The biggest knock on him has been durability. Wells battled a nagging ankle injury for much of the 2007 season, as well as playing that entire season with a broken bone in his left wrist near the thumb. Despite that, he was able to improve his ball security, saying a lot about his pain tolerance and durability. This past season he missed three games with a toe injury, battled hamstring problems, and ended his final game early with a concussion. I wasn’t as impressed with Wells in 2007 as I was in 2008. I slot him behind Adrian Peterson, but ahead of Darren McFadden, in pro potential. He should be the first RB selected.

LeSean McCoy (Pittsburgh – 2SO) 5’11” 204
Combine Invite: Yes
After a record-breaking freshman year, expectations were high for McCoy and Pitt, who went in to the season with a Top-25 ranking. Both got out of the gate slow when Bowling Green came to town for the season opener and upset the Panthers by containing McCoy. He finished with 71 yards at a 3.1 ypc clip with no run over 12 yards, but did score an 11-yard TD on the opening drive and had five receptions for 45 yards. The following week, he scored all three TDs for the Panthers on short runs in a close victory over a surprising Buffalo squad. He was seven yards short of his first 100 yard rushing game, but went over 100 all-purpose yards again with a 24-yard reception. After a bye, McCoy scored the eventual game-winning TD in a one-point win over Iowa when he burst through the middle, then cut across the field and outran the rest of the defense 27 yards untouched. He was held in check most of the day, but on that pivotal drive he rushed for 41 yards and caught a 28-yard reception. At Syracuse, to open the Big East season, he notched his first 100-yard game. He rushed for 149 yards and started a five-game string where he would average 152.4 yards rushing and score 10 TDs, including the game-winner in an upset at #10 USF and a season-long 58-yarder at Navy. Against Louisville, the Cardinals put all their focus on McCoy and held him at negative yardage during the second half. He did run for an 11-yard TD on a direct snap and completed his second career pass for 14 yards. McCoy finished with a career-low 39 yards rushing, but Pitt blew out Louisville. He missed rushing for 100 yards again at Cincinnati, but ran for two TDs and had 127 combined yards in the loss. McCoy owned WVU in the Backyard Brawl for the second straight year, rushing for a career-high 183 yards, including a game-winning one-yard TD run, his second of the game, after carrying the ball nine of ten times on the decisive drive. In a regular season finale showdown with fellow standout underclassmen Donald Brown, McCoy was slightly less productive, but his 47-yard TD run in the third quarter began a 24-point outburst that led the team to victory at UConn. McCoy was limited to 85 yards on 24 carries in a disappointing offensive performance in a 3-0 loss to Oregon State in the Sun Bowl. After leading the Panthers to their first bowl since 2004, McCoy reversed early comments that he would return and, following an apparently agonizing decision process, declared he would enter the draft. McCoy finished his second season with 1,488 rushing yards on 308 carries and 21 TDs, tied for second in FBS.

In my preseason preview, I expected Shady to go the route of Panther alum Larry Fitzgerald and declare after just two seasons if he had similar success, but he improved on his numbers as a sophomore despite a target on his back every game. I expect him to find similar success to Fitzgerald at the next level, as well. McCoy is rare in his ability to thrive inside and outside. A natural runner with outstanding instincts and balance, he has breakaway speed once he gets to the second level. His balance really stands out to me watching him on film, just amazing how it contributes to his ability to change direction and break tackles. A compact runner with great elusiveness through the line and ankle-breaking moves in the open field, it’s hard to get a clean shot on him. Also a very good receiver with soft hands and awareness, he had 33 receptions in 2007 and 32 in 2008.

Ball security is one of the few holes in his game. He has also been accused of trying to bounce too much outside, but I don’t see it. He thrives between the tackles and heads to the edges when the situation dictates it. A bit thin through the hips, there’s some concern if he can carry more bulk, but he appears to have enough talent to succeed regardless. He’ll be 20 years old at the start of his first NFL season and with unlimited potential, he should be one of the first three backs selected.

Knowshon Moreno (Georgia – 3SO) 5’11” 208
Combine Invite: Yes
The SEC Freshman of the Year would begin the 2008 season with an easy win over FCS Georgia Southern. Behind a line with four new starters, including two true freshmen, Moreno would leave the game with cramps after a 24-yard TD run early in the third quarter. The score was Moreno’s third rushing TD of the day and put the team up 30-0. 2FR Caleb King would finish the game and lead the team with almost 100 yards. Moreno would finish with 59 yards on eight carries, adding another 53 on two receptions. In another easy win over Central Michigan, Moreno ran wild for 168 yards on 18 carries, including TD runs of 21 and 52 yards, but it was a 29-yard run late in the third quarter that became an instant YouTube classic. Up 42-17 on a third-and14 at their own 34-yard line, Moreno lined up left of QB Matthew Stafford in the shotgun. He took the handoff around the right end and followed his blockers up field. After breaking in to the open field, Chippewas’ reserve DB Vince Agnew crouched down a bit and as he began to lunge for the tackle, Moreno cleaning hurdles him before getting tackled by a trailing defender as he landed.

