Reggie Bush, USC – The only reason I'm mentioning Bush is because you should write down the names of people who are trying to tell you this guy is going to be a third-down back in the NFL. Bush is a much more physical runner than he's given credit for. He breaks a lot of tackles and most of his big runs in college actually came between the tackles. Those who are down on Bush are probably the same people who said Shaq would be a bust coming out of LSU because, "All he does is dunk. He can't shoot." How did that one turn out?
Every time you see Bush on tape he's more and more impressive. Some people are worried about his size but I don't think it's an issue. He's built like a rock and rarely gets hit. When Bush does draw contact it's usually him putting his head down and running over a defensive back. Bush is like Barry Sanders where defenders are just lucky to get him down, forget about laying a big hit on him.
This guy is the total package. His vision, instincts and awareness are as good as any running back I've ever seen coming out of college. Oh and his physical abilities aren't bad either. Bush put the icing on the cake when he showed how strong he was at his pro day by doing 24 reps of 225 at 205 pounds. I don't see any scenario where the Texans don't select him with the first overall pick in the draft.
Laurence Maroney, Minnesota - The most likely candidate for New England - if they decide to go running back in round one – could be the game-breaking Maroney. He rushed for 2,812 yards and 22 touchdowns in his final two years at Minnesota and he has the athletic ability to be a special NFL running back.
Some people question Maroney's ability to carry the load in the NFL since he only weighed 205 pounds in college. Many of those worries were put to rest when he showed up at the Combine weighing 217 pounds. Maroney is a game-breaker with exceptional speed and vision. Having a home run hitter like him in the backfield along with Tom Brady could be a scary proposition for opposing defenses.
Other than Bush, Maroney probably has the quickest burst through the hole of any back in this draft class. His straight-line speed in the open field makes Maroney very dangerous once he gets past the initial line of the defense.
On tape, Maroney showed he's an effective cutback runner who can find a hole if his first option isn't there. The other thing I like about him is even though Maroney is known for his speed; he's a very physical runner for his size. He finishes off runs well, a lot of times lowering his shoulder and punishing the defender. That's the kind of attitude you want to see out of a running back.
The Patriots probably won't go running back in the first round but if they do, Maroney would provide the big-play ability in the Patriots backfield that the team hasn't had in a long time.
Andre Hall, South Florida – At 5-9, 208 pounds, Hall is another one of those smaller runners who some think may not be big enough to be an every-down back for an NFL team. However, I think Hall could end up being the steal of this year's draft. He has a lot of interesting physical qualities that should make Hall a very productive player at the pro level. I said last week that Darnell Bing was the overrated prospect in this draft but on the other end of the spectrum, Hall may be the most underrated player.
Hall was a junior college transfer and in only two seasons with South Florida he rushed for 2,731 yards and 24 touchdowns. He's an interesting prospect because while he looks small on tape, he doesn't play small. Hall is an elusive, slippery runner but he also showed on many occasions that he has no problem putting his head down and running over defenders. He has that Emmitt Smith-style to him where he runs low to the ground and can use that low center of gravity to break tackles. Hall is very difficult to get down for his size and he's also an effective short-yardage runner.
The former Bull is another one of those backs that doesn't have blazing speed but he showed no problems getting to the outside or breaking long runs in college, and that was against pretty good competition. He also shows good patience in the backfield, letting his blocks develop before kicking into an extra gear to get through the hole. Hall has a great spin move and is an explosive runner in the open field.
Hall needs work on his blocking but he has excellent hands and his ability to catch the football should help his stock on draft day. There are a lot of the 5-9, 200-pound kind of backs in this draft but if I had to put my money on one of them becoming a feature back in the NFL, I would chose Hall. Like I said, when you watch him he doesn't look that big but Hall plays a lot bigger once he gets the ball in his hands.
I think Hall is the most intriguing prospect at the running back position. The more I see of him, the more I like. If New England selects Hall, Patriots fans should be very happy with the pick. They may have a future stud running back on their hands.
Jerious Norwood, Mississippi State – Norwood isn't getting as much publicity as some of the other backs in this draft class but after breaking down film, I think he's one of the few every-down running backs coming out this year. Like Hall, Norwood could be another draft-day steal at the running back position.
Norwood played on one of college footballs worst passing offenses during his career at Mississippi State but still managed to post over 1,000 yards rushing in back-to-back seasons. He could be a real sleeper because he's been productive against top competition in the SEC, despite not playing with a strong supporting cast. As Mississippi State's lone offensive star, Norwood proved over his four years with the Bulldogs that he can carry the load and be the focal point of an offense.
