In the weeks leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft (April 26-27), BR.com will offer a look into the top prospects by position. This week, we had three running backs to watch. Here's a snapshot of the best of the rest in alphabetical order.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Texas (5-11, 200)- A former track star at the collegiate level, Charles is a speedster that can really torch a defense. He lettered twice in track at Texas, while earning first-team All-Big 12 honors three times on the gridiron. The lightning-fast junior ran for 1,619 yards and 18 touchdowns last year, averaging 6.3 yards per carry and eclipsing 100 yards seven times.
In his own words:(Charles on running the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine) "I love running. That's the most thing I got over some people. I got the advantage of running. That's what I do best: running. If I lift weights, I'm going to do the weights. I'm strong. But running is where I'm going to go with always. That's what I do."
Mike Hart, RB, Michigan (5-8, 206) - Hart burst onto the scene at a storied Michigan program as the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year in 2004 and never looked back. A three-time All-Big Ten honoree, Hart went 1,005 carries in between fumbles, posting 1,015 attempts throughout his career and becoming only the fourth player in conference history to rush for over 5,000 yards. Even though he's got a lot of wear on his tires, Hart proved durable throughout his career, with the exception coming in a sprained ankle last season that kept him out of three games.
In his own words:(Hart on if teams are worried about the high amount of carries he's had) "They might be, but if you watch film on me, I don't take too many clean hits. I haven't really been hit that much in college. I had a lot of carries, but not a lot of clean hits. So, with all my injuries, there have been no shoulder injuries, many tears or anything like that, or dislocated knees. There have been sprained ankles and a hamstring pull. So my body's fine."
Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers (5-8, 199)- Despite his diminutive size, Rice is certainly big-time in Rutgers' record books. He's the first player to rush for over 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. Through his career, he started 37 of 38 games and saved his best campaign for last. As a junior last year, Rice dominated Big East competition by rushing for 2,012 yards and 24 touchdowns on 380 carries. There were questions about his speed coming out of college, but a 4.48 time in the 40-yard dash did much to improve his status.
In his own words:(Rice on being a smaller back) "When I look at the NFL, how many small backs are carrying the load? I think that term 'small back' is used in a different way. I feel like being a small back can be an advantage. You got a big old lineman 6-6, once you get behind him, before you are two or three or yards down the field defenders probably can't even see you.
"Being small can be an advantage. Being small has a lot to do with the kind of heart you have. I run bigger than my size. I usually don't shy away from too much contact, which definitely at the next level you have to work on because everybody's bringing it. But I definitely run bigger than my size."* *
Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia (5-9, 197)- In three seasons, Slaton topped 1,000 yards each year for a prolific West Virginia offense. He made an impact as soon as he stepped on campus, rushing for 1,128 yards and 17 touchdowns during his inaugural campaign. Slaton followed that with a first-team All-American showing in 2006, setting a school record with 1,744 yards and 16 scores. Even while splitting time with the explosive Noel Devine last year, Slaton was a playmaking threat. Slaton would best serve an NFL team as a change-up scat back.
In his own words:(Slaton on the potential to succeed as a rookie) "I succeeded in high school, as a freshman in high school and as a freshman in college, I think I have the mentality to be good."
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon (5-10, 235)- Think Jamal Lewis. Or Larry Johnson. Stewart is a stout runner that has the strength to bowl over tacklers and the speed to break away from them. He put together a stellar collegiate campaign in Eugene, Ore. that was capped last year with a 1,722-yard, 11-touchdown campaign despite battling ankle, toe and hand injuries. Stewart is projected to be a first-round talent even though he recently had surgery on his turf toe. He made his impression at the NFL Combine, where he ran a 4.46 40-yard dash.
In his own words:(Stewart on his surgery) "I want to be a great football player. If I had a lingering toe injury, it would have hindered me next year. That's the whole reason we got it done. It's not going to affect my draft status at all. Otherwise we would have put more thought into doing it."