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2009 NFL RB Draft Class
Version 2.0 - Combine Primer

Blue Chips | Boderline Day 1 | Early Day 2
Mid-To-Late Round | End Game | Best Of The Rest

Early Day 2

Key: Name (School - Class) Height Weight

A big group of players forms the third tier. They are fighting to be chosen in the third and fourth rounds. Each has some concerns in one or more areas regarding measurables, achievement, and durability. A couple of have potential to be chosen in the second round, particularly if Brown and/or Greene fall during the Combine, and most will drop to later rounds.

Javon Ringer (Michigan State – 4SR) 5’9” 202
Combine Invite: Yes
After a breakthrough season in 2007 under new HC Mark Dantonio, Ringer took his game to another level. It was an inconspicuous start to the 2008 season with a loss at California in the season opener where Ringer rushed for 81 yards on 27 carries. However, he did run for two TDs and including a one-yard run that was a preview of Dantonio’s willingness to run Ringer inside and on short-yardage. Ringer would convert four of six 4th-and-short attempts for first downs over the season and pile up a number of short-yardage TDs. Ringer had his first marquee game in a rout of Eastern Michigan in the second week of the season. He would get a soon-to-be-shattered career-high 34 carries 135 yards and a career-high five TDs, one shy of a school record. He was over 100 yards on 25 carries by halftime. That would be the start of a ridiculous run, no pun intended, of production by Ringer in September. He showed he could be a mudder on a slick, water-logged field with 43 carries and a career-high 282 yards in a win over Florida Atlantic. He was over 200 yards again, and one run shy of 40 carries, in a win over Notre Dame. Ringer had a one-yard TD run in the second quarter that would be the difference in the score, and sealed the victory when he took a hand-off on seven consecutive plays late in the game to single-handedly drive the team 77 yards and cap it with another one-yard TD run.

A win at Indiana the following game featured a career-high 44 carries by Ringer, falling just short of 200 yards. He failed to rush for 100 yards against Iowa, but his 91 yards helped them in the narrow victory. He was back over 100 in a win at Northwestern, before Ohio State crushed them in Lansing. Ringer was held to just 67 yards on the ground, seeing a season-low of 16 carries while OSU RB Chris Wells ran over the Spartan defense. Despite limping off the practice field with a hamstring just days before their match-up with bitter state-rival Michigan in the next game, Ringer carried the load to help the Spartans win in Ann Arbor for the first time since 1990. He took 37 carries for 194 yards and two scores, including a season-long 64-yard TD run. The following week he’d lose ten pounds due to a stomach virus and would rush for just 54 yards on 21 carries against Wisconsin. However, he ran for two more TDs as MSU rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the Badgers by one, 25-24. In the game, he became the school’s career leader in all-purpose yards. Ringer bounced back with his seventh 100-yard game of the season in a win over Purdue the next game. They were annihilated again by the other conference power, at Penn State, where Ringer had a season-low 42 yards.

He failed to end his career with a bang, as the Spartans lost to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl, in a match-up with fellow top RB prospect Knowshon Moreno. Ringer was ineffective with just 47 yards on 20 carries. He did score a one-yard TD in the fourth quarter to briefly bring MSU within five points before the Bulldogs sealed the victory with another TD late in the game. He’ll have one more chance to impress as a collegiate performer in the Senior Bowl. A finalist for the Doak Walker aware, Ringer lost out to Iowa RB Shonn Greene, who had an equally remarkable season. Ringer also lost Big Ten Player of the Year to Greene, but joined him as the first-team All-American RBs for both AP and Walter Camp. He was invited to the Senior Bowl and originally accepted, but withdrew before the week of practice began, citing a knee injury.

In my preseason preview, I believed Ringer would put up even better numbers in 2008, particularly in scoring, with Caulcrick moving on, particularly because his back-ups were similarly-sized scat back types. However, I had no idea he could be a workhorse who would do more on the ground than any RB in the nation. He led the country (all levels) in carries (390) and led the FBS in scoring (22 rushing TDs, tied with Ball State RB MiQuale Lewis). Ringer had an amazing 97% of the team’s rushing yards and 76% of their carries. That should change perception that his ceiling is as a change of pace runner. The workload did take a toll on his average production. With an outstanding 6.1 career ypc coming in to the season, he was down almost two yards in 2008 to 4.2 ypc. He remained a big-play threat, breaking off two runs over 60 yards, including his longest run of the year deep in to the season (10/25/08 at Michigan). He had at least one run of 59 or more yards each of his four seasons. However, he doesn’t look like he has the same elite speed he came to the team with as a freshman, getting caught from behind more frequently his last two seasons. I think it is equal parts having added bulk as he grew and fatigue. One knock on his fantastic production was it wasn’t there against his best opponents. The six games he didn’t rush for 100+ yards were at California, Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin, at Penn State, and Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. His four games against ranked (AP) opponents resulted in an average of 70 ypg, less than half of the 150 ypg against unranked opponents. Of course, all those games also came after a three-game stretch early in the season where he averaged 42 carries and 227 rushing yards.

His ypc average went down dramatically as the season went on: 4.8 in August/September, 4.2 in October, 3.10 in November, and bottoming out at just 2.4 in their January bowl loss. With plenty of time to rest and train before the Combine, his 40-time could surprise on rejuvenated legs, which would be needed to ensure a Day One pick. Helping his draft stock are his abilities in the passing and return game. Ringer’s 28 receptions were also fourth on the team and he began the season as the primary kick returner before he was relieved of those duties as the Big Ten schedule began when it was clear his demands on offense required him to get rest somewhere. A very good pass blocker and solid receiver, along with the ability to run inside with a low center of gravity, he can be a three-down player, but his size will remain a concern. His durability has been fantastic the last two years, after coming out of HS with a torn ACL and missing a month as sophomore with a torn MCL, which was originally projected as a season-ending injury, but he worked hard to return from for the last three games of 2006. However, concern about the workload he had during the season was followed up by him having to sit out of the Senior Bowl. He believed he hurt the knee in late October at Michigan, but reportedly didn’t have the knee scoped until after their bowl loss. That would help explain why his three least productive games of the season in rushing yards were in the four games following the win at Michigan.

