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October 22, 2008

NFL Draft: Ranking the top 10 running backs

As with the quarterbacks, the 2009 running back class is filled with talented underclassmen. As many as six underclass running backs could hear their name called during the first two rounds of the draft.

Mike Lombardi, Andrew Brandt and Wes Bunting of the Nationalfootballpost.com break down the top running prospects for the 2009 NFL draft.

1. Knowshon Moreno, Georgia
SIZE: 5 feet 11/207 pounds
THE BUZZ: Moreno, a third-year sophomore, is one of the most natural and instinctive runners to enter the draft in years. He has great vision through the tackles, with elite quickness and change-of-direction skills. He runs with natural balance while consistently making the first man miss. He has the ability to really dip and sink his hips in and out of breaks, and makes sharp and sudden cuts. There is no wasted motion in and out of his cuts, and he makes quick reads at the line, then attacks the front seven. He runs with good pad level and forward lean. He has the instincts to see the cutback lane and exhibits one of the more fluid jump cuts in the nation. While he lacks elite straight-line speed, he has enough to create separation with his elusiveness and explosive first two steps. He doesn't possess a real powerful build and lacks the bulk to run over tacklers, but still rarely goes down on first contact. He exhibits a strong pop and good technique as a blocker for someone his size and should hold his own in pass protection. A much better athlete than given credit for, Moreno simply has that "it" factor and makes a play each game that makes you say "wow."

2. LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh
SIZE: 5-11/210
THE BUZZ: McCoy, another third-year sophomore, has nice size, but it is his initial burst and first two steps that make him dynamic. He has good lateral mobility and toughness inside, with the speed to explode into the second level. He lacks patience and vision between the tackles but still has improved significantly in this area. He loves to get outside and attack on the edge. He runs with a higher pad level outside but has elite shiftiness and foot quickness to make a man miss. He has a rare ability to shake a defender in an instant and get separation. He has great balance and change-of-direction skills at full speed, doesn't slow down out of cuts and has the first step to get back up to full speed instantly. He needs to do a better job taking care of the ball and holding it closer to his body; he has a tendency to let it wave in his right arm in the midst of a big play. He needs to work on some of the finer points as a running back pass catching, pass blocking and ball security but he's a dynamic runner who has big-play potential at the next level.

3. Chris Wells, Ohio State
SIZE: 6-1/237
THE BUZZ: Wells, a junior, is a physically well-built back with rare quickness for his size. He has a thick lower half, with strong legs and a powerful leg drive. He possesses great change-of-direction skills and the ability to make a man miss in the hole. He runs with a good pad level and gets north-to-south quickly. He displays the power and lower body strength to consistently break arm tackles and drive his legs after contact. He has good vision inside, but has taken his fair share of knocks already in his career. NFL teams worry about his long-term durability and he doesn't look to have much of a pain threshold. He has an explosive first couple of steps and gets to full speed quickly. While he is at his best working north and south, he shows some wiggle down the field. He is the nation's top power back but needs to overcome his injury concerns and prove he can play through pain.

4. C.J. Spiller, Clemson
SIZE: 5-11/190
THE BUZZ: Spiller, a junior, is an explosive athlete who gets up to top-end speed instantly and is fluid in and out of his breaks. He has excellent change-of-direction skills and the elusiveness and wiggle to make defenders miss at full speed. He has good balance and doesn't need to slow down to change directions. Spiller is a natural runner with good vision and instincts at the line of scrimmage. But he lacks great power through the tackles and is tripped up easily. He doesn't have the girth or strength to grind out tough yards after contact. He's a finesse blocker who struggles holding the point of attack, but is a natural receiver, with soft hands and good route-running ability. He gets banged up easily and has been battling injuries this season. Spiller can help teams in the passing game and as a big-time kick returner.

5. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
SIZE: 6-1/205
THE BUZZ: Murray, a third-year sophomore, is fluid in the open field and does a good job changing directions at full speed. He runs with a high pad level between the tackles but has the burst to explode into the secondary and outrun defensive backs on the outside. He needs to learn to run with more patience; he has a tendency to run up his linemen's backs or break plays to the outside too quickly. He displays a second gear in the open field, with the ability to outrun angles and separate from the secondary. He lacks power in his lower body and is tripped up too easily in the open field, and he also doesn't get much push when he lowers his head at the line of scrimmage. He doesn't have the lower-body power or girth to consistently power the ball between the tackles. He takes pride in his pass blocking, with good body control and a commitment to chopping down blitzing linebackers. He is most productive in space, and really struggled finding running lanes against a physical Texas defensive line recently.

