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2009 NFL Draft - Between the Tackles - Running Backs Ranked for the Denver Broncos



 With the scheme change on offense, evaluating RBs gets a little bit more tricky.  Are we still a one-cut and go zone-block system?  How much will the RBs be featured, and from what types of sets and formations?

Without direct answers to these questions, I went ahead as well as I could.   The prospects listed here for your consideration are all at least one-cut capable, though most of them had significant one-cut tape to evaluate.  Players were ranked a little bit higher if they were okay with situations where they weren't "the man" and either had to share the workload, or were considered smaller parts of bigger systems.  I tossed out several good backs who weren't one-cut runners, and who had significant injury problems.  I also removed a number of players who I felt had the wrong kind of attitude, whether it was someone who had off-field problems, or someone who didn't seem to have the right work-ethic.

Regardless of which way this offense goes, you can't have too many versatile players who can run between the tackles, flare out with good hands for the reception, or block willingly (and well) in the passing game.  Generally, players who met at least two of those three standards are included here.  Only one, or heaven forbid, fewer standards, will have to apply elsewhere.

Lets check out the rankings:


RB--Knowshon Moreno  


Knowshon Moreno, Georgia:  Easily one of the most dynamic players in the draft, it isn't Knowshon's measurables that elevate his play, but his unwillingness to give up.  His measurables are good enough to aid him in historic production in his efforts to win ball games, and his vision, cutback ability, quickness, receiving and ball handling all grade out at the top.  He is no slouch as a blocker and knows how to follow blocks, and he is a smart, confident player who has no trouble absorbing and understanding plays.  His athleticism is rare, and for every scout or analyst who tells you that Moreno plays too physical for his size, there will be an offensive line coach who pines after a football player.  A can't-miss prospect.

RB--Chris Wells  


Chris Wells, Ohio State:  Wells is an excellent runner with a bruising style and terrific vision and feel for cutback lanes.  Some question his durability, others believe he is like a futon sofa that doesn't know the difference between getting injured and playing hurt.  He certainly wobbled along on some beat-up wheels through his career, and that may have taken some tread off the tires.  But there is little else to grade him out poorly on, so only team need can drive him down the board.

RB--Donald Brown


Donald Brown, Connecticut:  My biggest problem in evaluating Brown is noting how many times he surprised me; he isn't exceptionally fast through the second level, but he timed well, and flashed some quicks on the field.  He made some terrible read errors, but also could consistently hit the seam early.  So which is it?  Despite his production, I found myself grading him out low in several key small areas, such as his vision, timing, feet and hands.  My expectation is that the production won't translate without comparable starters on the line in front of him, and that his production isn't always self-created.

RB--LeSean McCoy  


LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh:  Funny story.  I thought I had seen the last of Tatum Bell when he was sent to Detroit, but lo, in 2008 I got to see him twice.  Once as an injury replacement for the Broncos, and then again when I was analyzing McCoy.  That isn't entirely a bad thing, but I think it is bad enough to caution against it.  He has very good quickness and feet, and he can actually read the line a little better than Tatum, but he is too tentative when the play is tight, preferring to dance around instead of getting downhill, and he also struggles in pass-blocking support, though Tatum showed that was something that came with time.  He has a similar "Give me the rock" attitude, and if he was allowed to be an outside runner, catching swings (he has very good hands) and reading stretch plays he could be very effective.  But in a one-cut system he will be in over his head, and in an offense that asks its RBs to be patient  and take what is given, he probably won't fit in.

RB--Rashaad Jennings


Rashaad Jennings, Liberty:  Another player we have seen before, and may be worth a look if the Broncos don't feel they can rely on what Torain offers.  Jennings runs well inside, has a great stiff-arm and good vision.  He played in some zone-offense at Liberty, and could learn and adjust well.  He protects the ball, falls forward and gets downhill, while his cuts are decisive, but not top-level quick.  He also tends to favor an upright running-style like Torain, which could wear him down with enough reps, though he does show he can run low, and may just need more coaching here.  He could be very effective for Denver, but there are limited reps to analyze, so the 2nd round will likely be too high to take a chance.  If I could, i would give him a 3.5 star rating, but as it is, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and give him a four.

RB--Andre Brown  


Andre Brown, North Carolina State:  Basically a perfect specimen for a zone-block running system, Brown also has some characteristics of the recent New England RBs:  he has been asked to play a limited role out of the backfield, which hampered his stats, and was asked to block in the passing game, as well as catch out of the backfield.  He has excellent running power, and does a good job of leaning forward, running downhill, and keeping his feet moving.  He doesn't have elite quickness but is adequate, and is above-average reading the blocks and cutting.  His hands aren't great but he body catches well, and was adequate in the receiving game.  His combine showed that he will get better in every area, so it is likely that the limited reps along with durability concerns will allow some team to get a deal on a young RB currently in a major upswing, potential-wise.

