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Rating the running backs

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MURPHY’S POSITION RANKINGS
Yahoo! Sports scout John Murphy ranks the top seniors.

QB: Brian Brohm, Louisville; Colt Brennan, Hawaii; Andre’ Woodson, Kentucky; Matt Ryan, Boston College; John David Booty, USC .

RB: Mike Hart, Michigan; Tashard Choice, Georgia Tech; Allen Patrick, Oklahoma; Chris Johnson, East Carolina; Yvenson Bernard, Oregon State.

FB: Jerome Felton, Furman; Peyton Hillis, Arkansas; Owen Schmitt, West Virginia; Jacob Hester, LSU (RB); Carl Stewart, Auburn. .

WR: Early Doucet, LSU; Andre Caldwell, Florida; Adarius Bowman, Oklahoma State; Paul Hubbard, Wisconsin; Limas Sweed, Texas. .

TE: Brad Cottam, Tennessee; Craig Stevens, California; Joey Haynos, Maryland; John Carlson, Notre Dame; Jacob Tamme, Kentucky (H-Back). .

OC: Steve Justice, Wake Forest; John Sullivan, Notre Dame; Drew Miller, Florida (OG); Cody Wallace, Texas A&M; Jameson Richard, Buffalo U.

OG: Eric Young, Tennessee; Pedro Sosa, Rutgers (OL); Michael McGlynn, Pittsburgh (OL); Adam Kraus, Michigan; Chris McDuffie, Clemson.

OT: Gosder Cherilus, Boston College; King Dunlap, Auburn; Jake Long, Michigan; Tony Hills, Texas; Heath Benedict, Newberry.

DE: Chris Long, Virginia; Quentin Groves, Auburn (OLB); Tommy Blake, TCU; Lawrence Jackson, USC; Chris Ellis, Virginia Tech.

DT: Glenn Dorsey, LSU; DeMario Pressley, N.C. State; Red Bryant, Texas A&M; Maurice Murray, New Mexico State; Jason Shirley, Fresno State.

ILB: Dan Connor, Penn State; Phillip Wheeler, Georgia Tech; Beau Bell, UNLV; Vince Hall, Virginia Tech; Jasper Brinkley, South Carolina.

OLB: Keith Rivers, USC; Shawn Crable, Michigan; Ezra Butler, Nevada; Ali Highsmith, LSU; Xavier Adibi, Virginia Tech.

CB: DeJuan Tribble, Boston College; Zackary Bowman, Nebraska; Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Tennessee State; Antoine Cason, Arizona; Michael Jenkins, South Florida.

S: Simeon Castille, Alabama; Jonathan Hefney, Tennessee (DB); Quintin Demps, UTEP; Josh Barrett, Arizona State; Jamar Adams, Michigan.

K: Art Carmody, Louisville (K); Durant Brooks, Georgia Tech (P); Robert Zarrilli, Hofstra (K); Michael Dragosavich, North Dakota State (P); Jeremy Ito, Rutgers (K).

A conference-by-conference look at the top senior NFL running back prospects.

ACC

Tashard Choice, Georgia Tech – Currently among the NCAA's top performers in all rushing categories, Choice has made his mark against league opponents. His toughness and ability to chew up yards in the second half has him gaining the respect of NFL scouts as well. He needs to improve his receiving skills and learn to run lower so he can avoid some of the big hits that he encounters at the point of attack.

Keon Lattimore, Maryland – Bigger back who has quick feet and the ability to carry the load while also punching the ball in as a red-zone threat. He has scored six touchdowns on only 59 carries. His size will make him an attractive second option for NFL teams as a short-yardage back.

Big Ten

Mike Hart, Michigan – A preseason Heisman Trophy candidate who has had a very good start to his senior year. Hart currently leads the country in rushing with 502 yards, despite his team's lack of success. He runs hard and has good hands, but some scouts have concerns about his size, durability and that he might not have "Special" straight-line speed.

Austin Scott, Penn State – Scott has re-established himself as a prospect after being redshirted last season because of an off-field issue that nearly cost him his spot on the roster. He has very good straight-line speed, and being 220-225 pounds allows him to run over the defenders he cannot run past.

Amir Pinnix, Minnesota – Hails from the same program that has produced a number of successful backs, and he has made a name for himself by averaging nearly 130 yards and 25 carries per game.

