NFL Prospects: Running Backs
2007 draft class short on stars, long on depth
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April 18, 2007
By Rob Rang
Special to CSTV.com from The Sports Xchange
While this year's running back class isn't defined by star power, it does feature versatility and depth.
While the quality of this class might be questionable, the quantity is not. Big or small, powerful or fast, NFL teams looking for help at running back have plenty of options. Of concern, however, is that most of the backs are only that -- help, and not long-term saviors. Few running backs in this class appear capable of becoming true franchise ballcarriers.
An in-depth look at best running backs and fullbacks available in the 2007 draft:
Peterson prominently stands out in a draft many say lacks marquee talent. The first consensus All-American as a freshman in the storied history of OU, Peterson broke Billy Sims' Sooner record -- as well as Ron Dayne's national freshman record -- in 2004 with 1,925 rushing yards. In reaching the 1,000-yard mark in only seven games as a freshman, Peterson tied two runners you've heard of -- Emmitt Smith, who accomplished the feat for the Florida Gators in 1987 and Marshall Faulk (San Diego State, 1991). Durability is the only true concern with Peterson. He is a perfect blend of size, speed and power, and deserves a ranking on par with Reggie Bush and Ronnie Brown, the No. 2 overall picks in the past two drafts.
The concern, however, is that since a dominant freshman season, Peterson's numbers have dropped. While he rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a sophomore (1,108) and again as a junior (1,012), Peterson has struggled to remain healthy. In fact, even during Peterson's fabulous freshman season, he played through a dislocated left shoulder that required off-season surgery. Over the past two seasons, Peterson started (and finished healthy) only 12 games. He missed eight games and left five others with injuries.
Lynch is a classic combination of size, speed and receiving skills. As a true freshman, Lynch ranked ninth in the Pac-10 with an average of 95.58 all-purpose yards per game despite not starting a single contest while backing up J.J. Arrington. As the Bears' starter, he was voted the Pac-10's Offensive Player of the Year in 2006. Lynch has legitimate power as an interior runner and the sudden acceleration to make big plays. His vision, patience and agility help him rack up yards in chunks -- and those same qualities lead to consistent first-round grades from NFL scouts. Lynch also possesses soft hands and an understanding of the passing game, as evidenced by his 68 career receptions (for 600 yards and six touchdowns).
3. Brian Leonard,
Relegated to a more traditional fullback role as a senior because of the emergence of sensational tailback Ray Rice, Leonard is among the draft's most underrated running backs. He hasn't been used as a traditional running back since 2003. That year, as a redshirt freshman, Leonard exploded onto the scene to earn Big East Freshman of the Year honors after producing an average of 114 all-purpose yards per game and scoring 14 touchdowns. Though Leonard was moved to fullback as a sophomore and junior, he was a fullback in name only, earning an average of 116 all-purpose yards per game. In 2006, Leonard was forced to take a back seat to Rice, and his statistics plummeted in a reduced role. He had a career-low 131 combined touches as a runner and receiver, and his 717 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns have led some to miscast him as a NFL fullback.
Leonard has the athleticism and vision to be successful as an NFL running back, especially if placed in a one-back set or offset in the same backfield with a speed threat. The 6-foot-2, 226-pounder may have proven his potential as a primary running back with a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine.
Shaded by the considerable shadows of high-profile teammates, Pittman finally had a chance to distinguish himself at the Scouting Combine -- and did just that. Scouts were surprised not only by Pittman's size (he had been listed by
Pittman is blessed with good speed and the agility to make the first defender miss. His underrated combination of inside-outside running and reliable hands has scouts expecting the veteran of 25 starts to develop into a significant contributor early in his pro career.
5. Tony Hunt, Penn State, 6-0, 230, SR:
Hunt may lack the sizzling 40 time, but his size and bullish style make him the draft's elite interior runner. He started 32 games at
Though he rarely is credited with "good" hands, Hunt had 87 career receptions for 792 yards and three touchdowns. Like Leonard, Hunt may be at his best either in a one-back offense that allows him to pound at the defense, or as a power threat lined up alongside a speed back.
