Part two of our NFL Draft preview takes a look at a very top-heavy class of running backs.
1. Ronnie Brown, Auburn. Because of his impressive combination of size, speed, and power, Brown was destined to be a first-round pick. But he has separated himself from the other top running backs in this class with his ability to catch the football. He has unique route-running skills for a running back, and he has the surest hands of any runner in the draft. Brown is the kind of multi-dimensional back teams can build an offense around, as the Chargers have with LaDainian Tomlinson. He won't last long in this draft. Projected: 1st round.
2. Carnell Williams, Auburn. Williams is the "other" Auburn back in this draft. While Brown has separated himself as the top back, Williams certainly isn't far behind. "Cadillac" doesn't have Brown's physical gifts, but he's a tough kid who is very competitive. He's a fundamentally sound running back who has plus skills in the passing game. He's not the matchup threat that Brown is because he's smaller, less physical, and slower, but he's a legitimate top ten pick and should be the second running back off the board. Projected: 1st round.
3. Cedric Benson, Texas. For a time, Benson topped the board at this position, and it isn't necessarily his fault that he dropped a little bit. Benson runs with tremendous leverage and isn't afraid of taking some hits. He has great vision and the patience to let his blocking develop in front of him. However, he has already taken quite a beating, having carried the ball over 1,000 times at Texas. He appears to have adequate pass blocking and receiving skills, but he's relatively untested in both areas. Benson will go early, but might slip into the teens. Projected: 1st round.
Marion Barber III, Minnesota. Barber has his flaws, namely that he sometimes runs too high, doesn't always see the cutback lanes, and isn't very patient. However, he has good speed, is a very tough inside runner, and he has good receiving skills. Barber will need to improve his fundamentals, and he isn't explosive enough to be considered a true blue-chip prospect. If he can get better as a receiver, he'll be a productive player in the NFL, and he'll have the chance to become a regular starter. Projected: 3rd round.
Ryan Grant, Notre Dame. While he won't be a day one pick and may never be a starter, Grant deserves more consideration than he is getting. He is a tough, durable runner who is a good team player. He has shown some explosiveness in the open field, but is likely best served as a short-yardage specialist. Grant will improve as a receiver, a role that he wasn't asked to fill in college, and his blocking skills are adequate. Grant has good enough size and adequate speed to be a contributor on most NFL rosters. Projected: 6th round.
Ciatrick Fason, Florida. Fason is a classic "upside" back. He has the talent to develop into a solid NFL starter, but his potential is almost completely untapped. Fason is a solid between-the-tackles runner, but he lacks the vision needed to be consistently productive. He has excellent receiving skills, and he will only get better as his route-running improves. However, he will need time to develop into a starter. He needs to learn how to read the play in front of him and he has to learn to allow his blocking to develop. He'll go on the first day, despite his numerous deficiencies. Projected: 2nd or 3rd round.
Eric Shelton, Louisville. While Shelton's potential is exciting, there are some potential roadblocks. His size and hands are outstanding, and he is a pretty good blocker, but Shelton lacks the speed to get to the outside and be a big-play threat in the running game. He has the power to break tackles and run people over in the hole. However, he is inconsistent in many areas, including blocking, route-running, and catching the football. Shelton will go on the first day of the draft, but he has a long way to go to become an NFL starter. Projected: 2nd or 3rd round.
J.J. Arrington, California - 2nd round
Vernand Morency, Oklahoma State - 2nd or 3rd round
Ryan Moats, Louisiana Tech - 3rd round
Cedric Houston, Tennessee - 3rd or 4th round
Kay-Jay Harris, West Virginia - 3rd or 4th round
Anthony Davis, Wisconsin - 4th round
Walter Reyes, Syracuse - 4th round
Damien Nash, Missouri - 6th round
Maurice Clarett, Ohio State - 6th or 7th round
Noah Herron, Northwestern - 6th or 7th round
Chance Kretschmer, Nevada - 7th round
1. Nehemiah Broughton, The Citadel. FB/RB 'tweener is the best prospect in this class. Broughton has good speed and is hard to bring down in the open field. He has good hands and runs adequate routes. Projected: 4th or 5th round.
2. Keith Joseph, Texas A&M. Good runner and receiver who is okay as a blocker. Has the speed to make some plays in the NFL and the size to be a tough blocker at the point of attack. Projected: 5th round.
3. Kyle Eckel, Navy. Outstanding intangibles. Very intelligent player. Tough player who was a great leader at Navy. Reportedly, the Navy has agreed to allow Eckel to put off his military service and pursue an NFL career, so he will be able to play immediately. That factor helps his prospects. Projected: 5th or 6th round.
Branden Joe, Ohio State - 6th or 7th round
Will Matthews, Texas - 6th or 7th round
Zach Tuiasosopo, Washington - 7th round