Pre-Combine Buzz - The 40 King Will Be ...?
Florida RB Chris Rainey
Florida RB Chris Rainey
Posted Feb 21, 2012

The king of the 40-yard dash and why running back is a dying position.

2012 NFL Combine Buzz

Part Three

E-mail Pete Fiutak
Follow me ... Follow me to freedom! ...
- 2011 Pre-Combine Buzz 
- Breaking Down the 2012 NFL Combine 

- Part One Ryan Tannehill, Justin Blackmon, & RGII's Height 
- Part Two The importance of Riley Reiff, DTs, & TEs  

Welcome to the 2012 Edition of Where Have All The Good Running Backs Gone?

2012 might be just like 2011. Another year, another bad draft of running backs.

To be fair, Ryan Williams and Mikel Leshoure were hurt and have yet to show what the can do, but no one broke out and looked like the next big thing from last year's class with Mark Ingram underwhelming before getting injured, Shane Vereen a non-factor for the Patriots, and Daniel Thomas stepping aside for Reggie Bush in Miami. The knock on DeMarco Murray was his durability. He had an all-timer of a game, and got hurt.

The 2010 draft wasn't exactly stellar for backs, either, with C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews, and Jahvid Best hardly worth the first round selections. No one from the later rounds – with the possible exception for James Starks helping Green Bay win a Super Bowl – stood out.

2009? Second-rounder LeSean McCoy has been far better than Knowshon Moreno, Donald Brown, and Chris Wells, and none of the 18 backs taken after McCoy, including Shonn Greene, were worth the pick in their respective spots.

2008 was the exception to the new rule, with Darren McFadden (1st round, fourth pick), Jonathan Stewart (1st round, 13th pick), Felix Jones (1st, 22nd), Rashard Mendenhall (1st, 23rd), Chris Johnson (1st, 24th), Matt Forte (2nd round), Ray Rice (2nd round), Jamaal Charles (3rd round), Tim Hightower (5th round), and Peyton Hillis (7th round), making it one of the best running back drafts ever.

The problem is that running backs just don't matter anymore, and this year's draft will show it.

Schemes matter. Offensive lines matter. Passing games matter. Running backs are interchangeable as long as they can block, catch out of the backfield, and be productive for 10-to-15 carries per game. Adrian Peterson will go to the Hall of Fame, and Minnesota is picking third in the draft. It takes a village.

Trent Richardson has the talent to be a legitimate top ten pick and a centerpiece of an offense, but he's about it. There isn't another first round talent on the board, but that doesn't mean that someone like Virginia Tech's David Wilson, Miami's Lamar Miller, or Boise State's Doug Martin can't fly up the charts with a great workout, and that certainly doesn't mean they can't make an impact no matter where they're drafted.

How many first round picks came up with 1,000-yard seasons last year for the team that drafted them? Four. Steven Jackson finished ninth overall, Ryan Mathews tenth, and Chris Johnson and Beanie Wells tied for 14th. That's it, and the top six rushers were taken after the first round.

Since the 2001 draft, 31 running backs were taken in the first round. Out of that group, how many ran for more yards last year than Tim Tebow, who cranked out an almost evil 660 on the ground? 12. Out of those 12, how many did it for the team that drafted them? Eight. Jackson, Mathews, Johnson, Wells, Adrian Peterson, Rashard Mendenhall, DeAngelo Williams, and Jonathan Stewart.

Overall, how many of the top 50 running backs of last year were first round picks by the teams that drafted them? 12.

Go ahead and get excited about Richardson, but Indianapolis will be all about the other backs. The chances are good that one of them will end up being the leading rusher on your favorite team.

The 40 Star Will Be … ?

Everyone couldn't wait to see Abilene Christian receiver Edmond Gates run the 40 last year, and he didn't disappoint with a blinding 4.37. Miami took him in the fourth round, and he rewarded them with two catches for 19 yards.

The 40 is the marquee event at the Combine because it's so easily measurable. The quickness drills mean more, and the interviews are really the most important part of the process, but if a mid-range prospect can fly up the rankings with a great run, and a top player, like Julio Jones of last year, can become a must-have with a big dash. And as Cleveland's Joe Haden and Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins have proved, a disastrous 40 in Indy isn't necessarily a sign that someone can't play.

So who's going to rip off the time everyone will be talking about? Who'll be crowned Mr. Speedy when this is all done?

It would've been Florida running back Jeff Demps, but instead of preparing for Indy he's training for the Olympics.

The odds-on favorite  to win the event would've been Utah State's Michael Smith - a flash of lightning return prospect with 4.3.5 wheels - but he wasn't invited. That means Fresno State receiver Devon Wylie should be the star with a mid-4.3. Demps' Florida teammate, Chris Rainey, will be in the hunt, but he'll probably be just a shade slower than Wylie, as will NC State receiver T.J. Graham.

Baylor receiver Kendall Wright needs to be under 4.4. LSU's Rueben Randle might hit the mark at 6-4 and over 200 pounds, while diminutive Wright has to show that he's a true speed receiver. Anything outside of 4.45 will be disastrous.

There won't be a Patrick Peterson 4.34 among the top corners. UTEP's Antwon Blake is a sub-4.4 blazer, but he wasn't invited to the Combine.

The most interesting 40 time could come from North Carolina's Zach Brown, who holds the school record in the 60-meter dash. At around 6-3 and 230 pounds, he could be the fastest outside linebacker at the Combine by at last 0.2 seconds and is a threat to push the low 4.4s.

- Part One Ryan Tannehill, Justin Blackmon, & RGII's Height 
- Part Two The importance of Riley Reiff, DTs, & TEs