With all the underclassmen declaring, the Senior Bowl was an important opportunity missed for Ringer to protect his draft stock. Now he has even more riding on the Combine, where his knees will get an extensive exam. Short of a shockingly amazing Combine performance, it is hard to expect any undersized RB who thrives inside to be a first round pick, regardless of their collegiate performance. Ray Rice, who went late in the second round last year, is a good comparable. However, Ringer lost some momentum after missing the Senior Bowl. He could have fallen to third round even without the latest injury concern. Now without a strong Combine and clean bill of health, he could fall farther on Day Two.

James Davis (Clemson – 4SR) 5’11” 207
Combine Invite: Yes
The Tigers finished strong after tumultuous season that saw both Davis and the team fail to live up to expectations. The year started poorly for Davis when he missed most of spring football with a separated shoulder that required surgery in early April. He was ready for the season opener, but neither the ground game nor passing attack got going against Alabama in the season opener. Clemson immediately blew their preseason top-10 ranking in a 34-10 loss to the Tide in the Georgia Dome. The Atlanta native managed just 13 yards on 6 carries as the team fell behind big early and went to the air. With FCS Citadel on the schedule next, Davis posted the 13th 100-yard game of his career and scored his first TD on a 38-yard run against a significantly easier opponent. He had almost 100 yards (97) by halftime before resting most of the second half in an easy win. The following week Davis struggled to 34 yards on 14 carries, while backfield-mate 3JR C.J. Spiller carried the offense in a win over North Carolina State. Against another overmatched FCS opponent in the next game, Davis padded his numbers in a 54-0 rout of South Carolina State. He broke off runs of 23 and 25 yards on the first drive before ending it with a one-yard TD run. He would score short rushing TDs on two more drives early in the game and finished with 95 yards on 11 carries. Davis carried the momentum early in the next game against Maryland. He had a 38-yard TD run while he and Spiller combined to rush for 193 yards and two scores in the first half to stake a 17-6 lead. However, the duo combined for just 31 rushing yards in the second half as the Terrapins came back to shock Clemson at home with 14 unanswered points in the second half. Davis had his second 100-yard game, posting 17-126-1…although almost all in the first half.

It would be his last 100-yard game of the season, one short of a school record. After the five-game home stand to start the season, the team headed to a bye-week with a disappointing 3-2 record. Over the break, OC Rob Spence added some twists to utilize both their stars in the backfield. The Tigers called these it the “Stallions” set, their version of the Arkansas’ “Wildcat” set that featured first-round picks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones with much success. The net result was at Wake Forest on 10/9/08 was a 12-7 loss where Davis rushed for just 27 yards on 12 carries and Spiller was done after getting injured on his second carry. Spence and HC Tommy Bowden were fired two days later and Dabo Swinney became HC. Before getting fired, Bowden decided to bench ACC Pre-season Player of the Year QB Cullen Harper and Swinney honored the decision. Redshirt freshman Willy Korn will get his first start against Georgia Tech, but suffered a shoulder injury and Harper was quickly back behind center. The team was without Spiller, who missed the game after pulling his hamstring the previous game. The Yellow Jackets’ stingy run defense held the Tigers to just 51 yards rushing, with Davis managing just 26 yards on eight carries, while true freshman RB Jaime Harper replaced Spiller and matched Davis’ 26 rushing yards on a team-high ten carries. Davis did have a career-high five receptions for 27 yards in the game. With a losing record and the season at its nadir, the team had another two-week break.

QB Cullen Harper underwent surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder to clean up bone fragments from a minor fracture that were causing him pain. Harper returned in time for the game at BC on 11/1/08. Davis would get the team out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter with a 23-yard TD run. It was the 42nd rushing TD of his career, setting a new school record. Despite a 17-0 lead at halftime, the Tigers still needed a fourth-quarter comeback, but managed to end their three-game losing streak. Davis finished with 52 yards on a team-high 13 carries, while Spiller led the team with 55 rushing yards. In a loss to FSU the following week, Davis posted 14-48-0, while Spiller had a big game. In an easy win over Duke, Davis had just nine carries, but posted 43 yards and scored two TDs. He was overshadowed by another big performance from Spiller. At Virginia in the next game, Spiller would struggle while Davis put in a workman-like 18-65-0 and 2-14-0 to help the team win back-to-back games for the first time since September. The team’s turnaround in November would be complete when they ensured their ninth consecutive winning season with a victory over state rival South Carolina. Davis finished the regular season strong, as well, rushing for three scores and 91 yards on a season-high 24 carries. He headed to a Gator Bowl match-up with Nebraska on New Year’s Day one TD short of the school’s all-purpose record and 112 yards short of the school rushing record. He did set a school record with his 43rd career start at RB, but it was a bad omen when Davis had a rare fumble early in the game. Thanks to five sacks, the team totaled just four yards rushing, with Davis managing just 26 yards on 12 carries and not finding the end zone. Despite the disappointing season, Davis was invited to the Senior Bowl, but failed to stand out there in practice or the game. He had 32 quiet yards on nine carries for the South.

Davis was emotionally upset over the loss of Bowden, but neither that nor QB Harper’s shoulder injury were the main explanation for his decline in production. With the departure of four starters, the offensive line was a question mark entering the season, but injuries made it a bigger problem as the season went on. The team used seven different starting combinations up front and the situation became so desperate that graduate assistant Bobby Hutchinson, with one career start in four years, was forced in to duty as the starting center. However, after Hutchinson was added for the BC game, the line stabilized and the team was able to finish well. Davis saw three less carries per game this year over his career average, as Spiller became more prominently featured when Swinney and new OC Billy Napier took over play calling, but Davis also did less with his carries at almost a yard off his career ypc. While he fell short of a third-straight 1K season, his impressive intangibles were highlighted in the face of adversity. Davis didn’t complain or shut down as his touches were cut while the team rebuilt itself to salvage the year after hitting rock bottom in the middle of the season. Instead, he demonstrated his leadership skills in helping right the ship, although not his ability to carry a team with his play on the field – a skill Spiller was able to display.

