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Not a can't-miss crop of running backs


It is a suspect crop of running backs, but that's not to say it is without talent. LaDainian Tomlinson, Deuce McAllister and Michael Bennett are big-time talents, but they are not the can't-miss prospects last year's draft offered in the way of Jamal Lewis, Ron Dayne and Shaun Alexander.

Tomlinson didn't face top-flight major college competition at TCU, McAllister was often injured at Ole Miss, and Bennett was hidden behind Dayne until this past season.

That trio is expected to represent the running backs chosen in the first round of this year's draft, though another one or two backs could sneak into the top round because rankings of the running backs class are as different as the styles available.

Tomlinson played most of his college career in the veer offense and has limited experience as a split-backfield, inside runner. He's a hard-nosed runner with adequate size and speed; durable and productive, and showed well at the Senior Bowl.

McAllister has big-time size and speed, but he's an upright runner who spends as much time in the whirlpool as he does in the huddle. Someone will fall in love with his talent and potential and draft him higher than his production would warrant.

Bennett is a burner in an Emmitt Smith-type body. He's tough, productive and can catch, but he's had brushes with the law that will probably lower his stock.

The next group includes Michigan's Anthony Thomas, Maryland's Lamont Jordan and Pitt's Kevan Barlow. They are second-round guys.

Thomas is big and ultra-productive, but lacks sprinter speed and is not real elusive. They are the only knocks against him. Everything else, including his character, are plus marks.

Jordan is the Jerome Bettis of this year's running backs. At 5-9, 230, Jordan is deceptively fast and elusive. He had a great Senior Bowl performance, which masks the fact that his senior season was a dud.

Barlow is a true big back with the speed to go all the way. He'll also make you miss in the open field, but he was inconsistent at Pitt and has a history of fumbling. Because he's a football late-bloomer, Barlow may have more upside than the other top prospects.

Tennessee's Travis Henry, Auburn's Rudi Johnson and Miami's James Jackson carry third-round grades.

Henry is short, stout and tough. He's a real effort guy who lacks the kind of speed reserved for the first round.

Johnson was a knockout performer for Auburn last season. He has the natural skills and instincts of a running back, but lacks breakaway speed.

Jackson played in a pro style offense and looks the part. He's not a natural-looking runner, rather, a guy who does a little bit of this and a little bit of that but nothing especially well. He appears destined to be a role player and that would fit nicely for a lot of teams with feature backs.

Oklahoma State's Reggie White carries a mid-rounds grade. He's productive, but not flashy.

After that, teams will have to have a specific task in mind for what remains of the running backs. For example,

Florida State's Travis Minor has the speed and elusiveness to be used effectively as a pass-catcher, but don't ask him to run inside.

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