6. Kenny Irons, Auburn, 5-11, 203, SR:
The loss of Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown left a huge hole in the
Irons appeared in 10 games last season, missing two full games and portions of several others while battling turf toe, a groin pull, a high ankle sprain and a bruised fibula. He rushed for only 821 yards and four touchdowns, but was still voted first-team All-SEC.
When healthy, Irons is a formidable combination of speed, elusiveness and power. At only 203 pounds, he is a surprisingly physical back at times. But his physicality remains a concern, as his struggles with durability as a senior is a red flag. Irons needs work as a receiver, having caught only 29 passes for one score during his career.
A dazzling natural athlete whose speed and creativity in the open field make him a favorite among teams looking for a change of pace back, Booker is accustomed to the attention. He was one of the nation's elite recruits when he signed with
While he looks great in practice, Booker's production decreased each of the past three seasons. His sophomore season was his most productive, as Booker came through with 887 yards and four rushing touchdowns, most of which came after the incumbent starter, Leon Washington, went down with a separated shoulder. Unable to win the starting job either of the next two seasons, Booker finished with 552 yards and four touchdowns in 2005 and 525-2 in 2006.
At only 191 pounds, Booker lacks the size to hold up as a featured back. Too often he is tackled by the first defender. If he doesn't take a square hit, Booker has the athleticism to make many would-be tacklers look foolish. He has soft hands, but looks very uncomfortable catching passes over his shoulder and is only a marginal route-runner.
8. Michael Bush, Louisville, 6-3, 253, JR:
Will NFL fans ever see the Michael Bush that dominated college football and appeared poised to give
Despite only eight starts in 2005, Bush finished second in the Big East and 23rd in Division I-A with an average of 139.6 all-purpose yards per game. His 23 touchdowns were a school record and his scoring average of 14.4 points per game led the nation. Unlike some of the other productive big backs to leave college in recent years only to struggle at the NFL level, Bush is more than just a physical brute. He has enough agility and speed and the soft hands to be one of the more intriguing backs in the 2007 draft.
Bush started only 17 games for
Another reason Bush will be an intriguing name on draft day: It was discovered at the Scouting Combine that the titanium rod inserted in his right leg to promote healing hadn't been completely effective. A second surgery on March 20 meant Bush would not be healthy enough to work out for scouts before the draft. He is expected to be medically cleared for the 2007 NFL season.
Character concerns and a history of minor injuries could force Wynn down the draft board. He started only 16 games for the Gators, but he left as only the 13th player in the school history to amass more than 2,000 career rushing yards (2,008) and scored 27 total touchdowns. Wynn's forte as a power back made him a bit of a misfit in coach Urban Meyer's spread offense, leading to Wynn's lack of eye-popping statistics. On film, however, Wynn's blend of size, strength, vision and cutting ability make him an intriguing option for NFL teams. Many scouts feel he could eventually prove to be a better NFL player than he was in college.
Wynn has been fortunate not to have any major injuries over his career, but he has a tendency to get nicked up, missing action over the past two seasons with a shoulder contusion, knee sprain and groin strain.
Entering the 2006 season,
Despite solid size, questions about
Other Potential Impact Running Backs:
-- Kolby Smith,
-- Darius Walker, Notre Dame, 5-10, 212, JR: A better athlete than he's often given credit for,
-- Jackie Battle, Houston, 6-2, 235, SR: Considered a late-round prospect after playing fullback at
-- Dwayne Wright, Fresno State, 6-0, 228, JR: Lacks the speed to be successful in every system, but he's a powerful, downhill back capable of gaining tough yards running inside.
A former defensive end,
He may lack the prototypical size of the traditional NFL lead blocker, but his ability as a true three-tier fullback could lead to Snelling being drafted higher than other bigger names at the position.
Snelling, who lined up at fullback for the Cavaliers for 19 games during the 2004 and 2005 seasons, was moved to tailback in 2006 and continued
Snelling lacks the breakaway speed and open-field agility to fit the needs of most NFL teams as a running back. As a fullback, however, he displays not only intriguing running ability, but surprisingly powerful blocking and sure hands as a receiver out of the backfield (84 career receptions for 775 yards and four TDs). Snelling is also a standout wedge-buster on special teams.
Other Potential Impact Fullbacks:
-- Derek Schouman,
-- Le'Ron McClain,