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Feeling the Draft: Running backs

01.27.10 at 12:39 pm ET
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WEEI.com is the place to be for everything you need to know about the 2010 NFL Draft. We’re kicking off the draft coverage by going through the Patriots’ depth chart, position by position, and telling you which players the Pats could target come late April.

Defense:

Cornerback

Safety

Outside Linebacker

Inside Linebacker

Defensive End

Defensive Tackle

Offense:

Tackle

Guard/Center

Tight End

Wide Receiver

RUNNING BACK

State of the position: Kevin Faulk (free agent), Laurence Maroney (1 year remaining), Fred Taylor (1 year remaining), Sammy Morris (1 year remaining), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (1 year remaining).

Stability wanted. The Patriots will never be an offense that lives and dies by the handoff or toss, but not having a thousand-yard rusher since 2004 despite investing a first-round pick in a back (Maroney, ’06) since means something isn’t working. Faulk has been an invaluable presence but expecting the 33-year-old to have a substantial impact in the latter years of his career would be irresponsible, thus putting the logic of his return via a multi-year deal in question. Though the disappointment expressed in Maroney has been seemingly ubiquitous, it is doubtful the Patriots would hand him his walking papers considering that he is due less than $1 million in the final year of his deal. Still, given the plethora of second-to-third round backs that should be available— again, there couldn’t be a better year to have three second-rounders— No. 39 may see more of the bench.

Potential free agents of note: Ronnie Brown (pending new CBA), Cadillac Williams (pending new CBA), Jerome Harrison (pending new CBA), Willie Parker.

RUNNING BACKS IN THE DRAFT TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

C.J. Spiller: Senior, Clemson, 5-foot-11, 195 pounds.

2009 stats: 216 carries, 1212 yards, 12 TD.

What he brings: Speed, hands, return capabilities.

Where the Patriots could get him: Top 15 (trade).

Patriots fans can only hope not. Haven’t they been complaining about a first-round back that would rather do the Lido shuffle behind the line of scrimmage than run straight ahead? Spiller brings with him the distinction of being the draft’s best back, but given New England’s frustrations with Maroney, investing the team’s top pick in such a pivotal draft in another shy back could set the team back more than it helps them. Spiller is far more explosive, but whether you believe in drafting running backs in the first round or not, the Patriots have far greater needs with their first pick.


Jahvid Best: Junior, California, 5-foot-10, 195 pounds.

2009 stats: 141 carries, 867 yards, 12 touchdowns.

What he brings: Speed, agility.

Where the Patriots could get him: No. 22.

Almost every draftnik out there sees Best as a second-round pick, present company included, but as risky a practice as going RB early is, multiple running backs are always taken in the first round. Always–  or every year since 1985— and with backs splitting carries more than ever these days, some team will invest a late first-rounder on Best. The question is whether he can develop into a complete back and have more of a career than the likes of Trung Canidate and Tatum Bell.

Jonathan Dwyer: Junior, Georgia Tech, 6-foot-0, 228 pounds.

2009 stats: 235 carries, 1395 yards, 14 touchdowns.

What he brings: Size, power.

Where the Patriots could get him: Round 2.

This draft does not feature a complete back, but if the Patriots want somebody who can pound it up the middle, a good look should be taken at Dwyer, who is slow but has the potential to be a bruiser. Dwyer has a lot riding on next month’s combine, as he isn’t the prettiest back to watch. At times his strides are awkward and a bad enough 40 could knock him into the third round. Still, between the size and his ability to run low to the ground, Dwyer could be a smart option for the Patriots.

Ryan Mathews: Junior, Fresno State, 5-foot-11, 215 pounds.

2009 stats: 276 carries, 1808 yards, 19 touchdowns.

What he brings: Size, power, speed.

Where the Patriots could get him: Round 2.

Playing another healthy year at Fresno State might have been a better option for Mathews, but in a class with no stars at the position, he could be one of the first backs off the board because of how balanced he is. His junior year was his first fully-healthy season (and first with at least 150 carries), but he showed that he can be relied heavily on by taking the ball more than anybody else listed here. Pending a good combine Mathews could surpass Dwyer and be the second or third running back selected. Mathews would be a far smarter choice for the Patriots than any of the backs listed above.

Other running backs the Patriots could consider:

Ben Tate: Senior, Auburn, 5-foot-11, 217 pounds. A good-at-everything, great-at-nothing type of back that could be a solid value pick in the fourth.

Anthony Dixon: Mississippi State, 6-foot-1, 235 pounds. Not as one-dimensional as his size would suggest, as he contributed in the passing game in college. Whether that projects to the pros will be seen in his 40-yard dash.

Keith Toston: Senior, Oklahoma State, 6-foot-0, 205 pounds. Could stand to add a little weight, but an improved junior season and stellar season campaign will tremendously help the stock of someone who  was the victim of depth and injuries as a sophomore.

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