Times have changed as far as drafting running backs. Back in 1938 and 1941 when there were 10 teams in the NFL, nine running backs were drafted in the first round each of those years. Included in this group was former Supreme Court Justice Byron (Whizzer) White of Colorado.
Over the past 10 years, 31 running backs have been selected in Round 1. Twenty-three backs have been selected with the first overall pick in the NFL draft. However, only one has been taken first overall in the past 18 years -- Ki Jana Carter by the Bengals in 1996. At least one running back has been selected in Round 1 since 1967. The streak will continue this year with possibly three being selected.
Because of the proliferation of multiple-receiver sets, many teams carry only three running backs on their rosters -- two tailbacks and one fullback. Others employ an H-back instead of a fullback. Over the past 10 drafts, no fullback has been selected in the first round, and over the past five drafts, only two fullbacks have been selected in the first day of the draft.
Although teams once used backup running backs to return kickoffs, many teams now have one special player for the job, like Kansas City's Dante Hall and Detroit's Eddie Drummond, who had four returns for a touchdown last season (two punts and two kickoffs).
Over the past three drafts, running backs drafted in rounds one through four have measured up this way:
The shortest: 5-7
The tallest: 6-2 5/8
The lightest: 194
The heaviest: 260
The slowest: 4.90
The fastest: 4.37
Here are my rankings for running backs:
1. Cedric Benson, Texas (5-101/2, 222)
Benson did not work out at the combine. At Texas' Pro Day on March 23, he ran his 40s in 4.60 and 4.63. He also had a 33-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-9 long jump, 4.23 short shuttle, 11.63 long shuttle, 7.48 three-cone drill and 18 strength lifts. The shuttles and three-cone drill were done on a very bad surface. Benson rushed for 8,423 yards in high school and had five 300-yard games. His team won three state titles and he scored 15 touchdowns in those games. The team was 43-3 in his three seasons and Benson scored 127 career touchdowns. Benson was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers and played minor league baseball in the summers of 2002 and 2003. He started seven games as a true freshman at Texas and gained 1,053 yards despite missing the 2003 Holiday Bowl with a pinched nerve in the neck. He started the next three seasons except for a suspension vs. Baylor in 2003 and being held out of the starting lineup vs. Nebraska after being charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing charges. Benson is a tremendous competitor and a very tough, punishing inside runner. He runs with a good pad level and showed good hands at his Pro Day. Benson has a burst, good vision and can accelerate and move the pile. He will get careless with the ball at times and had seven fumbles in a span of three games in 2004. He also had some off-the-field issues. Benson set an NCAA record by scoring in 37 career games and ranks sixth all-time in NCAA history with 5,540 rushing yards. He's only the fifth back in history to rush for over 1,000 yards in four straight seasons. He also caught 69 passes in his career. He will be a Pro Bowl player.
2. Ronnie Brown, Auburn (6-01/4, 233)
Brown had a complete workout at the combine and ran his 40s in 4.43 and 4.46. He also had a 34-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-9 long jump, 4.08 short shuttle, 7.10 three-cone drill and 18 strength lifts. Brown played running back and safety in high school. He also played baseball and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners. Brown was redshirted at Auburn in 2000 and started five games in 2001. He was the first-team tailback going into the fall of 2002 and started six games that season, leading the team in rushing. He started three games in 2003 and six games in 2004 when he had 153 carries for 913 yards and eight touchdowns along with 34 catches. Brown is a strong runner with very good hands and outstanding speed. He has very good acceleration with very good quickness. He's a little bit of a straight-line runner and not real elusive in space. Brown is very competitive and a very good person.
3. Carnell Williams, Auburn (5-10 7/8, 217)
Williams had a complete workout at the combine and ran his 40s in 4.43 and 4.45. He also had a 351/2-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-10 long jump, 4.19 short shuttle, 11.46 long shuttle, 6.96 three-cone drill and 19 strength lifts. Williams played running back and defensive back in high school, earning Mr. Football honors in the state of Alabama after his senior season. Williams played as a true freshman at Alabama in 2001, starting two games. He ran 41 times vs. Georgia for 167 yards and two touchdowns. He started the first seven games in 2002 but missed the last six with a fractured fibula. He started 10 of 13 games in 2004 and became the first Auburn player to have three runs of 70 yards or more in one season. Williams will compete and has very good quickness and agility. He is an elusive runner, has good hands and good vision and will make the first tackler miss. Williams has a history of injuries and is not a strong blocker. He looks a lot like Clinton Portis build-wise and is a quiet young man.
