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.
Although teams once used backup running to return kickoffs, many teams now have one special player for the job, like Kansas City's Dante Hall (four kicks, two punts and two kickoffs returned for TDs in 2003). It must be working over the past two seasons -- a total of 31 kickoffs and 39 punts were returned for TDs.
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 16 years -- Kijana 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 two being selected this year. Over the past 10 years 30 have been selected in Round 1 - the most selected in this round was five in 1995 and 2000.
Over the past three drafts, running backs drafted in rounds one through four have measured up this way:
The shortest: 5-7; the lightest: 194; Median: 5-11 5/8
The slowest: 4.90; the tallest: 6-2 5/8; Median: 227
The heaviest: 260; the fastest: 4.38; Median: 4.56
The average fullbacks at this year's combine were:
Height: 6-1 3/8
40 time: 4.82
Vertical jump: 32-inch
Long jump: 9-foot-4
Here are my rankings for running backs:
1. Steven Jackson, Oregon State (6-11/2, 241)
Ran 4.55 and 4.56 in the 40, 4.09 in the short shuttle and 7.03 in the cone drill. Had a 371/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-10 long jump and did 16 reps. In his senior year in high school he rushed for 2,764 yards and 34 TDs. Started two years in basketball and was a sprinter on the track team. His No. 34 jersey has been retired by the school. At Oregon State he played but did not start as a freshman in 2001. Started and gained 1,690 yards in 2002, then rushed for 1,545 yards and had 44 catches in 2003. He is big enough and strong enough to run inside and has enough speed to go outside. He is a very good receiver, which is very important at this position. He also does a good job blocking and blitz pickup. He's a young player (turn 21 in July). Had a right knee scope this spring and could not work out at the combine.
2. Kevin Jones, Virginia Tech (6-0 1/8, 227)
Ran the 40 three times at the combine (4.61, 4.63 and 4.65). He ran again at Virginia Tech's Pro Day and clocked 4.55 and 4.57 on the same surface. He also ran 4.10 in the short shuttle and 7.17 in the cone drill. He had a 36-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-0 long jump and did 16 reps. He was the nation's top ranked high school player in 2000 and was a Reebok All-American. Rushed for 5,878 yards and 84 TDs. He also lettered in track, running the 100 meters in 10.2 seconds. At Virginia Tech he played as a true freshman, starting four games. He split time with Lee Suggs in 2002 and had hamstring problems. In 2003 he rushed for 1,509 yards and 21 TDs. He's an elusive player with an explosive burst. A fair blocker and has improved as a pass receiver (Virginia Tech does not play a lot). He's good, but not great. His father was an All-American high school basketball player.
3. Chris Perry, Michigan (6-0, 224)
Ran 4.56 twice in the 40, 4.08 in the short shuttle and 7.02 in the cone drill. He had a 341/2-inch vertical jump, a10-foot-4 long jump and did 19 lifts. In the state championship game in high school he rushed for 377 yards and five TDs. He totaled 4.678 yards and 71 TDs in three years. He also played basketball for four years and ran the 110 meters hurdles for four years. He went to prep school after high school. At Michigan he played in 10 games but did not start in 2000. Started four games in 2001 and has started the past two years. He rushed for 1,682 yards in 2003 and also caught 44 passes and scored 20 TDs. He won the Doak Walker Award, presented to the nation's top running back. He had a big upper body and a small waist. He's slender but strong. A very good athlete. He's tough and will compete and play hard. Catches the ball in hands as a receiver or on a pitch back. Has good quickness. Had a very impressive workout on Pro Day.
4. Julius Jones, Notre Dame (5-93/4, 217)
Ran 4.40 and 4.49 in the 40, 4.12 in the short shuttle and 6.97 in the cone drill. He had a 371/2-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-1 long jump. Played basketball and ran track in high school, setting the state record in the 300-meters hurdles in 1998 (38.7). At Notre Dame, he played but did not start in 1999, mainly returning punts and kickoffs. Started four games in 2000 and six in 2001. He did not play in 2002, but returned in 2003 and rushed for 1,266 yards and scored 10 TDs. He also set a single game record against Pittsburgh, rushing for 262 yards. He's a good athlete, has good quickness and running skills. He has good hands and will make yards after contact. He's just an average blocker. His work habits were much improved in 2003. His brother, Thomas, who will play for Chicago this fall, was the first-round pick of Arizona in 2000.
