The 49ers head into the draft currently selecting from the ninth position. While defense remains a priority for the team, Bill Walsh and Terry Donahue also recognize the need for a running back considering the imminent loss of Charlie Garner. Garner the teams lead back for the past two seasons is a free agent, and looking for a contract that the 49ers simply can't afford. Thus, a need at running back is apparent, and though the team has several young capable backs on the squad, they may still look to the draft for their starter.
This years draft has a rather good selection of running backs. Leading the way are three top backs including Deuce McAllister, Michael Bennett and LaDainian Tomlinson. The 49ers will be looking to select the complete back if they do go the route of the draft. That means a combination of power, speed, and elusiveness, and as always in the West Coast Offense, a good set of hands.
Deuce McAllister…6'1"…221 lbs…4.38/40
Deuce is widely regarded as the best running back in the draft. He is fast, powerful, and is hard to bring down. McAllister can run both between the tackles and outside. He can also be used a wide receiver in the slot, and has shown excellent hands. Deuce can also return kicks and is a threat in the open field. The largest knock on his talent is his blocking skills, which need improvement. His durability is also cause for concern. Deuce was injured often, and though he claims he will play hurt, NFL teams question his ability to carry the ball twenty times a game.
Michael Bennett…5'11"…210 lbs…4.40/40
Although Bennett only started for one season, he has proven to be a very durable back. One of the biggest attractions to Bennett is his running style. Michael runs with great balance and vision, he also has the ability to make defenders miss. He's a fast running back to the outside, and can run up the middle too. At 210 lbs he's a little light for a running back, and thus may have some trouble moving the pile, but give this guy the ball and he will make things happen. Bennett's inexperience is his greatest fault, but a NFL team that is looking for the complete back, may turn to Bennett as a starter because of his great balance and vision.
LaDainian Tomlinson…5'11"…215 lbs…4.38/40
Tomlinson is another leading running back in this years draft. His speed could make him the fastest back in the draft. Tomlinson excels at running outside. He keeps his center of gravity low to the ground, making it difficult to bring him down. He has shown good cutback skills, especially in the open field, and is a North/South runner. Tomlinson still needs to prove he can excel at running between the tackles. He will burst to the whole, and lower his pads, but has to prove that he can be a smash mouth back. If he can't develop in this area, he may be reserved to a third down back.
Lamont Jordan…5'10"…220 lbs…4.57/40
Jordan may have the best vision in this years draft class. He played behind a shabby offensive line in college, and often found holes to make something out of nothing. Although he has taken a beating, he played through it, and durability isn't that big of a concern. He's a quick runner that excels between the tackles. He's elusive, and makes people miss. Jordan has good enough hands to keep him in on all downs. His 40-time is a little slow, but his vision allows him to get to holes quickly. Jordan is an every down back NFL teams covet.
Travis Henrey…5'10"…220 lbs…4.50/40
Travis Henrey is good back with good size and speed. He excels at running inside, but can also be used outside. Henrey will move the pile with his strong running, and break tackles to make something out of nothing. Henrey's marginal hands are his biggest concern, particularly for a West Coast Offense. He has all other tools to make it in the NFL.
Kevin Barlow…6'1"…235 lbs…4.60/40
Barlow is one of the most talented backs in this years draft class. He runs with power and authority, hitting the hole quickly despite a slower 40-time. He makes defenders miss, and can get down field, either by power, or elusiveness. He has good hands and is a willing blocker. Barlow does need to work on breaking tackles, improving his vision, and being more patient. Otherwise he provides a bunch of talent for what may be a bargain pick.
Anthony Thomas…6'1"…225 lbs…4.60/40
Thomas is a power back. He runs up the middle and bulldozes defenders. He will not however make people miss, or break many tackles. He is a good blocker, with good vision to open holes and to run through them. He may be best used in a two back set as the fullback, but would need to add a little bulk for such a job. He's a strong back, but he wont be dancing around in the open field, or turning the corner to often.
Rudi Johnson…5'9"…220 lbs…4.55/40
Rudi is a tough back that can run inside. He has the ability to move the chains and picks up the tough yardage. He looks more like a change of pace back though, and probably couldn't be the feature back in an offense. He does not get to the holes quickly, and would have to work very hard to make it in the NFL. He would provide a nice one-two punch with another back though.
James Jackson…5'11"…210 lbs…4.40/40
Jackson is a quick back that excels when running outside. He does however; also possess the talent to run inside. He gets the greatest amount of yardage out of each carry, and lowers his pads. He also has good hands. Jackson needs to learn to be patient and follow his blockers; he also needs to improve his muscular endurance as he tends to wear down towards the end of the game, when other backs seem to get stronger. He is a back that could develop into something special, but really isn't ready to be a full time starter just yet.
David Allen…5'9"…185 lbs…4.50/40
Allen is a good back, but is small by NFL standards. He's quick and has nice moves that help him make others miss. He won't however break tackles. He has great hands and is a threat out of the backfield. Allen is also a good at returning kicks, and should help his case come April.
The draft is rather deep with running backs, and though the top three are in a different class than the rest of the group, it will still be possible to find a solid starter in the second or third round. The 49ers will likely draft a running back at some point during the draft, the question is where will they do so.
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