Breaking Down the 2010 Running Back Class
By: Ian Kenyon
March 24, 2010
Ryan Mathews: Top RB?
For the past couple of months, C.J. Spiller has sat across the top of most boards while the list below them has shifted tremendously. Spiller still may be the first running back selected, but I donít believe that heíll be the most successful of the backs in the NFL. My top five running backs this year are Ryan Mathews, Jahvid Best, C.J. Spiller, Jonathan Dwyer and Montario Hardesty. The order I believe the running backs will come off the board is Spiller, Mathews, Best, Dexter McCluster and then Dwyer. Let me make a case for my list.

Letís start at the top. Iíve been extremely high on Ryan Mathews all year and may have been one of the first people to rank him as a first round prospect. Heís 5-11, 218 pounds with 4.45 speed and has great change-of-direction ability. I love his ability to play on all three downs and carry the load as a feature back at the next level. The other two runners who get first round consideration (Best and Spiller) are smaller backs and Mathews is the only true feature back in this class.

Jahvid Best
Second is Jahvid Best. Best is very similar to Spiller, but I feel that he is a more natural runner who is a little bit better between the tackles. Best is another player who will probably be a better complementary back than feature back, but his talent level is worth first round consideration. Heís got 4.35 speed and amazing vision that allows him to be a good runner between the tackles. I love his balance and his ability to recover after being hit. Had he not had that fluke neck injury, I think Best would be considered ahead of Spiller by almost everyone. Heís also a multi-dimensional player who can contribute in the passing game and in special teams. The knock on him is his size at just under 200 pounds; many wonder how heíll handle the pounding in the NFL. Overall, heís a player that can contribute in a variety of ways and should find himself 150-200 carries per season while contributing on third downs and as a returner.

C.J. Spiller
Now we get to C.J. Spiller, who will probably be the first RB drafted this year. I may be criticized for having Spiller third when heís been the consensus number one for so long, but let me explain. C.J. Spiller is not going to be an every-down back in the NFL. To quote fellow NFL Draft expert Scott Wright, "Spiller is a luxury pick," and I couldnít agree more. Heís a prototypical change-of-pace back who can break the long run and contribute on special teams. Iíve seen many comparisons to Chris Johnson, but Spiller isnít as good between the tackles as Johnson is and a better comparison would be Reggie Bush. Thatís the type of role heíll take on an NFL team. So when ranking my best running backs, Iím trying to take into account the type of impact that I think the player will have on his future team. The best scenario for Spiller will be to go to a team who has another established RB so Spiller can come in for relief duty and in passing situations to give the team a spark.

Jonathan Dwyer
Jonathan Dwyer was higher in our rankings during most of the season, but dropped due to a lack-luster end to his season and some poor performances in post-season workouts. Heís a guy who can be a workhorse back, but doesnít have the explosiveness to stand out in the NFL. He was able to benefit from playing in Paul Johnsonís triple-option offense that relies on misdirection and Dwyer broke some long runs, but heís not very fast which was evidenced by a 4.59-40 time at this yearís combine. Heís got a big body at 5-11, 229 pounds and can run well between the tackles. Had he run in the 4.45 range like Mathews did, heíd be the number one back in this class in my opinion, but there just doesnít seem to be much breakaway ability in Dwyer. He was also rather disappointing at the combine in the strength drills after posting just 15 reps of 225 pounds on the bench. For a guy thatís supposed to be a bruising runner, thatís going to hurt him. One thing to like about Dwyer is how he drives his legs when he gets hit; he keeps his legs moving on contact and is always looking for the extra yard which will make him a great threat in the red zone. Dwyer will likely find himself somewhere in the second round and make a team very happy.

Montario Hardesty
Last on my list is Montario Hardesty. Hardesty started the year at #12 on my rankings and has continually climbed up. Heís done nothing wrong this year and looks like a legit NFL running back. Every time I watch him, I canít help but think of Clinton Portis. Hardesty is 5-11, 225 pounds, has 4.49 speed and is a very patient, natural runner. Even with his speed, he prefers to run between the tackles, wait for his blockers, and grind out five to six yards each play. I love his potential in the NFL as a guy who can get 300 carries and average four to five yards per carry. Heís not a shifty runner and isnít great in the open-field, heíd much rather lower his shoulder and just get the extra yard or two. It also must be said that Hardesty was able to beat out the number one running back recruit in the country, Bryce Brown, for carries this year and kept Brown on the bench for most of the year. One interesting thing about Hardesty is how he utilizes the spin move. Most running backs donít use the spin move unless theyíre playing a game of Madden, but Hardesty uses it regularly and itís very deceptive. Since he doesnít have the quickest feet, the spin move has helped him overcome that and allow him to juke out defenders on his way to the second level. I think Hardesty will probably go in the third round and will be an absolute steal.

Dexter McCluster
The one player I donít have listed is Dexter McCluster. McCluster is another smaller runner whose contribution will be as a multi-dimensional weapon. His versatility is his biggest strength. McCluster was a WR, RB, and KR at Mississippi and will likely see time at all three positions in the NFL. Many people questioned his speed after running a 4.58 at the combine, but he came back to run a 4.39 at his pro day and will likely be selected in the second round. The key to McCluster isnít his straight-line speed, its his quickness. He ran a 4.06 in the 20-yard shuttle at the combine, by far the fastest of any running back in attendance. He has instant acceleration and can make ankle-breaking moves in the secondary without slowing down. I love his ability as a change-of-pace back that can double as a kick-returner as well. When creating my list of the top five backs, McCluster would have been my choice for number six.

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