Continuing our search for depth and possible future assets, BBD turns to the position of Running Back. You can't have enough good viable running backs and if Spags and company are truely committed to focusing on the run, then we're probably going to have to beef up that position a bit.
Unfortunately, Runnning Back is actually a position that has gotten it's fair share of attention for a long time. I say "unfortunately" because for all the draft picks spent on the position, there's not a whole lot to show for it because it's not like the team has totally neglected to draft or acquire running backs. Now, one could easily make an argument against a lot of the guys they've brought in (Trung Candidate, I'm kinda looking in your direction......oh, and could you please take a seat next to Brian Leonard? Thanks) but there have also been a couple of true stars. And by "a couple" I mean "exactly two".
We all remember the Marshall Faulk trade and how could anyone forget Steven Jackson. For some reason (and this completely baffles me), there are people who doubt that Steven Jackson is an elite running back in the NFL. Personally, I have no idea how you could miss it, but I digress.
Some may point to Jackson's injuries like that's a legitimate knock on the guy. If you haven't noticed, running backs get hurt all the time in today's game. I suppose it's because the defensive players are bigger, stronger, and faster than ever before. Whatever the reason, you can't go into a season any more with one viable running back. Your guy WILL get injured at some point and then you're in big trouble. Plus, having a viable backup allows you to have a change of pace and someone who can give opportunities of rest to Jackson that might actually help keep him healthy.
(btw, did anyone notice Jackson got hurt this past season during garbage time? The game was in hand for the Rams and he was out there getting handoffs. I blame that one on the coaching staff and the fact they didn't have another running back on the roster who was any good. However, even if they didn't have anyone viable, Jackson shouldn't have been out there.)
So, with that being said, we'll take a look at the running back position and some possible upgrades to that number 2 slot which is becoming more and more important.
Let's take a look at the roster.
- Steven Jackson - 6'2" 231 - Signed through 2013 (if he averages 1,200 yards rushing and 400 yards receiving over the first 4 years of his contract he voids the final two years) - Jackson counts $7.4M against this year's cap. Oh, and he's a stud.
- Kenneth Darby - 5'10" 211 - Signed through 2009 (RFA in 2010) - Darby emerged as the number 2 running back for the Rams last year, the question is...is he the guy to hold that spot going forward? Personally, I'm not sure. He's definitely a change of pace back for the Rams and he didn't seem to let the two fumbles in his first game affect his play the rest of the season, so maybe he's a diamond in the rough.
- Antonio Pittman - 5'11" 195 - Signed through 2009 (RFA in 2010) - When the Rams claimed Pittman after the Saints let him walk last year, I thought they had really made a coup. Well, Pittman hasn't exactly shined in his backup role and now finds himself behind Darby on the depth chart while being pretty much the same exact type of runner. I wouldn't be surprised to see Pittman cut lose at some point this offseason especially if the team drafts a running back.
- Brian Leonard - 6'1" 226 - Signed through 2010 - After a really good career at Rutgers, Leonard has failed to do anything in the NFL. He's got great size and has good speed and athleticism, but for whatever reason, he just hasn't (can't?) gotten it done as a pro. He's probably safe for this season, but he'll be gone before the 2010 season.
So, there's our running backs. I suppose your opinion of this unit falls squarely upon how you feel about Kenneth Darby and his ability to be a valuable part of the offense. If the Rams are going to focus on the run as much as they say they are this season, then Darby (or whoever becomes the number 2 RB) will have to be able to log valuable and productive minutes on the field. Can Darby do it? Honestly, I'm not convinced but I feel much better about him than I do about Pittman and Leonard.
But, let's say Darby isn't the answer we all seek. So what now? Do we target a Free Agent or do we look to the draft? Well, there are positives and negatives to each of those options. A draft pick would probably be cheaper since we'd be drafting this position later in the draft and that draft pick could possibly develop into a legit running back but then again with a free agent RB, you pretty much know what you're getting but with less upside. Many RBs fail making the transition to the NFL. Can the Rams afford to lose a draft pick on a guy who fails?
Of course I realize this could be said about any of our draft picks, but with so many needs is it smarter to see if there's a good backup on the market now who has a proven track record? I think it's worth a look.
- Warrick Dunn - Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 5'9" 180 - Could you imagine a backfield of Jackson and Dunn? Wow.......I just got a tingly feeling inside. As of right now, there is no news out there about Dunn. He had a great season last year and would be a great addition to a team as a third down/change of pace back.
- Deuce McAllister - New Orleans Saints - 6'1" 232 - Here's a guy that can do the dirty work........if healthy. He's had both knees operated on but he's been working out at Duke University and says he feels "fine". He also claims he's spoken to "10-12 teams". About what, I'm not sure. But apparently there's some interest in him.
- Ahman Green - Houston Texans - 6'0" 218 - At this point, he's probably too old (32) and too injured to be a legit option here. He had some really good years but has played more than 8 games in only one of his last four seasons.
- Tatum Bell - Denver Broncos - 5'11" 213 - Bell is still a pretty good RB, but his off the field troubles kinda overshadow him and make him a risky signing.
