Bucky Brooks
Thursday February 14th, 2008

Here is a list of the top running back prospects. This list was compiled through a series of conversations with scouts, and through game tape evaluations.

1. Darren McFadden, Arkansas: The two-time Heisman runner-up amassed 4,590 rushing yards during his three-year career.

Blessed with a dynamic combination of speed, quickness and athleticism, McFadden is a threat to take it the distance whenever he touches the ball.

But McFadden also displays the power and toughness to grind out tough yards between the tackles.

Some scouts consider McFadden an ultra-talented, but unfinished product as a runner, even though he torched the SEC for three seasons. He has limited exposure to the passing game, and may not be a great fit in all offensive systems. Regardless, he is a top-tier talent who should be among the top players taken in the draft.

2. Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois: The Big Ten Player of the Year is the most complete back in the draft. As a tough, inside runner with excellent vision and outstanding quickness, Mendenhall is built to be a workhorse in a power-running offense. But Mendenhall also possesses the hands, speed and route-running ability to be a factor in the passing game.

Offensive coordinators will love the fact that he is a three-down back who is capable of staying on the field in all situations. That versatility will lead some teams to view him as the best running back prospect in this year's draft. If Mendenhall can shake the one-year-wonder label, he may surpass McFadden as the top running back prospect.

3. Jonathan Stewart, Oregon: The former Duck finished 2007 as the Pac-10's leading rusher (1,722) and has all the skills needed to be a feature back in a pro-style offense. His shifty but powerful running style allows him to grind out tough yards between the tackles or excel on the perimeter. And his dazzling open-field running skills will make him an outstanding kick returner and playmaker in the passing game. Stewart is a first-round talent who should be a solid starter early in his career.

4. Felix Jones, Arkansas: Despite playing second fiddle to McFadden in the Razorbacks' offense, Jones tallied consecutive 1,000 yards seasons while averaging a robust eight yards per carry. His combination of speed and quickness is scary, and his open-field running skills make him a threat to score from anywhere on the field. Although he hasn't shown the ability to be a feature back (only one game with 20 or more carries in his college career), Jones is the top complementary runner candidate in the draft.

5. Jamaal Charles, Texas: As the Longhorns' feature back in 2007, Charles tallied over 1,600 yards with 18 touchdowns and seven 100-yard games against Big 12 competition. Although Charles' dual-sport status (track and football) and his fumbling issues will lead some scouts to question his toughness, his speed, power and running skills make him a potential star on the next level. Expect him to fly up the charts after an impressive performance at the combine.

6. Matthew Forte, Tulane: Forte is a smooth, power runner with deceptive speed and quickness. He's one of the few big backs in the draft, and scouts love the toughness he displays at the end of runs. The Green Wave superstar rushed for over 2,100 yards and finished last season with eight consecutive 100-yard performances. Though some scouts will knock him for his occasional fumbling woes, Forte has the overall combination of size, strength and power that will make him an ideal feature back in a West Coast offense

7. Chris Johnson, ECU: The Pirates' versatile speedster is a dynamic playmaker with outstanding quickness and acceleration. Despite possessing blinding speed and quickness, Johnson had been relatively non-productive as the Pirates' feature back until a dramatic stretch to close the season (he rushed for 751 of his 1,423 yards during the Pirates' last four games). But Johnson's strong finish and solid performance at the Senior Bowl has scouts tantalized by his speed and versatility as a receiver/returner. Look for a team to pluck Johnson in the middle of the second round, hoping to add a Jerious Norwood-like talent to its backfield.

8. Ray Rice, Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights' all-time rushing leader (4,926) has proven to be a dependable workhorse despite his diminutive stature (5-foot-9, 205 pounds). As a nifty cutback runner with good quickness and surprising power, Rice is adept at gaining tough yardage between the tackles. Though he lacks home-run speed, Rice flashes enough burst to get to the second level and he's fairly dangerous in the open field. On the downside, Rice has logged over 900 carries in his three-year career, and such a heavy workload will lead to concerns about wear and tear. He'll likely go in the third round.

9. Tashard Choice, Georgia Tech: The ACC's two-time leading rusher is a tough, physical runner between the tackles with outstanding instincts and awareness. He is a terrific finisher due to his underrated power and pop. His craftiness, quickness and natural running skills will not translate to outstanding times at the combine, but the team that selects Choice will get a back built in the mold of Marion Barber.

10. Kevin Smith, Central Florida: As the nation's leading rusher, Smith nearly eclipsed Barry Sanders' single-season rushing record with 2,567 yards. Smith, a workman-like back with great vision and footwork, makes up for his lack of explosive speed with nifty cuts in the hole. His ability to slither through cracks and get to the second level is surprising considering his lack of burst. Scout will examine his production against top-flight competition (100-yard games against Texas, Mississippi State and North Carolina State) and tab Smith as a "football player" who will find a way to get it done as a pro.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.