Norwood was one of the stars at this year's Combine. Coming in, NFL scouts had some questions about his speed but he answered critics by running an impressive 4.40 40-yard dash in Indianapolis. Norwood's overall performance at the Combine greatly enhanced his draft stock. Watching him on tape, Norwood gets through holes quickly, has an extra burst once he gets into the open field and breaks a lot of tackles. With more talent around him, Norwood has the potential to put up big numbers on the ground.
There are a lot of third-down and situational backs in this draft after you get past the big four but Norwood is an every-down back who has the ability to become a productive NFL starter. He can also return kicks, which adds to his value. If the Patriots are able to land Norwood in Round 3, that would be a heck of a pick in my opinion. I really, really like this kid as one of the more complete running backs in the draft.
Jerome Harrison, Washington State – Despite having a tremendous senior season at Washington State, Harrison is flying under the radar because of his size (5-9 200). That doesn't make much sense considering Harrison is virtually the same size as Bush and had similar numbers last season. Now, I'm not comparing Harrison to Bush because that would be ridiculous. Two years ago J.J. Arrington had better numbers than Bush, so it's pretty obvious it's not all about the numbers.
However, Harrison is very strong for size – he bench presses 405 pounds and has a powerful lower body – and he rushed for over 100 yards in his final 13 college games. On film, Harrison showed that he doesn't need huge openings along the offensive front to squirt free. He's very quick through the hole and while he doesn't have blazing speed, he plays much faster than his 40-time. You won't see Harrison get caught from behind very often.
Harrison is the type of back a team can draft as a third-down/change-of-pace back and not have to spend a high pick on. At worst you get a Kevin Faulk-type player with the upside of being a possible starting running back someday. If the Patriots are looking for a running back in the middle rounds of the draft that can come in and contribute right away and perhaps take on a bigger role in the future once Corey Dillon is gone, Harrison could be their man.
Taurean Henderson, Texas Tech – Henderson played in the pass-happy offense at Texas Tech in college so he never put up eye-popping numbers in terms of rushing yards but he scored 50 touchdowns in his career and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield.
Henderson caught 303 balls in four years at Texas Tech, including 98 as a freshman. With his ability to catch the football Henderson should, at the very least, have a decent NFL career as a third-down back.
While he can come in right away and help a team as a pass-catching back, I was also impressed with his running style when I saw him on tape. Henderson is actually a strong runner inside the tackles and posses great vision when he's running in traffic. It's true that with the way Texas Tech plays offense they spread the field out but Henderson was impressive with his quick burst through the hole. He also showed the ability to break tackles and get yards after contact.
Henderson is also very instinctive as a runner. He shows patience in letting his blocks develop and awareness in the open field. He had a lot of long runs in his college career and seems to have a knack for providing a big play when his team needs one.
I have to admit that I wasn't that excited about Henderson before I saw him on film because of the system he came out of but he surprised me by showing a lot of positive qualities. He'll probably never be an every-down back in the NFL but with his instincts, vision and tremendous hands as a receiver, Henderson has a chance to replace Faulk and become the most dangerous third-down back in the NFL in the near future.
Wali Lundy, Virginia – Lundy started 11 games as a senior but was limited most of the season because of a foot injury. At 218 pounds, Lundy is one of the bigger backs in this draft. He's a good all-around running back who scored 52 total touchdowns in his college career. Lundy doesn't have blazing speed but his abilities as a receiver and a kick returner adds to his value. He's is an interesting prospect because he can do a lot of different things pretty well. Worst-case scenario is he's a decent backup and special teams player. Best case scenario is Lundy turns out to be another Terrell Davis – a player who shared time in college and turns out to be a better pro running back once he's given an opportunity.
Gerald Riggs, Jr., Tennessee – When looking for a possible sleeper, it's always good to breakdown players who underachieved in college and could turn it around at the next level. Riggs is one of those players. He had games at Tennessee where he looked like the next coming of Jamal Lewis (on the field that is). Then he would have games where he would totally disappear. Riggs is a powerful back that breaks tackles and gets the tough yards inside. He's kind of a straight-line runner that isn't very elusive but because of his powerful lower body strength, he's a load to tackle. Riggs broke his ankle after six games last year but he said at the Combine that he's fully recovered from the injury. He wasn't very productive in college but the former Volunteer showed signs of being an NFL-caliber back at times. For a mid-late round draft pick, Riggs could end up being a real find if he stays motivated and lands with the right team.
Check back later in the week as we look at running backs who are on the decline.