Analyzing The 2009 Drafts Top Running Back Prospects

Published on April 19, 2009 by     

knowshon-moreno-jumps-hurdles-defenderThe 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.

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.

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

Top 10 running backs
Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
1.
Georgia
5-11
217
1
Analysis: The SEC’s rushing leader amassed 1,400 yards with 14 touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore and displayed the hard-nosed running style that has some scouts comparing him to a young Cadillac Williams. Though he lacks exceptional top-end speed, he has the most natural instincts and running ability of any back in the draft. Furthermore, he is a dynamic receiver out of the backfield who has the potential to be an upper echelon every-down back in the league. The battle for the top running back spot is tough, but Moreno should emerge as the first runner chosen on draft day.

NFL landing spot: He could be taken by the Chargers (No. 16) or Eagles (No. 21) as an eventual successor to LaDainian Tomlinson or Brian Westbrook.


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
2.
Ohio State
6-1
235
1
Analysis: The former Buckeye overcame a laundry list of injuries to finish as the school’s fourth all-time rushing leader with 3,382 rushing yards in his career. While his durability is often questioned (he missed three games during his senior season due to injuries), scouts rave about Wells’ ability to effectively grind between the tackles. He has an uncanny ability to find a crease in the teeth of the defense and he surprises defenders with his explosiveness on the second level. With several teams looking to add a power runner, Wells is a coveted prospect who will garner serious consideration near the end of the first round.

NFL landing spot: Wells would fill the Saints’ (No. 14) need for an every-down back, but they would likely trade back to land him in the latter stages of Round 1. If the Saints pass on him, he could fall all the way down to the Cardinals at No. 31.


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
3.
Pittsburgh
5-10
198
1-2
Analysis: The unsung runner affectionately known as “Shady” rushed for 1,488 yards and 21 touchdowns last year. It was his second straight 1,000-yard season. As an all-around talent with exceptional skills, McCoy has the ability to be a difference-maker as a pro. Whether as a runner or receiver, McCoy makes things happen when the ball is in his hands. Though his workouts failed to vault him past Wells and Moreno on most draft boards, McCoy is a borderline first rounder capable of making a big splash as a rookie.

NFL landing spot: His place in the first round will likely be determined by what happens with Moreno and Wells. If an unforeseen team snatches up either runner before the Eagles pick at No. 21, he could serve as Brian Westbrook’s apprentice for a few years. He also could be deemed as a better fit for the Cardinals’ high-powered offense and be picked ahead of Wells at No. 31.


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
4.
Connecticut
5-10
210
1-2
Analysis: The diminutive workhorse likens himself to Tiki Barber, and he has the talent to be just as productive of a pro as Barber. A shifty runner with outstanding balance and body control, Brown has the ability to turn negative plays into big gains. Though some question his size and speed, his outstanding production as a collegian (led the nation in rushing in 2008 with 2,083 yards) has placed Brown squarely in the mix as a potential first-round pick.

NFL landing spot: He could sneak into the bottom of the first round at the Cardinals’ pick (No. 31). If he fails to land in the first round, Brown would fit in well with the Browns (No. 36) or Seahawks (No. 37) as a complementary back.


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
5.
Iowa
5-11
227
2
Analysis: The former Hawkeye pounded out 1,729 career rushing yards against Big Ten competition and showed that he could be a dynamic runner without having elite speed. Blessed with exceptional vision, instincts and power, Greene is a nimble power runner with the rare ability to run around or through defenders in the open field. Although Greene isn’t an ideal fit for every scheme, he is an immense talent who should come off the board in the middle of the second round.

NFL landing spot: Greene will fit in perfectly with a team that utilizes a zone-based running scheme.


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
6.
North Carolina State
6-0
224
2
Analysis: The oft-injured Brown has shot up draft boards after a blazing 4.49 40-yard dash at the combine. Though a host of injuries limited his production in college, Brown’s size, speed and athleticism make him an intriguing prospect. With several teams in desperate need of a home-run hitter at the position, it would not be surprising to see a team gamble on the position’s biggest “boom or bust” prospect in the second round.

NFL landing spot: Teams looking to add juice (speed) to their running back rotation will take a flier on Brown in Round 2.


