Pro Football Weekly Draft Prospects RB
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At least one of the two major NFL scouting combines rated Mississippiís Deuce McAllister as the top running back and senior pro prospect in the country, and that was after a junior year in which he did not start one game. What scouts love about McAllister is his versatility. He not only is big, fast and athletic, but he is an exceptional receiver, a kick returner, a punt returner, a home-run threat, a passer and a decent blocker. McAllister may weigh over 220 pounds, but he has breakaway speed to the outside and the pass-catching skills of a top wide receiver. He is one of the biggest punt returners in the college game and one of the best kick returners. Despite not starting a game in 1999, he was an All-Conference running back, won the Conerly Trophy as the top player in the state of Mississippi and led the Southeastern Conference in all-purpose yardage. However, while McAllister is a surefire first-round pick, many scouts say they would not be surprised if he drops to the middle of the first round. He has had some injury problems and suffered a grade-one sprain of the anterior cruciate joint in his right shoulder three games into this season. While he is a big back, McAllister tends to run a little tall and is more effective running wide than down the middle. He will put the ball on the ground at times, and if you hit him low, he will not break that many tackles with his legs. He also is a little hot and cold in terms of being a creative runner. One thing that may help McAllister secure a spot in the top 4-5 picks in the draft is if he goes to the Senior Bowl and is around pro coaches and scouts all week. McAllister tends to grow on people because he is a very good human being with the type of intangibles and work ethic that are sure to impress. Coaches love versatile players, and a game like the Senior Bowl would be a great showcase for his skills.

Marylandís LaMont Jordan was catching the eyes of scouts as a true freshman and surprised many by staying in school after rushing for 306 yards in the last game of his junior year and being hampered by academic problems. As a result of those academic problems, he sat out the spring and went to summer school to get eligible for the fall. As a student, Jordanís biggest problem is he tends to get lazy and lackadaisical. Those problems also carry over to football at times when it comes to offseason conditioning, which is one reason why he generally is a slow starter. When Jordan is at his best, you see a bigger back with the speed to take the ball all the way. He is a runner who can run over you or make you miss as well as a power back with some finesse and explosive speed. He catches the ball well, can pass-block and rarely fumbles. However, there are other times when he does too much hunting and pecking, is too slow to hit the hole and does not do a great job of getting out of tight spots.

Another back who is very hard to judge right now and could do himself a world of good at the Senior Bowl is Texas Christianís LaDainian Tomlinson. Last year Tomlinson, not Ron Dayne, led the nation in rushing, and this year he is in the running for the Heisman Trophy. However, the biggest problem scouts have with Tomlinson is the nature of the TCU offense. It is a great option-running team with a terrific line that often wipes out the opposing defense. Tomlinson often gets option pitches near the sideline and has a lot of clear sailing before he gets touched. While he appears to be built for power at 5-10 and 220 pounds with a well-put-together and muscular body and good timed speed, he is not a great inside runner at this point in terms of creativity and breaking tackles inside. Some scouts say he can be a good inside runner as long as he bends his knees and runs under his pads, which is something he does not have to do on many pitches when he is not getting hit on the option. Speedwise, he runs about a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash, but some scouts do not feel he has top speed, while others say he has deceptive speed and is plenty fast. While he is not often a receiving target, Tomlinson catches pitches well and appears to have good hands. He also is an unselfish player who will block.

While Michiganís Anthony Thomas is not a burner or a superelusive back, he is a very productive back who improves every year and really impresses scouts with his toughness and extra-effort running. Last year Thomas learned to run lower and under his pads when he rushed for 1,257 yards and 16 scores, which was almost Michiganís entire rushing total. He is well ahead of last yearís pace this season. At 225 pounds, Thomas is a power runner who can be his own blocker. While not really creative, he picks his hole well and is a decisive runner. He is durable, productive, tough and pretty versatile. He seems to catch the ball well, will block and can return kickoffs.

Tennesseeís Jamal Lewis, the first back taken in the 2000 draft, generally started ahead of Travis Henry last season except when he was hurt. However, the Volunteersí offense seemed to be more effective when it featured Henry instead of Lewis. While Henry does not have Lewisí speed, hands or skills, he is the ultimate blue-collar type of back. As a power runner, he rarely goes down on first contact and gains over half his yardage after he first gets hit. Henry runs with a low center of gravity and is hard to knock off his feet. He breaks tackles with his legs and seems to have terrific contact balance. While heís no burner, Henry has improved his speed.

Nebraskaís Dan Alexander has almost freakish size, speed and power, but he is a straight-line type of runner who does not have a lot of wiggle and has torn both his right and left anterior cruciate ligaments while at Nebraska.

Kansas Stateís David Allen is a terrific punt returner who missed a lot of time early this year with right-knee and ankle injuries suffered in the Martin Luther King Classic.

Kansasí Moran Norris is a combination fullback, running back and one back with size, strength and power. He is a more creative runner than most fullbacks and is a punishing runner who is very hard to tackle. He also has tremendous strength in his upper body and a good work ethic. On the downside, Norris does tend to run a little tall and has had some fumbling problems in the past.

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