RB--Shonn Greene  


Shonn Greene, Iowa:  Greene runs hard and stays low, which allows him to bounce off defenders and keep the legs moving.  His pass blocking is willing and above average, and he seems to take some degree of pleasure in popping defenders.  He is another back, like Wells, who was used sparingly as a receiver, and there were questions regarding his coachability and attitude that only sit-down interviews will be able to dispel.  He isn't really fast enough to be a home-run threat, but he has good, quick feet and nice vision.  Not as many cutback runs as you would like in an evaluation for the Broncos, and overall not a lot of tape to watch period, as a one-year starter, but it is easy to like what you see.  I think the Broncos will be hoping he slips a bit before they need to make a decision about him.

RB--Cedric Peerman  


Cedric Peerman, Virginia:  Closer to a change-of-pace-style back, which Denver may still value, Peerman is like an upgraded version of Andre Hall.  He runs nice and low, keeps his feet moving and falls forward, yet plays very quick, can make moves at the second level and can pull away if he gets in the clear.  What the coaches will like, however, is how hard he works, and how much effort he puts into every play, regardless of the situation.  Unfortunately, though he is a good receiver, he had some poorly timed fumbles, and with small hand measurements, analysts have reason for concern.  It will be interesting to see if he falls down draft boards, and if he did, where Denver might target him.  I give him 3 stars, and if he should fall far enough, that could be a steal.

RB--Javon Ringer  


Javon Ringer, Michigan State:  This kid is very exciting, but with significant knee-injury history, his stock should be, and stay, low.  When healthy, he does a great job of being patient, of following his blocks and reading the line.  Doesn't always have the burst to get through the hole, but shows flashes of quickness when coming off the lineman's hips to the outside.  As a runner used primarily to gain the outside, or to follow pulling guards, Ringer could excel.  He also is adequate catching out of the backfield.  But to the degree that teams need him to run inside, his reps will need to be limited until he establishes total health and quickness, or he will get beat on until he is out of the NFL.

RB--Kory Sheets  


Kory Sheets, Purdue:  Sheets was a lot of fun to analyze, and when I learned that McDaniels would be the Denver coach, one of the first draft prospects I thought of was Sheets.  He played in a wide-open spread formation, and split carries and time with other backs consistently.  Yet, when injuries put the workload all on him, he responded very well, and produced.  He is quick through the hole, has good vision and stellar patience, and can cut very nicely.  He doesn't quite drive into tackles though, and only manages to fall forward about half the time.  He has a rangy build that can accommodate some more bulk, so hopefully he goes that route, because it shows up in his pass blocking as well, where he has the will, but not the way, giving up power to most LBs.  He has a wild-card trait, which may turn some people off:  he called out his underachieving QB in the press.  To follow the season, you might understand how this didn't seem like a problem at the time, as Purdue's struggles did indeed seem to revolve around Painter's mysterious descent into mediocrity. Is Sheets a team leader or a team cancer?  Your guess is as good as mine, but the Broncos may be desperate for leadership from any quarter on offense, once the season rolls around.

RB--Ian Johnson  


Ian Johnson, Boise State:  As a Big Blue fan I have seen a lot of Ian Johnson, and I pretty much have him pegged, I think.  Where I messed up was in evaluating his drive to succeed.  He is definitely putting the pressure on the NFL to not overlook him, and it may just work.  He is a smart player, who plays hard and is extremely loyal and coachable.  He has good, not great hands out of the backfield, is a willing blocker, and runs well with limited reps in a zone-block-style system.  In terms of playing in McDaniels' scheme, the good news is that Ian is definitely team-first, and even though his draft stock was at stake, he willingly sacrificed carries throughout his junior and senior campaigns because that is what the team needed.  He unfortunately had several injuries, including a punctured lung, which will impact his stock.  As a result, his sophomore production (which was tremendous) may slip to the backs of people's minds, and some team that doesn't forget will get a smart, low-mileage player on the cheap.

RB--Arian Foster  


Arian Foster, Tennessee:  The big question I have is whether Foster can cure his fumble-itis, but if he can, he would be a tremendous pickup as a last pick in the draft or better yet, a UFA.  He runs with a power style, yet has the quickness to one-cut and go.  He could play with more power though, and he could also get better at reading his line, but in the meantime, his leg-churn and forward lean should help him contribute where needed.

RB--Chris Ogbonnaya


Chris Ogbonnaya, Texas:  Might be a Steal of the Draft-type of prospect, similar to Hillis last year.  Chris was buried by the depth chart at Texas, but when he got his chance, he took full advantage of it.  He is a top-level receiver out of the backfield, and a willing and capable blocker when he stays in.  Very patient, with good vision, and an excellent first step in the cut., and just enough movement at the second level to buy the room he needs to fall forward.  Not a master of any specific aspect of the backfield, he could well be picked up as a special-teamer, and given the role he has occupied much of his career, and capitalized on:  waiting for his chance.