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
7.
Alabama
6-0
209
2-3
Analysis: As a hard-nosed runner with deceptive speed and quickness, Coffee excels at picking up tough yardage between the tackles. He shows surprising power for his size and is not easily knocked off of his feet upon contact. Though Coffee occasionally flashes big-play potential on the perimeter, he is most effective when grinding out tough yards on inside runs. While Coffee doesn’t project to be a feature runner as a pro, he should be a productive player as part of a rotation.

NFL landing spot: Teams looking for a tough runner willing to do the dirty work between the tackles will covet Coffee.


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
8.
Michigan State
5-9
205
3
Analysis: The Spartans’ workhorse is a productive runner with outstanding quickness and footwork. Though he lacks exceptional top-end speed, Ringer effectively gets the job done by stringing together an assortment of tough, hard-nosed runs. While his game is underappreciated by many, Ringer has all of the skills to be an effective pro and should come off the board in the middle of the third round.

NFL landing spot: With more teams moving to running back-by-committees, Ringer should draw interest as a possible change-of-pace/complementary back.


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
9.
Liberty
6-1
231
3
Analysis: After dominating the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) with over 1,500 rushing yards last season, Jennings opened eyes with his standout performances at the Senior Bowl and combine. He has a rare combination of strength, power and explosiveness for his size. Though he is sure to be downgraded for compiling his stellar production against inferior competition, Jennings’ physical skills (speed, quickness and power) have led some scouts to push the former Pitt transfer up the board. With a paucity of big runners available in this year’s draft, it should not come as a surprise to see Jennings come off the board at the end of the third round.

NFL landing spot: Teams looking for a bruiser will be enticed by Jennings’ size and potential.


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
10.
Oregon
5-9
209
3
Analysis: The former Duck bounced back from a knee injury as a junior to have a stellar senior season (1,201 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns). Best described as a jitterbug with explosive speed and quickness, Johnson tantalizes scouts with his big-play ability on the perimeter. Although his size worries some scouts, Johnson’s dynamic potential as a change-of-pace back makes him a strong third-round possibility.

NFL landing spot: Johnson is sure to be targeted by teams looking to upgrade their running back rotation. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield makes him highly coveted by teams featuring diverse passing games.

Top 5 fullbacks
Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
1.
Syracuse
6-0
245
4-5
Analysis: A tough, physical lead blocker who excels as the sledgehammer in the running game. Though Fiammetta occasionally falls off his blocks due to his aggressive nature, the former Orange has the all-around skills and potential to be a standout blocker as a pro. Fiammetta carries a mid- to late-round grade and could be a solid possibility as a late fourth-round pick.

NFL landing spot: Power-running teams looking for a classic fullback will make a play for the Fiammetta in the middle rounds.

Video: Tony Fiammetta


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
2.
LSU
6-1
246
5
Analysis: He’s an old-school fullback with the toughness and aggressiveness to develop into a first-rate lead blocker. Johnson excels at drilling defenders squarely, and he flashed better-than-advertised receiving skills during his workouts. Though teams undervalue the position, Johnson still merits consideration as a fifth-round pick.

NFL landing spot: Another sledgehammer-type blocker with underrated receiving skills. Teams looking for a versatile lead blocker will peg Johnson as a worthy candidate.

Video: Quinn Johnson


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
3.
Georgia
6-0
242
5-6
Analysis: The former Bulldog is a finesse blocker who relies on his athleticism to effectively work angles on lead blocks. While he doesn’t overpower defenders in the hole, Southerland is relentless with his effort and shows the ability to finish. In addition, he displays good hands and receiving skills out of the backfield. There will be some scouts who question his durability, but his overall skill-set makes him an attractive option as a potential fifth-rounder.

NFL landing spot: With few quality fullbacks available, a team will take a chance on developing Southerland into a competent lead blocker.

Video: Brannan Southerland


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
4.
Pittsburgh
6-0
227
7
Analysis: The former lead blocker for LeSean McCoy is not the traditional sledgehammer at the position, but he’s still highly regarded for his athleticism and versatility. Though his game could use an infusion of aggressiveness, his all-around ability and bloodlines (his father, Tony, starred as a running back in the NFL for the Patriots and Dolphins) make him an enticing option as a late-round selection.

NFL landing spot: Collins’ athletic potential and legacy will earn him a shot.

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