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Draft's top running backs

Top running backs in 2008 NFL Draft:

1. Darren McFadden, Arkansas

Height: 6-1   Weight: 211
College stats: 35 starts, 785 carries, 4,590 yards, 41 TDs; 46 receptions, 2 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.33 40-yard dash

McFadden is tops on most draft boards and is a surefire first-round selection. He has some off-the-field issues that are of some concern. He has vision and cutback ability which make him dangerous at the next level. His lower body is not up to the standard of Adrian Peterson which separates them in the eyes of most personnel people. He will have to work on techniques to switch the ball from his left hand and also use a better pad level in traffic. He has better hands than his 46 receptions would indicate and his straight line speed makes him a matchup problem when he will be lined up as a receiver against linebackers or safeties. Draft projection: Round 1.

2. Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois

Height: 5-10   Weight: 225
College stats: 14 starts, 388 carries, 2,539 yards, 22 TDs; 59 receptions, 5 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.45 40-yard dash

Mendenhall is a one-year starter and the limited carries is a plus for teams looking for under-used college backs. I watched the Penn State and USC games and Mendenhall has the power to burst through the line and the speed to have a significant number of explosive plays in the NFL. He has excellent weight room strength and can take contact. Sees the field well and will take advantage of over-pursuing defenses. Many draftable defensive players mentioned him as the best back they faced. Catching the ball is easy for him and an expanded pass attack around him is a strong possibility. He has 397 less carries than McFadden. Draft projection: Round 1.

3. Jonathan Stewart, Oregon

Height: 5-10   Weight: 235
College stats: 23 starts, 516 carries, 2,891 yards, 27 TDs; 49 receptions, 4 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.48 40-yard dash

Stewart had toe surgery recently and it did set back his draft status. He is a powerful runner who likes to describe his style as Jamal Lewis-like. He has the blocking skills to stay on the field on third downs. He has kickoff return skills and will excel in short yardage/goal line situations. He may not make as many people miss as McFadden, Mendenhall or Jones but he will break more tackles. Draft projection: Round 1.

4. Felix Jones, Arkansas

Height: 5-10   Weight: 207
College stats: 11 starts, 386 carries, 2,956 yards, 20 TDs; 39 receptions, 3 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.47 40-yard dash

Jones played in the shadow of Darren McFadden at Arkansas. He has 399 less carries which isn't a bad thing in the eyes of NFL people. He has three kickoff returns for touchdowns and plays even faster than his forty time suggests. He seems to be a fit as a role player/complimentary back which would seem to suit a team like Dallas or Arizona. Last year his 8.7 yards per carry demonstrates the big-play style he brings to an offense. He may not be ready to be a third-down back with all the protection recognition and receiver skills required. Draft projection: Rounds 1-2.

5. Jamaal Charles, Texas

Height: 5-11   Weight: 207
College stats: 17 starts, 533 carries, 3,328 yards, 36 TDs; 49 receptions, 3 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.38 40-yard dash

Charles is moving up the draft boards with his pure speed and his 2007 season was a big jump from the previous years. Charles likes to bounce runs outside where his speed is a bigger factor. He has ball security issues that evaluators like Miami's Bill Parcells and New England's Bill Belichick will not tolerate. Draft projection: Round 2.

6. Ray Rice, Rutgers

Height: 5-8   Weight: 199
College stats: 38 starts, 910 carries, 4,926 yards, 49 TDs; 37 receptions, 1 TD
Vital numbers: 4.47 40-yard dash

Rice reminds me of Tiki Barber. I have watched him since high school and he plays bigger than his size says he should be able to and I'm not concerned about it at the next level. His excessive touches in three college seasons will be a concern to some teams. Ray makes his linemen look better than they really are with his vision and patience. Earlier, teams thought he wasn't fast enough to be a top-flight back but he answered that concern at the combine. Rice reminds me of Edgerrin James around the line of scrimmage, making good decisions and always crossing square at the point of attack. Draft projection: Round 2.

7. Matt Forte, Tulane

Height: 6-1   Weight: 217
College stats: 30 starts, 833 carries, 4,265 yards, 39 TDs; 103 receptions, 5 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.46 40-yard dash

Forte is a big back with very good receiving skills. His 40 time was an eye-opener for those who believed he was a 4.6 guy. I like him in a one-back set or as a west coast fullback to take advantage of his receiving skills (he had 100-plus catches in college). I witnessed a burst from him at the Senior Bowl practices that intrigued me. Draft projection: Rounds 2-3.

8. Kevin Smith, Central Florida

Height: 6-1   Weight: 217
College stats: 33 starts, 905 carries, 4,679 yards, 45 TDs; 55 receptions, 1 TD
Vital numbers: 4.58 40-yard dash

There were no secrets when a team played Central Florida. Stop Smith and you win. He always ran against fronts that had more defenders than his team had blockers. He plays faster than timed speed but really isn't a break away back. He will become an NFL starter but he may have a shorter career than a team would hope for with all he did on a college field. He will take more hits than some other backs and doesn't make a lot of people miss in the open field. Draft projection: Round 3.

9. Chris Johnson, East Carolina

Height: 6-1   Weight: 217
College stats: 30 starts, 833 carries, 4,265 yards, 39 TDs; 103 receptions, 5 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.24 40-yard dash

Johnson has rare speed and could be a matchup nightmare at the next level. The team that drafts him will look closely at the package the Saints built for Reggie Bush. He doesn't have the ability to make people miss and his 'avoid' skills are just average, so consequently his pure speed doesn't always transfer to the field. He must learn to take the running lane with conviction and just go! Johnson is the kind of back who could go three or four carries with no gains and then pop a 40-yard run. Draft projection: Rounds 2-3.

10. Steve Slaton, West Virginia

Height: 5-9   Weight: 197
College stats: 32 starts, 664 carries, 4,042 yards, 50 TDs; 65 receptions, 3 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.49 40-yard dash

Slaton played in a spread offense and some believe he will struggle in a more conventional setting. I have watched him live a few times and I think a roll on third downs with the draw play as his feature run and motioning him out of the backfield into slot situations is the best way to use him. He's not the strongest back in the draft but he has a role to play and would compliment a team that already has a big back. Draft projection: Round 4.

11. Tashard Choice, Georgia Tech

Height: 5-10   Weight: 215
College stats: 27 starts, 697 carries, 3,365 yards, 28 TDs; 41 receptions, 0 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.50 40-yard dash

Choice was a little bigger than originally believed. He plays the game with intensity and I have been impressed when I talked to him about his team. Will run with power like Lamont Jordan and is a nice fit for a disciplined scheme like Houston will run this year. Draft projection: Round 4.

12. Mike Hart, Michigan

Height: 5-9   Weight: 206
College stats: 39 starts, 1,015 carries, 5,040 yards, 41 TDs; 67 receptions, 2 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.69 40-yard dash

Hart seems to be the lost running back. There is a lot of speculation that he will not be drafted, which I consider a mistake. He's not fast, he has over 1,000 carries and he has no great traits, but he is a football player. His teammate, Jake Long, couldn't say enough about his toughness, character and willingness to block. He may be a guy teams are trying to replace every year but he will deliver when given the chance. He reminds me of a guy I signed, Scottie Graham. No one thought he would last but he did for years and was always ready when called upon. Draft projection: Round 4.

The rest of the draft has another 10 backs with draftable grades, and another 10 who could get signed as free agents. Allen Patrick of Oklahoma, Justin Forsett of California, Jacob Hester of LSU, and Thomas Brown of Georgia lead the next wave of backs to go.

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