Draft's top RBs: Tandem backfields open up opportunities

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The NFL has long held the reputation of being a copycat league, and the draft often reacts to the trends that emerge from the previous year. When looking at the running back position, the trend that will be copied is the extensive use of a running back tandem.

More teams have found that splitting the workload among multiple backs has proven to be a successful strategy. Last season, seven of the 11 teams that had two or more ball carriers with 125 or more rushing attempts qualified for the playoffs.

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Armed with those statistics, scouts are rushing to identify rushers capable of enhancing their teams' running back rotations. In looking at the 2009 draft class, it is a group devoid of top headliners but littered with quality backs capable of making instant impacts as situational players.

The group of runners projected as possible first-rounders lack a consensus order, but the three names that appear on most boards are Knowshon Moreno, Chris "Beanie" Wells and LeSean McCoy.

All three players possess special qualities, but they will flip in order based on the needs of each respective team. Moreno, who led the SEC in rushing with 1,400 yards, is a hard-nosed runner who tantalizes scouts with his toughness and natural instincts. While some have attempted to compare him to LaDainian Tomlinson due to his size and all-around skills, he is strikingly similar to Cadillac Williams as a player. For a team seeking a grinder with three-down potential, he would appear to be the right selection.

In assessing Wells, scouts view the former Buckeye as a talented enigma. While they love the speed and quickness he flashes in the hole, some question his durability and toughness. The 6-foot-1, 235-pounder doesn't consistently finish his runs with power, and he has been derided in some circles for having a "selective tough guy" mentality on the field. However, when he brings his "A" game, few can dispute his impact on the field. That makes him a coveted prospect for teams looking to add a power runner.

While McCoy has often been grouped with Moreno and Wells, the former Panther has flown under the radar for most of the draft season. However, those who have overlooked the talented runner are missing out on a player that rushed for 2,816 yards, scored 35 touchdowns and produced 13 100-yard games in his last two seasons. With such an impressive resume, some believe he could emerge as a star on the next level and view him as a Brian Westbrook-type talent.

After that talented group of backs comes off the board, the next tier of runners is ideally suited to fill a role in a backfield tandem. With more teams looking for complementary pieces to fill their rosters, the second and third rounds will see plenty of rushers fly off the board.

Mock drafts

Where do NFL.com and NFL Network experts see Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno going in April's draft? How about all of the other top rushing prospects in this year's class?

Donald Brown, Shonn Greene, Andre Brown and Glen Coffee are likely to hear their names called by the end of the first day. Donald Brown, who finished as the nation's leading rusher with 2,083 yards, has earned a first-round grade on some boards after surprising scouts with his impressive performance at the combine. The former Husky entered the draft viewed as a more-quick-than-fast runner, but left Indianapolis regarded as a potential home-run hitter with exceptional ability. Greene and Coffee have been lauded for their exceptional production against tough competition, but each has holes in their games (Coffee has questionable size; Greene lacks explosive top-end speed) that prevent them from being pegged as featured runners at the next level.

While most scouts expected Brown, Greene and Coffee to merit first-day consideration, the ascension of Andre Brown to second-round status has been one of the draft's biggest surprises. The oft-injured runner wasn't highly thought of prior to the Senior Bowl due to his repeated foot injuries and inconsistent playing time (he played in a rotation throughout his Wolfpack career), but he has shot up draft boards on the heels of an impressive performances at the Senior Bowl and combine. Blessed with home-run speed (4.40) and the size (6-foot, 228 pounds) that scouts covet, Brown has several teams contemplating taking a flier on the North Carolina native.

The third round should see Rashad Jennings, Javon Ringer and Jeremiah Johnson come off the board. They join unsung rushers Cedric Peerman, Kory Sheets and Mike Goodson as potential picks taken early on the draft's second day.

While fullbacks appear to be a dying breed on pro rosters, there are several intriguing possibilities in this year's draft. Tony Fiammetta and Quinn Johnson are classic sledgehammers poised to pave the way for tailbacks in conventional offenses. Both are physical lead blockers with the athleticism to be functional receivers in the passing game. Although neither is expected to go before the fourth round, they are valued commodities in scouting circles. Another player to keep an eye on is UNLV's Frank Summers. The 5-9, 241-pounder served as the Rebels' tailback, but he's viewed as an intriguing combo possibility by power running teams. With teams attempting to save roster spots by employing multi-positional players, he could hear his name called near the end of the draft.

After watching numerous running back tandems lead their respective teams into the postseason, there is no doubt that the running game is back in vogue. And the 2009 running back draft class should keep thriving for years to come. Here is a look at the top 10 running backs and top five fullbacks:

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