6. Javon Ringer, Michigan State
SIZE: 5-9/205
THE BUZZ: Ringer, a senior, is a short, solid runner with a thick lower half and strong legs. He has the power and strength to run between the tackles. Ringer is a creative runner with a low center of gravity and pad level. He runs with great balance and is impossible to bring down if defenders don't wrap up. He shows good burst out of his stance and gets up to speed quickly. He lacks the body control to cut and juke when at top speed. He has improved his vision and patience at the line of scrimmage dramatically since last season. He now is a much more instinctive, decisive runner. He is not a natural receiver. While he possesses good straight-line speed which allows him to bounce to the outside and into the second level quickly he isn't a big-time home-run threat.

7. Shonn Greene, Iowa
SIZE: 5-11/235
THE BUZZ: Greene, a junior, is a thick, well-built back with wide shoulders and a powerful lower body. He runs low, with a good pad level, and loves to lower his head and drive through contact. He has good balance and change-of-direction skills at the line of scrimmage. He doesn't have a second gear; he plays more at one speed but does a nice job avoiding tacklers through the hole and picking up chunks of yards after contact. He lacks the lateral explosion to consistently make people miss. Greene is a blue-collar type of back who is at his best being physical between the tackles. He shows good power as a blocker but is limited in the passing game. He isn't going to win any type of beauty contest in the NFL, but he knows how to move the chains and is a nice workhorse-type back for a downhill, run-oriented team.

8. James Davis, Clemson
SIZE: 5-11/210
THE BUZZ: Davis, a senior, is a well-built back with a physical running style. He possesses good lower-body strength and runs with a low pad level and good balance between the tackles. Davis plays with a nice combination of power and quickness. He has the lower-body strength to step through tackles and the change-of-direction skills to make a man miss. He lacks elite straight-line speed but has enough to reach the corner in the NFL. He isn't real elusive in the open field and struggles changing directions once he gets up to top speed. He is a natural receiver; he can make plays downfield and get vertical out of the backfield. Davis has struggled this season with the rest of the Clemson team and has yet to show he has that "it" factor to really take over games and be a dynamic runner.

9. Devin Moore, Wyoming
SIZE: 5-9/192
THE BUZZ: Moore, a senior, is a smaller back with more of a sprinter's frame. He has decent thickness in his upper body but has a thinner lower half and skinny calves. He gets up to top speed instantly, and has a great second gear and the straight-line speed to outrun defenders at the second level. He's a big-play threat every time he gets his hands on the ball. He's a bit of an upright runner and needs to learn to run with a better pad level and leverage. For a speed back, Moore has good patience and vision between the tackles; he does a nice job setting up blockers, then exploding into daylight. He struggles changing directions at speed and doesn't show much wiggle in the secondary. He lacks the strength and girth to move the pile in short-yardage situations. He is comfortable in the passing game and has the speed, burst and explosion to make plays in the NFL. He reminds some of a poor man's Chris Johnson.

10. Arian Foster, Tennessee
SIZE: 6-1/218
THE BUZZ: Foster, a senior, is a big, thick back with a nice-sized frame and good girth in his lower half. He has quick feet and good body control for a big back and has the agility to make a man miss at top speed. He shows good burst out of his stance and reaches his top speed quickly, but he isn't a burner and won't outrun anyone in the secondary. Foster runs too upright for a guy his size and needs to do a better job running with a lower pad level and becoming the battering ram his body says he should be. Too often, he runs like a smaller back, tiptoeing his way through the line of scrimmage and trying to make defenders miss instead of lowering his shoulders and driving his legs through contact. He's a talented back with starting potential at the next level, but he needs to learn to run with more aggression and power.

Nationalfootballpost.com is a new football insider Web site featuring Andrew Brandt, the vice president of the Green Bay Packers for the past nine years, and Michael Lombardi, who has worked in NFL front offices for 22 years - including nine years with Cleveland and eight with Oakland.

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