Running backs keep oozing into the draft in a variety of sizes, shapes and profiles. And NFL teams have become proactive and proficient in creatively employing them -- from bell cows to premium specialists.
There is frequently turnover at the position.
NFL backs often begin creaking at age 30. That, in part, prompts the annual need to tap into the draft's pool of backs with breezy legs and fresh bodies. Twenty teams picked at least one back in last year's draft. Five chose two. And five used first-round selections at the position.
Steve Brown was a CB for eight years with the Houston Oilers from 1983-1990. He is now Kentucky's defensive coordinator and saw first hand Glen Coffee's skills as the RB rushed for a career-high 218 yards against his Wildcats defense last year. Here is his scouting report on Coffee:
"A tough running back. He has more speed than people think and he has vision. He fit Saban's system of aggressive, downhill, tough running. One of the best backs we faced in the SEC. Gets the hard yards but he can take it to the house. That is a tough combination, a guy who can get the tough 3 or 4 yards but also can make you miss. He makes subtle moves more than flashy moves. He has the ability to be an every-down NFL back with his downhill running style and instinctive play. He can catch a crease on you. You look at what he did at Alabama and they are not trying to fool anybody. He took it right at you and made it hard to get a good hat on him. Good feet, good eyes."
He knows he has accomplished enough to prick curiosity -- 1,383 rushing yards (second in school history in a single season only to Shaun Alexander) and 10 touchdowns in 14 games last season. He leaves Alabama as a junior, he turns 22 on May 1 and he is the type of downhill yet quick-cutting back who can help make an NFL team a winner.
Coffee also understands that he is not considered a top-tier back in this draft.
But there is something about Coffee that looks enduring. Something about him that says he could rise to an elite pro level.
Something that tells me Glen Coffee is being overlooked.
I see it. He knows it.
"I don't think I have as big a name as some of the other running backs, but where I come from, you show what you can do when you get the chance to prove it; I don't mind that at all," said Coffee, a Fort Walton, Fla., native. "I've heard the flashy stuff that I'm supposed to be missing, but I do think I am a pure running back. I get up the field. I'm a very physical runner and I don't waste moves. I attack tacklers. Run inside with commitment and passion but take it outside, too. Maybe people think I just had one good season at Alabama and I have some doubt to erase. Well, going into that season, I was supposed to be a complementary back in some people's eyes. I think I erased those doubts at the college level. I think after my first year at the pro level, I can erase some of those doubts, too."
He is in it for the long haul.
All 6-foot, 209-pounds of him.
A player who from ages 4 to 10 grew up in Saudi Arabia because his father was stationed there in the aircraft industry, who believed as early as in Little League football that he had the stuff of a pro, who was recruited in 2005 by coach Mike Shula to Alabama but had to adjust to coach Nick Saban on the fly. A player who used to wear long, thick dreads, busted his knee and sat out the 2006 season and then was involved in a school textbook scandal that resulted in his suspension for four games the following season. A player who rose last season. So young to be so seasoned, devoted now to his faith, that he mixes with football.
"I learned to play the game not only to get to the NFL but to use the game in my ministry," Coffee said. "I decided I had to become a star at Alabama to use that to glorify God. And God willing, I will have (a) long NFL career where fans will see that it won't be all about the money to me or anything else but being a true reflection of light, winning, growing and always mentally being ready to compete.
"I learned at the combine how much we all in the draft are stepping into a business. We are stepping into jobs. Some of us will be taking them from guys who have families, who are pros. There is nothing about this that is a joke. The combine gave me the picture of more competition to come. It's a put up or shut up league."
He fits in it, Saban says. He will put up, the Alabama coach said.
Draft series: Running backs
"Glen is a very good all-around, instinctive player," Saban said. "Good straight-line speed, not a dancer. Catches the ball, adequate blocker. Not flashy but very productive. He's a fantastic person, good character and bought into everything we asked him to do. Never heard a player or a coach here say one cross word about him. Quiet but very respectful. I think Glen will be a very good player in the NFL. He will be one of those guys someone loves to have on their team. He may start, he may be a potential starter and he can do the job on special teams. Wherever he goes, he is going to be an asset."
Coffee perfectly represents how one player with several different sets of eyes on him in pre-draft analysis produces varying reports.
This is one NFL team's scouting report on Coffee: "Durable and a competitor. Steady but not dynamic. Gets the yards in front of him and that's it. Skeptical about his pass catching. A complementary player. A first-down back. A second-down back. Not sure he is a third-down back. He has work to do to become a third-down back. Fourth or fifth round."
And here is another: "He may not power your offense but this player will help you win football games for years. Good size, good upside. Physical. He can make one cut and go a long way. Good vision. Good feel for inside runs. Reminds me of Joseph Addai. Can be an upright, slasher in the league. Third round."
Coffee will get his shot, no matter where he is drafted. Running like he did in the Southeastern Conference makes his selection a certainty among the running backs in this draft.
How much will he rise?
Coffee says rising now would be nice. But rising afterward, throughout his career, erasing all doubt, just like he always has, would be nicer.