Last year’s draft class was a very strong one for running backs. Jonathan Stewart, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Kevin Smith and Steve Slaton all had very big impacts on their teams last year. Darren McFadden, Rashard Mendenhall and Felix Jones should also have big impacts next year as they were slowed down by injuries. While the 2008 draft class could go down as the “Year of the running back”, the 2009 class is full of backs that should have an immediate impact on the next level as well. Here are my running back rankings for this year’s class.
1. Knowshon Moreno Georgia: Moreno doesn’t have great timed speed, but he has an excellent burst and is a very hard runner. He also has very good vision and while Moreno probably won’t be able to handle the ball 25 times a game, he should be a very solid back in the NFL.
2. Chris Wells Ohio State: Wells has great size and has very good feet and vision for a runner his size. He is very good at getting yards after contact and has the speed to finish runs. The only question is if Wells can stay healthy.
3. LeSean McCoy Pittsburgh: McCoy is a very shifty runner who is great at making defenders miss. He is also a good receiver out of the backfield and has a chance of being selected late in round one.
4. Donald Brown Connecticut: Brown is flying up draft boards and while he doesn’t have that “wow” factor, he has excellent run instincts and vision. Brown also proved that he can carry a full work load as he had 367 carries for the Huskies last year. Brown should be an excellent value pick in round two but don’t be surprised if he sneaks past McCoy and is picked late in the first round.
5. Rashad Jennings Liberty: Coming from Liberty, Jennings isn’t known by most casual fans but he certainly has talent. Jennings was the starting running back at Pittsburgh his freshman year before transferring and then went on to have a very good career at Liberty. Jennings is a hard runner who gets better as the game goes on and is a solid receiver out of the backfield. Don’t be surprised if he’s this year’s Matt Forte.
6. Andre Brown NC State: Brown was a highly coveted player out of high school but injuries plagued his career at NC State. He is a very hard runner and is a solid receiver out of the backfield. Due to the facts he looked healthier towards the end of his senior year and he hasn’t taken that much of a pounding in college, Brown has the potential to be a much better pro than college player.
7. Gartrell Johnson Colorado State: Johnson is a converted fullback and it shows in his running style. He is the definition of a thumper and is a very hard runner inside. Because of this, Johnson is quicker than you would think and while he doesn’t have excellent timed speed, he can get past defenders in the open field. Johnson could have a career very similar to that of Jaguars fullback Greg Jones as he has is a good blocker and could fill in at running back in a pinch.
8. James Davis Clemson: Davis has a solid build and a nose for the endzone as he left Clemson as their all time touchdown leader. He was never a full time back but could be very effective complementary runner like the way LenDale White is used with the Titans.
9. Mike Goodson Texas A&M: Goodson could be the fastest back in the class as he has the ability to score every time he touches the ball. He has very good vision and is hard to bring down. Goodson also due to his athleticism has the ability to really help in the return game even though he was hardly used at Texas A&M. He could be a very good back in a zone blocking scheme and has the potential to be this year’s Steve Slaton.
10. Shonn Greene Iowa: Greene was one of the most productive running backs in all of college football last year but he has some things going against him at the next level. He will be a 24 year old rookie and isn’t as physical a runner as most would think. On the bright side, he has very good size and waits for the holes to open up. Greene is big enough to complement a speed back and could have a few very good years if forced to carry the load and could end up having a similar career to Rudi Johnson who at one time was arguably one of the best backs in the league.
2009 class grade: B-