4. J.J. Arrington, California (5-8 7/8, 214)
Arrington had a complete workout at the combine and ran his 40s in 4.40 and 4.46. He also had a 35-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-1 long jump, 4.10 short shuttle, 11.07 long shuttle, 6.81 three-cone drill and 18 strength lifts. Arrington played high school football in North Carolina and was a two-year starter at College of Canyons Junior College before transferring to California in the spring of 2003. He started two games in 2003 and rushed for 607 yards with two 100-yard games. Arrington started every game in 2004 and led the nation in rushing with 2,018 yards. He was the only back to rush for 100 yards or more in every game in 2004. Arrington has the speed and quickness you want at the running back position. He can really accelerate as a runner and also has toughness. He looked good at the combine catching the ball and is well built. He has had problems with fumbles and is somewhat of a straight-line runner.
5. Vernand Morency, Oklahoma State (5-9 5/8, 212)
Morency did not run at the combine, citing a left hamstring pull, but did do position drills. He had a 331/2-inch vertical jump, 9-foot long jump, 4.12 short shuttle, 11.68 long shuttle, 7.23 three-cone drill and 19 strength lifts. He ran at Miami's Pro Day and did his 40s in 4.66 and 4.67. Morency was a running back in high school in Florida and also played baseball. He was a 14th-round pick of the Colorado Rockies in 1998 and spent three years in their farm system before leaving baseball to go to Oklahoma State. Morency played but did not start at OSU in 2002 and missed five games at the end of the year. He played behind Tatum Bell in 2003 (second-round pick of the Denver Broncos in 2004) and started 11 games in 2004, when he rushed for 1,474 yards and 12 touchdowns. Morency has great quickness and explosion when running. He is a good inside runner with a burst and good vision. He is tough and will play with injury but needs work on blocking. He can also return kickoffs. Morency turned 25 years old on Feb. 4.
6. Ciatrick Fason, Florida (6-03/4, 207)
Fason did not work out at the combine. He did everything at Florida's Pro Day and ran his 40s in 4.63 and 4.64. He also had a 36-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-10 long jump, 4.30 short shuttle, 11.35 long shuttle, 6.72 three-cone drill and 19 strength lifts. As a high school running back, Fason twice ran for more than 2,000 yards in a season (1999 and 2001) and had over 7,400 yards rushing in his career. He played as a true freshman at Florida in 2002 and had only nine carries. He started three games in 2003 and averaged 7.6 yards per touch. He started 12 games in 2004 and rushed for 1,267 yards and caught 35 passes for 266 yards. Fason is a very good athlete. He has good quickness and vision to see the hole. He has the strength to break arm tackles and is a durable player. He needs to learn how to block better. Fason left school after three years and is married with two children.
7. Ryan Moats, Louisiana Tech (5-81/4, 210)
Moats had a complete workout at the combine and ran his 40s in 4.51 and 4.46. He also had a 36-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-9 long jump, 4.10 short shuttle, 11.13 long shuttle, 7.22 three-cone drill and 19 strength reps. Moats played running back and ran track in high school. He ran for 2,646 yards (9.2 per carry) and scored 33 touchdowns as a senior. Moats played as a true freshman at Louisiana Tech in 2002 but did not start. He started 10 games in 2003 and rushed for 1,300 yards (6.5 avg.) and 10 touchdowns. He started 12 games in 2004 and totaled 1,774 yards rushing, 18 touchdowns and had five games of 200 yards or more. Moats has great quickness and good explosion. He's a very elusive runner and a strong player. He looked good at the East-West practice at the Senior Bowl and had a long run in the game. Moats caught the ball well at the combine and has good instincts as a runner. He ran for 124 yards vs. LSU in 2003. He needs work on blocking and lacks ideal height.
