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Big surprise at the top

2008 NFL Draft - Ranking The Running Backs

By Pete Fiutak


Posted Apr 9, 2008

It's one of the biggest questions of the 2008 NFL Draft. Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, or Rashard Mendenhall? There might not be a wrong answer in a very deep, very interesting running back class. CFN ranks the top 40 prospects along with the fullbacks.

2008 NFL Draft Position Rankings

The Running Backs

By Pete Fiutak

The Class Is ... Strong, with all sorts of options, a few possible all-timers, and something for everyone. Fans will debate for years to come about the pecking order at the top, and there's going to be at least two backs ranked between 12-to-25 who'll produce as well as one ranked 4-to-11.

The Best Value Pick Will Be ... Ray Rice, Rutgers

Most Underrated ... Matt Forte, Tulane

Most Overrated ... Tashard Choice, Georgia Tech

The Deep, Deep Sleeper Is .. Jerome Messam, Graceland


1. Jacob Hester, FB LSU

A great runner, a good scorer, and a nice receiver, he's a do-it-all fullback who'll be a nice piece to the puzzle. If nothing else he'll be a fan favorite and a star on special teams.

CFN Projection: Fourth Round

2. Peyton Hillis, FB Arkansas

His money will be made as a receiver. A decent blocker, but not a special one, and not an NFL power runner, he'll find a role as a receiver out of the backfield.

CFN Projection: Fifth Round

3. Owen Schmitt, FB West Virginia

Psychotic, but in a good way. He stunk in the Senior Bowl, but he's a good receiver, phenomenal in the weight room, and will work his tail off to do anything necessary.

CFN Projection: Sixth Round

4. Jerome Felton, FB Furman

5. Lex Hilliard, FB Montana

6. Carl Stewart, FB Auburn

7. Brandon McAnderson, FB Kansas

8. Rolly Lumbala, FB Idaho

9. Mike Cox, FB Georgia Tech

10. Steven Korte, FB LSU


1. Rashard Mendenhall, RB Illinois

Back in 1999, Ricky Williams was the sure-thing, must-have running back who appeared to be the obvious choice as the first back taken. The Colts made a big call by taking Edgerrin James fourth, with Williams going fifth, and they turned out to be right. This might be the same dynamic between Darren McFadden and Rashard Mendenhall. Late on the draft scene with only one big year at Illinois, Mendenhall has some questions about his long-term ability; why wasn't he a star right away? Whatever. While not as fast as McFadden, he's fast enough with 4.45 wheels on a 225-pound frame. Very strong, very fast (just ask USC) and very good both inside and out, he's about as sure a prospect as can be; at least physically. The key will be how much he wants it. If he can find the fire and the drive to be special, he'll be a yearly Pro Bowl performer.

CFN Projection: First Round

2. Darren McFadden, RB Arkansas

While it might be easy to blow off the off-the-field issues and the character questions, they do merit attention. Is he Rashaan Salaam/Curtis Enis once he hits the big time? The speed is jaw-dropping, the burst and quickness are phenomenal, and the college résumé is unquestioned. Physically, at the next level, his issues could be with ball security and getting into the open to make the long runs he'll need to make a big impact. NFL backs don't get into the clear all that often; the breakaway speed won't matter as much outside of roughly six times a year. Just ask Reggie Bush. It'll be the ability to pound it inside on a regular basis that'll be the key, and his upright running style will get him popped a little too often. With his frame, body-type, and speed, he could be the next Robert Smith. That's not a negative.

CFN Projection: Early First Round

3. Jonathan Stewart, RB Oregon

So he has a big toe problem. Injuries heal. A special back who could be an elite difference maker for about ten games a season, it'll be the other six games that'll be an issue. Sort of because the way he's built, at 230 pounds, and with the way he cuts, he's always going to have problems with ankle injuries. Backs his size who try to cut like Barry Sanders simply don't hold up over the long haul without a variety of problems. However, speed and quickness-wise, he's the total package. He has the cutting ability to make defenders miss at the line, and the breakaway speed to tear off yards in chunks once he gets to the second level. He does everything well with the ability to catch out of the backfield and be used on kickoff returns on a regular basis. While he could be a workhorse who becomes a team's running game, he'll be absolutely devastating over the long haul if he's the No. 1 back on a team with a good No. 2 option to share a bit of the load.