The Bulldogs’ first SEC match-up would come at South Carolina in the next game. Moreno would score the game-winning TD on a four-yard run late in the third quarter in the tight victory. He finished with 79 yards on 20 carries. Georgia travelled to Tempe the following week to face Arizona State. Early in the second quarter of a 0-0 tie, Georgia was at the ASU nine-yard line looking for the first score. Moreno took a pitch to the right and at the four-yard line, went airborne again over a diving Sun Devil at the sideline and flew in to the end zone, extending the ball across the goal line like he was going in for a slam dunk. Moreno would run for another TD later in the quarter and finish with 149 yards on 23 carries in the victory. In an early battle to shape the national championship picture, Alabama came to town and decided the game barely two quarters in. The Tide jumped out to a 31-0 halftime lead and Moreno’s carries were limited as the Bulldogs were forced to the air, as well as after suffering an injury in the game. He rushed for a season-low 34 yards on nine runs. He did score another short TD, as Georgia tried to rally in the second half, giving him ten rushing TDs in the first five games. Moreno suffered a contusion and chipped bone on his right elbow, but had a bye week to rest before Tennessee came to town. Moreno had a lunch-bucket effort, rushing for 101 yards on a season-high 27 carries as the team got back on track with a win. Vanderbilt came to town for homecoming and Moreno rushing for a season-high 172 yards in the victory, adding another rushing TD.

In his first visit to LSU, Moreno would leave a lasting impression with his third-straight 100-yard game. His 163 yards on the ground including a season-long 68-yard TD burst to help the Bulldogs pull away in the third quarter of the shootout. He took a hand-off up the middle out of the I-formation and when he saw the hole filled, made a quick cut left and kept his balance through two attempted tackles before out running LSU MLB Darry Beckwith the final 55 yards. He also had a 47-yard run in the game. Flordia’s defense neutralized Moreno at home in a blowout loss to the Gators at home. Moreno finished with 17-65-0. Georgia snuck out a tight win at Kentucky, helped by TD runs of 6, 18, and 20 yards by Moreno. He had another 100-yard game in a win at Auburn to end the SEC season. In their rivalry game against GaTech to close the regular season, the Bulldogs were upset in another high-scoring contest. Moreno rushed for 94 yards, including a 32-yard TD, and caught four pass for 74 yards. After beginning the season as the top-ranked team in the AP poll, a Capital One Bowl match-up with Michigan State was a disappointment. Not for scouts, however, who got to see Moreno face-off with the top senior RB prospect, Javon Ringer. Unfortunately, neither put on an exciting running performance. Moreno was held to 62 yards on 23 carries, as almost all the offensive for Georgia came in an aerial frenzy over the last 18 minutes after being down 6-3. A 21-yard strike to Moreno down the sideline at the goal line with minutes left sealed the victory. It was part of six receptions for 63 yards Moreno had in what would be his final collegiate game.

Moreno and fellow underclassmen teammate QB Matthew Stafford declared for the draft together a week later. A first-team All-SEC RB, Moreno, along with Ringer, was one of three finalists for the Doak Walker award that Iowa’s Shonn Greene won. Moreno was behind both as a second-team AP and Walter Camp All-American.

Watching Moreno run on the field isn’t much different than watching him on a video game. His arsenal of spin moves, lateral cuts, hurdles and leaps make you feel like someone is orchestrating his improbable movements with a controller. Well-defined, but he lacks bulk and is thins significantly at the waist. He is an effective inside runner, but doesn’t seem to have the frame to become a big back at the next level. He has great vision with quick feet with the burst to get to the second level. His speed to the edge and in the open field is decent, but not elite and he won’t run away from DBs or fast LBs on Sundays. However, his multiple long runs and 5.5 career ypc are a testament to his big play ability.

A great fit for a one-cut zone-blocking scheme, but he’ll need more patience to allow blocks to develop and avoid trying to bounce everything outside in other types of running games in the NFL. He was involved more in the passing game this year and showed natural hands and solid route-running. Moreno helped his draft stock by default this season, staying healthy and showing incredible consistency. His rushing totals for his two seasons: 248-1,334-14 and 250-1,400-16, starting all 13 games in each season. Moreno became just the second Bulldog (Herschel Walker) to rush for 1K in back-to-back seasons. He is still raw and could be more of a project than people expect, especially if he struggles to keep his agility and speed as he bulks up. However, you can’t deny his tremendous natural talent and upside. Regardless, he made the right business decision coming out early. He should be one of the first three backs selected.

Borderline Day 1