Top Running Back Prospects
C.J. Spiller • 5-11 • 195 • Clemson
Spiller (below) is an explosive, big play threat who can impact a game in a variety of ways. He’s patient with the ball in his hands, allows blockers to set up in front of him and quickly recognizes a crease. He’s not an every down player and is best used in a one-two punch scenario. Durability is an issue. Projection: First Round
Ryan Mathews (JR) • 5-11.5 • 220 • Fresno State
Mathews is a strong runner who excels between the tackles, but has the deceptive quickness to be successful on the edge. He displays patience, quick feet and vision. He lacks elite speed, and, while he has a burst, he tends to be deliberate in his approach. Projection: First Round
Jahvid Best (JR) • 5-10 • 185 • California
Best is an electrifying player who is a threat to score from any angle on the field. He possesses a tremendous burst, sets up defenders nicely, freezes them with his shiftiness and instantly cuts back. He lacks prototypical size and will be best used at the next level in a two-back system. Projection: Second Round
Jonathan Dwyer (JR) • 6-0 • 235• Georgia Tech
Dwyer is a tough, powerful runner who excels between the tackles. He has a thick frame and runs with great balance. He’s patient, and possesses excellent vision and agility. He is more quick than fast. His punishing running style is an effective weapon, but he takes on too many big hits. Projection: Second Round
Montario Hardesty • 6-0 • 215 • Tennessee
Hardesty runs with great balance and has the ability to quickly find the cutback lanes. He’s a solid receiver out of the backfield and displays strength as a blocker. He lacks elite speed and isn’t elusive in the open field. He has trouble turning the corner and is forced to turn a lot of his runs up the middle. Projection: Third Round
Toby Gerhart (JR) • 6-1 • 235 • Stanford
Gerhart is often compared to former Tampa Bay Buccaneers fullback Mike Alstott. He surprised scouts at the NFL Scouting Combine with his athleticism and straight line speed. Projection: Third Round
Ben Tate • 5-11 • 214 • Auburn
Tate is a strong runner who makes things happen with decent power. His game is based on being physical, and no one in the secondary wants to see him coming. Considering his style, he dances a bit too much and needs to be more decisive. Projection: Third Round
LeGarrette Blount • 6-0.5 • 245 • Oregon
Blount has tremendous power and brings a truckload of hitting ability. But he has major character concerns and also durability concerns due to his physicality. Projection: Fourth Round
Joe McKnight (JR) • 6-0 • 180 • USC
McKnight is quick with the ball in his hands and has the ability to make any defender miss — he’s slippery. He’s not an inside runner and can’t be a workhorse. Projection: Fourth Round
Rashawn Jackson • FB • 6-1 • 239 • Virginia
Jackson is a big, physical runner with good upside. He’s aggressive at the point of attack and is an athletic lead blocker. He picks up assignments quickly. He’s a tweener who has running back qualities, but lacks the elusiveness to be anything more than a situational runner. Projection: Fourth Round
49ers Need at Position: 6
Current Players: Frank Gore, Moran Norris (FB), Glen Coffee, Michael Robinson, Brit Miller (FB), Jehuu Caulcrick (FB)
Positional Overview: Gore is one of the best in the game, a powerful workhorse who always wants the ball in his hands. He’s excellent in every phase, whether it’s running between the tackles, receiving or picking up blitzes. At 26, Gore is still in his prime. Coffee was drafted last season to be Gore’s understudy, but didn’t show much burst and had a lot of difficulty getting to the second level. Robinson is strictly a special teams guy. Norris was brought back to the team at Gore’s behest last year, but he wasn’t very effective as a lead blocker, and the offense was too predictable when he was on the field.
When to address: Fourth round.
Who’s There: If the 49ers were to take a change-of-pace back high in the draft, it would have to be someone who’s extremely dangerous in space and a guy who’s more of a scatback type than a burly downhill runner. Also, he would have to be an elite kick returner, since that’s a huge hole on this team right now. Clemson’s C.J. Spiller in the first round and Cal’s Jahvid Best in the second are both possibilities, but I still can’t see the team spending a high pick on a backup player when they already invested a 3rd-rounder on Coffee last year. What they do need desperately though, is a multi-dimensional fullback that can run, catch and block, and Virginia’s Rashawn Jackson would be perfect.
SFI’s Pick: Rashawn Jackson, FB, Virginia, 6’1” 239 lbs. When it comes down to it, Gore’s too good to sit on the sidelines for more than a handful of snaps per game, so the offense would be better served to find a fullback who can be more than just a battering ram. Jackson can pick up the tough yards on 3rd-and-short, and punish defenses for selling out against the run as a play-action receiver.