CFN Projection: First Round


4. Felix Jones, RB Arkansas

He'll be the back for someone trying to get a speed runner on the cheap. Don't want to pay the high price to get a McFadden, Mendenhall or Stewart? Then wait for Jones and roll the dice on a jack-of-all-trades back with a ton of tread on the tires and devastating breakaway speed. The big question is whether or not he's a workhorse No. 1 back. He wasn't in college and he's not built like a 25-carry-a-game NFL runner. Ideally he fills a Reggie Bush role on a team with a Deuce McAllister and is used to run and catch on the outside and not between the tackles. With his ability to go from 0-to-60 in a heartbeat, he's the type of player who makes offensive coordinators drool at the possibilities. He'll be a fun toy to play with.

CFN Projection: Late First Round To Early Second Round

5. Jamaal Charles, RB Texas

So which Jamaal Charles will the pros be getting? Will he be the breathtaking speedster who beat Oklahoma State and Nebraska by himself last year, or will be the one who struggled as a sophomore and didn't play up to expectations or his talent level? Probably a little of both, but the upside is too great to pass up. The big issue could be Texas. After the Ricky Williams situation and Cedric Benson turning into a dog of a pro, is there going to be an anti-Longhorn bias? Built like a smaller Darren McFadden, Charles is a sprinter who can be used in a variety of ways. While he showed he could handle a big workload last season, he's not going to be a pounding back who can handle a full-season NFL schedule if he's asked to pound away. He's not a power back by any stretch, but if he's able to keep his touches to around 15-to-20 per game, he'll be a difference maker.

CFN Projection: Second Round

6. Ray Rice, RB Rutgers

It all depends on how much of a chance someone is willing to give him. Rice has a lot of tread on the tires. A LOT. On the plus side, he proved he could handle a big workload and was ultra-durable. However, if you're a believer that a back only has so many carries in him, the 935 total touches in three years at Rutgers might mean a short shelf live. Who cares about five years from now? For the next few seasons, Rice could turn into a productive, consistent runner at a high level if he's allowed to pound away. His size, around 5-8, could be a positive as he'll dart in and out of the line behind his big blockers. Much faster than he looked on the field, he has the speed to hit the home run, but that's just gravy. He'll be a consistent positive-yardage machine if he's a featured back for a stretch. He's not the type to get a few carries here and there; he'll need a few series here and there.

CFN Projection: Late Second Round

7. Kevin Smith, RB UCF

Would Smith be considered a first rounder if he was Kevin Smith, Florida instead of Kevin Smith, UCF? While his competition will be questioned, playing in Conference USA, he produced against everyone including NC State (217 yards and two touchdowns), Texas (149 yards and two touchdowns), and Mississippi State (119 yards, but on 35 carries). George O'Leary and the Knights weren't afraid to overuse their star getting him a whopping 450 carries and 24 catches last season, and he cranked out 2,567 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns despite having all 11 defenders and the waterboy focused on stopping him. He's a producer, but he'll have a short shelf life if he's asked to be a No. 1 back.

CFN Projection: Late Second To Early Third Round

8. Chris Johnson, RB East Carolina

4.29. For some reason, while everyone was oohing and ahhing over Darren McFadden's workout, along with the size/speed dynamic of Rashard Mendenhall and Jonathan Stewart, and rightly so, Johnson ripped off a 4.29 in 40 at the Combine. One of the best all-around backs in America last year rushing for 1,423 yards and 17 touchdowns, catching 37 passes for 528 yards and six touchdowns, and returning 1,009 yards worth of kicks, he can do it all. However, he was held to 29 yards and a touchdown on ten carries against Virginia Tech and ran for 76 yards and a score on 14 carries against West Virginia. The biggest problem is his size at around 5-10 and under 200 yards; he's not built like an every-down runner. However, he's a dream of a third down back who'll have to be a complementary back.

