2003 Running Back Prospects
RB-Lee Suggs<br>Photo:Getty Images
RB-Lee Suggs
Photo:Getty Images

Posted Jan 29, 2003


2003 Running Back Prospects


The Steelers find themselves in an unfamiliar position this off-season. Amos Zereoue earned the starting spot after Jerome Bettis was sidelined with nagging injuries. Many question if Zereoue can hold up as a full-time starter. Bettis has a high cap number for a backup and will need to show that he can regain his form of two years ago to stay with the team.


Often-injured third string back Chris Fuamatua-Ma’afala is a capable change of pace back when he can remain healthy. The wild card here is Verron Haynes, who might be an option if Bettis is released or has further injury problems. The Steelers may use a draft pick on day two if they feel Bettis has too much wear and tear or Zereoue cannot carry the load. They are unlikely to pick up a back on the first day of the draft unless someone they really like falls into their lap.

#1
Lee Suggs
5’ 11”
201 lbs
Virginia Tech – Senior

If he is pronounced healthy during the combines, Suggs should be the first running back off the board. After missing almost all of the 2001 season due to a knee injury, Suggs has bounced back nicely. After a slow start to 2002, Suggs got stronger as the season went along. Doesn’t have the size of a power back, but runs well between the tackles and will get yards after initial contact. Is a home run threat every time he touches the ball and is also a good receiver coming out of the backfield.

Likely to be drafted: Mid First Round

#2
Larry Johnson
6’ 2”
222 lbs
Penn State - Senior

Johnson has emerged this year as one of the top three backs in the country after rattling off over 2000 yards for the season. A true power back, but Johnson does possess a second gear. A north-south runner who is not very elusive or patient when looking for cutback lanes. Needs to also improve his blocking skills.

Likely to be drafted: First Round

#3
Chris Brown
6’ 3”
220 lbs
Colorado - Junior

Brown could very well have beaten Larry Johnson in total rushing yards had he not injured his hip partway through the season. A powerful inside runner who's not lightning fast but does display a second gear in the open field. More at home running between the tackles than taking it outside, Brown has shown improvement in allowing his linemen to work for him and waiting for holes to develop. Not afraid to lower his shoulder and move the pile.

Likely to be drafted: End of First Round

#4
Onterio Smith
5’ 11”
195 lbs
Oregon - Junior

If your team was looking for the next Marshall Faulk, this just might be the guy. Smith possesses excellent vision, good hands, and excellent speed. He does a good job at avoiding tacklers and if he can make the corner, he’ll be gone. Smith is also a good receiver out of the backfield. He does have some durability issues, plus his size will be a deterrent for some teams.

Likely to be drafted: Early Second Round

#5
Cecil Sapp
5’ 10”
224 lbs
Colorado State – Senior

Sapp is a between-the-tackles type of runner that does not have that second gear to turn the corner. Displays a lot of power when running and can push the pile. Does not possess real good hands coming out of the backfield, which negates his use in the passing game. There are sure to be some concerns about an ankle injury from two years ago that he was slow to return from, as well.

Likely to be drafted: Second Round

#6
Artose Pinner
5’ 11”
224 lbs
Kentucky – Senior

A smash-mouth style running back perhaps best describes Pinner. Pinner has a good weight distribution with a low center of gravity. He isn’t a back that is likely to make you miss, and will more likely run over you. While he does possess good hands coming out of the backfield, lack of speed will hurt his stock.

Likely to be drafted: Third round.

#7
Willis McGahee
6’ 1”
240 lbs
Miami – Sophomore

Prior to blowing his knee out in the Fiesta Bowl, McGahee was the best running back in the nation. Showing a good combination of speed, power, vision, and hands, many saw McGahee as an even better prospect than the NFL Rookie of the Year, Clinton Portis. After the knee injury, which included both the ACL and MCL, McGahee could still sneak into the first day of the draft if a team is willing to let him sit all next year. Considering the upside, he could well be worth the risk.

Likely to be drafted: Third Round

#8
Domanick Davis
5’ 8”
210 lbs
Louisiana State - Senior

Davis had an opportunity to show what he had this season with all the injury problems Toefield had. Davis is a decent runner outside of the tackles, but isn’t great inside and is actually a bit hesitant hitting the hole. Shows great receiving ability, which he displayed again in Mobile. One of the better performances at the Senior Bowl has Davis moving up the charts.

Likely to be drafted: Third Round

#8
Musa Smith
6’ 1”
215 lbs
Georgia – Junior

Smith is a powerful runner who has demonstrated the ability to make people miss. Also shows good speed and burst to the hole. Has shown able hands thus far and runs with good power. Lack of experience is his biggest concern.

Likely to be drafted: Fourth Round

#9
Earnest Graham
5’ 8”
219 lbs
Florida

Graham could hear his name called on the first day of the draft, but if he does it will be due to a solid forty time leading up to draft day. Graham runs with a lot of speed, often showing an extra gear in the open field. Good vision, patience, and the ability to avoid tackles head-on have made Graham a solid back. Also shows good hands in the receiving game. A lack of size and some past injury issues could scare off some teams. Most likely a third down back in the NFL.