8. Eric Shelton, Louisville (6-11/2, 246)
Shelton had a complete workout at the combine and ran his 40s in 4.53 and 4.59. He also had a 381/2-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-4 long jump, 4.08 short shuttle, 11.68 long shuttle and 7.44 three-cone drill. He did not lift at the combine but had 18 strength reps at Louisville's Pro Day. Shelton played high school football in Lexington, Ky., and was twice named the Kentucky High School Player of the Year. He ran for 4,970 yards and 59 touchdowns in his high school career and also played linebacker and defensive end. He also competed in track. Shelton started school at Florida State and played in 11 games in 2001 and left school to transfer to Louisville. He did not play in 2002, in accordance with NCAA rules, and played in 10 games in 2003, missing the last three. He started five games in 2004 and ran for 938 yards and scored 20 touchdowns. Shelton is a big, strong back and a straight-line runner similar to T.J. Duckett of Atlanta. He is tough and does not go down easily. He's a good goal-line and short-yardage runner.
9. Marion Barber, Minnesota (5-11 3/8, 221)
Barber did not run at the combine but did have a 40-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-7 long jump and 20 strength lifts. He ran at Minnesota's Pro Day on March 7 and weighed in at 212 pounds, down nine from his combine weight. He ran his 40s in 4.48 and 4.53 and ran 4.18 in the short shuttle, 11.56 in the long shuttle and 7.12 in the three-cone drill. Barber played running back and defensive back in high school and played centerfield on the baseball team. He played as a true freshman at Minnesota in 2001, starting two games. He redshirted in 2002 (hamstring) and rushed for 1,196 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2003, including 197 against Michigan, and also returned punts. He started 11 games in 2004 and rushed for 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns. Barber is a good athlete with quickness and power. He has very good hands, runs with good body lean and is a good blocker. He's not a real elusive runner and does not have breakaway speed. Hid dad, Marion, played with the New York Jets from 1981-88 and was drafted in the second round.
10. Alvin Pearman, Virginia (5-9 3/8, 208)
Pearman had a complete workout at the combine and ran one 40-yard dash in 4.63. He also had a 34-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-6 long jump, 4.08 short shuttle, 11.11 long shuttle, 7.06 three-cone drill and 24 strength reps. He ran better at Virginia's Pro Day with 40 times of 4.54 and 4.55 at 205 pounds. Pearman played running back and defensive back in high school, running for 5,316 yards and 80 touchdowns. He also had eight interceptions his senior year and was a state champion in the 100 and 200 meters. Pearman played as a true freshman at Virginia in 2001, starting six games. He was injured in 2001 and played in nine games, starting three, but missed the last four games. He started seven games in 2004, six at running back and one at wide receiver. Pearman is a good athlete and can line up all over the field. He has very good hands and can return kicks. He's a good change-of-pace back with good quickness. He could be a good third-down back and is a lot like Mewelde Moore, drafted in the fourth round by Minnesota.
11. Noah Herron, Northwestern (5-11, 224)
Herron had a complete workout at the combine and ran his 40s in 4.60 and 4.67. He also had a 31-inch vertical jump, 9-foot long jump, 3.97 short shuttle, 11.07 long shuttle, 6.95 three-cone drill and 17 strength reps. Herron played running back and linebacker in high school and scored 92 touchdowns. He also averaged 20 points a game in basketball on a very good team. Herron redshirted in 2000 at Northwestern and played special teams in 2001. He played as a backup in 2002 and split time in 2003 before starting all 12 games in 2004. Herron lines up in the flat and also in the backfield. He catches the ball extremely well and has running ability. He will be a very good special teams player.
12. Brandon Jacobs, Southern Illinois (6-41/4, 257)
Jacobs had a complete workout at the combine and ran his 40s in 4.56 and 4.60. He had a 37-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-10 long jump, 4.46 short shuttle, 11.98 long shuttle, 7.53 three-cone drill and 19 strength lifts. Jacobs played running back in high school and ran for 3,022 yards and 38 touchdowns. He also returned eight kicks for touchdowns as a senior and played basketball as well. Jacobs played in junior college in 2001 and 2002, transferred to Auburn in 2003 and transferred to Southern Illinois in 2004. He played well in postseason bowl games. He's a big back with power and is a possible tight end prospect.