CFN Projection: Late Second Round To Early Third Round

9. Matt Forte, RB Tulane

Forte is the back for those who believe breakaway speed is overrated. After all, how many backs tear off 40-yard runs? Forte doesn't have great straight-line speed, but he's a strong inside runner who was extremely dependable last season rushing for 2,127 yards and 23 touchdowns for the Green Wave. A big runner who pounds away, he's a positive carry every time he touches the ball. If you're looking for a thrilling back who'll make the highlight reel, that's not Forte. If you're looking for a steady, dependable all-around back who can catch, pound, and work his tail off, that's Forte.

CFN Projection: Third Round


10. Mike Hart, RB Michigan

Ultra-productive, never fumbles, and is as hard and tough a runner as a 5-9, 200 pounder can be. He won't tear off any big runs and he will never last a 16-game season if he's a featured back, but he'll block, be a dirty-work runner who can crank out long drives, and he has a major attitude, in a good way. You know what you're getting, there's no upside to hope for, but he's still good enough to be a nice reserve back.

CFN Projection: Late Third Round To Early Fourth Round

11. Tashard Choice, RB Georgia Tech

If healthy, he's a top five back. He won't stay healthy. He has speed, but he's a physical runner who'll wear down in a big hurry, but when he's on, he's tough and will carry an offense. While he doesn't have elite measurables and he doesn't do any one thing all that well on an NFL level, he's a dream No. 2 back, or even a No. 1A, with high character, great drive, and the potential to save an offense for a game or five when the star back can't go.

CFN Projection: Third Round

12. Steve Slaton, RB West Virginia

He should've stayed. A speed rusher who always produced gaudy numbers, he gets it into gear instantly and can blast through any hole. The problem is size and toughness in crunch time. He went M.I.A. in some of West Virginia's biggest games and he almost never had to power over anyone. He's a pure space runner who can find the daylight and take off, but he'll have to prove early on that he's the sophomore version and not the 2007 back who was fine, but not as special.

CFN Projection: Fourth Round

13. Ryan Torain, RB Arizona State

Patience is a virtue. Torain could be a fantastic mid-round investment with a big payoff down the road. At 6-0 and 213 pounds with nice speed, he has the measurables. They might not be first round skills, but they're more than good enough to be an NFL starter. He's a hard runner who can catch the ball and will do whatever is asked of him. But he's hurt. A foot injury, needing to undergo Lisfranc surgery in the middle of last season, he likely won't be the player he should become by 2009 at the earliest. When he's right, he'll be an excellent No. 2 back.

CFN Projection: Fifth Round

14. Dantrell Savage, RB Oklahoma State

A huge disappointment in workouts, he was expected to be a 4.4 back who's really around a 4.6 runner. At his size, 5-8 and 185 pounds, that's not good. However, he's a good runner who produced as a high Big 12 level. Very quick, he could turn himself into a fantastic third down back who becomes more dangerous as a receiver than a runner. If he can show he can return kicks at an NFL level, he'll stay on a team for a long time.

CFN Projection: Fifth Round

15. Chad Simpson, RB Morgan State

Yeah, Morgan State, but the measurables are too good to ignore. While he's short, he's 216 pounds with 4.4 speed. Great at the Combine, the MEAC Player of Year opened up some eyes and performed like he belonged with the big boys. He's quick through the hole, shifts gears immediately, and isn't afraid to take a shot. The problem might be his role. Not built to be a third down back and with questionable receiving skills, he'll have to work to find a niche.

CFN Projection: Fifth Round

16. Jalen Parmele, RB Toledo

He was the Toledo running game last season. At 224 pounds with good straight-line speed, he can also run inside and make a quick cut and bounce it outside in a hurry. However, he's not going to make too many people miss and he's not as hard a runner as his size might indicate. While he'll be purely a backup and special teamer, he'll work his way on a team and will find a niche.

CFN Projection: Sixth Round

17. Thomas Brown, RB Georgia

Sort of poor man's Mike Hart, Brown is the same size and has the same style as the former Michigan star but wasn't nearly as productive. Not a speed back, he's a quick, powerful runner who'll take a pounding and ask for more carries. He's not going to do anything flashy and he's not going to do anything on the outside, but he could be a nice fill-in for a series or two or a game or two and keep the running game moving.

