2010 NFL Draft - Ranking The Running Backs
C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews, Jahvid Best
C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews, Jahvid Best
Posted Apr 6, 2010

The 2010 NFL Draft is almost here. From a college football perspective, here's the CFN ranking of the top running back prospects, highlighted by the interesting battle between C.J. Spiller, Jahvid Best, and Ryan Mathews for the top spot, along with the most overrated and underrated prospects and the deepest sleeper.

2010 NFL Draft Position Rankings

Running Backs

By Pete Fiutak

2010 CFN Talent Rankings
- 1st Rounders
- 2nd Rounders
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- 7th Rounders 
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2010 CFN Position Rankings & Analysis

- QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs
- Cs | OTs | OGs | DEs
- DTs | ILBs | OLBs
- Ss | CBs

2010 NFL Combine Quick Looks & Post-Combine Rankings

- QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs
- Cs | OTs | OGs | DEs
- DTs | ILBs | OLBs
- Ss | CBs

2010 NFL Combine Results
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- DTs | ILBs | OLBs
- Ss | CBs 

2010 NFL Combine
- Offensive Winners  
- Offensive Losers 
- Defensive Winners 
- Defensive Losers

This Class Is … Small and quick. There isn't any one back who can be labeled a sure-thing franchise star, but Ryan Mathews, Montario Hardesty, and Ben Tate are intriguing. The stars are going to be limited. C.J. Spiller and Jahvid Best are the best of the bunch, but they can't last a full season.

The Best Value Pick Will Be … James Starks, Buffalo
Most Underrated … Lonyae Miller, Fresno State
Most Overrated … Dexter McCluster, Ole Miss
The Deep, Deep Sleeper Is … Shawnbrey McNeal, SMU

1. Ryan Mathews, Fresno State 6-0, 218 (Jr.)
Very fast on the field, he showed at the Combine that he really was fast with a 4.45 in the body of a big back. Basically, if you liked him on film, you loved him even more after his workouts. Unlike the other top runners in this draft, Mathews has the potential to be a workhorse runner who can touch the ball 25 times per game and can be just as explosive. A home-run hitter who ripped up some of the better teams on the schedule, Mathews can take it the distance with just a little bit of room and a hole to cut back through. Not just a runner, he has nice hands and can be used on third downs as a receiver, too. There's a lot of tread on the tires and he'll likely have a short shelf life, but the three or four years of production should be huge.
CFN Projection: Late First Round

2. C.J. Spiller, Clemson 5-11, 196
Extremely fast, extremely explosive, and extremely dangerous, if the goal was to draft a potential game-changer who can come up with one or three big plays a game, but will only play for ten games, then Spiller is the guy. His 4.31 at the Combine showed the flash that everyone needed to see to get the juices flowing, but he's not an inside runner and he's always, always, always hurt. It's not like he has a slew of major injuries, but he always has a pull, a strain, or a ding of some sort. He could be another Reggie Bush and be used in a variety of ways, including as a receiver and a returner, but he can't be the focal point or centerpiece of an attack and he can't be counted on for a full season.
CFN Projection: First Round

3. Jahvid Best, California 5-10, 199
It all depends on how he's used. As a bolt of lightning with 4.36 speed, offensive coordinators drool over players this fast with his explosiveness and his nose for the goal line. A natural runner, he's instinctive, always seems to see the hole a half step in advance, and can't be stopped in open space. The down side is his size and his durability. There's no way he'll last for a full season and he has to be limited to just 15 touches a game, if that. Not strong in any way, he's a pure space runner and won't go through the inside at all without being erased. With his lack of strength and bulk, there's no blocking ability whatsoever. He's a top 15 talent who'll end up going later and being a nice pick for someone who'll be very, very happy and the possibilities.
CFN Projection: Second Round

4. Montario Hardesty, Tennessee 6-0, 225
With good size, solid speed, and excellent production, he should be one of the best all-around packages of any of the running backs. While he's not nearly as flashy as a Jahvid Best or a C.J. Spiller, he has the potential to be more useful with the inside running ability that those two speed backs don't have and has decent power. On the down side, he'll have a short shelf life and will take a lot of big shots, and he has had problems staying healthy throughout his career. He's not going to be a sexy pick, but he'll produce and could be a nice piece of someone's running back puzzle.
CFN Projection: Third Round

5. Ben Tate, Auburn 5-11, 220
All the pieces were there to be special, but he wasn't able to put it all together as he didn't quite fit into what Auburn did offensively. He looks the part of a prototype NFL back, has phenomenal 4.4 speed for a 220 pound runner, and he's not afraid to get physical. There's a great chance that he could be a far better pro than a collegian if only because he'll be used differently and can be more of a pure runner. While he's not a natural back and will more likely take a hit than he will find a hole to cut back through, the raw skills are there to be special if he gets to work behind a good line.
CFN Projection: Third Round

6. Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech 5-11, 229 (Jr.)
Easily the call of the draft among the running backs. He's big, quick, and was phenomenal in the Paul Johnson option offensive system, but he was an utter disaster at the Combine compared to the other top backs running a glacier-slow 4.66 in the 40 and didn't do much better in the passing and agility drills. However, if he could drop a few pounds, he'll show he's a good runner who was great on tape even in the gimmick offense and he always showed up in the biggest games at the biggest times. He won't be for every offense, but if he's allowed to play on a team with a zone-blocking scheme, he has the potential to put up big numbers for a long stretch. There was a time when he was considered a top 15 overall pick, and now someone will consider him a steal as he drops down.
CFN Projection: Third Round

7. Toby Gerhart, Stanford 6-0, 231
It'll be interesting to see what his pitch count is. He might have about 1,000 touches in him before he grinds to a halt, but he could be extremely productive during his limited time. He has excellent speed for his size, is strong, and is coming off an ultra-productive career that finished off with an all-timer of a year that would've brought him the Heisman if he had played somewhere east of the Mississippi River. While there's little wiggle to his game, not much cutback ability, and he'll take a ton of big shots, he'll keep the pile moving, has better on-field game speed than he gets credit for, and he can be a workhorse.
CFN Projection: Second Round

8. LeGarrette Blount, Oregon 6-1, 241
A fantastic power back who'll rack up huge scoring stats as a goal line specialist, the 241-pounder cuts well, hits like a ton of bricks, and he can't be brought down by one defender. Of course, there will always be The Punch that will linger over his career, but that might have been the best thing he could've done since he was able to show the character that many thought he didn't have. You know exactly what you're getting. He's a big, strong back who can finish off drives with scores and can be a sledgehammer who can grind out the clock.
CFN Projection: Fourth Round

9. Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State 6-1, 233
While he's not fast, has character and concentration issues, and isn't the type of person or player who can be counted on to carry a pro running game, but he did his best to put the MSU offense on his back. He was all the team had offensively and he still produced at a high SEC level over his entire career. While he doesn't time fast, he runs quickly for a player of his size and is always gaining positive yards. The problem is that he doesn't quite have elite NFL rushing ability and doesn't do any one thing at a top pro level. With his all-around game, though, he could be the type of player who gets taken in the middle of the draft and ends up having a far better career than a few of the high-priced first rounders.
CFN Projection: Third Round

10. James Starks, Buffalo 6-2, 218
Sort of the underground, grass roots sleeper going into the beginning of last year, he suffered a shoulder injury during the summer and was knocked out for the year. He's a big back who takes too many shots and will wear down too easily, but he's a great finisher, is slippery, and has the hands to be used on all three downs and in any situation. For good and bad, he takes shots and will get banged around. He'll stick on a roster because he'll look great in camp, but he's not durable enough to get a full workload. But if he can stay healthy, he could be a steal.
CFN Projection: Sixth Rounder

11. Dexter McCluster, Ole Miss 5-9, 172
What are you going to do with him? He's not an NFL running back, and was kept in a box at Ole Miss until he was needed (the coaching staff didn't want him to get hurt), he has the potential to be an NFL receiver, he has the hands for it, but he's not particularly fast (running a slow 4.53), he's way too small to take any sort of a pounding, and he'll be limited in what he can do outside of a specialist role; he's only going to work if he can have plays designed just for him. However, he's extremely quick on the field, did everything fine at the Combine other than run the 40, and he can be used as a returner and will be seen as a jack-of-all-trades. It would be nice if he was faster, though.
CFN Projection: Third Round

12. Joe McKnight, USC 5-11, 198 (Jr.)
While he ran well and worked out strong at the Combine, it wasn't enough to make up for the disappointing career. He was tagged with being the next Reggie Bush, but instead he was just a guy who had some decent moments. The quickness and speed are there to make a difference at the next level, but he's not strong, has no power whatsoever, and doesn't block. He'll have to be a specialist who finds a niche early on, and while he might have a good game or two here and there, he's going to be along for the ride.
CFN Projection: Third Round

13. Chris Brown, Oklahoma 5-10, 210
Always productive when he get his chance and he did a good job of filling in well as a part of a team loaded with talent. He's not special in any way, he's not all that fast, not all that physical, and he's not going to be much of a blocker or a receiver. He's a runner, and while a ground game can't be revolved around him, he's the type of player who can fill in as a stopgap for two or three games when the star gets banged up. He'll flourish with a few chances here and there but will never set the world on fire.
CFN Projection: Sixth Round

14. Lonyae Miller, Fresno State 5-11, 221
He could be the most intriguing sleeper call over the second half of the draft. With 4.5 speed, excellent size, and tremendous raw skills, he looks the part and could turn out to be ready to explode. A career backup behind some terrific Fresno State runners, he hasn't seen all that much work and should have a long shelf life. He's not the most natural of runners and doesn't run up to his size, but anyone taking him will be going by the possibilities. After looking strong this offseason in workouts, someone will fall in love with the possibilities.
CFN Projection: Fifth Round

15. Charles Scott, LSU 5-11, 238
He had a strange career and should've been able to do a lot more behind a line that underachieved, but had size. A thick, strong runner without a lot of speed, he's a pure inside back who can move the pile and make things happen by always going forward. While he doesn't time fast, he gets through a hole in a hurry and beats up tacklers. He'll take some huge hits, isn't a receiver, and has little creativity or wiggle, but he could find a role as a goal line/short yardage back.
CFN Projection: Fifth Round

