Wednesday, February 08, 2006
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Analyzing the sage and the soon-to-be sorry among early departures for the NFL Draft
Part One: Quarterbacks
Part Two: Running Backs
Two years ago, the league had its memorable, bumper receiver class, hauling in Mark Clayton, Larry Fitzgerald, Roy Williams, Reggie Williams, Rashaun Woods and Lee Evans in one fell swoop in the first round.
2006 will be remembered similarly for its running backs: Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Laurence Maroney and Maurice Drew are all likely first rounders, and that only covers a few of the early entrants. At least one of these guys is going to bust, but on the whole they all look like future starters, if not stars.
Running backs have the opportunity to be productive right away, maybe moreso than at any other position (see Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Terrell Davis, Curtis Martin, Ladanian Tomlinson and, most recently, Cadillac Williams). But it's easy to overlook the premature comers pros who didn't make good on giving up their senior year: Ki-Jana Carter, Tim Biakabatuka, Rashaan Salaam, Lawrence Phillips, Curtis Enis and William Green, off the top of SMQ's head. More have faded even further into oblivion.
This year's running back crop also features the most obscure and head-scratching early draft entrant SMQ has ever come across; he will leave it at that for now.
As always, analysis relating to the pros is filtered through the lens of how it will affect SMQ's favorite franchise, the beloved Saints.
Upside!: Lightning quick on the rarefied Sayers-Sanders level and well-rounded: fast, can catch and brings more physical pop than you think - watch the first quarter of the Rose Bowl again. Never shut down, - though sometimes ignored in USC's offense - over the last two years. Can play any skill position on the field.
Tough Adjustment: Never carried a full load in college. Does a lot of different things well, but so far running up the middle of a stacked defense hasn't been one of them. Far less dangerous if he becomes a lone focal point.
Best Fit: Anywhere, but especially in a pass-happy offense that can use him in a variety of ways in the passing game without making him run into linebackers 25 times in an afternoon.
He Hopes to Be: A faster Marshall Faulk, able to run between the tackles when called upon but also given the chance to line up in the slot or motion out and catch the ball. Like he was in college: always the best player on the field, but virtually never asked to be The Man who carries a whole team on his shoulders.
He Will Be: If he stays healthy, whatever he wants to be.
If the Saints Take Him, SMQ Will React With: Joy - Vince Young is the top priority because New Orleans needs a QB above all else, but Bush's once-a-decade, make-em-sweat, OMG Gamebreaker potential puts him above any other prospect, even Matt Leinart. Deuce McAllister, oft-injured and inceasingly Bettis-like in pudge, has been slowing down the past two seasons.
If He Was Coming Back: Would set records as the first player to average double digits per carry and for Worldwide Leader face time. Two-time Heisman winner. Would convince Pete Carroll to install controversial but innovative "random lateral" attack.
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Reggie Bush predicts his future draft position.
Upside!: Beats the hell out of people and scores a ton of touchdowns (set a USC record - that's USC, now - in three years). Extremely consistent and strong. Has a better pro body than his more celebrated classmate and emerged as the go-to guy in the team's biggest game. Knows how to lighten the mood in a tense locker room.
Tough Adjustment: He's not a lumberer, but quickness and agility could be issues even if burst is not. Was not extremely versatile in college.
Best Fit: In a straight-ahead, cloud-of-dust kind of offense that doesn't ask its backs to catch a lot of passes or beat people downfield.
He Hopes to Be: Deuce McAllister or Jamal Lewis, sans injury and legal problems - a big, fast beast of a man who can shed tacklers and then run away from them. Certainly an every down back who can handle a full slate.
He Will Be: Stephen Davis - a solid, always respectable, consistent big back who quietly hangs around among the best in the league for seven or eight years without ever moving into MVP or superstar territory.
If the Saints Take Him, SMQ Will React With: Stunned disbelief if it's with the second pick, but happiness if it's later on, even if it meant passing up bigger needs (every position is a huge need for New Orleans).
If He Was Coming Back: Would have the backfield duties all to himself, gaining 2,000 yards and potentially adding a third straight Heisman and fourth in five yearrs behind an inpenetrable force line.
Upside!: All the necessary tools: big, fast and can catch a bit. Carried the ball a ton with very good production.
Tough Adjustment: Product of an awesome line/evil genius trap and pull system based on numbing repetition of two or three plays that would never fly against faster, penetrating pro defenders? Faded against Penn State, average against Michigan and Ohio State, dominated by Iowa - he'll run for 200 against Purdue and Tulsa, but his production against top teams doesn't bode well for his future against NFL defenses.
Best Fit: To begin, in an apprentice role a la Steven Jackson behind Marshall Faulk in St. Louis.
He Hopes to Be: Clinton Portis, an undersized, speedy back who's known for running away from folks but who's still thick enough to stick it inside for three and four yards on a consistent basis.
He Will Be: Cedric Benson - dreadlocked and waiting, in the short term, to live up to his high expectations.
If the Saints Take Him, SMQ Will React With: In the second round, satisfaction, if not cackling glee. But he'll never last that long.
If He Was Coming Back: In the absence of 1,000-yard backfield mate Gary Russell, Maroney would average 50 carries per game, totalling 1,800 yards but only inching over 100 on a 2.6-yard average in losses to Ohio State and Penn State.