Likely to be drafted: End of the Third Round

#10
Dwone Hicks
5’ 9”
215 lbs
Middle Tennessee State

Hicks runs with good power and a good burst to the hole. Shows fluid hips and does have a second gear, but isn’t overly fast. Has put together a decent career at Middle Tennessee, but the lack of competition could be an issue and the All Star Games will be important for him.

Likely to be drafted: Fourth Round

#11
LaBradon Toefield
6’ 3”
230 lbs
Louisiana State – Junior

One of the top backs in the nation prior to his string of injuries over the last two years. A big back with a good burst, vision, and cutting ability, Toefield is also solid in his blocking and receiving. While not having the best year this past season, he could be worth a look at the beginning of the second day of the draft, if not sooner, to a team that doesn’t need someone right away.

Likely to be drafted: Fourth Round

#12
Santanio Beard
6’ 1”
215 lbs
Alabama - Junior

Beard is a hard-nose runner, who displays good power and some speed. While he has the hands to catch passes out of the backfield, he does not have the necessary speed to be a true receiving threat.

Likely to be drafted: Fifth Round

#13
Dahrran Diedrick
5’ 11”
219 lbs
Nebraska - Senior

Dedrick has great measurables that have translated into production on the field. He doesn’t have great vision or patience, which will hamper him in the pros. He's a prospect that could turn into something good, but will take a couple of years.

Likely to be drafted: Fifth Round

#14
Sultan McCullough
5’ 11”
185 lbs
USC - Senior

A former Pac-10 sprint champion, McCullough has speed to burn but is too much of a straight-line runner. Has had the injury bug as of late, yet is a home run threat every time he touches the ball. Might make a good third down back or possibly make a move to wide receiver.

Likely to be drafted: Fifth Round

#15
Quentin Griffin
5’ 8”
194 lbs
Oklahoma - Senior

A very productive back that doesn’t get the recognition he merits. Very solid in both the running game and passing game. Griffin has a good burst to the hole and runs with excellent vision. Size is the major concern and even in college Griffin has shown signs of wearing down late in games. Most likely a third down back, returner in the pros.

Likely to be drafted: Fifth Round

#17
Justin Fargas
6’ 0”
208 lbs
USC- Senior

A transfer from Michigan, Fargas broke his leg as a freshman and had been slow to recover. Taking last year off after the transfer appears to have helped. Fargas put up decent numbers, but was helped greatly by Palmer’s breakout year. If he can show he is finally 100% recovered from the broken leg and performs well at the combine, Fargas could see his stock increase. He has good size, speed, and power; the ability to make people miss; and can catch the ball out of backfield. He also runs good routes.

Likely to be drafted: Sixth Round

#18
Derrick Nix
6’ 1”
228 lbs
Southern Mississippi - Senior

A good power back with decent size and natural running ability, Nix could have found himself taken in the first three rounds of the draft but kidney problems will knock him down a couple of rounds, provided he can even play football in the future. Also has decent blocking and receiving ability.

Likely to be drafted: Fifth Round

#19
Dontae Walker
5’ 10”
245 lbs
Mississippi State - Senior

Walker has not shown he can stay healthy up to this point, but he has shown flashes of immense talent when healthy. Does not have top speed and has problems getting to the edge. Is more a between-the-tackles type back. If he can show he is 100%, his stock could improve.

Likely to be drafted: Sixth Round

#20
Avon Cobourne
5’ 7”
186 lbs
West Virginia - Senior

While being quick and elusive, Cobourne lacks size and doesn’t have breakaway speed. He is a very solid blocker and shows promise in the passing game. Also has some promise as a return man. A good showing in the East-West Shrine game should move him up a couple of spots.

Likely to be drafted: Seventh Round

#21
Derek Watson
6’ 0”
210 lbs
South Carolina State - Senior

Watson has had some problems off the field and as such was kicked off the South Carolina squad prior to coming to State. Has decent size and power, but runs upright and as a result takes a lot of hits. Has also played some receiver while at SC State.

Likely to be drafted: Sixth Round

#22
Antoineo Harris
5’ 10”
227 lbs
Illinois - Senior

A powerful runner with decent size, Harris' lack of speed will be even more obvious in the pros. Harris is better between the tackles and will have a problem turning the corner. Durability is also an issue after he broke his wrist last season.

Likely to be drafted: Seventh Round

#23
ReShard Lee
5’ 10”
229 lbs
Middle Tennessee State – Junior

Lee is a big surprise declaring for the draft, as he was Dwone Hicks' backup this past season. Lee does show some promise, having racked up over 700 yards rushing this past season, but would have greatly improved his stock by staying another season. Could move up the boards due to his versatility as a running back, quarterback, and kick returner.

Likely to be drafted: Seventh Round


#24
Thunder Collins
6’ 1”
190 lbs
Nebraska - Senior

Collins is tall and fast, but lacks great size and strength. After a suspension, Collins has found himself stuck behind teammate Dahrran Diedrick on the Cornhuskers' depth chart. Lack of power has pushed him behind Deidrick, though Collins does display a second gear and home run ability. He also catches the ball very well coming out of the backfield.

