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Proceed With Caution
2003 Rookie RB Class
1/23/03

A warning label should be attached to any overview of this year's RB class that lands on a NFL coach or GM's desk, "Danger: Minefield Ahead." Names of many preseason favorites have dropped, or are all together gone, and most top prospects remaining carry red flags.

All the top prospects have one or more areas of significant concern. Some were returning from prior serious injuries, some suffered new ones, some did both. While health issues have allowed some new faces to show enough to get drafted, they head into the draft with a limited body of work to be evaluated on. Some are undersized or lack the breakaway speed to really grade well, overall. As usual, questions about their attitude and behavior off the field impact some.

The bottom line there isn't a "sure-thing" for the luckiest unlucky team to land in the first round. With Willis McGahee's injury, there is no longer even one lock at the top. The first RB chosen will haven gotten there by default. A lot of evaluation into decisions of who to select will seemingly have to do with comparing risks, as opposed to strengths. Taking that into consideration, here is an early look at key concerns among top prospects heading into the Combine and individual workouts.

(Note: Names in italics are underclassmen who have declared. Official East-West Shriner's or Senior Bowl measurables used for height and weight. If official numbers not available (i.e. underclassmen), an asterisk (*) indicated they are estimated.)

Larry Johnson Jr. (PSU) 6'0" 221
Questions surrounding him are primarily superstitious connections to past Penn State RB failures and exaggerated views of his shortcomings in big games against top teams. Solidified his status as the likely first back to be drafted with a solid Senior Bowl. If his workouts go well, especially his 40 time, a lot of fears will be offset by his upside.

Lee Suggs (VA Tech) 5'11" 200*
Tore the ACL and medial meniscus in his left knee in 2001. While Kevin Jones, relatively speaking, limited his statistical production, he returned to top form, and to the top of draft boards, in 2002. Poster boy for the high risk/high reward RB class this year. Did not participate in Senior Bowl.

Onterrio Smith (Oregon) 5'10" 200*
Failing multiple substance abuse tests got him dismissed from Tennessee. A DUI and domestic violence charge added to his off-field baggage at Oregon. Knee problems, resulting in late season surgery to repair a slight cartilage tear in his left knee, cost him a few games in 2002. When healthy and out of trouble, he is the complete package: quickness, speed, and strength. So his skills are not questions, but character and durability are.

Chris Brown (Colorado) 6'1" 230*
Compiled the 4th most yards in D1-A, despite missing two games with a bruised sternum. Seeing Willis McGahee's knee injury in the National Championship surely helped change his mind about turning pro, which he originally denied he would do. For now, he jumps to the upper echelon of this draft class. However, he is undeveloped as a receiver, and speed is a question. A poor 40 time could greatly impact his draft status.

Justin Fargas (USC) 6'0" 207
Started as a highly touted recruit at Michigan, but suffered a major leg injury, a double fracture, and had complications requiring more surgery. Fully healthy, and eligible after transferring, this year, he has emerged quietly in a RBBC and in the shadow of Carson Palmer. He has helped his status more than any other RB since the regular season ended. He had a huge game in the Rose Bowl and his speed and receiving ability were on display during Senior Bowl practices.

Musa Smith (GA) 6'1" 220*
After splitting carries with Verron Haynes last year and being plagued with injuries, he finally put it all together his junior year. With only one productive year on his resume, questions about his durability, and no all-star games to showcase himself, his workouts will weigh heavily on his draft position.

Cecil Sapp (Colorado St.) 5'10" 226
A broken bone and benign tumor cost him 2001. Like Suggs, he seems to have his injuries behind him and had a strong season. Senior Bowl week helped him a bit. Showed some receiving and blocking skills, but questions remain if he has enough speed to get to the corner, or will just be a bruiser between the tackles.

Artose Pinner (Kentucky) 5'9" 229
Like Musa, enters the draft with only one full season as a featured back under his belt. Unlike Musa, as a senior, has no choice. His impressive season as one of the most productive backs in a major program launched him into first day status. Came in a bit shorter than advertised at the Senior Bowl, but is strong and well defined. Opinions on him there were mixed and his speed at the Combine will be important.

