Ed. note—The following is the second installment in a nine-part series previewing the 2006 NFL draft. This installment features running back and fullback prospects.
If you're looking for a pounder, this draft isn't for you. If, however, you're looking for a game-breaking, multi-purpose star running back, this is the year to find that guy.
All eyes are on the Houston Texans, who have the first overall pick and are expected to spend that pick on USC star Reggie Bush. It's not as easy as that sounds, however, because Bush is a player who requires fitting into a specific system and role.
"If you are willing to build an offense around him, yes, he's worth the first pick of the draft," jaguars.com draft analyst Tony Pauline said of Bush, who led USC to a great three-year run.
Bush, 5-11, 201, is an electrifying, game-breaking threat any time he handles the ball as a runner, pass-catcher or return specialist. He's elusive, quick and fast (4.35 40). The only knock on Bush is that he doesn't have prototypical size to be a feature back in the NFL.
He's not a guy who you're going to pound into the line 30 times a game. Whoever drafts Bush will probably have a role in mind in which Bush gets 15-20 touches a game as a triple-threat player. Bush plays stronger than his size but it must be considered that he played behind top offensive linemen at USC.
The closest thing to a pounder in this draft is Bush's USC teammate, LenDale White, who is coming out as a junior. White, 6-0, 232, is the opposite of Bush. White is a big, strong interior runner who can carry the ball 30 times a game. White is a solid pass-catcher but is not a creative runner and can't run to daylight. If it's not there, he's not likely to make it happen. White is a 4.6 40 guy who figures to go in the top 15 picks.
DeAngelo Williams of Memphis is a 5-9, 214-pound stick of dynamite. Some have compared Williams to Barry Sanders; Williams has that kind of elusiveness but he's not as fast as Sanders. Williams has a lot of miles on his legs; nearly 1,000 carries in college. He's smart, athletic and can catch and block. He's a complete running back who can create and he's not afraid to run inside. He'll break tackles. Pauline considers Williams to be a "solid back but not a franchise back," and expects Williams to be selected near the middle of the first round. He's a high-character guy and that might make him a good pick for the Vikings. Williams runs a 4.55.
Minnesota's Laurence Maroney, 6-0, 217, is elusive and creative. He consistently makes defenders miss. Durability is a question. He missed a couple of games with injuries and didn't run at the combine due to a bad hamstring. Maroney will have his pro day at the end of March. He figures to be a late-first, early-second round pick. The Colts could be interested.
LSU's Joseph Addai, 5-11, 214, runs a 4.41 and is a tremendous athlete. Addai runs to daylight and is quick through the hole. He catches well. The only negative is he's an upright runner who takes big hits. He figures to go early in the second round.
Jerome Harrison, 5-11, 210, of Washington State is an intelligent, instinctive runner. He consistently finds holes and creases and plays faster than his 40 time. Lack of size could make him more of a situational back. He fits in the middle to late in the second round.
Jerious Norwood of Mississippi State plays to his 4.36 speed. Norwood, 5-11, 210, is explosive and fast; he is gone in a flash. He's also being projected as a wide receiver. It's difficult to know where he fits best because Mississippi State offered little opportunity to feature Norwood in the passing game.
UCLA's Maurice Drew, 5-6, 207, is a poor man's Reggie Bush. Drew, 4.44, is an ultra-productive, game-breaking runner, pass-catcher and return man. He runs low to the ground and gets lost behind linemen. He's a true offensive threat who figures to be drafted in the second half of round two.
Brian Calhoun, 5-9, 201, of Wisconsin is elusive and creative. He's an outstanding receiver and may be more of a third-down back. He ran a 4.62 at the combine, then followed that with a 4.4 on his pro day. He's a late-second round candidate.
Florida State's Leon Washington, 5-8, 201, could be a steal. He's talented and has good instincts. Washington plays bigger than his size and faster than his 4.5 40 time. His draft stock fell this past year, however, as a result of a poor senior season.
Other running backs of note: Dontrell Moore of New Mexico, Gerald Riggs of Tennessee and Mike Bell of Arizona.
The usual meager list of fullback prospects does not include a first-day candidate.
Lawrence Vickers of Colorado is 6-0, 245 and runs a 4.86. He's a solid blocker but not dominant. He's a good ball-carrier but ran poorly at the combine.
Brigham Young's Naufahu Tahi, 6-0, 254, 4.91, wasn't asked to block much in college. He's a good runner and receiver.
David Kirtman, 5-11, 233, 4.76, of USC is an adequate blocker and outstanding pass-catcher.
Arizona's Gilbert Harris, 6-1, 235, 4.74, is a good blocker and has shown flashes as a triple-threat guy. He's very raw and needs a lot of work.
J.D. Runnels, 5-11, 237, 4.65, of Oklahoma is a terrific prospect whose stock fell due to a poor senior season that kept him out of the combine. He's a true west coast fullback.
Matt Bernstein, 6-0, 260, 4.95, of Wisconsin is the best blocker of the bunch. He's a traditional lead-blocker but he's one-dimensional. He suffered with a sports hernia as a senior and that's causing him to be graded down. He probably won't be drafted.