NFL draft: Dallas Morning News: Sizing up running backs
By Rick Gosselin
The Dallas Morning News
C.J. Spiller, Clemson
C.J. Spiller brought all of Clemson to its feet twice in December. The first came on the opening weekend of the month when Spiller rushed 20 times for 233 yards and four touchdowns in the ACC title game. His Clemson Tigers lost — but he was still selected the game MVP.
The second came two weekends later on campus when Spiller walked across the stage to receive his college diploma. The school's Board of Regents gave him a first-ever standing ovation.
"Just goes to show you never know who's watching," Spiller said. "You have to always know how to carry yourself both on and off the field. That was a humbling experience. Hopefully some of my younger teammates were able to see that because those are the people who run the university."
Spiller considered leaving school early in 2009 to enter the NFL draft but had more than football on his mind when he decided to stay.
"My main goal for going back was to graduate," Spiller said. "I wanted to be an example to the younger guys, to my younger sister, so they'll understand the importance of education. I wanted to be an example. Education can take you a long way."
Not only did Spiller graduate, he graduated early — in 3 › years. He was the definition of student-athlete.
"There was a lot of hard work, a lot of late-night studying," Spiller said. "I took a whole lot of classes my freshman year, didn't hardly go home. It was hard work that paid off for me in the end."
Top 15 running backs
No...Player ............School .....Ht. .....Wt. ....Noteworthy
1. Ryan Mathews — Fresno — 5-111/2› — 218 — NCAA rushing leader
2. C.J. Spiller — Clemson — 5-10 1/2 — 196 — 4.27 speed in the 40
3. Jahvid Best — Cal — 5-10 — 199 — 6.1 yards per carry in 2009
4. Ben Tate — Auburn — 5-11 — 220 — 12 career 100-yard games
5. Montario Hardesty — Tenn — 5-11 › — 225 — Knees are a concern
6. Toby Gerhart — Stanford — 6-0 — 231 — Walker Award winner
7. Jonathan Dwyer — Ga Tech — 5-11 — 229 — 35 career rushing TDs
8. Joe McKnight — So Cal — 5-11 — 198 — 6.5 yards per career carry
9. Anthony Dixon — Miss St — 6-0 › — 233 — 910 career carries
10. Charles Scott — LSU — 5-11 — 238 — 32 TDs in 434 career carries
11. LaGarrette Blount — Oregon — 6-0 › — 241 — Junior college transfer
12. Lonyae Miller — Fresno — 5-11 › — 221 — Backup to Ryan Mathews
13. James Starks — Buffalo — 6-2 — 218 — Missed 2009 with injury
14. Deji Karim — So Ill — 5-8 › — 209 — 4.38 speed in the 40
15. Brandon Minor — Mich — 6-0 — 214 — Only started 6 career games
THE BEST: Ryan Mathews completed a rare double in 2002 when he led the NCAA in rushing with 1,808 yards. Mathews also led the nation in rushing as a high school-senior with 3,396 yards. He led all NCAA freshmen with 14 touchdowns in 2007 but missed five games with a knee injury in 2008. Then he set school records in 2009 for rushing yards in a season and consecutive 100-yard games (nine). Mathews has the size (218 pounds) and speed (4.41 in the 40) the NFL covets.
SLEEPER: Joique Bell, Wayne State. When the NFL scouts prospects at small colleges, it seeks players who dominate that level. Bell was a four-year starter, a four-time all-conference selection, a two-time captain and won the Harlon Hill Award in 2009 as the best player in NCAA Division II. He's only the fourth player in Division II history to post two 2,000-yard seasons. That's dominance.
LEGENDS: Three backs in this draft left campus as their school's all-time leading rusher: Joique Bell of Wayne State (6,728 yards), Anthony Dixon of Mississippi State (3,994) and James Starks of Buffalo (3,140). Starks accomplished the feat despite missing the entire 2009 season with a shoulder tear.
PREP LEGENDS: Two backs in this draft reign as the all-time leading rusher in their state's prep history. Toby Gerhart rushed for 9,662 yards at Norco High School to set the California state record and Ben Tate rushed for 5,920 yards at Salisbury Snow Hill to set the Maryland state record. Gerhart ranks fourth nationally in career rushing yards.
3-0-0-0: 2,000-yard rushers have become quite commonplace in prep ranks, but the 3,000-yarder rushers are still few and far between. Only three backs on this draft board registered 3,000 yards in a single high-school season — Fresno State's Ryan Mathews, Cal's Jahvid Best and Arizona State's Dimitri Nance, all as seniors. Mathews rushed for 3,396 yards at Bakersfield (CA) West, Best rushed for 3,325 yards at Vallejo (CA) Salesian and Nance gained 3,173 at Euless (TX) Trinity. Nance and Cedric Benson are the only two high-schoolers in Texas state history to rush for 3,000 yards in a season in the largest class.
AIR BALL: With more passes in the air than ever before, the NFL is looking for halfbacks who not only run the football but catch it as well. The best pass-catching back in this draft is James Starks of Buffalo with 127 career catches. C.J. Spiller of Clemson is the most explosive with an average of 11.5 yards per career catch and 11 touchdowns.
Here are the top pass-catching backs in this draft:
Running back, School Receptions
James Starks, Buffalo 127
C.J. Spiller, Clemson 123
Joique Bell, Wayne State 79
Joe McKnight, So Cal 66
Stafon Johnson, So Cal 63
Dimitri Nance, Ariz St 63
Jahvid Best, Cal 62
Andre Anderson Tulane 56
LITTLE BACKS: The NFL prefers backs who weigh in the 210-220 pound range — backs with some bulk to absorb the hits they will take at the next level. There are several elite backs under 200 on this draft board, most notably C.J. Spiller, Jahvid Best and Joe McKnight. Their stock got a surprising boost last fall. "It helps me out when guys like Chris Johnson enter the league and have an impact," Best said. "It makes me and my kind of players more valuable." Johnson won the NFL rushing crown with the Tennessee Titans last season at 180 pounds.
ROLE MODEL: Jonathan Dwyer already knew how to run the football when he arrived at Georgia Tech. An upperclassmen on the team at the time taught him the rest. Tashard Choice taught Dwyer about "being a good person, how to carry myself on and off the field, how to be a student of the game — not just practicing hard but getting into the (right) mental frame of mind," Dwyer said. "He taught me how to watch film, understand your keys and see things at a whole different level." Choice now plays for the Cowboys.
BEST OF TEXAS
Dimitri Nance, Arizona State
The Euless product led the Sun Devils in rushing touchdowns in 2007 and rushing yards in both 2008 and 2009. He scored those seven rushing touchdowns in 2007 on a team that went 10-3. Then he rushed for 410 yards in 2008 and 795 in 2009 on teams that won only a combined nine of 24 games. He still averaged 4.0 yards per carry in his two seasons as a starter despite minimal blocking.
Draft projection: Late rounds.
STRENGTH OF DRAFT: 3 (on 10-point scale)
There have been three running backs or fewer in the first round of seven of the last 10 drafts, and 2010 should continue that trend. Of the three top backs, two of them fall below the NFL's size standard (under 200 pounds).