The “Thunder” label, as a compliment to Spiller’s “Lightning”, is a bit of a misnomer for Davis. He has good size, runs hard, and easily breaks arm tackles, but he isn’t an interior pounder and needs some bulk for the next level. He lowers his pads to deliver the blow when the contact is eminent in front of him, but generally runs tall for a player under six foot. Davis isn’t used much in the passing game, averaging just over 12 receptions a year, but shows decent hands and catches the ball away from his body. He isn’t afraid to stick his helmet in there in pass protection, but needs plenty of work on his footwork and awareness to be a serviceable pass blocker. He can focus inside so much that corner blitzers got easy shots on QB Harper. Ball security was a tremendous plus coming in to the season, he had never fumbled the ball, but he had three this year, losing one. His durability is also an asset. Davis missed just one game, as a freshman with a broken wrist. His fragile stock took a big hit with his drop in production and the surprising emergence of a few underclassmen. It would take a surprising show of unexpected elite speed at the Combine for him to be more than a Day Two, maybe fourth round, pick.

Rashad Jennings (Liberty – 4SR) 6’1” 234
Combine Invite: Yes
Originally committed to Pitt in 2004, but deferred enrollment until January 2005 due to helping his family deal with complications of his father’s diabetes. Jennings showed up at 265 pounds in the spring, but was down to 235 for the season and started the season opener as a true freshman, albeit part of a crowded committee. He battled a separated shoulder during the season, but with quick, but undersized, fellow freshman LaRod Stephens-Howling, formed a promising flash and smash combination. Jennings finished second on the team with 86 carries and 427 rushing yards, and led the team with a 51.4 ypg average. However, his father’s leg was amputated during the season and Jennings felt he needed to return closer to home. Jennings considered the University of Virginia, but FCS (then D-IAA) Liberty offered immediate eligibility and was located in Lynchburg, of which his hometown of Forest is a suburb. In his first season there, he rushed for 1,020 yards and 10 TDs on his way to being a first-team Big South all-conference selection. 2007 got off to a rocky start as he was suspended for the first two games of the season for an NCAA rules violation. He incorrectly received a housing allowance for living off-campus even though he was in fully-paid campus housing.

Jennings would rush for 100 yards in seven of the nine remaining games, breaking 1K for the second straight season, and score 17 combined TDs. He was recognized as the Big South Offensive Player of the Year. He started 2008 with an even 100 yards rushing in an easy win over DII North Greenville, then had to miss the second game after surgery on a broken right pinky finger. He then rushed for 100 yards in nine of the remaining ten games, including a career-high 220 in a win at Youngstown State. He finished the season with exactly 1,500 yards rushing and 19 combined TDs, a couple of the numerous conference records he set. Jennings repeated as the Big South Offensive Player of the Year and the team won a school-record ten games as they won a second consecutive conference title. Jennings was one of just five FCS players invited to the Senior Bowl and impressed right from jump street, having one of the most impressive builds at the weigh-in. He continued to impress through the week’s practices, as a runner and receiver. That continued in to the game, where he led the winning South team with 41 rushing yards on his nine carries, including the longest run from scrimmage (18 yards) on either squad.

Jennings has good football bloodlines, as both his older brothers, Butch and Bryan, were collegiate standouts who spent time in the NFL. Rashad is the most promising sub-FBS prospect at RB since Brandon Jacobs in 2005. Like Jacobs, Jennings also started at major FBS program, which helps his perception. Jennings was a recruited by major programs and found success, however limited, as a freshman in one. Playing in FCS, I haven’t seen a lot of film on him, but the book was he ran tall, but that wasn’t what I saw in the Senior Bowl. He had good pad level and easily broke attempted arm tackles. He was one of the more impressive physical specimens at the Senior Bowl, with excellent build and definition. In addition to burst and quickness for a big man, he is solid in all phases of the passing game. Scouts and front offices have to be pouring over film of him after the Senior Bowl. With a strong Combine, he is in the running to be the first senior RB off the board, likely in the third round.

Glen Coffee (Alabama – 4JR) 6’1” 198
Combine Invite: Yes
Part of a 2005 Alabama class stacked with RB prospects, Coffee was not as highly rated a RB as fellow recruits Mike Ford and Roy Upchurch. However, it was Coffee and converted QB, and fellow true freshman, Jimmy Johns, who saw work behind star junior Kenneth Darby, while Ford (DNQ) and Upchurch (redshirt) did not play in 2005. Coffee played in all 13 games, rushing for 179 rushing yards on 48 carries and grabbed his first career touchdown, and only one of the season, on a 9-yard catch in garbage time of an easy win over Utah State. He was off to a bad start in 2006 when he suffered a pelvic strain and needed surgery for a sports hernia in the spring. Two weeks before the season started, he strained ligaments and a suffered a bone bruise in his right knee during practice that eventually led to him taking a redshirt for the season. Darby was again the featured runner in his final season, while Johns, who frequently outperformed him, was the primary back-up. Instead of Johns solidifying his spot at the top of the depth chart for 2007, attitude and weight problems throughout the year began to bring his future in to question, especially once HC Mike Shula was driven out of town after the season. Nick Saban took over in January of 2007 and the reset button was hit on the whole depth chart. Johns was moved to fullback and redshirt freshman Terry Grant moved to the head of a RBBC with Coffee and Upchurch to start the season. Coffee dinged his right shoulder in the second game of the season, and although he didn’t miss a game, it bothered him for a bit.

