|03-20-2008, 06:37 AM||#1|
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Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: In The Loft / Dog House
NEXT BIG STAR
Broncos System Changed the way RB were Drafted
Peterson's impact could make RBs en vogue again in draft
It once was a position defined by pure athletic skill. A running back was someone who made an offense, not the other way around. He was appreciated for his speed and explosiveness, for his agility and his shiftiness.
And when an NFL team saw what it believed was a great one at the collegiate level, it didn't hesitate to snatch him up with a first-round draft pick. Consider that, from 1979 to 1990, 59 running backs were taken in the opening round, an average of 4.9 per year.
Then along came Mike Shanahan's Denver Broncos, whose zone-blocking system seemingly could make an ordinary back look exceptional. The Broncos went years without selecting a running back until the second day of the draft, yet still managed to crank out 1,000-yard rushers as if they were rolling off an assembly line. Many teams copied the approach, which has led to the decline in first-round running backs the past 17 years -- 49, an average of 2.8 per year.
What a rush
This year's running back class could be one of the best the draft has seen in quite some time. Here are the five fastest 40 times run by RB prospects at the combine:
» 1. Chris Johnson: 4.24
» 2. Darren McFadden: 4.33
» 3. Anthony Alridge: 4.36
» 4. Jamaal Charles: 4.38
» 5. Chad Simpson: 4.42
» Get the complete list
Call it the Shanahan Effect.
But after the Minnesota Vikings struck the mother lode last year with the running back they chose with the seventh overall pick, there has been rampant discussion that the league is heading back to the pre-Broncos philosophy. Call it the Adrian Peterson Effect. (The Buffalo Bills also did extremely well with the only other running back taken in the 2007 first round, Marshawn Lynch, but for the purposes of this column we'll stick with Peterson, who was the gold standard).
Lending even more credence to the expectation that this will be another year when multiple running backs are chosen in the first round is the fact the current college crop has an abundance of talent at the position. Some player-personnel evaluators view Darren McFadden, the star running back from Arkansas, as the best player in the draft.
McFadden was clocked in a blazing 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash at last month's NFL Scouting Combine. Yet that wasn't even the fastest time among running backs. Chris Johnson of East Carolina had that distinction at 4.24. In all, 10 backs registered times below 4.48 seconds, which left numerous coaches and other NFL team officials gushing with praise.
"It's obviously running back," Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian said when asked to identify the strength of the draft. "Clearly you could have a half dozen in the first round and you could probably make an argument for four in the top 10, depending on what your needs were."
"It's a unique class in that it's got that breakaway speed and big-play ability," said Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher. "A guy can take the ball and go the distance ... that certainly makes it a little different than most years."
Find out who Mike Mayock's top five prospects are at every position. His choices might surprise some of you draft followers out there. Click here for the complete rankings.
» List of juniors declaring early
But not last year. Peterson showed that sort of ability when, at 217 pounds, he ran the 40 in 4.38 seconds. The former Oklahoma standout was projected to go higher than the seventh pick, but concerns about his durability caused him to slip.
The Vikings couldn't have been happier. Peterson was the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year and also the MVP of the Pro Bowl. He carried the Minnesota offense, and nearly led the Vikings to a playoff berth.
McFadden has been compared favorably to Peterson. They are not identical runners. Peterson has a more punishing style. But both are explosive. Peterson has shown he can be a dominant force in the NFL. McFadden looks to have that capability.
"He's kind of a glider," St. Louis Rams executive vice president of player personnel Bill Devaney said. "(He's a) more athletic kind of guy who can hurt you in a number of ways -- running the ball, catching the ball."
Other prominent running backs in this year's class are Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois; Felix Jones, McFadden's former Arkansas teammate; Central Florida's Kevin Smith, the nation's leading rusher last season with 2,567 yards and 29 touchdowns; Michigan's Mike Hart; West Virginia's Steve Slaton; Rutgers' Ray Rice; Texas' Jamaal Charles; Tulane's Matt Forte, and East Carolina's Johnson.
Oregon's Jonathan Stewart had been considered a first-round lock until recent surgery to repair a toe he injured in November. His recovery is expected to take from four to six months.
Still, running backs will command plenty of attention when the draft begins on April 26.
"If you need a running back," San Francisco 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan said, "this is a good year to get one."
Just like the old days.