2010 NFL Draft Rankings: Running Backs
Three weeks to go until draft night 2010. Get psyched…or something.
Today’s draft effort looks at available running backs. I have given out 9 starting-caliber grades to RBs in this class, although there are plenty more who offer more than just special teams ability. The top three guys are as good as you’ll find in any class, and after a small dropoff, the rest could fall in pretty much any order.
Class Strength: Very Strong
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=cj+spiller&iid=7325210″ src=”4/4/a/d/ACC_Championship_e6da.jpg?adImageId=11996377&imageId=7325210″ width=”234″ height=”169″ /]1. CJ Spiller, Clemson Spiller isn’t just the best runner in this class, but would be in most classes. He compares favorably to Darren McFadden, Steven Jackson, and Ronnie Brown in recent years, though he lacks the explosiveness of bona fide superstars such as Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson. Spiller might be an even better player as a receiver out of the backfield than as a runner, which mitigates some minor (probably insignificant) concerns about his blocking. In layman’s terms: the best draft prospect since Peterson at this position, and has the best chance to end up as the next runningback after Chris Johnson to land a 50 million dollar deal.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=ryan+mathews&iid=1018091″ src=”e/5/e/3/Fresno_State_Bulldogs_bb9a.jpg?adImageId=11996406&imageId=1018091″ width=”234″ height=”159″ /]2. Ryan Mathews, Fresno State Complete college backs are obviously rare, but this draft has three and it’s Mathews that is as close to a “hidden gem” as it gets. With that said, he’s probably destined for the first round, and would be a major steal later in the round. He’s a runner and a blocker, which is probably the most ideal combination, and it also makes him more appealing to passing attack that features more protectors and fewer receivers in the route. Essentially, his market is different from Spiller’s, meaning that yes, there’s a (small) chance that Mathews could be the first running back off the board. He should be a star in the league behind an NFL caliber line, much as he starred in the WAC against weak defenses.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=jahvid+best&iid=6991052″ src=”8/5/b/3/Oregon_State_v_f599.jpg?adImageId=11996539&imageId=6991052″ width=”234″ height=”168″ /]3. Jahvid Best, Cal Concerns about future restrictions on players with a history of serious head-injuries are going to prevent any team from spending big-time money on Jahvid Best, but that’s really the only concern that prevents him from being a top ten pick. There are no concerns whatsoever about the player you are getting beyond the serious possibility that you’re looking at a four or five year career in a poor man’s scenario. Best is an explosive athlete who can touch the ball on every play, and only the goal line is certain to stop him once he has the ball in space.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=hardesty&iid=6769769″ src=”1/c/7/c/Georgia_v_Tennessee_732e.jpg?adImageId=11996621&imageId=6769769″ width=”234″ height=”164″ /]4. Monterio Hardesty, Tennessee Hardesty is a pretty complete back who profiles as an NFL starter as soon as the middle of the 2010 season, but Hardesty is a one cut power runner who won’t beat safeties to the sideline with raw speed. Thus, it’s difficult to justify a first round pick on such a player who is really the embodiment of the running back fungibility principle. You wouldn’t spend $4 million a year on Larry Johnson because you could instead just draft a player like Hardesty at the back end of the second round or early in the third. Hardesty isn’t going to get a large second contract, but could be the next Dominick Davis.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=gerhart&iid=7155670″ src=”2/f/6/8/Notre_Dame_v_d467.jpg?adImageId=11996714&imageId=7155670″ width=”234″ height=”168″ /]5. Toby Gerhart, Stanford Gerhart’s only liability is that he wasn’t much of a receiver in college, and you can’t fill your roster with the type of backfield-only power runner types that Gerhart is, but he’s an able blocker, and–well, you know–you could always give him the football and watch him run. For as much talk about how valuable a runner Tim Tebow can be in the open field, I don’t think there will be a defender in the NFL who is going to enjoy tackling Toby Gerhart. And with the frequency that he was seen running through opponents’ secondaries in college, the California-native might be able to intimidate a bunch of surfer-dudes at the next level.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=anthony+dixon&iid=7490534″ src=”1/6/0/1/Mississippi_State_v_2d8a.jpg?adImageId=11996798&imageId=7490534″ width=”234″ height=”270″ /]6. Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State Dixon is one of my personal favorites in this draft, and like the two guys I have ahead of him and the two guys I have behind him, he’s a power back. Dixon, who has to answer questions about his blocking, enters the league already featuring 2000 yard potential, and the flexibility to line up outside of the traditional I-formation. He became Mississippi State’s all-time leading rusher last season, and broke many records previously held by the much smaller, quicker Jerious Norwood. Dixon’s a guy who can be had in the middle rounds, but can still handle the feature role in an NFL offense. Because of the strength of the draft ahead of him, it wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up as a classic draft steal in the 4th or 5th round, like Terrell Davis. This is a different Dixon than Andre Dixon, a (you guessed it, power runner) from the University of Connecticut.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=ben+tate&iid=7454505″ src=”8/2/4/b/Outback_Bowl_9c03.jpg?adImageId=11996899&imageId=7454505″ width=”234″ height=”187″ /]7. Ben Tate, Auburn Tate projects as a 12-15 carry per game back in a rush heavy offense, but his speed-power combination more than covers for his perceived limitations as a receiver and outside runner. Tate offers additional value as an unconventional third down back who could convert third and medium plays either on the ground or as a receiver through the air, and offers strong blocking in those passing downs. Tate doesn’t stand out on film in a way that would ever make a team satisfied to have him as a number one back, but as a complementary player, few offer a skill set suited to the role than Ben Tate.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=dwyer&iid=7465397″ src=”5/1/4/b/Orange_Bowl_add4.jpg?adImageId=11996933&imageId=7465397″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]8. Jonathon Dwyer, Georgia Tech If spread option quarterbacks are still considered too different to evaluate properly, then Paul Johnson getting the job at a school that routinely produces NFL skill players is about the worst thing to ever happen to the scouting community. Dwyer played a position called “B” back, which doesn’t exist in professional football. Like I said: you thought the spread was radical. Dwyer is neither explosive nor cut out to be an every down back, but in short yardage, his power-elusiveness combination makes him one of the best options in the draft. Additionally, if any player in this class was cut out to contribute as an up-back as well as a tailback, it’s Dwyer. His blocking might be his best attribute, though, a lot of that value in college was as a lead blocker. Also, if you ever decide to run the option, it helps to have someone in the organization that can teach it, right?
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=joe+mcknight&iid=7405704″ src=”0/0/b/0/Stanford_v_USC_e3e4.jpg?adImageId=11996951&imageId=7405704″ width=”234″ height=”173″ /]9. Joe McKnight, USC Seems like just yesterday that McKnight was a stud blue-chipper from Louisiana who garnered the number one overall ranking for a few recruiting sites, right around names of future first round draft choices such as: Clausen, Berry, Dunlap, Griffen, Haden, and Benn. McKnight is still a great professional prospect, but enters the draft without any of the luster he brought to USC…or for that matter, without the luster of any of the names above. He had his moments at USC, but if Reggie Bush embodies the era of dominance during his three year career as a Trojan, McKnight’s relative yawner of a career reflects the last three years of USC Football. As for the pros though: I’d bet on him having a better career than Bush. He should get cracking, as he’s down a championship already.