DRAFT 2008: RUNNING BACKS

Arkansas running back Darren McFadden is widely expected to be the top player at his position in the upcoming 2008 NFL Draft. The running back class is considered a deep one, partially because of six-to-seven juniors who could be selected in the first three rounds.

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McFadden, Other Juniors Make Running Back Class Special

INDIANAPOLIS – Darren McFadden believes he is not only the best running back in the NFL Draft, but maybe the best player. A lot of analysts and observers agree.

He is big, strong and fast. He is productive. But to NFL teams needing a back in the April 26-27 NFL Draft, those may not be the best things about the All-American from the University of Arkansas.

The best thing is McFadden isn't alone. Far from it.

McFadden, who forewent his senior season to enter the draft, was joined by six other juniors who could be selected in Rounds 1-3, transforming what many observers believed to be an average running back class into potentially one of the best in recent memory.

"Anywhere from the first round to the seventh to free agency, if you need a running back this is a good year to get one," San Francisco 49ers General Manager Scott McCloughan said. "I think at any position it helps out because of the quality of the juniors that come out. But this is a good year for the running back position, not just for the juniors but the seniors as well.

"But the juniors always help out at any position. There are some talented guys out there."

McFadden, a two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award – given annually to college football's top running back – was widely considered one of the top available players after rushing for 4.589 yards and 41 touchdowns in three seasons at Arkansas.

He rushed for at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in every college season. This past season, he rushed for 1,829 yards and 16 touchdowns after rushing for 1,647 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore.

He was the Heisman Trophy runner-up each of the past two seasons.

Then came the NFL Scouting Combine in February.

At the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, McFadden ran an eye-catching 4.33-second 40-yard dash, the second-fastest time among running backs at the combine and a time many believed solidified his standing as the draft's top back.

"He's a great running back," Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert said. "He's big, he's fast, he's productive. He's going to be a great back in the league. For anybody coming into the league they have to be able to adjust to the speed of our game as opposed to the college game.

"As big and as fast as he is that shouldn't be a problem for him."

McFadden is projected by many draft analysts to be selected by the Oakland Raiders at No. 4, and few mock drafts have him falling past the New York Jets at No. 6. He visited the Raiders early last week.

"I feel like I am the best player in the draft," McFadden said. "I can do a lot of different things. I feel like I'm a very versatile player. I can go out there and line up at receiver. I can line up in the backfield and block, line up back there and run.

"I can throw a pass if you need me to. But like if I had to, I could play defense."

McFadden is among three-to-four backs – all juniors – many observers believe could be selected in the first round. Rashard Mendenhall, a junior from Illinois, has been projected to be selected in the middle of the first round, with junior Jonathan Stewart of Oregon often projected as a late first-round selection. Felix Jones, another early-entry junior from Arkansas, also has been projected by some as a late first-round or early second-round selection.

"All of those juniors have just made this thing so much better from a running back standpoint," Colbert said.

"It (junior class) is a good class," Tennessee Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher said. "It is a unique class in that it has got that breakaway speed and big-play ability. A guy can take the ball and go the distance. That certainly makes it a little different than most years."

Breaking Down the Top Running Backs

Arkansas running back Darren McFadden is projected by most analysts to be a Top 10 selection, likely to be selected by the Oakland Raiders at No. 4 or the New York Jets at No. 6. Many observers rate McFadden as perhaps the draft's best player, but the Miami Dolphins – who hold the first overall selection – have Ronnie Brown at the position and the St. Louis Rams (second selection) have Steven Jackson. McFadden is far from the only talented runner in this year's class. Many analysts believe there are quality running backs throughout all seven rounds, with at least two more – Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall and Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart – also projected to be first-round selections.

Running Backs on the Colts' roster

Joseph Addai, third NFL season; Kenton Keith, 2nd NFL season; Clifton Dawson, 2nd NFL season; Luke Lawton (FB), 3rd NFL season; Justise Hairston, 1st NFL season.

THE RUNNING BACKS

A look at the running back position in the 2008 NFL Draft. Rankings and projected rounds are based on several national draft publications and in no way reflect the opinions of Colts personnel.

Rank, Player, Ht., Wt., School, Projected Round 1, Darren McFadden, 6-1, 211, Arkansas*, 1

2, Rashard Mendenhall, 5-10, 225, Illinois*, 1

3, Jonathan Stewart, 5-10, 235, Oregon*, 1

4, Felix Jones, 5-10, 207, Arkansas*, 1-2

5, Chris Johnson, 5-11, 197, East Carolina, 2

6, Jamaal Charles, 5-11, 200, Texas*, 2

7, Kevin Smith, 6-1, 217, Central Florida*, 2-3

8, Ray Rice, 5-8, 199, Rutgers*, 3-4

9, Steve Slaton, 5-9, 197, West Virginia*, 4-5

10, Mike Hart, 5-9, 206, Michigan, 4-5

11, Tashard Choice, 5-10, 215, Georgia Tech, 4-5

12, Justin Forsett, 5-8, 194, California, 5-6

13, Allen Patrick, 6-0, 198, Oklahoma, 6

14, Ryan Torain, 6-1, 222, Arizona State, 6

15, Thomas Brown, 5-8, 204, Georgia, 6-7

16, Cory Boyd, 6-0, 213, South Carolina, 7

17, Xavier Omon, 5-11, 228, NW Missouri State, 7

18, Chauncey Washington, 5-11, 211, USC, 7

19, Anthony Alridge, 5-9, 170, Houston, 7

20, Dantrell Savage, 5-8, 187, Oklahoma State, 7

*-Denotes underclassman

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