It's no secret that the Lions want to upgrade the running back position this offseason. So, with that in mind I watched the majority of the running backs workouts on Sunday and here are my notes:
They Are Who We Thought They Were
And we let em' off the hook! Sorry, I love Denny Green...What I was getting at is that the supposed top three backs in the draft (CJ Spiller, Ryan Matthews, and Jahvid Best) are exactly that, the top three backs in the draft.
Though timed unofficially with a 40 yard dash of 4.27, Spiller was officially timed later at 4.37. Unfortunately Spiller did not participate in any other workouts but, regardless, he did what he needed to do which was show off that blazing speed.
Jahvid Best had the best official 40 yard dash time at 4.35 seconds and showed the quick feet and good lateral mobility that made him a top three back to begin with. Injury history and small stature will make some teams shy away, but somebody will fall in love with the kid.
Ryan Matthews who looks to be the most complete back of the entire draft had an excellent combine. He was officially clocked as running the 40 yard dash in 4.45 seconds which is good speed for a 220 pounder as well as posting a broad jump over 10 feet. I was skeptical to start, but he definitely made me rethink my position and look at the footage I can find again.
Dwyer Takes a Tumble
Coming into the combine many people had Jonathan Dwyer from Georgia Tech rated in the top five of their running back rankings. If many people do after today, I would be extremely surprised. Listen, I by no means should be commenting on the bodies of soon-to-be NFL players, but there's no polite way to say he looked fat, regardless of if he lost weight or not.
Not only that, but his former coach who is now the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, Chan Galey, said his weight has always been an issue. Double Whammy.
Dwyer ran in the 4.6 range (I can't find an official time but I've seen reports of 4.59 and 4.69 so let's call it that) and generally looked unimpressive in the drills.
Bigger backs such as Ben Tate from Auburn, Legarrette Blount from Oregon, Toby Gerhardt from Stanford, and Anthony Dixon from Mississippi State all looked much better.
Late Round Steals
Personally, I think this draft class offers much better value on running backs later in the draft because of the depth of talent. Whether the Lions are looking for a more complete back or a change of pace guy, there are players to be had after round three. My favorites:
Ben Tate, Auburn Forgive me if I'm a little biased as I have family that attends Auburn and have been watching Tate for a while, but the man blew away even me at the combine. In addition to having the second best vertical jump (40.5 inches) and being tied for the best broad jump (10 feet 4 inches), Tate ran a 40 yard dash officially at 4.43 seconds. Not too shabby for a 220 pounder.
Oh, and before I forget, he was tied for first in the bench with 26 reps, too. Tate averaged 5.2 yards per carry last semester playing top competition in the SEC and is my personal pick for a running back in rounds four or five.
Montario Hardesty, Tennessee Hardesty already had pretty good tape, but because of the lack of value that running backs have in this modern draft era, he was labeled by most as a third or fourth round prospect. Nothing like a sub 4.5 second 40 yard dash, 41 inch vertical, and 10 foot 4 inch broad jump to change that. Hardesty probably just made himself a late round two prospect.
James Starks-Buffalo- If the Lions are still in need of a running back in round six, Starks could be a serious sleeper. His numbers aren't off the charts but he did post a sub 4.5 second 40 yard dash and looked very well put together in the drills showing very quick feet and good hands. He missed all of last year due to injury, but in 2008 he had 4.9 yards per carry and had a whopping 52 catches.
Shawnbrey McNeal, SMU To be honest, I had never heard of Shawnbrey before the combine, but I knew who he was by the end of the day. Again, he didn't have great numbers, but posted a sub 4.5 second 40 yard dash and performed admirably in the drills.
He is the only player to ever run for more than 1,000 yards in a June Jones spread/run and shoot offense and averaged over five yards per carry. Besides, the dude looked jacked. I consider him a late round steal for someone.
McCluster Runs a 4.58 40 Yard Dash
Officially. This could be a blessing in disguise for the Lions. Though most people probably know he plays much faster than this, if he can last until round three the Lions might be able to scoop him up. McCluster has the ability to play both RB and WR and would be an incredible weapon for this offense.
I just wanted to briefly mention Johnson. For those who don't know, Johnson had a freak weight lifting accident earlier in the year in which he dropped 275 pound on this throat while bench pressing. This required multiple surgeries and he missed his entire senior season because of it.
For someone who just started working out again a couple of months ago he looked pretty good, and I hope some team takes a chance on him. Johnson faced his fears and posted a respectable 13 reps on the bench press.