5. Greg Jones, Florida State (6-1 3/8, 249)
Ran 4.65 and 4.62 in the 40, 4.13 in the short shuttle and 7.03 in the three-cone drill. Had a 381/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-11 long jump and had 23 lifts. Played running back in high school and was also the top ranked linebacker. He also lettered in track. In his senior year he rushed for over 1,600 yards. At FSU he played as a true freshman in 2000 as a backup running back and special teams player. Started two games in 2001 and nine games in 2002 before a season-ending injury. Rushed for 618 yards in 2003, but uncertain if he was 100 percent recovered from his injury. He gained 189 yards against Miami in 2002. Has a very big frame. Not a great worker in the offseason. He's very competitive after contact (ask Dexter Reid of North Carolina). An inside-type runner who is somewhat like the Panthers' Stephen Davis. He needs to work on receiving.
6. Tatum Bell, Oklahoma State (5-11, 212)
Ran 4.37 and 4.40 in the 40, had a 381/2-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-9 long jump. He did not run the shuttle or cone drill, but did 25 lifts. He played running back and lettered in track (ran 10.26 in the 100 meters). He missed games in his senior year but gained 1,225 yards and scored 19 TDs. He played as a true freshman in 2000 (had a 60-yard TD run against Oklahoma). He rushed for 3,289 yards and 34 TDs the past three years. Has quickness and speed, somewhat of a straight-line runner. He does not have great vision as a runner. Has good hands. If he gets into the open no one can stop him.
7. Cedric Cobbs, Arkansas (6-0 1/8, 223)
Ran the 40 once at the combine in a time of 4.71. Had a 40-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-3 long jump. He pulled his hamstring and was able to do the shuttles and cone drills. He played at running back, linebacker and on defense in high school. Played in the I-formation tailback and rushed for 2,043 yards as a senior. He also lettered in track where he won the state championship in the 110-meters hurdles (13.8). At Arkansas, he played as a true freshman in 1999 and gained 668 yards. He was named MVP in the Cotton Bowl win over Texas. Played only three games in 2000. Then in 2003 he gained 1,320 yards. He's a strong inside runner with very good hands and has good vision. Has had lots of injuries and some off-field problems.
8. Ran Carthon, Florida (5-11 3/8, 228)
Ran 4.40 and 4.47 in the 40 and 4.12 in the short shuttle. He had a 341/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-4 long jump and did 22 lifts. He was a high school running back who missed most of his senior year. At Florida, he redshirted in 1999 and did not start until his senior year. His father, Maurice, played with the Giants and is now a coach with the Cowboys. He's sturdy and has a solid frame. Has a thin waist and good lower body. Hard working player who has good quickness. An inside runner who has very good speed. Can return kickoffs. A solid player.
9. Michael Turner, Northern Illinois (5-101/2, 237)
Ran 4.46 and 4.52 in the 40, 4.15 in the short shuttle and 7.50 in the cone drill. He had a 31-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-6 long jump and did 22 lifts. He was a running back in high school and also lettered in track, winning the 100 meters in the sectional state meet in his junior and senior years. He started two games in 2000 and none in 2001, but has started the past two years. His career totals are 4,946 yards and 46 TDs. A strong inside runner with good body lean. He sort of body catches on passes. He has strong legs to run inside, but not as nifty in the open field.
10. Mewelde Moore, Tulane (5-10 5/8, 209)
Ran 4.61 and 4.62 in the 40, 4.12 in the short shuttle and 7.05 in the cone drill. He had a 36-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-10 long jump. He was a running back in high school and was an outstanding baseball player (was drafted in the fourth round by the San Diego Padres). Ran for 1,638 yards as a high school senior. At Tulane, he played as a true freshman, rushing for 890 yards in seven starts. He totaled 4,364 yards and caught 189 passes in his four years. In 2001, he became the first player in NCAA Division I-A history to rush for over 1,250 yards and catch more than 60 passes in the same season. He's a very good athlete with outstanding hands to catch coming out of the backfield. He will compete, but is he strong enough to play full time.
11. Clarence Farmer, Arizona (5-11 7/8, 231)
Ran 4.71 and 4.68 in the 40, 4.28 in the short shuttle and 7.44 in the cone drill. He had a341/2-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-0 long jump and did 21 lifts. He was a running back in high school and was rated one of the top backs in the state of Texas. He was also a member of the baseball, basketball and track teams. At Arizona, he started as a true freshman in 2000. He started nine games in 2001 and rushed for 1,229 yards and was named to the All-Pac 10 team. Going into 2003, he had scored 17 TDs and averaged 25.7 yards. He missed the 2002 season because of knee surgery. He was suspended from the team in the spring of 2003, played eight games in the fall and was dismissed from the team. Has talent and athletic ability, a very good runner. There's a need to check his problems however to see if the reward is worth the risk.