- Dominic Rhodes - Indianpolis Colts - 5'9" 203 - Rhodes probably isn't a great fit for the Rams future run-happy offense. If all the Rams needed was a guy who could get a couple of yards and catch some passes, that'd be fine, but that's not really what they need. They need someone durable who can do some dirty work (so Jackson doesn't have to do it all) and Rhodes probably isn't that guy.
After Rhodes, there really isn't anyone who instills any interest in me. So, what do you think? I really like Dunn and wonder what it would take to get him. Granted, I know I just said in the Dominic Rhodes piece that the Rams need someone who can do some dirty work, but Dunn is just a special talent. He gets things done. Period. And would be a deadly combination in the backfield with SJ.
But, I understand there are people out there who are committed to finding a backup in the draft. There's some guys available, but with this piece I'm not going to be looking at the first 4 rounds. I decided long ago the Rams need to focus on OT, MLB, CB, WR and DT and if they draft anything other than one of those 5 guys in the first four rounds, it'll feel to me as if they've missed out on something.
So, looking at rounds 5 through 7, let's take a look at the Running Backs.
(Remember, if the name is highlighted, click it to read Mocking Dan's scouting report)
- Javon Ringer - Michigan State - 5'8" 205 - Ringer has improved his stock (possibly too much for the Rams to get in the front of the 5th round) since having his knee scoped in January by running a 4.42 40-yard at he combine and by posting a three-cone time that was 0.07 seconds faster than any other running back at the combine. Ringer also had an impressive Pro Day by running the short-shuttle drill in 3.89 seconds. By the way, the fastest running back at the combine (Branden Ore and Bernard Scott) was 4.08 seconds and the best time posted by any player at the combine (Kevin Barnes) was 3.96 seconds. Needless to say, Javon Ringer is healthy, and while his 40-times could improve, having straightaway speed for a running back is less important than the cone and shuttle drills.
- James Davis - Clemson - 5'11" 210 - Davis is not a very good receiver and is just an average runner. He ran a 4.45 40-yard at his Pro Day but many are suspect of the time since it was run on a rubber track and at the Combine he ran a 4.60 40-yard. That's a pretty drastic improvement.
- Mike Goodson - Texas A&M - 6'0" 212 - I like Goodson better than Davis but I'm not in love with him. He's bigger and probably faster than Davis (4.43 Pro Day and 4.54 Combine) but right now, Ringer looks like the pick of this bunch.
- Kory Sheets - Purdue - 6'0" 206 - Had a very good year for Purdue and has possibly been a little over-looked. Probably has a future as a backup/3rd down back and return man in the NFL. Catches the ball well.
- Antone Smith - Florida State - 5'9" 190 - Has vaulted himself on to many a team's radar by posting a 4.32 40-yard, 31 reps on the bench, a 32-inch vertical, and a 10-2 broad jump at his Pro Day (he wasn't invited to the Combine). Typically, I don't advocate drafting Running Backs of this size (Warrick Dunn is a freak of nature). They typically get hurt or are simply unable to make an impact no matter how fast or shifty they may be (Garrett Wolfe).
- Glen Coffee - Alabama - 6'1" 198 - Needs to bulk up a little to make a successful transition to the NFL. Had really only one good year at Alabama and probably should have stayed there for his senior year. If he had, he might have been able to get into the 3rd or 2nd round, but at this point he's at best a 4th rounder and probably a little lower.
- Tavarris Williams - Tennessee State - 5'11" 215 - He's short but powerful. He also shows good quickness and change of direction.
- Ian Johnson - Boise State - 5'11" 212 - Somehow, Ian Johnson put on almost 20 pounds before the Combine and still wowed many scouts. He ran an "un-official" 40 time of 4.30 (his official was 4.46) and has convinced some scouts he's more than just a third-down back in the NFL. Has drawn comparisons to Steve Slaton.
- Arian Foster - Tennessee - 6'1" 215 - I guess we now know where Ian Johnson found that extra weight since it's apparent the "former" power back at Tennessee lost about 20 pounds before the Combine. Ran a 4.73 and a 4.69 40-yard at his pro day. Probably needs to get the weight back to have value in the NFL.
(Check out Mocking Dan's Running Back Rankings)
After Foster, you're probably looking at guys like Jeremiah Johnson...here's his pic (Oregon), Devin Moore (Wyoming), Gartrell Johnson (Colorado State), and Josh Vaughn (Richmond) although any of these guys and a handful of others could be picked up as un-drafted free agents at a later date but they probably aren't what the Rams are looking for anyway.
Of this group, I probably only like Javon Ringer but there's a possibility he could be gone by the time the Rams get to their 5th pick and I don't think I'd like to pick him ahead of any of the other (more important positions) in the draft. Ian Johnson might be one to keep an eye on and you could probably get him in the 5th round (maybe high 6th which would be ideal).
So, at this point, I really want the Rams to take a strong and long look at Warrick Dunn. I think with him in the fold, the Rams offense becomes absoltuely powerful. Plus, adding him takes away from our lack of experience at the WR postion since you'd have the possibitliy of Steven Jackson, Warrick Dunn, and Randy McMichael running routes which would definitely keep defeneses honest and should free up Donnie Avery deep.