By Chris Warner
Our series on Patriots positions of need marches on with an inspection of available running backs. Though the team lost free agent Benjarvus Green-Ellis, second-year players Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen look primed to pick up much of that production.
New England returns Lil’ Danny Woodhead and adds fullbacks Spencer Larsen and Tony Fiammetta, the most fullbacks this team has had on the roster since 1978. (That’s not true, but you probably had to think about it.)
With youth and tested veterans at the position, would a draft pick end up as more than summer camp fodder? Let’s take a look.
New England has two picks in the first round (27 and 31 overall), two in the second (48, 62), one in the third (93) and one in the fourth (126). They have traded away their fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round picks.
DAY ONE (Round One)
Overview: Not a lot of top-tier talent this year, but great depth. See what we mean…
Trent Richardson, Alabama (5-9, 228). A bowling ball with legs, Richardson won’t blow anyone away with his speed (4.48 40) but his production against SEC defenses makes him the consensus top back in the draft.
Of note: played for Coach Bill Belichick friend (and fellow curmudgeon) Nick Saban.
DAY TWO (Rounds Two and Three)
Overview: Some noteworthy choices here, so-called “value” picks that might end up in Foxboro if available. Any one of them could make the Patriots’ offense just that much better.
Doug Martin, Boise State (5-9, 223). His 4.55 40 will keep Martin out of the first round, but his size, strength (28 bench reps of 225 pounds) and agility (6.79-second 3-cone drill) will ensure a phone call on Day Two. Martin looks like an accomplished overall back who could contribute right away. Plus, he’ll get to play atop something other than BSU’s hideous blue field.
Lamar Miller, Miami (5-11, 212). Miller’s a smooth runner with strong vision and breakaway speed (4.40 40). Has been considered as a first-rounder and would prove difficult for teams to overlook here.
Plus, Belichick loves Miami guys. He’s more into Hurricanes than the Weather Channel.
DAY THREE (Rounds Four through Seven)
Overview: Some intrigue in the later rounds as this class shows its depth at running back. New England only has one fourth round pick, but they have a better trade history than a Moroccan bazaar and should end up with more Day Three selections on April 28.
Chris Rainey, Florida (5-8, 180). Make It Rainey. Here Comes The Rainey Again… Oh, sorry. Just working on some headlines for the Peninsular Playmaker. Rainey’s only a little bigger than a corgi, but he can make his feet blur (4.40 40, 3.93 20-yard shuttle, 6.50 3-cone). All Rainey did was average 6.2 yards per carry while leading the Gators in rushing, receptions and punt return yardage.
It doesn’t hurt that former Pats offensive coordinator Charlie Weis drew up plays for Rainey at Gainesville this past season.
Who’ll Stop the Rainey? See? Loads of fun. Try it at home!
Vick Ballard, Mississippi State (5-10, 219). A bigger, slower back (4.65 40), Ballard nonetheless gained over 1,000 yards for the Bulldogs and garnered the MVP award at the Music City Bowl. The JUCO All-American managed to excel in a program not known for its offensive fireworks (reminiscent of Green-Ellis out of Ole Miss).
UNDRAFTED ROOKIE FREE AGENTS (UDFAs)
Overview: Almost every summer, New England brings a rookie free agent runner into camp to take reps from the veterans. The 2012 class has a number of names that could get a phone call and a plane ticket to Foxboro.
Darrell Scott, South Florida (6-0, 230). Scott had a lousy 40 at the combine (4.7 seconds), but he improved to 4.59 seconds at his pro day, adding some respectable 18 bench reps and a 7.10-second 3-cone drill. Scott produced for the Bulls this past season, averaging 5.3 yards per carry (814 total). A highly-touted recruit out of high school, Scott attended Colorado but left after one year. He has become a reclamation project who has left USF after his junior year to take a chance on the NFL.
Conspiracy alert: one Coach Belichick attended the Bulls’ pro day. Are we hearing so little about Scott this April because the coach made an agreement with South Florida where New England will draft him late?
No, of course not. But it’s fun to think about.
Jonas Gray, Notre Dame (5-10, 223). Gray’s not a gazelle (4.60 40) and he’s not healthy after a knee injury this past season, but his 6.9-yard average per carry and his nose for the goal line put him in demand. Another student of the Charlie Weis offense while with the Irish.
Plus, after he scores a touchdown, his theme song’s a lock: “My Name Is Jonas” by Weezer. You’re welcome.
Our Call: As tempting as a top-tier running back would seem, we’re crossing our fingers that the Pats focus on defense early and look for backfield contributions on Day Three or even post-draft. Good depth here points the way toward another potential Green-Ellis-like contributor, or at least someone who can take a few reps to spell the youngsters.
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Email Chris Warner at firstname.lastname@example.org