This is the sixth in a series of position-by-position stories on the NFL Draft by newyorkjets.com.
The Jets enter the draft in good position at running back.
They have an emerging young bulldozer in Shonn Greene and a future Hall of Famer out to prove he has a lot of good football remaining in LaDainian Tomlinson. Veteran FB Tony Richardson re-signed to thump for another year, youngsters Danny Woodhead, Jason Davis and Chauncey Washington return, and the wild card is Leon Washington, a talented restricted free agent who is coming off a significant leg injury and who just signed his tender and returned to the Jets' offseason strength and conditioning program this week.
But this is a team that has every intention of hosting home playoff games at its new stadium in harsh January conditions, so the Green & White will take a long look at the backs next weekend.
"There are some playmakers at the running back spot this year," Joey Clinkscales, the Jets' VP of college scouting, told newyorkjets.com. "Ryan Mathews from Fresno State led the country in rushing, C.J. Spiller of Clemson is very explosive, and you have Cal's Jahvid Best, who's very explosive but missed the latter part of the season with concussions. We feel like there is a little bit of depth at that position as well."
Spiller will be the first back selected. The 5'11", 196-pounder, a threat to take it to the house every single time, had an astonishing 21 TDs of 50 yards or longer at Clemson. Last season he became the first player in ACC history with at least 1,000 yards rushing (1,212) and 500 yards receiving (503). Running outdoor track for the Tigers in 2008-09, he finished second at the ACC meet to teammate Jacoby Ford in the 100 meters. Having never missed a game at Clemson, Spiller's seven career kickoff return touchdowns (including four in '09) established an NCAA record.
Blessed with scintillating speed, Spiller posted a 4.37 40-yard time in Indy. He also graduated in 3½ years.
"As a little kid, it's something you always dreamed about — playing in the NFL," he said. "Now that I'm here, I haven't stopped working and haven't gotten complacent because I have not yet arrived at the potential I want to be. Everyone can voice their own opinion. But I know I play the game with passion, no matter my size or height."
Mathews (6'0", 218) amassed 1,808 yards on the ground and scored 19 times last season. He's a hard-nosed runner who set a Fresno State record with seven straight 100-yard games in '09.
You can place Cal's Best into the same category as Spiller. Despite missing his final four games with a concussion, Best scored 16 touchdowns (12 rushing, four receiving) and rushed for 867 yards on 141 carries. The 5'10", 199-pounder rushed for 1,580 yards in '08 and averaged a gaudy 8.1 yards per carry. His 4.35 time in the 40 led all backs at the Indy combine.
Best of the Rest
It will be fascinating to watch Stanford's Toby Gerhart progress in the NFL. A Heisman Trophy finalist, Gerhart was unstoppable while running for 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns. No Cardinal scored more touchdowns at Stanford as Gerhart celebrated 44 times — all on the ground. He plays a power game and has the ability to wear defenses down, but it would be foolish to underrate his athleticism. This is a dual-sport star who also played center field for the Cardinal baseball team.
Tennessee RB Montario Hardesty, who was among the 30 players the Jets hosted at their Atlantic Health Training Center last week, has seen his stock rise dramatically since August. Slowed by injuries early in his career at UT, the 6'0", 225-pounder tallied 1,345 yards on the ground last season.
"He's a physical back who played at about 220 this past season," said Clinkscales. "He's been hurt in the past [three surgeries], so this has really been his only major year of production, but he's a talented player. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he can pick up the blitz and he has pretty good hands."
Jonathan Dwyer was nothing if not consistent in his final two years at Georgia Tech, turning in identical 1,395-yard campaigns. "Diesel" Dwyer (5'11", 229) had 17 career 100-yard rush games and 36 TDs for the Rambling Wreck. Georgia Tech operated out of a triple-option attack, so Dwyer is going to line up deeper in the backfield and will be able to generate some more steam charging to the line. Nobody's going to want any part of this guy on the second level.
After experimenting with the spread, Auburn went back to its roots with a more conventional rush attack last season. Remember the name Ben Tate because he is coming off a 1,362-yard campaign with the Tigers. That was the fourth-highest single-season total in school history and Auburn's had plenty of quality runners come through its system. Tate, who posted tremendous numbers at the combine with a 4.43 time in the 40-yard dash, 26 reps of 225 pounds on the bench and a 40.5-inch vertical, is a guy not many fans are talking about but could be a sleeper surprise.
There aren't a ton of fullbacks out there, but Virginia's Rashawn Jackson might be the best of the bunch. Jackson (6'1", 239) led the Wahoos in rushing last year with 461 yards and he also caught 25 balls. Everyone calls Kentucky's John Conner a "throwback" and the Wildcats' "Terminator" was also a dependable special teams player.
Versatile Dexter McCluster of Mississippi was covered in our preview on wide receivers.
Joique Bell, RB, Wayne State;LeGarrette Blount, RB, Oregon;Anthony Dixon, RB, Mississippi State; Stafon Johnson, RB, Southern Cal; Deji Karim, RB, Southern Illinois; Joe McKnight,RB, Southern Cal; James Starks, RB, Buffalo; Manase Tonga, FB, BYU.