Coffee got his first career start the sixth game of the season. Despite rushing for 122 yards and a TD on 30 carries in a win over Houston and Grant fumbling on one of his three carries, Grant was back as the starter the next game. His season then took a bad turn when Coffee and four other players were suspended for four games in a textbook scandal. Coffee returned to be the feature back for their Iron Bowl loss at Auburn and start their Independence Bowl loss to Colorado, as Terry Grant was inactive with a hip injury. Coffee finished the season second across the board in rushing with 129-545-4. After the season, Coffee had surgery to clean up the right shoulder he hurt in the second game, so he missed part of spring practice in 2008 and Grant seemed to be the favorite to lead the RBBC again. However, it was Coffee who came out on top after summer practice. Coffee started the first game of the season, and would start all 14, although new OC Jim McElwain would continue to spread the ball around early. Coffee and exciting 1FR Mark Ingram each had 17 carries as the Tide ran 50 times in a season opening win over then top-10 ranked Clemson at the Georgia Dome. Ingram ran for 97 yards and Coffee had 90. In a win over Tulane, Coffee started and rushed nine times for 55 yards, and lost a fumble, while Ingram led the team with 11 carries for 63 yards, including a 15-yard TD. The Tide rolled over FCS Western Kentucky in the next game and Coffee led the team with 97 yards rushing, all in the first half of the rout, including breaking off a 51-yard run, but he was yet to find the end zone on the season. SEC play began the next week at Arkansas and Coffee would blow up. Halfway through the first quarter, he lined up in a single-set and took the handoff to the right, before cutting back up the middle and eluding a few futile slaps and dives as he burst thought the line and outran the secondary for a career-long 87-yard TD run. Coffee would add another 31-yard TD run in the third quarter and finish with 162 yards rushing on just ten carries. From that point on, Ingram would continue to be a significant part of the game plan and other runners in the deep backfield remained involved, but Coffee emerged as the feature back.

At preseason top-ranked Georgia, Coffee rushed for 23-86-2 in the victory. No other RB had more than seven carries. He had a fumble, but Alabama recovered it. Kentucky came to town the next game with fifth-rated defense in FBS and Coffee hit another home run early in the first quarter on a run similar to the one at Arkansas, sans the cutback. Out of the single-set, he went untouched to the right and straight up field for a 78-yard TD. He would finish with a career-high 218 yards on 25 carries as the Tide struggled behind penalties and turnovers to survive against the Wildcats 17-14. On the eventual game-winning FG drive late in the fourth quarter, Coffee carried nine times for 57 yards, including converted a fourth-and-one and a 28-yard run to put them in FG range. He lost the ball on that carry, but the team luckily recovered it. For as good a game as he had, Coffee also contributed to their struggles by fumbling twice and losing it once. He was significantly less spectacular in a win over Mississippi after the bye, rushing for 52 yards on 13 carries, and losing another fumble, while Ingram led the team with 17-73-1. Coffee led the team with 19 carries for 78 yards, including a three-yard TD, in a win at Tennessee, but Upchurch led the team with 86 yards on the ground. In a late season breather against Arkansas State, Coffee rushed for 56 yards and a TD on just nine carries as he rested much of the second half with a hip injury. Ingram would run for two TDs in the second half and put up his first 100-yard rushing game.

Coffee was fine at LSU the following week, where he led the team with 26-126-1 on the ground in the OT win. No other runner had more than five carries. Ingram was more productive on less carries than the 71 rushing yards Coffee had in a win over Mississippi State. At the Iron Bowl, Alabama broke a six-game losing streak to Auburn and finished the regular season undefeated. Coffee led the way on the ground in the shutout with 144 yards on 20 carries, including a 41-yard TD run in the second quarter to put the Tide up 10-0. He did his job with 21-112-1 against Florida in the SEC Championship, but the Gators ended Alabama’s national championship dreams while revitalizing their own. Coffee was recognized with AP first-team, Coaches second-team, All-SEC honors. An uninspired Alabama team showed up at the Sugar Bowl after that and were upset by Utah. Coffee’s first receiving TD of the season came off a short pass in the third quarter that briefly pulled the Tide within four after falling behind 21-0 in the first quarter. Coffee caught a season-high four passes for 40 yards as the Tide went to the air early and struggled when they did run. He had a season-low 36 rushing yards on 13 carries as his collegiate career ended on a sour note after an incredible season for Coffee and the team. He finished less than 100 yards shy of Bobby Humphrey’s single-season school rushing record. A few days later, he announced he would forgo his last season of eligibility to enter the draft.

It was initially a surprise that Coffee declared for the draft, but despite the fact he is a Day Two pick, you can see the logic when you analyze the situation. He just put up the second-highest single-season rushing total in Alabama history, in spite of an offensive scheme that likes to spread touches around, because they were able to average running the ball over 40 times a game. You have Ingram ready for prime time and Upchurch returning, who could fulfill his potential if he could stay healthy, as well Grant, who was the leading rusher in 2007 before getting nudged out of the picture in 2008. Not to mention an absolutely stacked depth chart behind them of freshmen and incoming blue chips to make any team other than USC jealous. It is pretty hard to see a scenario where Coffee would have had the opportunity to have a better season, much less actually do it. Contributing to Coffee’s breakout season was the advantage of running behind two All-Americans on his offensive line, including Outland Trophy winner, and potential first-overall pick, OT Andre Smith.

A workout warrior, Coffee was a competitive power-lifter in high school, reportedly benching 390, cleaning 365, and squatting 500 in his senior year of HS. He worked hard on his speed prior to the 2008 season, after having no run longer than 20 yards in 2007, he had nine in 2008. However, he doesn’t have elite speed and should impress more in the strength and explosion tests, vs. the quickness and speed ones, at the Combine. A legit six-footer he runs a little high and it looks problematic for the next level. His idea of getting low is simply leaning his head down and bending forward at the waste. He needs to lower his center of gravity through the line to be able run with power in the NFL. It also opens him up to big hits, and ball security is already a problem for him. He has an unattractive injury history for a player who really doesn’t have a lot of wear on the tires. Coffee is project who may not have the instincts or natural running ability to succeed in the NFL, more athlete than football player at this point. He’ll have a lot riding on his Combine performance. It could determine how early he goes on Day Two.

