The 2009 NFL Draft saw three underclassman running backs come off the board in the first round. Because of that, this year’s crop of senior backs looks a bit weak toward the top end.
With the shelf life of NFL running backs getting shorter, we’re seeing more underclassmen come out early to give themselves the longest possible careers.
As a result, the 2010 running back class will likely include a long list of underclassmen. Until then, here’s a look at the top senior running backs:
The Top Three
C.J. Spiller, Clemson (5-11, 195)
Spiller sits atop the 2010 senior running back class because he not only enhances a team’s rushing attack, he also provides a spark in the pass game and on special teams. He’s a natural runner with great burst and quickness in the open field.
His combination of vision, instincts and balance are apparent every time he touches the ball, and the guy has the toughness to make plays between the tackles.
He’s also a gifted pass catcher who can make plays out of the backfield and is a real special teams ace as a return man.
I don’t think he has the bulk to be an every down back, but he gives an offense a lot of versatility and is the kind of big-play threat NFL teams love.
Chris Brown, Oklahoma (5-11, 208)
Brown came on strong toward the end of last season and gave Oklahoma’s spread offense the type of powerful running threat it needed. Brown runs with a good pad level and isn’t afraid to drive through contact and work for tough yards inside.
He also possesses a good first step for his size and gets to top speed very quickly. He’s a natural runner with good wiggle in the open field, and his combination of speed, quickness and power makes him very tough to bring down.
He did run behind one of the most talented offensive lines in the country last year and takes most of his snaps from the shotgun, but Brown has a skill set that should translate nicely to the next level, and I think he has the ability to develop into an every-down type of back.
LeGarrette Blount, Oregon (6-2, 238)
Blount is a massive, physically imposing back who runs with good power and toughness between the tackles. He isn’t afraid of contact and does a nice job on short-yardage situations, making himself small and driving for the tough yards.
He finished the 2008 season with 17 touchdowns and should see an increase in carries as the Oregon lead back in 2009.
Blount isn’t just a power back, though. He possesses good balance, footwork and body control at the line of scrimmage and is shifty enough to make a man miss and attack the second level.
He has as much potential and talent as any senior in this group, and if he can keep his nose clean, I think he has a chance to go in the first round.
However, he showed up to spring practice out of shape this past year and was suspended during the off-season for “failure to fulfill team obligations.”
Either way, this guy is a big-time talent with big-time size and power who can definitely help enhance a team’s running game as an every-down back.
The Next Two
Charles Scott, LSU (5-11, 233)
Scott is the type of tough, instinctive SEC runner whom defenders simply don’t want to tackle in the fourth quarter.
He runs with good power and physical toughness between the tackles but showcases the patience and vision to read his blocks and consistently attack downhill.
He isn’t a burner by any stretch, but he breaks a lot of tackles at the second level and has had his share of long runs because of it.
He’s also a very sound blocker in pass protection and does a nice job catching the ball out of the backfield and getting upfield quickly.
Scott is your typical meat-and-potatoes back who will never be a star at the next level but will certainly give you a physical presence in the run game.
Montario Hardesty, Tennessee (6-0, 215)
I might be going out on a limb with Hardesty, but when I was watching Tennessee RB Arian Foster last year, it was Hardesty who kept catching my eye and making the plays I wanted to see from Foster.
Hardesty has struggled with injuries throughout his career, and the most rushing yards he has ever gained in a season is 384. But he’s a tough, physical runner who should be an ideal fit in Lane Kiffin’s new power-run scheme.
If Hardesty can stay healthy (and I know that’s a big if), he’s exactly the type of back Kiffin needs in that offense. He has the ability to become one of the more productive running backs in the nation.
Stafon Johnson, USC (5-11, 215)
Possesses an ideal combination of size, speed, and quickness but has never become the stud many expected.
Ben Tate, Auburn (5-11, 217)
A tough SEC back who runs with good power between the tackles and has the athleticism to create plays in the open field. He should have a much better 2009 season playing in a more traditional downhill rushing attack.
Javarris James, Miami (6-0, 215)
A big, physical back with natural instincts, but he lacks burst and isn’t going to run away from anyone at the next level.
Damion Fletcher, Southern Miss (5-10, 178)
A tough, instinctive runner with good body control and quickness in the open field. However, he’s grossly undersized and will struggle between the tackles at the next level.
Brandon James, Florida (5-7, 186)
A special teams standout who should see an increase in playing time in 2009. He can be electrifying in the open field and has the ability to develop into an intriguing third-down back in the NFL.
Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State (6-1, 234)
Another big SEC runner who makes his living between the tackles and wearing down opposing front sevens. He lacks speed, but his combination of body control and power make him awfully tough to bring down.
Be sure to check out the rest of my team breakdowns at NationalFootballPost.com.