Jehuu Caulcrick, Michigan State – Might be the best unknown back in the Big Ten and has resurfaced as a terrific between-the-tackles runner. After shedding some extra pounds, his speed and quickness have improved. He currently is tied for the conference lead with six rushing touchdowns on just 45 carries.

Big 12

Allen Patrick, Oklahoma – A speedy back who missed the first game of the season but came back running well against both Miami and Utah State. Patrick's biggest problem might be that the Sooners now plan for him to share carries with top-notch recruit DeMarco Murray. Patrick saw just eight carries a week ago; he was able to gain 113 yards and one touchdown. His 4.4-range 40 times will gain him a substantial evaluation in the postseason even if his senior numbers are not impressive.

Dantrell Savage, Oklahoma State – A very good change-of-pace back in terms of NFL potential. Savage flashes breakaway speed and should impress when evaluated as an all-purpose prospect; runner, receiver and return man.

Pac-10

Yvenson Bernard, Oregon State – One of the most productive runners in the NCAA over the past four years, Bernard has carried the Beavers to many a victory. He runs with very good vision, quick feet and hard for his size. NFL scouts wonder if he has the straight-line speed to be more than a situational player, but you can't overlook his production to date.

Ryan Torian, Arizona State – A big, physical runner who gained more than 1,200 yards as a junior after coming from Butler (Kansas) CC. Torian lacks breakaway speed but is able to punish defenders and fight through initial contact in order to gain additional yardage.

Chauncey Washington, USC – It seems as if Washington has been playing with the Trojans forever. After some academic setbacks, he now shares carries in the most crowded backfield in the country. At 6-foot, 210 pounds, he is capable of running in the 4.45 range and has very good hands.

Chris Jennings, Arizona – The replacement for Chris Henry, Jennings possesses 4.5 range or better speed to go along with being 5-foot-11, 225 pounds. He has a chance to make a move into contending for a spot in the draft if he is able to excel against top-ranked foes in the conference.

SEC

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mississippi – An Indiana transfer who had an instant impact on the Rebels offense a year ago, Green-Ellis now is a featured runner. He is able to break tackles at the line of scrimmage but also shows a nice second gear in the open field. One question scouts will have is whether he can contribute in the passing game as he has just 22 career receptions.

Rafael Little, Kentucky – A tremendously productive all-purpose back who has averaged nearly 130 yards per game. Little also is closing in on 100 career receptions. He lacks ideal size (5-10, 195) but has very good quickness and the ability to contribute to an offense.

Cory Boyd, South Carolina – Boyd has learned from past mistakes and matured into being a legitimate NFL prospect. He lost a season after violating team rules but has bounced back to being the team's starting back and runs with both speed and authority.

Thomas Brown, Georgia – Brown is part of a one-two punch, bringing speed, quickness and big-play potential to the Bulldogs' attack. Meanwhile, Kregg Lumpkin is the big, physical back who makes plays in short-yardage but also has good speed for his size. Brown has been banged up but is starting to look like the running back who produced 798 yards and averaged 5 yards per carry as a junior.

OTHER CONFERENCES

Calvin Dawson, Louisiana-Monroe – Dawson is the No. 8 rusher in the country with 397 yards, including 100-plus yard efforts against Clemson and Texas A&M. He is able to wear down defenses and also shows good speed in the open field. His ability to gain consistent yardage behind a very average offensive line, while always being the primary target, has made him a favorite of area scouts. He currently holds between a late third- to fifth-round grade.

Chris Johnson, East Carolina – One of the fastest players in the country, Johnson was timed in the 40 at sub-4.3 during the spring, according to staff members. He is off to a slow start, but his ability to create the big play with one big burst in the open field offers him the chance to impress scouts.

Kalvin McRae, Ohio – A tough, between the tackles runner, McRae has proven to be one of the MAC's best runners in recent memory. He has gained more than 1,100 yards each of the past two seasons, while averaging nearly a touchdown per game for his career. He fights through initial contact and always falls forward when getting tackled. McRae has scored seven of his team's nine touchdowns and could serve as a steady No. 2 back at the next level.