Andre Brown (North Carolina State – 4SR) 6’0” 224
Combine Invite: Yes
While 4JR Toney Baker missed the season with complications from a blown right knee in the 2007 season opener, Brown still shared carries in the backfield. Brown split carries with 4JR Jamelle Eugene, who stepped up when both Brown and Baker were out in 2007, and 2SO Curtis Underwood for the first three games, while Eugene was out with an ankle injury. In addition, mobile redshirt freshman QB Russell Wilson was second on the team in carries and rushing yards. Brown had his first, and only, 100-yard rushing game in a surprising shutout at South Carolina to open the season. Brown had 101 rushing yards out of the team’s total 138 yards of offense in the game. His marquee drive for the season would come in overtime against Top-15 East Carolina. Brown hurdled one defender on a 16-yard run and ran over another on a 10-yard TD run to win the game on the next play. He would average 13.5 carries per game over the season and only get 20 carries, exactly 20, in one other game. He finished the season with career highs across the board of 175 carries, 767 rushing yards, 7 rushing TDs, 29 receptions, 309 receiving yards, and 2 receiving TDs.

Potential won out over underwhelming production and Brown was invited to run for the South in the Senior Bowl. He took advantage of his opportunity, exceeding expectations in practice as an interior runner, with his acceleration, and in the passing game, both as a receiver and blocker. Brown started for the South in the game and had a nice one-yard TD run late in the second quarter after James Davis failed to get in. Brown finished with 32 yards on a game-high ten carries. He also caught two passes for 41 yards, including a 33-yard reception.

While he doesn’t have elite speed, Brown is an appealing size/speed package and explosive runner. He has ideal size and build with good athleticism. He is a bruising north-south runner who can find another gear in the open field, but runs a bit high. Consistency and durability are huge question marks. A foot injury cost him time in 2007 and he has a history of inconsistency, usually related to a seemingly minor injury (for example, he removed himself for the Clemson game in 2006 because of a neck strain), that raise questions. He is an asset as a blocker, one of the best in the class at picking up the blitz, and helped himself by getting involved as a receiver this past season. He has experience as a kick returner, but was used sporadically in the role. Brown is a project who has the measurables and potential to be a punishing workhorse at the next level, but significant reason to doubt he can consistently perform if he reaches that level. As a guy who will be picked more based on his unrealized (so far) potential, he has a lot riding on his Combine performance.

Jeremiah Johnson (Oregon – 4SR) 5’9” 198
Combine Invite: Yes
Returning from a torn right ACL, Johnson opened the season with the first 100-yard game of his career in a thrashing of Washington. He had a 44-yard run on the Duck’s first series and finished it with a four-yard TD run. He had another 13-yard TD run later in the game. Utah State came to town next and on the second play from scrimmage, Johnson broke off a 37-yard run down the left sideline. Instead of running out of bounds, Johnson, as usual, looked for the extra yard and delivered a stiff arm to Utah State DB Caleb Taylor. Johnson dislocated his right shoulder on the play and was done for the afternoon. Former JUCO star 3JR LeGarrette Blount took over and rushed for 132 yards in the victory and the RBBC was on. Johnson bounced back quickly, just missing 100 yards in the next two games, at Purdue and against Boise State, but also lost two fumbles, while splitting carries with Blount. Johnson and Blount each ran for three TDs in the red zone when in a rout at Washington State. Neither was particularly effective when the Ducks got beat up at USC, but Johnson got the team off to a good start with a one-yard TD run for the first score of the game. It would be Oregon’s only TD in the game.

An ineffective performance in a win against UCLA followed for Johnson, then at Arizona State, he ran for a 43-yard TD on the first series and added another six-yard TD run later in the game. Johnson got back over 100 yards for the second time this season at California, but the Ducks dropped the game. He had back-to-back 100-yard games in contributing to a comeback win against Stanford where Blount ran for the game-winning TD on his second score of the day. Despite aggravating his shoulder in practice the week leading up to their Civil War rivalry with Oregon State, Johnson started, as usual, in the game. He and Blount ran all over Oregon State in the victory, ruining the Beavers’ Rose Bowl aspirations. Blount went for 112, but Johnson posted a career-high 219 yards rushing, including a career-long 83-yard TD. Johnson also had a 79-yard run to set up a TD for Blount. As the Ducks prepared to face Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl, Johnson missed several days of practice with a hamstring problem and stomach virus. He was ready to go for the game, posting 119 yards on 12 carries, including a 76-yard TD run to break a bowl record held by Barry Sanders. Johnson finished the season with 1,201 yards rushing on an outstanding 7.15 ypc. He was recognized with second-team All-PAC 10 honors. Johnson was invited to play for the North in the Senior Bowl and opened some eyes in practice with his skills and versatility. Reportedly he was one of the most impressive back for the North. In the game, he made the most of his five touches. He had a nice 16-yard run on a fourth-and-short late in the second half to get the first down and then had a good catch in the flat for a four-yard TD on the next play. He also had a 22-yard reception and ran for a two-point conversion.

Living in the shadow of blue chip recruit Jonathan Stewart for three years, Johnson proved in 2008 what a talent he was in his own right. Johnson is compact, but thick for his size and not afraid to run inside, also packing a powerful stiff arm. Despite the bulk he added, it hasn’t compromised the quickness you need in a smaller back. He has good vision and agility, but tends to rely on that to dance behind the line or bounce too much outside, which won’t work at the next level. It will be interesting to see his timed speed, because he looked like he lost none coming off knee surgery and hit a handful of home runs while sporting an outstanding 7.15 ypc average. Great instincts help him find the lane for the big play, as well. He wasn’t used much in the passing game, but looks like a natural receiver when he did catch the ball. A nice kick returner early in his career, those duties were taken away to help keep him healthy.