Earnest Graham (Florida) 5'8" 217
Excellent career for a RB at Run and Gun U, he ended last year with the most yards in a season for a RB since Fred Taylor. Continued to impress with a solid week at the Senior Bowl. Like Pinner, although short, he's thick and sturdy, leaving the door open for him to be considered to carry the load at RB. Demonstrating plus speed and quickness in workouts would influence his draft position greatly.

Willis McGahee (Miami) 6'1" 225*
Went from Clinton Portis's backup and part time fullback to an incredible 27 TD season and the unanimous choice as top RB prospect heading into the National Championship. However, things didn't work out as planned for him or the team in the game. He tore his left ACL (for the second time) and MCL, while Miami lost. Now he'll drop down and be drafted as a high upside gamble in the mid- to late rounds.

LaBrandon Toefield (LSU) 6'0" 230*
Ended last season with a torn ACL in his left knee, he was back and ready to shine with the loss of some more noteworthy teammates to the NFL. However, teammate Domanick Davis has shared the spotlight as the lightning to Toefield's thunder. Then Toefield suffered a broken arm midway through the season. Despite his injuries, he appears to be jumping to the NFL, hoping the flashes he's shown will be enough.

Dwone Hicks (Middle Tennessee State) 5'10" 220*
Slowed early by a knee injury, but exploded over the last five games. Questions primarily surround the quality of his competition in the Sun Belt. A strong showing in the Shriner's game could have helped, but he did not participate. Now he'll have to depend on workouts and the Combine to influence his draft position.

Dahrran Diedrick (Nebraska) 6'0" 224
He faces the same obstacle most Nebraska RBs do, a mobile QB stealing rushing yards. Now for the draft, he faces the same concerns about success in an option offense translating in the pro game. His Shriner's Game performance (7 carries for minus 3 yards) wasn't a good start.

Avon Cobourne (West Virginia) 5'7" 200
Avon did nothing but produce all 4 years. Rushed for 1,000 yards every year of his career, passing similarly short alum Amos Zereoue as WVU's all-time leading rusher. Unlike Amos, Avon may lack the acceleration and speed to follow in Zereoue's footsteps as an exception to the rule for short backs. His excellent Shriner's game performance should help keep his name in circulation.

Domanick Davis (LSU) 5'9" 213
A multi-purpose talent, he made the most of LaBrandon Toefield's injuries. Despite an impressive Senior Bowl week, still projects as a change-of-pace back/returner, following in the footsteps of LSU alum Kevin Faulk.

Quentin Griffin (Oklahoma) 5'7" 190*
Another horizontally-challenged back, Q is multi-talented, has great intangibles, and had an extremely productive career in major program…but none of that may compensate for his size. Unlikely to display Warrick Dunn-type quickness and speed in workouts. Regardless, there are some big obstacles, real and perceived, to him ever becoming a feature back at the next level.

Derek Watson (South Carolina St.)
Carries Randy Mossesque baggage, but not the same talent. Legal troubles cost him most of the season, actually, most of his career, but his size, speed, and potential will find some team taking a chance.

Andrew Pinnock (South Carolina) 5'10" 257
Derek Watson's dismissal opened the door for him to get most of the carries. Probably destined to be a fullback, but with decent speed, could find work as a poor man's Najeh Davenport in one-back sets.

Santonio Beard (Alabama) 6'0" 220*
Capitalized on a season-ending injury to Ahmaad Galloway and produced a solid year, showing a nose for the end zone. Showed glimpses of the ability to carry the load as a feature back, but was out-produced, in less carries, by teammate Shaud Williams. Would have benefited from another year, now has to ride limited samplings and hope for good workout numbers.

Ahmaad Galloway (Alabama) 6'1" 225*
Was ready to finish a strong career at Alabama, but he tore both his ACL and MCL four games into the season. With no college eligibility left, Ahmaad will likely end up as a late flyer or undrafted free agent.

Kerry Carter (Stanford) 6'2" 234
Fullback-size with running back skills, albeit at a slower than desired pace. Speed will likely prevent him from bigger opportunities at the next level.