16. Shawnbrey McNeal, SMU 5-9, 194 (Jr.)
After doing the near impossible and putting up big rushing numbers in a June Jones passing offense, he had to leave early to help take care of some family issues. While he was a Texas state champion sprinter, he timed shockingly slow (a 4.53) for a player of his size (or lack of it). He's faster on the field with a great burst through the hole and the hands to be used in a variety of ways in the passing game. While he's not going to be an every-down back by any means, he could find a role as a third down back.
CFN Projection: Sixth Round

17. Javarris James, Miami 6-0, 212
A good prospect who had a decent career and a strong combine, running a 4.53 while coming up with 21 reps on the bench, the problem is that he doesn't have any special running skills. Durability has been an issue and was always nicked and dinged, and he never had to do more than carry the ball a little bit here and there; he was never a workhorse. He's a good, tough runner who tries hard, blocks well, and won't dog it in any way, but he has to show a spark in some way to find a regular role.
CFN Projection: Fifth Round

18. Keiland Williams, LSU 5-11, 233
A disappointment, he has all the size, speed, and skill to look the part of a superstar, but he doesn't play like it. Based on the raw tools he's worth more than just a little bit of a look, but he has never shown that he wants to be a great player, doesn't play nearly as tough as he appears, and didn't do enough for the Tigers to get more than a little bit of work. Either the light has to go on from Day One in a camp, or he'll be a quick and easy cut.
CFN Projection: Seventh Round

19. Curtis Steele, Memphis 5-11, 194
Productive when he got the chance, he had problems staying healthy and wasn't always given the opportunity to be a major part of the offense for a full season. He's a good fighter who plays bigger than his size and makes things happen when he has the ball in his hands. However, he's not all that fast for being a smallish player, is a one-cut runner who won't show too much power at the NFL level, and he's not going to hit many home runs.
CFN Projection: Sixth Round

20. Andre Anderson, Tulane 5-11, 205
Following in the footsteps of Matt Forte, Anderson had a decent career as the centerpiece of an awful team. With good strength, he's a solid inside runner who isn't afraid to get physical and always gives a great effort. A good receiver, he could be used as a third down back if he can make a little bit of a splash early. However, he wasn't enough of a difference maker, isn't quick enough for a player of his size, and he doesn't have NFL skills to be a regular runner.
CFN Projection: Sixth Round

21. Darius Marshall, Marshall 5-9, 190 (Jr.)
Productive, he's a quick, slippery runner who did a great job finding the creases to make positive yards out of nothing. Despite his size, he's good at finishing off runs and is tough to bring down. However, he's wispy, won't be able to run over anyone at the next level, and is a knucklehead. He was suspended for a stretch for drug possession.
CFN Projection: Free Agent

22. Toney Baker, NC State 5-10, 229
A strong, tough runner who had the upside and the potential to be a great NFL prospect, but he suffered a major knee injury and was never the same. He has good power, busts his tail, and has done everything possible to try to become a great player, but his knee is too much of a problem, he doesn't have NFL quickness, and he looks like he's laboring a bit as a runner. Even so, he's worth a shot just to see if he has something in the tank for a few good years.
CFN Projection: Fifth Round

23. Brandon Minor, Michigan 6-0, 214
When everything was right, he showed flashes of being a special back and a game-changer. Things weren't always right, though, in his disappointing career. While he has good power and a nice burst, he's not slippery at all and takes two days to make a cut. Almost never healthy, he can't be counted on for more than a little bit of work. However, he could find a role as an occasional goal line and short yardage runner.
CFN Projection: Free Agent

24. Pat Paschall, North Dakota State 6-0, 209
He was supposed to be a speedy-fast back who could become a game-changer, and while he's fast in games on the field, he only ran a 4.69 at the Combine. There are off-the-field, character issues, he's not quick enough at an NFL level to provide more than an occasional good run here and there, and he's not a receiver. However, he was ultra-productive and looks far, far better on film than he does in workouts. He's worth a good, honest look in a camp as a potential No. 3 back.
CFN Projection: Free Agent

25. Deji Karim, Southern Illinois 5-9, 210
A smallish, quick runner who gets lost behind linemen and then bursts into the open. A nice one-cut back who doesn't need much room to produce, he could thrive in a limited role on a team with a strong power runner who handles most of the work. He has no power whatsoever and doesn't necessarily have the skills to be a regular third down back.
CFN Projection: Seventh Round

26. Keith Toston, Oklahoma State
27. Joique Bell, Wayne State
28. Michael Smith, Arkansas
29. Stafon Johnson, USC
30. Alfonso Smith, Kentucky
31. Dimitri Nance, Arizona State
32. Damion Fletcher, Southern Miss
33. Dominique Lindsay, East Carolina
34. Roy Upchurch, Alabama
35. Cordera Eason, Ole Miss
36. LaMarcus Coker, Hampton
37. William Ford, South Carolina State
38. Mikell Simpson, Virginia
39. Daniel Porter, Louisiana Tech
40. Luke Lippincott, Nevada