Likely to be drafted: Seventh Round

#25
Kerry Carter
6’ 2”
235 lbs
Stanford - Senior

Carter has all the tools one looks for in a back - size, speed, power, and decent hands. A knee injury early in the season prevented him from showing his potential. Carter is a straight-line runner, but lacks speed and vision.

Likely to be drafted: Seventh Round

Undrafted Free Agents

Donte Brown
6’ 2”
215 lbs
Memphis – Senior

Starting only half the season, Brown showed some skills to go along with good size and decent speed. Brown runs with good power, but isn’t a great blocker or receiver.

Keith Brunell
5’ 11”
205 lbs
Delaware – Senior

Brunell has good speed and a second gear, but is a straight-line runner. Does not have good cutback skills, vision, or power. A transfer from Virginia Tech, Brunell is a good athlete but may only be a workout warrior.

Reggie Duncan
5’ 9”
215 lbs
Kansas - Junior

Duncan looked like he was primed for a breakout year this past season, after having a very solid sophomore campaign. However, injuries limited him to only five games and resulted in a large drop-off in production. A slashing style back who isn’t much of a threat as a receiver coming out of the backfield. It’s surprising he chose to come out early.

Ahmaad Galloway
5’ 11”
222 lbs
Alabama - Senior

Prior to sustaining a knee injury in September, Galloway showed decent speed with good power and burst to the hole. Draft status will largely be based on the condition of his knee.

Thomas Hammock
5’ 8”
214 lbs
Northern Illinois – Senior

A good shifty type runner, Hammock carried the load his sophomore and junior years until a heart condition sidelined him in 2002. Hammock will be a change of pace back in the NFL, due to his size.


Julius Jones
5’ 10”
209 lbs
Notre Dame - Senior

A full-time starter in 2001, Jones was 34th in the nation in all-purpose yards. Also returns kicks and punts for the Irish. A good athlete with decent speed.

Ryan Johnson
6’ 0”
203 lbs
Montana State – Senior

Johnson does not show a lot of speed or power, but was very productive at the 1-AA level. He has good vision, is quick to the hole, and has the frame to add more bulk. Not a threat to catch the ball coming out of the backfield.

Montrell Lowe
5’ 8”
191 lbs
Purdue – Senior

Lowe has good vision and change of direction skills. Has patience waiting from his blocks to develop and shows willingness and the ability to block. He’s undersized for a pro running back and does not have the speed to move outside. Will not be drafted, but could stick on a team for special teams and his approach to the game.

Malaefou MacKenzie
5’ 11”
225 lbs
USC – Senior

A true power back who is at home between the tackles. Does not show good speed and has had problems with both durability and endurance. Has never been the full-time starter but could stick if a team wants a power runner for goal line stands. Past injuries, such as an ACL tear, will need to be looked at.

Nick Maddox
5’ 10”
193 lbs
Florida State - Senior

Maddox is a classic change of pace back but doesn’t have top speed. He also struggles with blocking and isn’t a great receiver.

Demarco McCleskey
5’ 10”
212 lbs
Cincinnati – Senior

A solid back between the tackles, McCleskey has a good burst to the hole and power once he gets going. Very strong back, showing good bench and squat power numbers. Can move the pile. Hesitates when coming to the line and is not real good catching the ball.

Joe Smith
6’ 1”
216 lbs
Louisiana Tech - Senior

A good-sized back who runs with some power, Smith benefited from Tech’s wide-open attack.

Fred Talley
5’ 8”
180 lbs
Arkansas – Senior

Talley is best described as fast. Shows a good burst and a second gear. He’s not a power back and won’t break many tackles. Has played special teams and defensive back during his career. An ACL injury will need to be looked at.

Tarence Williams
5’ 10”
178 lbs
Wake Forest – Senior

Williams doesn’t have great size yet he's a very productive running back. Might find a niche as a returner or possibly converting over to wide receiver.

More Player Links:
Lee Suggs
Larry Johnson
Chris Brown
Onterrio Smith
Cecil Sapp
Artose Pinner
Willis McGahee
Domanick Davis
Musa Smith
Earnest Graham
Dwone Hicks
Labrandon Toefield
Santanio Beard
Dahrran Dedrick
Sultan McCullough
Quentin Griffin
Justin Fargas
Derrick Nix
Dontae Walker
Avon Cobourne
Derek Watson
Antonieo Harris
ReShard Lee
Thunder Collins
Kerry Carter
Kieth Brunell
Donte Brown
Reggie Duncan
Ahmaad Galloway
Thomas Hammock
Ryan Johnson
Julius Jones
Montrell Lowe
Nick Maddox
Malaefou MacKenzie
Demarco McCleskey
Joe Smith
Fred Talley
Tarence Williams



Related Stories
Ack's Insights
 -by FightinGators.com  Jan 28, 2003
2003 Fullback Prospects
 -by SteelCityInsider.net  Jan 28, 2003
Season in review: Running backs
 -by SilverAndBlackTimes.com  Jan 31, 2003

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