Nick Maddox (FSU) 5'11" 196*
After starting at tailback in 2001 as a junior, was displaced by Greg Jones last season. Regained the opportunity for the majority of the work when Jones went down. Performed erratically, not always given a lot of touches. Won't be an every down back, but has played some WR and returned punts, and that flexibility could help find him some work in the NFL.

Sultan McCullough (USC) 5'11" 194
Possibly the fastest back in the draft, split carries in USC's RBBC. Injuries and Fargas's emergence prevented him from repeating the 1,000-yard performance he turned in as a sophomore. Despite speed and college productivity, his size has him pegged as a 3rd down back/returner.

Malaefou MacKenzie 5'10" 223
Power runner lost in extremely talented USC backfield. Could develop into a multi-talented FB and short-yardage specialist, if he can catch on in the end game or as a rookie FA.

Antoineo Harris (Illinois) 6'1" 220*
Productive RB in pro system, lacks speed and is likely to be converted to FB.

ReShard Lee (Middle Tennessee State) 5'10" 227*
Surprise early entry as a red-shirt sophomore. Advertised as athletically gifted and versatile with good upside, his game presumably needs more development. Face the same questions about the quality of competition he produced against as teammate Dwone Hicks, and wasn't even a starter because of Hicks.

Thunder Collins (Nebraska) 6'1" 210*
Highly touted JuCo transfer was unable to build on an impressive start in 2001 for Nebraska. Only played in one game last season, before personal issues led him to quit the team. His chances in the NFL are questionable, but he has measurables that may land him an opportunity as an undrafted free agent.

In addition to the questions surrounding those who are in the draft, this year's draft class was significantly weakened by those who were projected to be in it, but are not. Draft plans of several players have been disrupted, or ended all together, by serious injury or health concerns.

Mewelde Moore (Tulane) was one of the most productive offensive players in the country in 2001. Targeted as a likely early entry, and high selection, after this season, he seemed to get lost in the post-Patrick Ramsey plan. Now Tulane's all-time leading rusher will return for his senior season in 2003.

Clarence Farmer (AZ) was a preseason choice to be among the top draft prospects as an underclassman. However, he suffered ligament damage to his left knee four games into the season and was out for the year.

Bruce Perry (Maryland) was another preseason favorite to build on a great season and look to declare early. Instead, tore his groin in preseason and injured his shoulder on his first carry in a game this year had him end the season struggling. Next season he'll have to compete with Josh Allen for touches.

Greg Jones (FSU) burst on the scene after winning the starting job last season. He showed some great skills for a 240-pounder and soared up draft boards. Then tore his right ACL nine games into the season and now in addition to coming back from the injury, he'll face competition again next season from the great collection of young RBs at Florida State.

Dontae Walker (Mississippi State) considered a decent prospect after 2001, showed up at camp last season terribly overweight, battled injuries, and had a horrible season. His college career ended early, as he left the team before the season was over to concentrate on academics. Appears unlikely the NFL is in his future.

Derrick Nix (So. Miss.) came on strong as a freshman, then missed the last season and a half with kidney problems. After bouncing back in 2002, his condition recently worsened and his future will unfortunately be at working on keeping his health, not a NFL career.

Thomas Hammock (No. Illinois) was an extremely productive runner, who's size and smaller program background made him a long-shot sleeper. However, his season never got going due to a heart condition and he will not play again. His replacement, Michael Turner, went on to be the second-leading D1-A rusher, and now becomes a sleeper for next year.

Post-Senior Bowl, Pre-Combine Value Board
Round 1: Larry Johnson Jr., Lee Suggs

Round 2: Onterrio Smith, Chris Brown, Justin Fargas

Round 3: Musa Smith, Cecil Sapp, Artose Pinner

Round 4: Earnest Graham, Willis McGahee, LaBrandon Toefield, Dwone Hicks, Dahrran Diedrick, Avon Cobourne

Round 5: Domanick Davis, Quentin Griffin, Derek Watson, Andrew Pinnock, Santonio Beard

Rounds 6-7 and Undrafted FA: Ahmaad Galloway, Kerry Carter, Nick Maddox, Sultan McCullough, Malaefou MacKenzie, Antoineo Harris, ReShard Lee, Thunder Collins




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