Durability has been a concern. He missed 11 of 38 games heading in to his final season in which he played in every game, although left one after a shoulder injury on his first carry. He has never been a workhorse, but that doesn’t project to be his role. The Ducks appear to have a promising pipeline of NFL RB talent going on similar to that of the Minnesota Gophers a few years ago. Stewart’s early departure cleared the way for Jonson to emerge and Blount looks next in line. Johnson isn’t nearly the prospect that Stewart was, but looks like a solid late mid-round pick with potential to be an ideal all-purpose third RB.

Arian Foster (Tennessee – 5SR) 6’0” 232
Combine Invite: Yes
Despite receiving a second- to third-round grade after the 2007 season from the NFL college advisory committee, Foster decided to return for his final season of eligibility because it was a deep RB class. It was a decision he’d soon grow to regret. He opened the season splitting carries with 4JR Montario Hardesty and Foster fell just short of 100 yards in an OT loss at UCLA. Foster broke off a 41 yard run and Hardesty had a 20-yard TD run, but Foster also had a costly fumble on a first-and-goal at the Bruins’ six-yard line. Foster got exactly 100 yards in an easy win over UAB in their home opener, where 2SO Lennon Creer also emerged on the scene with 93 yards rushing, including TD runs of 45 and 3 yards. In the SEC season opener, the error-prone Vols were demolished by Florida. Foster contributed to the miscues with a personal foul on the first drive for pushing a Gator. Foster was held to just 37 yards on 14 carries in an impotent offense. Another disappointing performance followed at Auburn with 30 yards and involvement in another key turnover. The fumble was officially charged to QB Jonathan Crompton, but Foster didn’t properly take a handoff deep in Vols’ territory in the second quarter and Auburn recovered it in the end zone for what would be the eventual game-winning TD of a 14-12 loss. Foster bounced back to lead the team with 18-75-0 behind new QB Nick Stephens, as the Vols barely scrapped by Northern Illinois.

In another loss at Georgia, where the offense net one yard rushing, Foster was held to three yards on three carries. Creer was more productive in a win over Mississippi State where Foster posted 40 yards on 11 carries. Foster was the most productive runner, relatively speaking, in another poor offensive effort against Alabama. He had 21 yards on six carries. He led the team with a hard-fought 56 yards on 14 carries in a loss at South Carolina. His first rushing TD of the season in the third quarter prevented a shutout. Foster also remained active in the passing game, grabbing three passes for a season-high 33 yards. He missed a third-straight loss against Wyoming with a deep thigh bruise on 11/8/08, ending a streak of 23 consecutive starts. He finished the season with rushing for 53 yards in a win at Vanderbilt and 59 yards in a win over Kentucky. He fell 119 yards short of Travis Henry’s school rushing record. Despite the sub-par season, Foster received an invite to the Senior Bowl. He flashed some power and elusiveness, generally impressing scouts during practice, but pulled his right hamstring trying to recover his own fumble in Wednesday’s practice and sat out of the game.

Fumbling has not just been a problem, but in how frequently they ended up with spectacularly bad consequences. In his first career start as a redshirt freshman, he lost a fumble at the goal line in a one-point loss at South Carolina. He has fumbled three times in bowl games, including one in the red zone at the Outback Bowl after the 2006 season that Penn State returned for the eventual game-winning TD. In 2007, Florida returned a fumble by Foster 18 yards for a TD after the Vols had pulled within eight points in the third quarter. The game became a rout from there. A new RB coach in Stan Drayton for 2008 didn’t help, as there were his two fumbles this season that directly contributed to losses. Ball security is not his only issue, as durability has been a problem, as well. As a redshirt freshman in 2005, Foster moved in to the starting lineup after a season-ending injury to Gerald Riggs Jr. in the sixth game of the season. In his five starts, Foster averaged nearly 30 carries, over 150 rushing yards, and a TD per game. The workload took a toll, as he had surgery for a torn meniscus and shoulder problem after the season. A sophomore slump hit in 2006 after a sprained his ankle in the second game of the season against Air Force. He would miss the rest of that game, most of the next, and all of two more games. A suspension for an underage drinking arrest would also cost him half of the Arkansas game later that season.

Foster bounced back big in 2007, starting every game and finishing with 1,650 all-purpose yards, the second highest single-season total in school history. He only missed one game in 2008, with a deep thigh bruise, but his production was miserable. The offense struggled under new OC Dave Clawson, where Forster shared carries with Hardesty and Creer, and as they tried to sort out their QB situation. HC Phil Fulmer was done before the season was over. Foster brings excellent size, but pedestrian timed speed. He has flashed some patience to set up blocks and then burst to the second level at times, but often looked like an uninspired plodder. However, he can hit the occasional home run and has a couple long KO returns. He is a tough interior runner with quick feet and good vision that give him some shake to make a man miss, an ability frequently lacking in most power runners in college. With soft hands for a big man, he was third on the team with 19 receptions and grabbed 39 receptions in 2007. He uses his size well as a blocker in the passing game.

I thought Foster made the right decision by not coming out last year, but this season has definitely hurt him. He gets some leeway with all the other problems in Knoxville this season, but there is no way he goes in the second round this year, despite a less talented RB class. The Senior Bowl invited showed teams are obviously still intrigued by his size and the value he adds as a receiver and returner, while he reportedly looked like the superior 2007 version of himself at the Senior Bowl. However, his durability and ball security problems are major concerns and he seems unlikely to put up great numbers at the Combine. A conversion to fullback and short-yardage specialist could be his NFL future.

