2010 draft watch: Top 10 running backs

Clemson’s C.J. Spiller averaged 5.4 yards per carry and 12.8 yards per catch in ’08.Sporting News draft expert Russ Lande, a former NFL scout, takes a quick look at the running back class for the 2010 NFL draft heading into the college season:

1. C.J. Spiller, Clemson, 5-11/195. Spiller, who nearly came out for the ’09 draft, has uncommon size, athleticism and elusiveness. He shows quickness, burst and explosiveness to explode out of cuts and shoot through the hole like a rocket. Once he gets behind the defense, he will not be caught. For a speed back, Spiller shows surprising strength and balance to absorb hits and keep on going. He also is an elite return man. Projection: First round.

2. Charles Scott, LSU, 5-11/230. He is a big, physical back who looks like a man-child in uniform. He is an aggressive, physical runner who attacks the hole and gets his shoulders down to make himself a smaller target and to deliver violent blows. He consistently knocks defenders backward, dragging them for extra yardage. He can wear down a defense with strength and power. For a big back, he shows surprising agility to make quick cuts to get through backside holes. He needs work on the finer points as a receiver. Projection: First round.

3. Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech, 5-11/235 (junior). He will consider the 2010 draft if he has another big season. If he leaves school early, he will be a highly debated prospect because he usually lines up as the fullback in Tech’s option-style offense. Dwyer certainly has the size and strength of a traditional NFL big back who can break tackles and gain yardage after contact. For a big back, he shows surprising quickness to reach full speed and good agility and balance to run through arm tackles. Dwyer will have to adjust to carrying the ball from NFL alignments, which will cause him to drop a bit. Projection: First or second round.

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.4. Jahvid Best, Cal, 5-9/190 (junior). He reminds us of the Saints’ Reggie Bush and would be a top-10 prospect if he were a bit bigger and didn’t have a history of injury problems. Best is an electrifying open-field runner with the elusiveness to make would-be tacklers miss. He shows the vision to see holes before they open and then make sharp cuts to burst through them. He is a touchdown threat on every touch. Like Bush, he is a dangerous receiver who catches the ball naturally. Best probably isn’t an every-down NFL back but can be a dynamic change-of-pace and third-down back, great slot receiver and an elite return man. Projection: First or second round.

5. Toby Gerhart, Stanford, 6-0/230. He is a well-built back with the size, strength and competitiveness NFL teams covet. He runs with passion and intensity on every carry and consistently keeps his legs churning to move the pile. He has the agility and balance to absorb hard hits and keep going. However, he is more of a smooth athlete than a quick, explosive one. He has enough quickness to get through the hole but lacks the elite explosiveness and speed to score from anywhere. He wasn’t able to stay healthy in ’08, his first season as a feature back, and must prove he can handle the pounding. Projection: Third round.

Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount ran for 1,002 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.6. LeGarrette Blount, Oregon, 6-1/248. He is a huge back who made scouts take notice in ’08, his first season in Division I-A after transferring from a junior college. He is not going to outrun NFL defenses to score long touchdowns, but he has good speed for a big back and makes big plays by powering through would-be tacklers. He had only two receptions in ’08, so he must show scouts he can catch passes out of the backfield. After sharing carries with the Texans’ Jeremiah Johnson last season, Blount must prove he can handle the full load. Projection: Third or fourth round.

7. Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State, 6-0/241. He is another big back in an odd year with so many big backs at the top of the rankings. Dixon is a strong and physical runner who punishes and drags defenders for extra yardage. He can wear down a defense, for sure, late in games. For a big back, he shows surprising hands and is a reliable receiver who can make plays after the catch. He lacks the quickness and agility to make would-be tacklers miss and is not going to explode through the hole to take runs the distance. Dixon is not going to “wow” anyone with great 40 times but has the size, strength and speed combination NFL teams covet in big backs. NFL teams are sure to thoroughly investigate his background after a he was arrested this summer for DUI. Projection: Third or fourth round.

8. Keiland Williams, LSU, 5-11/225. He is an interesting prospect because he is the backup to one of the top backs in the country (Scott), so Williams will have limited opportunities. He is well-built but shows surprisingly good hands. He looks natural catching the ball and shows surprising quickness, agility and balance running in the open field. He also shows the size to run through would-be tackles. He is a solid kickoff return man, as well. Projection: Fourth or fifth round.

9. James Starks, Buffalo, 6-2/205. He is a solidly built back who shows the toughness, competitiveness and passion to consistently gain important yards. He shows the vision and instincts to find holes and make quick cuts to get through them. He is a polished receiver who shows the body control to make tough catches. Starks hasn’t faced elite competition, so the postseason all-star games will be even more important for him. Projection: Fourth or fifth round.

10. Stafon Johnson, USC, 5-11/214. He is not well-known despite playing at USC, but he could fly up draft boards with a strong senior season. Johnson–despite sharing time with C.J. Gable and Joe McKnight–shows strength, power and the deceptive speed to drag would-be tacklers for extra yardage. Johnson is an upright runner who must run with a better pad level to make quicker cuts to hit the hole. Projection: Fifth round.

Source: The Sporting News

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