INDIANAPOLIS -- For a moment, let's put aside team needs. Let's focus, solely, on skills. Let's make athletic talent our only priority in judging college prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine.
When you do that, you can only arrive at one conclusion: Darren McFadden is the best of the 334 players invited to the event.
The former Arkansas star has everything an NFL team could want in a running back. He is big (6-foot-1, 211 pounds). He is strong. He is fast. He is agile. His instincts and vision, the two qualities that allow a back to maximize his athletic gifts, are tremendous.
"He's a great running back," said Kevin Colbert, the Pittsburgh Steelers' director of football operations. "He's going to be a great back in the league."
In short, McFadden possesses all of the necessary qualities to become the top overall pick in April's draft.
But chances are, he won't.
That's because the Miami Dolphins, who own the No. 1 choice, don't have a crying need at running back. It's possible they will trade the pick to a team that wants McFadden (there has been rampant speculation about Dallas moving up -- it owns overall picks 22 and 28), but that's not likely because the price (in draft choices) to acquire that spot is far too steep.
If the Dolphins remain at the top, they will probably go with a defensive lineman (such as Virginia defensive end Chris Long or LSU tackle Glenn Dorsey) or, conceivably, a quarterback (such as Boston College's Matt Ryan). St. Louis, which has the second choice, probably will go with a defensive lineman, Long or Dorsey.
"I feel like I am the best player in the draft," he said.
The operative word here is "player." McFadden, who is entering the draft as a junior, offers good versatility. Although he needs to refine his pass-catching ability, he does have the makings of an effective receiver out of the backfield. McFadden set a Southeastern Conference career record with 2,172 all-purpose yards. He also rushed for 206 yards and three touchdowns and passed for another in Arkansas' regular-season-ending upset of the LSU Tigers, who went on to win the national championship.
And when McFadden puts his mind to it, he can block well.
"I can do a lot of different things," he said. "I can go out there and line up at receiver, I can line up in the backfield and block, line up back there and run. I can throw a pass if you need me to.
"If I had to, I could play defense."
Yes, McFadden is that good of an athlete.
His off-field behavior has raised some questions, though. He has drawn the wrong sort of media attention for his involvement in a pair of nightclub altercations, one last month and one just before the 2006 season that resulted in a serious toe injury.
"I know I put myself in a bad situation I shouldn't have been in, and I take full responsibility for it," McFadden said.
Mainly, though, he is seen as an exceptional running back, which is why he has twice won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best collegiate player at the position (Ricky Williams is the award's only other two-time winner) and was twice a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. The NFL obviously places a high premium on speed, and McFadden is not lacking in that area.
However, with defensive fronts loaded with so many fast players, it is crucial to have the power to run between the tackles. McFadden also has plenty of that. He is capable of repeatedly hammering into the middle, wearing down linemen and linebackers as the game progresses, and then breaking free for big runs in the third and fourth quarter.
"You can stop him for 15 straight times," Razorbacks interim coach Reggie Herring told the Dallas Morning News. "And then, that 16th time, he's going to go. That puts pressure on the defense."
"I feel like I'm a tough guy," McFadden said. "You could have me in on first down or you could have me in on fourth-and-1. I can get long yards for you or I can get short yards for you."
McFadden has drawn favorable comparisons to Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who was the league's 2007 Offensive Rookie of the Year and the MVP of the Pro Bowl. Peterson, a former Oklahoma standout, was the seventh overall choice, yet was arguably the most dominant rookie at any position.
Some NFL observers can foresee a similar scenario for McFadden. He has no problem with that, provided he can be that productive as a rookie.
"I admire Adrian Peterson," McFadden said. "He's a great running back, and I feel like if I go in, do all the work that I should do and put in the right work necessary, I could have the type of season he did."
The type of rookie year one would expect from the best player in the draft.