Marlon Lucky (Nebraska – 4SR) 5’11” 212
Combine Invite: Yes
The end of the Bill Callahan Era hasn’t been kind to Lucky. He stuck around, despite the change of regime, to try to improve his draft stock after receiving a third-round grade from the NFL college advisory committee after the 2007 season. His dreams of repeating his 1,700 all-purpose yards on his way to being a Day One pick were quickly dashed as sophomores Roy Helu Jr. and Quentin Castille were involved more from the start of the season. Lucky remained the starter, but split carries at I-Back approximately 50%-25%-25% with Helu and Castille early in the season. Lucky rushed for a net of just 66 total yards in easy wins over Western Michigan and San Jose State to open the season, also running for a TD in each.

He got his first, and only, 100-yard game of the season in a rout of New Mexico State on 9/13/08. Lucky posted 15-103-2, including a career-long 58 yard run in the win. The run came on a text-book Nebraska power stretch play…the kind the offense was moving away from. Lucky hit a hole outside to the right, then cut back across the entire field over the final 30 yards before being knocked out of bounds. He also threw a perfect 20-yard TD throwback pass to QB Joe Ganz. After a bye, the team began Big 12 play and his roller-coaster season took its first dip. The team dropped three straight conference games and Lucky was kept out of the end zone in all three. There were some signs of hope at Texas Tech, the last game of the three-game losing streak. Thanks to a shootout in OT with the Red Raiders, Lucky was finally involved in passing game for the first time in the season. He had a season-high seven receptions for 80 yards, including receptions of 26 and 8 yards on their final drive in regulation to send the game to OT. He also led the team with 66 yards on a season-high 16 carries. The momentum carried to a big win at Iowa State in the next game. Lucky led the team with 74 yards on 15 carries, including TD runs of 15 and 4 yards, the latter on a direct snap, in the second quarter to help the Cornhuskers to a 21-0 halftime lead.

Baylor came to town the following week and Lucky would have his best game of the season. He had a combined 165 yards, rushing for 83 in matching his season-high of 16 carries and adding another 82 through the air, including a couple highlight-reel catches. He had a one-handed snag of a high throw for an 11-yard gain on third-and-three in the second quarter. In the fourth quarter on third-and-17, he had an electric run for 69 yards, Nebraska’s longest play from scrimmage of the year. His season seemed to be turning around as they went to Norman to face fourth-ranked Oklahoma. Then the wheels fell off. Lucky had tweaked his left foot in the Baylor game and was limited against the Sooners, seeing just five carries for eight yards before aggravating it early in the game. He was done after the first quarter. So were the Cornhuskers, who were already down 35-0. Helu stepped in and took advantage of a Sooner defense who sat back in prevent. Helu rushed for a career-high 157 yards. Lucky remained the starter against Kansas in the next game, but was limited in the victory. He had just six rushes for seven yards before leaving for good in the third quarter after aggravating his turf toe injury. Helu went on to post his second straight 100-yard rushing game. Lucky did throw the fifth TD pass of his career before leaving. Lucky remained the nominal starter at KSU, playing through the turf toe, but his 11-47-0 on the ground and no receptions was overshadowed again by Helu.

The turf toe caused Lucky to sit for the regular season finale, a victory over Colorado, although he felt he could play. The coronation of Helu as The Man in the backfield was complete, as he went over 100 yards for the third time in four games with new career highs in rushing and yards from scrimmage. Lucky was reportedly close to 100% for a New Year’s Day Gator Bowl match-up with Clemson, but Helu got the start. In seemingly karmic retribution, Helu was sidelined after just five carries due to a reported knee infection, which apparently flared up on NYE. However, the team turned Castille instead of Lucky in his last game. Castille responded with a career-high 125 yards, including breaking off 58- and 40-yard runs. Lucky didn’t get a carry. He finished the season with 517 yards rushing and 22 receptions, after being the only returning 1K rusher in the Big 12 and setting a school record with 75 receptions the previous season. Lucky was on the East team in the Shrine Game and scored the first TD of the game on a ten-yard stretch play, his first carry for the East. He also had the longest play of the game, breaking off a 47 yard run on a nice cutback inside before being dragged down at the three-yard line. On the next drive, had a nice 12 yard run to give the East first-and-goal at the six-yard line, which they converted for a FG. Lucky was the Offensive MVP of the game, help leading the East to a victory with a game-high 68 yards rushing on just seven carries.

Despite the fact HC Bo Pelini retained OC Shawn Watson, a new zone read scheme and more of a spread offense was installed. Perhaps Lucky was slow to pick it up early in the season, but when they were losing early in the conference schedule, it just looked like they were unable, or unwilling, to properly utilize their top threat. During that period, they completely failed to capitalize on his excellent receiving skills. There almost seemed to be an internal struggle between Pelini and Watson (and RB coach Tim Beck) on how much to use Lucky. Pelini would praise Helu in the press and hinted at shaking up the touches, but Watson would downplay it and indicate the rotation would remain the same. Pelini got his opportunity when Lucky got hurt and Helu didn’t disappoint, resulting in a dismal end to Lucky’s career. In 2007, Lucky showed there was some talent to match his outstanding natural athleticism, but the memory of much of that was erased by a disappointing start and finish to 2008.

Lucky has good size and build, but seems smaller than his listed 215 pounds and doesn’t seem to have the frame to carry a lot more bulk, which he needs. He doesn’t know how to use his size to run inside well. He also tends to pull a Franco Harris near the sidelines, finding it a bit too quickly for a big man. In space is where Lucky will impress with good vision and speed. He hits the next gear quickly once he’s in the second level. Ball security is a bit of a concern as he is not a very natural ball carrier. Lucky looks like he struggles to shift the ball between arms when moving through traffic or preparing to take a hit. Overall he isn’t a very efficient runner in his movements. He only had one fumble in 2008, although he did have a significantly decreased workload. He is an outstanding natural receiver, a big plus for his draft value. He is good enough to work spilt out regularly. In addition to his receiving skills, he is advanced as a blocker in the passing game for a college RB. His dedication has been a question in the past, but he appeared a victim of circumstance this season. He didn’t become a distraction as he battled injuries and was phased out, which should be perceived well. After a disappointing season, he needed a huge Shrine Game performance to keep his name in mind and he delivered. He had mostly an uninspired week of practice, but really shined in the game. I expect he will impress at the Combine, as well, but it may only increase the perception he is more athlete than football player. He will be looked at as a developmental prospect, so probably a late mid-round pick.