CFN Projection: Fourth Round

18. Allen Patrick, RB Oklahoma

Supremely quick with an extra gear he can get to in a hurry. While he's not all that big, he's not afraid to take a bit of a pounding. That's a positive and a negative since he doesn't have the body to take a full-time NFL workload. If he's asked to find a hole and run through it, he'll shine. If he's asked to be a starter for any stretch of time, he won't be able to hold up and will get worse as the game goes on.

CFN Projection: Fourth Round

19. Jerome Messam, RB Graceland

A freakish back at around 6-4 and 230 pounds with 4.55 speed, the Canadian is very big, very tough, and very mature. Smarts are an issue having been declared academically ineligible at Rutgers and he never got his grades up at North Dakota State College of Science or Graceland in Iowa. He's a major project who needs a lot of work, but there just aren't many backs with his tools.

CFN Projection: Sixth Round

20. Calvin Dawson, RB UL Monroe

Small, quick, and tremendously productive, he didn't just rock the Sun Belt, he was great against Clemson, Texas A&M, and Alabama, too. He'll be a kick returner and a special teamer at the next level, but given the right chance in the right system at the right time, he could be a spot starter who pulls off a few huge games. He's just not big enough to handle a full-time NFL workload.

CFN Projection: Sixth Round

21. Justin Forsett, RB California

More J.J. Arrington than Marshawn Lynch, Forsett's a smallish, quick back who came through with a nice senior season even when the team went into the tank. He's not big and isn't fast enough to be a difference maker scatback, but he can be a change of pace runner who'll need to do something special right away in camp to stick. He can't be used as a regular runner.

CFN Projection: Seventh Round To Free Agent

22. Cory Boyd, RB South Carolina

A hard runner who isn't afraid to mix it up and get dirty, he'll do whatever is needed and won't be afraid to throw his body around as a blocker. Off-the-field issues kept him from ever reaching his potential at South Carolina, but he'll be a good NFL practice player who'll be a key special teamer and will have one or two games a year where he looks like a possible starter.

CFN Projection: Sixth Round

23. Jehuu Caulcrick, RB Michigan State

Power, power, power. Forget about any speed or quickness, he's a bruising back who can move the pile once he gets up a head of steam. The problem might be keeping his weight to a manageable 255 pounds and getting NFL fullback strong, but he's a change of pace back the other way. He could be a designated short-yardage goal line runner who becomes a closer on late drives.

CFN Projection: Seventh Round

24. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB Ole Miss

It all depends on the perception. A big runner who's not as physical as he probably should be, he's a quick 220 pounder who be like a pinball when fighting through the line. What he doesn't have is another gear to make the big run, and he's not powerful enough to overcome his lack of speed, but if someone sees the right film and the right moment, and maybe even the hair, there might be some ever so slight comparisons to Marion Barber III. That's a huge stretch, though.

CFN Projection: Free Agent

25. Chauncey Washington, RB USC

While he had some good post-season workouts to get on the draft map, he never showed the talent he was supposed to have at USC. A baby-soft inside runner considering his 210-pound body, he also lacks the speed to do anything flashy. However, there is an upside. If he really wants to work at it and really gets fired up about being a possible pro back, he could eventually be a No. 3 back. Eventually.

CFN Projection: Seventh Round


26. Rafael Little, RB Kentucky

27. Marcus Thomas, RB UTEP

28. Matt Lawrence, RB Massachusetts

29. Allen Ervin, RB Lambuth

30. Kalvin McRae, RB Ohio

31. Timothy Hightower, RB Richmond

32. Rodney Kinlaw, RB Penn State

33. Keon Lattimore, RB Maryland

34. Yvenson Bernard, RB Oregon State

35. Kregg Lumpkin, RB Georgia

36. Andre Callender, RB Boston College

37. Albert Young, RB Iowa

38. Lance Ball, RB Maryland

39. Tony Temple, RB Missouri

40. Jamario Thomas, RB North Texas

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