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Not a good year to need a running back


This year's running backs will not rival last season's bumper crop of rookies. Four runners -- William Green of Boston College, T.J. Duckett of Michigan State, DeShaun Foster of UCLA and Clinton Portis of Miami -- carry first-round grades, but the fall-off from those prospects is distinct. Clearly, this is not a good year to be looking for a running back in the middle rounds.

Even the first-round candidates are shrouded by suspicious credentials. Green is a power runner who is said to lack wiggle, Duckett possesses Jerome Bettis-type size and power but doesn't always play that big, Foster is a fumbler, and Portis is largely considered to be an over-achiever.

It's unlikely the Jaguars have an interest in any of those four players. If the Jaguars draft a running back to provide security for oft-injured Fred Taylor, it's likely that pick will come in the later rounds.

The second tier of running backs is headed by Iowa's Ladell Betts, North Dakota State's Lamar Gordon and Brigham Young's Luke Staley. Then there's a third group of running backs who were productive in college, but lack NFL-like size or speed. That group includes such notables as Oregon's Maurice Morris, Ohio State's Jonathan Wells, Brian Westbrook of Villanova, Chester Taylor of Toledo and Adrian Peterson of Georgia Southern.

Peterson is an especially-interesting prospect. He dominated at the Division I-AA level, but he's only 5-9 and doesn't have NFL-like speed. Peterson has been described as a "wishbone fullback," but his productivity could cause a team to spend a draft choice on him.

Taylor is a little bigger and a shade faster than Peterson, but largely suffers from the same deficiencies. He was a star in the Mid-American Conference, which turns out NFL players every year.

The Jaguars' situation at running back may not be as desperate as most people believe. Of course, that will depend on Taylor's ability to stay healthy, and the return of last year's leading rusher, Stacey Mack. Mack is a restricted free agent who hasn't attracted much interest. If the Jaguars are able to retain Mack, if Taylor stays healthy, and if second-year man Elvis Joseph continues to provide utility ability, the Jaguars may not have a need at running back.

Given that scenario, they could turn their attention to fullback, where there are some interesting middle-rounds prospects.

Najeh Davenport of Miami tops the list of blocking backs, and Davenport has run and catch abilities, too. Just behind Davenport is New Mexico's Jarrod Baxter, who the Jaguars who've personally worked out. Baxter has distinct running skills, but must improve his blocking if he is to become a skilled lead-blocker.

Georgia's Vernon Hayes and Kansas State's Rock Cartwright top the late-rounders, and Penn State's Omar Easy may surprise draftniks by getting picked earlier than expected, based on his impressive scouting combine workout.

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