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NFL Draft Preview - Running Backs

Reggie Bush isn't holding anything back. He wants to be the number one overall selection when the NFL Draft commences on April 29.

"This is about competing right now," Bush told reporters at the Indianapolis Combine. "I'm competing to be the first pick so it's very important to me because I'm going to do everything I can to position myself to be the number one draft pick."

Bush worked hard throughout the spring and then put on a show for scouts at USC's Pro Day. He ran a sub 4.4 time, lifted 225 pounds 24 times and registered a 40.5 inch vertical leap. Mr. Bush thinks he's cemented his status as the first selection.

"There's always that .1 percent chance, but I'm pretty much 99.9 percent sure," Bush said after his workout. "I think I did become the No. 1 pick. Today was pretty effective in all areas."

The Houston Texans own the number one overall selection and they've said they'll entertain trade offers for the top pick. But unless they get blown away with an offer, it's hard to imagine Houston not selecting Bush.

"I thought I could push the 4.29 barrier or 4.3 flat," Bush said. "But by the end of the day, I'm still happy. I can't wait to help turn the Texans around."

The Texans have many needs and incumbent RB Domanick Davis produced more than 1,300 yards of total offense last season. Gary Kubiak, the Texans new head coach, comes from a Denver zone-blocking system which always received tremendous productions from its backs. There is no need to for Houston to take a quarterback because David Carr has all the tools, and he could be poised for a breakout in his fifth season.

It would make sense for the Texans to trade down and accumulate picks, but how much will teams be willing to pay? If GM Charlie Casserly can't find tremendous value and orchestrate a trade, Reggie Bush will get his wish.

The 6'0", 200-pound Bush is a highlight film waiting to happen. Every time he touches the ball, you sense that he is going to break another one. Bush, who captured the 71st Heisman Trophy this past winter, led the nation in all-purpose yards with 222.3 per game and he averaged 8.9 yards per carry. On the next level, he will continue to dazzle with elusiveness and speed. Many question whether Bush will project to be an every-down back because he shared the load with talented teammate LenDale White, but teams will find ways to get Bush the ball. He will become a match-up nightmare for defensive coordinators when he runs pass patterns and Bush also has superior return skills. He doesn't have great size, so you won't see Bush pushing people backwards. But when this kid gets space, you can forget about it. People have compared him to Gayle Sayers.

"I can be an every-down back even though I'm not the biggest guy," he says. "I'm not 220 pounds but I can still carry the load. Obviously, I want the ball in my hand. I'm a playmaker."

Joseph Addai is another playmaker at running back. His name didn't generate much buzz early, but then the 5'11", 208-pound back ripped off a 4.4, 40-yard dash time at the Combine. Addai, who was slowed by injuries at LSU, also displayed his abilities with an 130-yard rushing effort against Miami in the Peach Bowl. He is a not only a tough runner but someone who will pick up oncoming blitzers and he's a good receiver. Addai is not tremendously elusive but scouts love his versatility. Expect his stock to continue to soar.

The aforementioned LenDale White is a huge prospect at 6'1 ¾", 235-pounds, and he is the kind of player who can wear defenses down. But White's draft stock is on the decline. He showed up to Pro Day weighing 244 pounds and refused to run. White, who never ran at USC, does not have a 40 time on record. He is a downhill runner and a handful to bring down due to his lower body strength. Despite sharing the SC workload with Bush, White rushed for more than 1,300 yards in '05 and totaled 26 rushing touchdowns. White, a player many expected would be the second running back selected, is moving down most boards.

Laurence Maroney, 5'11", 205, is yet another junior entry who decided to forgo his senior season. At Minnesota, Maroney displayed good cut-back ability behind a quality Gopher offensive line. He rushed for 1,464 yards last season on 281 attempts, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Minnesota head coach Glenn Mason called his workhorse's number 46 times against Purdue and 43 times against Wisconsin. Maroney will need some work on his blocking and didn't catch the ball a lot at UM, but this is a player thought highly upon. He has first round value.

Memphis isn't a football factory, so people might overlook "little" DeAngelo Williams. That would be a mistake. Williams, 5'8 ½", 208, ran for 1,964 yards as a senior and then flashed during Senior Bowl week. Williams didn't face great competition in college, but there is no doubting his quickness and strength. He runs low and can hide himself behind offensive linemen and then burst into the open field. His 34 100-yard rushing games set an NCAA record. Scouts like his vision and Williams also possesses good hands.

Brian Calhoun is another small back who made a lot of things happen on the collegiate level. Calhoun, 5'8 ½", 200, ran the ball 348 times in '05 for 1,636 yards. He also racked up an additional 571 receiving yards on 53 receptions. The Wisconsin product runs in the 4.4s and has the speed to get to the corner. Calhoun saved perhaps his best collegiate performance for last, racing by Auburn defenders for a 213-yard, 1 TD rushing day against the Tigers at the Capital One Bowl. He runs upright for a small back and shouldn't be counted on as a blocker. Calhoun will probably be selected on Day One.

More Notables

Jerious Norwood: 5'11 3/8", 205 (Mississippi State) Give him space and watch out. Norwood runs a sub 4.4 and plays bigger than his size. Coaches say he brings his lunch-pail every day and teams won't be able to ignore his speed. He is a day one candidate.

Maurice Drew: 5'8", 212 (UCLA) An electrifying return man who could provide teams with a change of pace in the backfield.

Leon Washington: 5'7 5/8", 210 (Florida State) Runs very low to the ground and is coming off a disappointing senior season. Washington was plagued by injuries most of this career.

Jerome Harrison: 5'9 1/8", 196 (Washington State) Relative unknown prior to his senior season and then rushed for 1,900 yards, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. The 5'9 1/8", 196-pound Harrison is a shifty cutback runner who is more effective on the outside.

The '06 fullback grouping is considered thin once again. There are a couple of decent players among the bunch, but no fullback is going to be a first-day selection.

Among The Notables

Garrett Mills: 6'0 3/4", 236 (Tulsa) Played tight end in college and never ran the football. He performed well in Mobile, Alabama and his receiving skills will buy him a shot in the NFL possibly as an H-back. Mills' 1,235 receiving yards in '05 set an NCAA record for a tight end. He'll need to improve as a blocker.

Matt Bernstein, 6'0 5/8", 267 (Wisconsin) Big, strong kid who is a more than a competent blocker. Bernstein was slowed by a sports hernia during his senior season. He actually carried the ball 83 times in '04, while averaging 3.6 yards per carry.

Lawrence Vickers, 5'11 7/8", 239 (Colorado) He needs to get stronger and add weight, but Vickers can run and catch. He is also a quality special teams performer.

Gilbert Harris, 6'1 ½", 223 (Arizona) - Was a backup running back at 'Zona. Harris is a good short-yardage player who also owns good receiving skills. His durability is a question and he'll have to add some weight.

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