Upside!: Complete back - runs, catches, returns kicks. Fast, with a solid, thick, low-to-the-ground frame.
Tough Adjustment: He's short. Doesn't possess much power. Yards per carry was also down more than a yard from his impressive sophomore average, which raises questions about his durability or ability to be a full-time back. His long run against any PAC Ten team in 2005 was only 39 yards; carries were up but still relatively low - he went over 100 in only two league games, both of which were among only three 20-carry games of the year.
Best Fit: As a returner and a complement/change of pace back on a good team. On a bad team, Drew may be good enough to win a starting job, but not lift the offense unless other stars are opening things up.
He Hopes to Be: Priest Holmes, another short back who overcame injury problems (Drew has escaped those, at least) and durability questions to become one of the league's best all-purpose and touchdown-scoring backs.
He Will Be: Kevin Faulk or Verron Haynes, two more short, thick, productive college players whose all-purpose abilities allowed them to carve solid niche roles as reliable situational backs in successful offenses.
If the Saints Take Him, SMQ Will React With: Again, in the second round - unlike White or Maroney, a possibility with Drew - a steal, if only for his kick-returning and change of pace potential.
If He Was Coming Back: He'd have the chance to prove he can shoulder a full load. Could have used another year, if only to emerge from his fellow SoCal backs' shadows.
Upside!: Quick, fast, productive. Had nice games against good defenses (Michigan and, especially, Auburn). Remained healthy and had a lot of carries (20 in all but two games, 29 or more in five). Was a major part of a passing game that hadn't used a stream of good running backs very often in the past.
Tough Adjustment: Very undersized; reminiscent of Badger great Anthony Davis, barely picked by the Colts and still awaiting his first regular season pro touch. No Wisconsin runner, in fact, of all the college stars, has made any significant NFL impact since Alan Ameche. Despite his carries, Calhoun's not a straight-ahead, move-the-chains runner. Also had horrendous games against Iowa and Penn State.
He Hopes to Be: Warrick Dunn, shifty, smart, durable, always in position to make the right cut and never the recipient of a clean hit.
He Will Be: Chad Morton, an explosive kick returner and - once, at least - an excellent receiver out of the backfield, but never big enough to take the licks as a starter. So few running backs in the league are as short and in Calhoun's weight range, comparisons other than Dunn - SMQ doesn't think Calhoun will be as good - are difficult.
If the Saints Take Him, SMQ Will React With: A shrug if it's third round or beyond. A great back-up and possible surprise, but not at all worth passing up a more pressing need.
If He Was Coming Back: Would be All-Big Ten and contend again for All-America honors. But none of it short of a Barry Sanders in '88 level performance would raise his draft stock much.
Upside!: Showed flashes of brilliance his first two years, going over 1,200 yards and catching 34 passes as a sophomore. Led the nation in rushing for the first half of 2003 before a season-ending injury.
Tough Adjustment: The whole injury thing was kind of a trend. As a freshman and as a junior, played very sparingly because he was hurt all the time. His best game as a junior came against Liberty; he didn't crack 100 against any I-A team last year, and only notched double-digit carries against two. He's also skinny; six feet is okay, but Brockington only has 192 pounds on him. No back SMQ can find currently in the NFL has a comparable frame.
He Hopes to Be: Dominic Rhodes, a plucky underdog from an obscure school who solidified himself as a quality backup and even turned in an improbable thousand-yard season when the guy in front of him got hurt.
He Will Be: DeAndra Cobb, to name a random bench warmer in Brockington's weight class. Remember DeAndra? He ran that kick back for Michigan State against Minnesota - he was listed as a cornerback then - ah, now it's coming back, huh? He's on the Falcons' bench now.
If the Saints Take Him, SMQ Will React With: Confusion and some dismay, even if it's a very late pick that's just as likely to be someone he's never heard of at all.
If He Was Coming Back: UConn would be happy, but opponents probably wouldn't notice much. Another year matching his sophomore season, against tougher competition in the Big East than he faced in '04, would have at least made him look like a potential seventh-rounder.
Upside!: Hell if SMQ knows.
Tough Adjustment: Okay, let's actually look something up...um, Johnson's 2005 stats? 129 yards on 38 carries, two touchdowns, 143 yards on 13 catches. That's for the year, not one game, and apparently this was his only year at Indiana State (or the only year, at least, in which he accumulated any stats, however unimpressive). He also missed six games - that's half - in the Sycamores' winless - yes, winless, in I-AA - season. His last two games, against Missouri State and Western Illinois, Johnson combined for six carries for minus-seven yards. Against his only I-A competition, he ran for 23 yards on 11 carries against Texas Tech. He did not play in the team's final game against Illinois State. This is all true.
Best Fit: Practice squad waterboy.
He Hopes to Be: On a bench, any bench.
He Will Be: In a grocery store, any grocery store. Or prison - SMQ has no idea what kind of unstable person he's discussing here.
If the Saints Take Him, SMQ Wil l React With: Shame, on an unprecedented level for a fan who has undergone a huge amount of shame related to this team.
If He Was Coming Back: Nobody would recognize the slightest difference.
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