Kansas City Chiefs Draft: Notes from NFL Combine on Running Backs

Russell FikeCorrespondent IMarch 5, 2010

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 1: Running back Ben Tate #44 of the Auburn Tigers rushes upfield against the Northwestern Wildcats in the Outback Bowl January 1, 2010 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Jamaal Charles looks great.  He’s young, healthy, and tore defenses up in the latter half of the 2009 season—all valid reasons why Kansas City needs running back help. 

The two-back, or tandem, system is steadily becoming the norm in the NFL.  It appears the days of a single elite running back carrying a team for an entire decade are things of the past.

It’s my theory that NFL running backs hit a three-year stretch where they are at their peak.  After this, the pounding on their bodies means that either through injuries or simple wear and tear, their on-field performance drastically drops off.

Key examples include: Edgerrin James, Terrell Davis, Shaun Alexander, or Kansas City’s own Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes. 

While LaDainian Tomlinson lasted more than the big “three years,” he hit the magical age of 30 and saw his abilities crumble.  I believe that not even Adrian Peterson will be immune to the rigors of the games causing a quick fall from dominant glory.

Meanwhile teams like the Panthers and Giants don’t rely on a single runner, but pair players like DeAngelo Williams and Jonothan Stewart, or Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.

If Jamaal Charles is going to be a part of the Chief’s offense for years to come, Kansas City needs to do the same. 

Not to worry; while the combine didn’t reveal any true “steals,” as in round four or later, there are several viable options in rounds two and three.

A quick note that in evaluating the ability to break tackles based on lower body strength, little says more than a running back’s broad jump.

Running Backs

Toby Gerhart of Stanford University was a Heisman finalist who many thought couldn’t translate his skills to the NFL. 

Thought to be a power runner who is too slow, Gerhart shut the mouths of many skeptics by posting a 40 time of 4.53 seconds.  Paired with a top-five showing in the vertical jump and posting 22 bench press reps, Gerhart looked as solid as ever.

However, his 9’10” broad jump was less than I would have liked to see and leaves questions if his strength was sheer size or lower body strength. 

Regardless, this kind of power is what Kansas City needs to compliment Charles. 

Anthony Dixon of Mississippi State is a prime example of a power runner.  While not as nimble and hence less versatile as Gerhart, Dixon may be the best runner in the draft for goal-to-go situations.    

With a 10”1” broad jump, Dixon fits the old-school I-formation, two tight-end, smash-mouth style of NFL play.  Sadly for Dixon, this style is quickly falling by the wayside in the pass-happy NFL. 

However, while it’s not applicable as a game-long strategy, this kind of play occurs multiple times every week.  Why should Kansas City risk injury and bodily beating to their star runner when they can have someone equipped to handle such situations at an elite level?

Still, some team will take Dixon as a pure runner if not just a complement, and thus his predicted selection spot is higher than might make sense for Kansas City.

Ben Tate of Auburn is the superlative option.  A best-of-both-worlds kind of player, Tate is someone who could suitably start for the Chiefs if Charles became injured.

Among running backs, Tate posted a third-best 4.43 forty, a second-best 10’4” broad jump and 4.12 20-yard shuttle, and tied for group best with 26 bench press reps.

Tate shared carries in college, and Kansas City would ask him to do the same in the pros.  This works to Tate’s advantage, as he is primed have a career that outlives most of his peers.

Tate is cited as lacking elite elusiveness and power, but his combine numbers imply that this doesn’t have to always be the case.  Tate isn’t the pure power runner compliment, but an exceptional No. 2 running back who can spell Charles without Kansas City losing much of their playbook.     


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