Saturday, October 30, 2010

Looking Forward: Back-up Running-Back

Drafting two Heisman winners in a row would help build a winning environment at Rams Park
Ever since the arrival of Steven Jackson, as well as the departure of Marshall Faulk, the Rams have struggled to find a suitable back-up running-back. The ideal candidate would be a guy with some speed, someone who is a real home-run threat; someone who would add the "thunder and flash" effect the Rams' backfield, with Jackson being the "thunder". The candidate should also be a solid receiving threat for 3rd and long situations.

I do a weekly piece that tracks college's top receivers. Since a complimentary back is such a major need, I thought I should write a feature on some of colleges top running-backs, guys who would make solid draft picks in the first couple rounds of the draft.

DeMarco Murray- Oklahoma (Sr.)
Height: 6'1" Weight: 214 lbs 40-yard Dash: 4.48 seconds
2007- (Rushing) 127 ATT 764 Yards 13 TD  (Receiving)14 REC 60 Yards 0 TD
2008- (Rushing) 179 ATT 1002 Yards 14 TD (Receiving)31 REC 395 Yards 4 TD
2009- (Rushing) 171 ATT  705 Yards 8 TD (Receiving)41 REC 522 Yards 4 TD
2010- (Rushing) 162 ATT  712 Yards 11 TD (Receiving) 30 REC 218 Yards 3 TD

DeMarco Murray would be the perfect candidate if the Rams are willing to spend a first round pick on a back. He has the speed to get outside and win the corner from the defenders, and he also has the ability to run up the middle, juking his way to a big gain. He is so fast that even when he is brought down, his momentum gains three or four more yards.

His 4.48 speed would make him an ideal punt returner, as well as a solid receiving threat out of the backfield. The only downside is that he has a good chance at being the top running-back in the 2011 draft class, so the Rams may never have a shot at him.

Daniel Thomas- Kansas State (Sr.)
Height: 6'2" Weight: 228 lbs 40-yard Dash: 4.63
2009-(Rushing) 247 ATT 1265 Yards 11 TD (Receiving) 25 REC 257 Yards 0 TD
2010-(Rushing) 167 ATT 895 Yards  9 TD  (Receiving) 16 REC 88 Yards 0 TD

Thomas doesn't have the elite speed that Murray has. His 4.63 40-yard dash may be a little too slow for the NFL, and his stats do not indicate that he is much of a receiving threat (though that could be his Offensive Coordinator's fault). However, Thomas is a little harder to bring down than some of the other small and speedy running-backs around. If the Rams decide to go wide-receiver or defensive-end in the first round, then Thomas may be a nice consolation prize in the second or third round. He may be viewed as a first round prospect now, but combine work out numbers have a way of killing a player's draft stock.

Noel Divine- West Virginia (Sr.)
Height: 5'8" Weight: 180 lbs 40-yard Dash: 4.34
2007-(Rushing) 73 ATT 627 Yards 6 TD (Receiving) 7 REC 90 Yards 0 TD
2008-(Rushing) 206 ATT 1289 Yards 4 TD (Receiving) 35 REC 187 Yards 0 TD
2009-(Rushing) 241 ATT 1465 Yards 13 TD (Receiving) 22 REC 177 Yards 1 TD
2010-(Rushing) 143 ATT 693 Yards 4 TD (Receiving) 24 REC 132 Yards 1 TD

Divine was turned into a national sensation when his high school highlight video was released to the Internet ( His college career wasn't as electric as his high school career, but he certainly did not disappoint. In '08 and '09 he averaged over six yards per carry, and had over 1000 yards both of those years for West Virginia.

Divine is a speedy back that threatens to score every time he touches the ball. He would be very useful as a kick returner, and he would certainly be an ideal change of pace back behind Steven Jackson. Though he is not as dangerous catching the ball as he is running with it, he would definitely be able to serve as a 3rd down back.

The biggest knock on Devine is his size. At 5'8" and only 180 lbs, it's fair to say he is extremely undersized, and may never be an every down back. However, you can't ignore his speed and diversity as a player. Even if he isn't an every down player, he will make up for it with his ability to return kicks, or play receiver. Jahvid Best was a late first round pick in 2010 and was similar in size (5'10" 195 lbs), Best also has a similar running style, and he seems to be doing fine in the NFL. Judging by the spot Best was drafted (30th overall), I am going to predict that Devine gets drafted in a similar spot. So therefor, the Rams may need to trade back into the first round to grab Devine, unless they get lucky and Devine slips to them in the second round. I don't know about you, but I could certainly live with AJ Green in the first round, and Noel Devine in the second.

Mark Ingram- Alabama (Jr.)  
Height: 5'10" Weight: 215 lbs 40-yard Dash: 4.41
2008-(Rushing) 143 ATT 728 Yards 12 TD  (Receiving) 7 REC 54  Yards 0  TD
2009-(Rushing) 271 ATT 1658 Yards 17 TD (Receiving) 32 REC 334 Yards 3 TD
2010-(Rushing) 85 ATT 544 Yards 8 TD  (Receiving) 13 REC 68 Yards 0 TD

If St. Louis picks somewhere is the middle of the first round, then they may certainly have a shot at making Mark Ingram a Ram. Ingram would be the Rams' second consecutive Heisman trophy winner. If the Rams want to build a winning environment, then drafting two Heisman winners in a row would be a hell of a start.

Running-back may not be a pressing need because of Steven Jackson, and the first round pick may be better spent on a receiver, or a defensive-end, but I am a firm believer in teams picking the most valuable player available no matter what. Ingram carried his offense to a National Championship, won the most prestigious award in football, and would add a weapon to the Rams offense. His elusive speed would make him a weapon on every down, and it certainly wouldn't hurt to have Jackson's replacement around, as the 27-year-old Jackson is slowly creeping in on his 30th birthday, a day that is dreaded by all running-backs. Not to mention that Jackson has more mileage than most 27-year-old running-backs.

Ryan Williams- Virginia Tech (Soph.)
Height: 5'10" Weight: 202 lbs 40-yard Dash: 4.49
2009-(Rushing) 293 ATT 1655 Yards 21 TD (Receiving) 16 REC 180 Yards 1 TD
2010-(Rushing) 52 ATT 149 Yards 4 TD (Receiving) 5 REC 82 Yards 1 TD

It seems like the 2011 draft would be the perfect opportunity for the Rams to find a speedy back to compliment Steven Jackson. Just about every back I listed is a speedster, as oppose to a power runner, and Ryan Williams is no exception.

Williams had a ridiculously productive 2009 campaign. As you can see above, he rushed for over 1600 yards and 21 touchdowns. It doesn't matter if it's high school, college, or the pros; if someone rushes for 21 touchdowns in one season, then they are a dangerous offensive weapon. Williams is quick enough to win the the corner, and he is elusive enough to fake out head-on tacklers. He has been under used in the passing game, but I have no doubt that he is talented enough to become a receiving threat out of the backfield.

Williams is a redshirt sophomore, meaning he is eligible for the 2011 draft. His 2010 numbers have been limited due to a nagging hamstring injury. The injury would be a good reason for him to declare for the draft since the 2009 season is still fresh in everyone's memories. If he returns in 2011, and doesn't produce, then his draft stock could be ruined. If he does enters the draft this year, then he would make a solid first round pick for the Rams (assuming they are picking somewhere in the middle). There is also the possibility, due to his injury this year, that he slips to the end of the first round, and St. Louis would then have the chance to trade back into the first round and grab him. Williams would make a solid addition not matter where he is drafted.
Williams was very productive in '09, but is battling injury in '10.

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