RBs: Trio in Front on the Backstretch

This is the third in a series of position-by-position stories on the NFL Draft by newyorkjets.com.  

On the surface, you'd have to wonder what the Jets would need with a first-day-of-the-draft running back.

Thomas Jones and Leon Washington combined for 1,760 rushing yards last year, at 4.8 yards a carry. Their 19 combined rushing TDs were the most by a running back tandem in franchise history.

Both went to the Pro Bowl in February, with Leon going of course as the AFC's return specialist, but both ran the ball in the all-star game and it marked the first time an NFL team's top two backs reached the Pro Bowl together since 2001 (Tampa Bay's Warrick Dunn and FB Mike Alstott) and the first time a team's top two tailbacks were so honored since 1997 (New England's Curtis Martin and David Meggett).

"These guys keep a defense off balance," RBs coach Anthony Lynn told newyorkjets.com recently. "Thomas is quicker than he is fast but he can go the distance. And Leon is just fast. So Thomas will pound you, pound you, then Leon will come in and hit a hole and take it to the house."

And this doesn't even take into account ageless FB Tony Richardson, who has played in three other Pro Bowls and who has re-upped for another season to block for TJ and Leon.

But as we all know, things happen in the NFL. Contracts need to be signed or extended. Injuries happen, especially in the offensive backfield. And as head coach Rex Ryan has said, the Jets "are going to have an all-weather offense, and that starts with a running game." And any ground-and-pound approach in the NFL will need a back or two waiting in the wings.

With that in mind, here is a rundown of the RBs and FBs who figure to go high in the 2009 NFL Draft and could be waiting there for the Jets at No. 17 or for any of the other teams in need of a leather lugger.

Moreno: Big Dog in the Draft

Although there's some leapfrogging among mock drafts for the top of the tailback position, the top 'dog in most mocks is Knowshon Moreno, the Georgia redshirt sophomore who's leaving school early to help support his family and seek fame and fortune in the NFL.

"I'll be happy to go anywhere," Moreno said at the February combine workouts. "They'll be getting a great person, an accountable guy. I'll be ready to participate and compete."

Moreno's been competing at a high level for a while. This is completely coincidental to any draft considerations, but his high school heroics took place about 45 miles from the Jets' Atlantic Health Training Center in Florham Park, N.J., down the Garden State Parkway at Middletown South HS. His 782 overall points are No. 1 in New Jersey history, as are his playoff totals of 25 TDs and 152 points, and his 6,268 rushing yards are No. 2.

Then in the past two seasons for UGa, Moreno motored for 30 TDs and 2,734 yards. Even though he teamed with QB Matt Stafford and Stafford is expected to go higher in this draft (perhaps as high as first overall), Moreno was voted the Bulldogs' team MVP last season.

He has solid size (5'11", 217), fine versatility (53 receptions for 704 yards in 2007-08) and excellent lateral quickness (6.84 seconds in the three-cone drill, second-best among RBs at the combine). So what's not to like?

Well, his straightaway speed, perhaps. He was timed at 4.62 seconds in the 40 at the combine, then at 4.60 and 4.63 at Georgia's pro day. "It's not too slow," insisted ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay. "Emmitt Smith didn't run exceptionally well, and he turned out to have a pretty good career."

True, but that lack of exceptional speed has prevented many draft watchers from lifting Moreno up from the bottom half of the first round.

Beanie, Brown Also Vie to Be Top RB

As a result, the status of the draft's No. 1 back does get bandied about a bit among Moreno, Chris "Beanie" Wells of Ohio State and Donald Brown of UConn.

Wells also has a great track record — named the 2005 National Player of the Year out of Garfield HS in Akron, OH, he racked up 1,609 yards and 15 TDs for the Buckeyes in 2007 and added 1,197 more last season despite a problem foot injury. He's big (6'1", 235) and runs downhill. With that size, his speed isn't blazing, but his 10'8" broad jump was the best among the combine RBs.

The only trouble with Beanie may be his durability in that he's sat out several full games and portions of several others, including his last game at OSU, the 2009 Fiesta Bowl.

Brown (5'10", 210) is another New Jersey standout (Red Bank Catholic) and was named the 2009 International Bowl MVP and Big East Offensive Player of the Year for the Huskies. He had some excellent combine tests (41.5" vertical, 11.30-second 60 shuttle, both best among RBs). NFL.com's Mike Mayock says of him: "Great quickness, makes people miss, patient." But can he overcome the lack of UConn tailback success at the next level?

LeSean McCoy (5'10", 198) of Pitt has great quickness and vision, which leads to fine cutback ability, but his small frame hurts him in blitz pickup. Mike Goodson (6'0", 208) of Texas A&M has versatility, burst and acceleration but also perhaps maturity issues. Both are underclassmen as well.

Fullbacks

Tony Fiammetta of Syracuse and Quinn Johnson of LSU both have some versatility in their backgrounds.

Johnson (6'1", 246) told Sirius NFL Radio that when the Bayou Bengals coaches suggested before 2006 spring practices that he switch from linebacker to fullback, "I thought they were joking." He touched the ball only 17 times on offense as a senior, but his thick frame and desire to hit people earned him a Senior Bowl invitation.

Fiammetta was a top Maryland schoolboy tailback recruit who went to TE and finally to FB at the 'Cuse. He's got size (6'0", 245) and strength (30 reps in the 225-pound benchpress) and also hands as well.

Other Notables

Shonn Greene, RB, Iowa; Rashad Jennings, RB, Liberty; Javon Ringer, RB, Michigan State; Brannan Southerland, FB, Georgia.

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