13. Darren Sproles, Kansas State (5-6 1/8, 187)
Sproles had a complete workout at the combine and ran his 40s in 4.48 and 4.47. He had a 351/2-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-10 long jump, 4.15 short shuttle, 11.46 long shuttle, 6.94 three-cone drill and 23 strength lifts. In high school, Sproles finished his career with 5,230 rushing yards and 79 touchdowns and was the Kansas Player of the Year. Sproles played as a true freshman at Kansas State and started the next three years. He gained 4,979 yards in his college career and his 1,966 yards in 2003 is the 10th-best single-season total in NCAA history. He also returned punts and kickoffs. A very durable player, Sproles has good hands and great change of direction. His only negative is a lack of height. He would have to be a part-time player at 20 plays a game plus kickoff returns.
14. Anthony Davis, Wisconsin (5-6 5/8, 200)
Davis had a complete workout at the combine and ran one 40-yard dash in 4.50. He also had a 38-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-1 long jump, 4.18 short shuttle, 11.35 long shuttle, 7.39 three-cone drill and 18 strength lifts. Davis was a two-time all-state running back in high school and also ran track, winning the state championship in the 200 meters. After redshirting in 2000 at Wisconsin, Davis started 11 games in 2001 and rushed for 1,466 yards and 11 touchdowns. He started 13 games in 2002 and started eight games in 2003, missing five with an ankle injury. He started and played in eight games in 2004 and finished his career with 4,676 rushing yards. Davis has very good running ability and is very quick. He runs hard with good speed. His lack of height hurts at this position.
15. Kay-Jay Harris, West Virginia (6-0 3/8, 241)
Harris had a complete workout at the combine and ran his 40s in 4.56 and 4.59. He had a 38-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-2 long jump, 4.10 short shuttle, 11.65 long shuttle and 7.20 three-cone drill. He did not lift. Harris played baseball for three seasons in the Texas Rangers organization before enrolling at Garden City (Kan.) Junior College and playing there for two years. He played in 12 games at West Virginia in 2003 and started four games in 2004, including running for 337 yards and four touchdowns against East Carolina. His best position may be at fullback and he turned 26 years old on March 27.
Here are some very good tailbacks (alphabetical order) who will be drafted later who could surprise:
1. Deandra Cobb, Michigan State (5-93/4, 196)
Ran his 40-yard dash in 4.54.
2. Ryan Grant, Notre Dame (6-1 1/8, 215)
Timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.51.
3. T.A. McLendon, North Carolina State (5-101/4, 235)
Clocked at 4.72 in the 40-yard dash.
Maurice Clarett, Ohio State (5-11 5/8, 234)
Clarett ran for 2,194 yards and 38 touchdowns as a high school senior and was named the Offensive Player of the Year in Ohio. He started at Ohio State as a true freshman and gained 1,266 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. He has talent.
Here are some very good fullbacks who will be drafted later who could surprise:
1. Will Matthews, Texas (6-1, 248)
Matthews did not work out at the combine. He worked out at Texas' Pro Day and ran his 40s in 4.81 and 4.83. He had a 35-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-6 long jump, 4.83 short shuttle, 12.72 long shuttle, 7.57 three-cone drill and 18 strength reps. The conditions were not good for the shuttles or cone drill. Matthews is a hard runner and good blocker. He caught the ball well on the Pro Day and could be a good special teams player.
2. Madison Hedgecock, North Carolina (6-3, 266)
Hedgecock had a complete workout at the combine and ran his 40s in 4.87 and 4.94. He had a 321/2-inch vertical jump, 9-foot long jump, 4.24 short shuttle, 11.83 long shuttle, 7.41 three-cone drill and 29 strength reps. Hedgecock played fullback at North Carolina in 2001 and was moved to defense for the last six games of 2002. He started 11 games at defensive end in 2003. He's a great blocker, can open holes and is a good special teams player.
Best of the rest in alphabetical order
1. Nehemiah Broughton, The Citadel (5-111/2, 250)
Broughton has played both fullback and tailback. He rushed for 1,653 yards in his four-year college career but is not elusive enough to play tailback.
2. Paul Jefferson, Penn State (6-0 5/8, 255)
Jefferson is a great blocker with athletic ability and good hands.
3. Manuel White, UCLA (6-21/4, 244)
White is more of a tailback but needs to play fullback and become a better blocker.