Kory Sheets (Purdue – 5SR) 5’11” 203
Combine Invite: Yes
Despite inconsistent play week-to-week, Sheets steadily improved his production over each of his four seasons. As a redshirt freshman in 2005, he immediately worked his way in to a rotation with Jerod Void, getting two starts when Void was hurt. He had a rushing TD and returned a blocked punt for a TD in his first career game, the season opener against Akron. In his first Big Ten game at Minnesota, Sheets had a career-long 88-yard TD run and his first 100-yard rushing game. He started the season finale at Indiana and posted his second 100-yard game, including rushing for three TDs, in a rout of the Hoosiers. He finished the season second on the team in rushing carries (104) and yards (571), as well as tying Void with ten rushing TDs. Sheets also grabbed 13 receptions and got his feet wet on a few kick return opportunities.

He opened 2006 with his first, and only, 100-yard rushing day of the season, including 3 TDs, in an easy victory over FCS Indiana State. He had a career-high four rushing TDs in a close win over Miami (Ohio) in the next game. After another rushing TD and two TD grabs in a win over Ball State, Sheets was leading the nation in scoring with ten TDs through three games. However, the scoring well quickly dried up once the Big Ten schedule started. He would only score three more TDs, just two against the Big Ten, the rest of the season. JUCO-transfer Jaycen Taylor began to dip in to his carries more as the season went on, but Sheets started all 14 games. Sheets had career lows of two carries for 11 yards in a loss in the Champs Sports Bowl, as the Boilermakers went to the air early after falling behind 21-0 in the second quarter. He finished leading the team in rushing carries, yards, and TDs with 158-780-11, adding 28 receptions for 213 yards and two TDs through the air.

The disappointing second half of the previous season led to Sheets beginning 2007 as Taylor’s back-up. Sheets had 90 rushing yards and a TD in an easy win to open the season at Toledo, but also lost a fumble deep in Purdue territory that led to a score for the Rockets. Against Central Michigan in the third game of the season, Sheets rushed for a season-high 144 yards and a TD, as Taylor left the game with a broken arm. Back as the starter at Minnesota the next week, he rushed for 111 yards and a score, as well as grabbing seven receptions for 60 yards and another score. Sheets had his third-straight 100-yard game in a win over Notre Dame as the Boilermakers opened the season 5-0. Once again, the Big Ten season proved problematic. It would take him three games to get over 100 yards the next time and with the return of Taylor, Sheets would get more than 12 carries just once the rest of the season, although he remained the starter. He had another costly fumble that led to a TD in a loss at Michigan, which got him benched for the rest of the game. However, Sheets once again finished leading the team with 168 carries, 859 yards, and 11 rushing TDs, as well as 30 receptions and two more TDs. In his final season, Sheets appeared set to share the load again with Taylor. However, as summer practice wound down, Taylor blew out his knee and was done for the season.

Sheets would be the workhorse for the first time in his career. Although the team struggled, Sheets put up consistent numbers with the opportunity to carry the load. Where he had less than 15 carries most games in his career, he never had less than that in 2008 and never rushed for less than 50 yards. Sheets had a career-high 180 yards rushing and two TDs, including an 80-yarder on the second play from scrimmage in the game, in an OT loss against Oregon. He broke off a 46-yard TD run with less than a minute to play to beat Central Michigan. A slightly dislocated shoulder had him check out early in a loss at Notre Dame, but he was back the next game in a loss to Penn State. He had 239 all-purpose yards, including two rushing TDs, in a loss at Northwestern. Sheets hurt some relationships on the team when he criticized the offense and QB Curtis Painter after that loss. It didn’t help motivate the team when they dropped their fifth-straight game against Minnesota the following week. In a comeback win against Michigan, Sheets carried the team with a career-high 30 rushing attempts for 118 yards and three TDs, adding three receptions for 43 yards and another TD.

Purdue failed to qualify for a bowl game and he finished the season with another three-TD rushing day in a rout of rival Indiana to help bring home the Old Oaken Bucket in retiring HC Joe Tiller’s final game, as well. Sheet finished his career with his first 1K season, just the sixth in Purdue history. He rushed for a school-record 16 TDs and was second in the Big Ten with 17 total TDs. He was also the school’s career leader with 48 rushing and 54 total TDs. Sheets received a belated invite to the Senior Bowl for the North after fellow Big Ten RB Javon Ringer bowed out with a knee injury. Not surprisingly, he had an uneven week of practice, but helped himself by showing some acceleration and hands people weren’t aware he had. In the game, he rushed for 32 yards on a team-high seven carries. He was blown up by USC LB Maualuga on a screen early in the third quarter, but made a nice catch in stride cutting across the middle on the next play. In all, Sheets caught four passes for all of six yards and returned a kick 61 yards to briefly keep the North’s hope alive in the fourth quarter.

Sheets’ resume is a bit challenging to grade. He padded his stats on lesser competition, but played on some mediocre-to-poor teams most of his collegiate career and was the only offensive threat his breakout final season. He probably impressed some more at the Senior Bowl who have yet to see his historical inconsistent tendencies. Sheets is a jack-of-all-trades, master of none type. He has decent size and good, but not elite, speed. He has some burst and can run with some power, but neither trait stands out as being superior for the next level. He has some experience returning kicks, but was merely average at it in college. His nose for the end zone, hands as a receiver, and his special teams play (other than as a returner) stand out as his top traits. I doubt he will overwhelm anyone at the Combine, but if he has a solid performance, he is a safe late round pick with some upside for depth at RB and who will add value on special teams.

Mid-To-Late Round