Jalen Parmele, Toledo – Parmele is a terrific athlete with 4.45 speed and a 40-inch vertical. He has yet to break the 100-yard barrier this season but is coming off a junior campaign that featured 1,131 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. Parmele has bulked up to more than 220 pounds and could be drafted in the mid-to-late rounds.

Matt Forte, Tulane – Forte shows very good hands out of the backfield (81 career receptions). He runs hard at 6-1, 225 and averages 4.5 yards per carry. Overlooked because of the offense he plays in, but he also should be solid on special teams. That gives him a chance to earn a late-round grade.

Anthony Aldridge, Houston – Aldridge, an all-purpose back, has 4.3 speed and exceptional quickness and vision. He gained more than 200 yards against Oregon in a season-opening loss and could be evaluated as a return man and third-down back.

Marcus Thomas, UTEP – Thomas was expected to become his team's go-to back as a senior. He has started off slowly but has a very good size/speed ratio and proven hands out of the backfield. He will need to get back on track the rest of the season to attract the attention of area scouts.

DeMarco McNair, Middle Tennessee State – McNair is an all-purpose threat who posted great results against Louisville but failed to follow up against LSU's top-rated defense. He has very impressive straight-line speed and shows the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and when lined up in the slot.

SMALL-SCHOOL PROSPECTS

Alley Broussard, Missouri Southern State – Broussard is a former starter at LSU who transferred to see additional playing time as a senior. He saw his first real action last week and gained 172 yards on 24 carries. That included four touchdowns, one of which was a 67-yard run against Pittsburg State. His first game came against overmatched Harding U. where he gained 110 yards on 10 carries with a 39-yard score. Broussard has Day 1 talent.

Lex Hilliard, Montana – Hilliard is the school's all-time leading rusher and has returned to the field healthy after missing last season with a knee injury. He has very good hands, gets into his blocks well and could serve as a multipurpose back in the NFL, capable of playing either running back or fullback in the right scheme.

Xavier Oman, NW Missouri State – A tough, compact between-the-tackles runner, Oman has led his team in rushing the past three seasons, gaining more than 1,500 yards per year and scoring 55 touchdowns. He is averaging more than 25 carries per game this season and has gained more than 100 yards in 19 of his past 23 games. Scouts wonder if he has the pure straight-line speed to be considered an every-down back.

Lavarius Giles, Jackson State – A versatile, junior college transfer who runs in the 4.45 range at 6-1, 215 pounds. Giles can line up in the backfield or out in the slot and is a very exciting return man. NFL scouts love to take chances on size/speed guys, and he fits that category. He has proven to be a strong special-teams guy; returning a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown this season.

Adrain Smith, Bethel College (Tenn.) – Smith has shown very good game speed, while tearing up opponents for an average of more than 120 yards per game. His 8.6 yards per carry is the highest among the top 10 runners in the NAIA. He will need to receive an invite to a postseason game in order to showcase his talents against a higher level of competition.

Danny Woodhead, Chadron State – An exciting small school talent who shows an extra gear once he hits the open field and is capable of being used in a variety of roles. He can return kickoffs and has good hands as a receiver. He has been timed at 4.41 in the 40-yard dash and set an all-divisions record with 2,756 yards rushing as a junior. That helped earn him last year's Harlon Hill Award.

Maurice Murray, Northeastern – A big, physical runner who has averaged more than 100 yards per game, while losing just 7 yards on 71 carries. Murray has bounced off defenders and pushed his way to extra yards after contact. He has had some small issues with tendinitis, but his 5-11, 230-pound frame has area scouts looking at him as a possible red-zone back.

Mu'Ammar Ali, Portland State – A former New Mexico State recruit who made his way up to play for the Vikings last season before an off-field family issue kept him from returning for his senior season. Ali will be draft-eligible for 2008, which West Coast scouts are well aware of after he ran sub-4.4 times at roughly 5-8, 210 pounds. He gained more than 130 yards in three out of six games last season. He flashed his slashing running style and the explosive burst to raise eyebrows.

Tyler Sherden, Luther College (Iowa) – Sherden could be from the smallest school we ever have written about, but his game tapes show big-time ability. He is averaging more than 175 yards rushing per game, while also being his team's top return man (26.8 yards per kickoff). He is roughly 5-11, 205 pounds and has been timed in the mid-4.5 range. A free-agent shot next summer is not out of the question.

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