Here are some very good fullbacks (alphabetical order) who will be drafted later who could surprise:
1. Troy Fleming, Tennessee (6-0, 230)
Ran 4.64 and 4.69 in the 40, 3.91 in the short shuttle and 6.94 in the cone drill. He had a 32-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-0 long jump. Played running back and defensive back in high school. Gained 3,008 yards as a senior and finished as the No. 2 all-time rushing leader in the nation with 9,487 yards. He also lettered in basketball and ran track. At Tennessee he redshirted in 1999 and started for the first time in 2002. He totaled 67 carries heading into his senior year. He's a very good athlete, but not the blocker you would want at fullback (maybe better at tailback). Played very good in the Gridiron Classic after the season.
2. Thomas Tapeh, Minnesota (6-1 3/8, 245)
Ran 4.75 and 4.76 in the 40, 4.52 in the short shuttle and 7.67 in the cone drill. He had a 321/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-5 long jump and did 23 lifts. He played running back, linebacker and cornerback in high school, rushing for 1,864 yards and 24 TDs in eight games. Qualified for the state meet in the 100 meters and in shot put. Redshirted in 1999 and has started just a few games for Minnesota. He's a physical runner (Pittsburgh type), part of the three-man rotation at running back. Very strong with good running ability and will block, but needs to work on it. Catches ball in his hands. He's a hard worker who never misses a day in the offseason program.
OTHERS TO WATCH:
1. Mike Karney, Arizona State (5-11 3/8, 254)
Very good blocker for the position. He can catch and has good hands, but lacks speed.
2. Lousaka Polite, Pittsburgh (5-11 5/8, 246)
He has been a four-year starter. His size and speed for this position is very good. He's gives good effort and has good hands.
3. Travis Wilson, Kansas State (6-31/2, 256)
A transfer from Michigan State. He's a tough, hard runner and a very good blocker. He has a great attitude.
OTHERS TO WATCH:
Here are some very good tailbacks (alphabetical order) who will be drafted later who could surprise:
1. Adimchinobe Echemandu, California (5-103/4, 226)
Played at Cal for three years under the name of Joe Echema. Played for the first time in 2003 after two years.
2. Derrick Knight, Boston College (5-83/4, 209)
Has very good quickness, gaining 1,721 yards in 2003 and also caught 26 passes. He's a tough little player.
3. Brandon Miree, Pittsburgh (5-11, 228)
A transfer from Alabama. He's an inside runner who missed the last seven games of the season due to an injury.
4. Jarrett Payton, Miami (Fla.) (6-0 1/8, 220)
Son of Walter Payton. Started the last seven games of the season after injury to Frank Gore. He can return kicks and is a hard worker.
5. Fred Russell, Iowa (5-7, 195)
Very quick player with running ability. He gained 1,355 yards in 2003. He's somewhat like Denver's Quentin Griffin.
6. Shaud Williams, Alabama (5-71/2, 193)
Rushed for 7,710 yards in high school in Texas. A transfer from Texas Tech. Was the leading rusher in the SEC in 2003, rushing for 1,367 yards. He has great quickness and burst. 7. Quincy Wilson, West Virginia (5-9 3/8, 225) His father, Otis, was a first-round pick of the Chicago Bears. He rushed for 1,380 yards in 2003. He's very strong (26 reps) with good quickness and he's a good inside runner.
DID YOU KNOW?
- No running back was selected in Round 2 of the 2003 draft.
- Since 1990 there have been 20 rookie running backs to gain 1,000 yards. Nine have been selected in the first round. Eleven have been picked anywhere from Round 2 to an undrafted free agent.
- The first rookie running back to ever gain 1,000 yards was Beattie Feathers in 1934 with the Chicago Bears. The next time it happened was in 1968 by Paul Robinson of Cincinnati.
- Thomas Tapeh grew up playing soccer in Liberia before moving to Minnesota when he was nine years old.
- Clarence Farmer was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
What scouts look for when grading running backs:
- Ability to learn football
- Competitive toughness
- Work habits
- Athletic ability
- Quick start
- Outside run
- Acceleration, burst
- Inside run
- Receiving ability
- Pass routes
- Blocking ability
- Tendency to fumble
Previous Gil Brandt position analysis columns:
Gil Brandt was vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-89. He is now in his eighth year as NFL.com's chief personnel guru. (Brandt is of no relation to Packers VP of Player Finance Andrew Brandt.)