Everyone loves a good list and when I made the comment on Tuesday night after watching some film that Cibolo Steele running back Malcolm Brown was the second best back I had scouted from the Lone Star State in my 16 or so years in the business, it created some pretty good discussion.
Although this era of football in the Lone Star State might not rival golden age of the 1970s when Texas seemed to produce one all-time great after another each year with the likes of Earl Campbell, Billy Sims and Eric Dickerson, this state's tradition of producing fantastic running back prospects remains extremely strong.
In what really did turn into a really fun walk down memory lane and perhaps inspiration for future stories in the off-season, here's a look at my list of the top 25 running backs that I've scouted from the Lone Star State's high school ranks since 1995 based on the grades I had given them before they arrived in college.
Comment: Moody was a guy that showed a lot of spectacular ability in high school, but there were questions about his physical and mental toughness, along with his overall game. He was kind of the epitome of boom or bust. After signing with USC, Moody transferred to Florida and has been a little bit of a boom or bust player for them as well. He'll be a senior in 2010 and as rushed for 1,254 yards and six touchdowns in three seasons, while rushing for better than 6.0 yards per carry in his career.
Comment: Taylor is one of the more athletically raw and explosive players that I've ever scouted and he was a big-play waiting to happen on Texas' 2005 national championship squad, but he was a guy that just couldn't get out of his own way, which was a concern for many when he was being recruited.
Comment: Although he ended up making it in the NFL for a spell and was a multi-year starter for the Longhorns, people forget just how explosive Young was before all of the injuries that he's dealt with in college robbed him of his top-end game. In high school, Young was an all-purpose rocket out of the backfield whose speed and explosiveness dominated the Houston area. I'm not sure he ever truly recovered from the broken ankle he suffered against Arkansas in 2004.
Comment: If you looked up "extremely talented but raw prospects" in the dictionary, you might see a picture of Addai from his high school days. This was a kid that had a ton of physical ability, but he was one of those guys where his team just kind of pitched the ball to him and got out of the way while he would make stuff up. I've always felt like Addai was one of the long shots with big talent that actually hit in a big way.
21. Donta Hickson - McKinney (No. 8 in 2001)
Comment: One of my worst calls ever. Hickson was one of the first backs to emerge as a bit of a byproduct of the spread offense in the state of Texas. Hickson was a player with a lot of speed and shakes, while his versatility appeared to set make him a perfect new-age spread offenses at the college ranks, but it just never came together for the former Dallas-area star at Oklahoma.
20. Leo Mills - Humble (No. 8 in 1998)
Comment: There were a lot of people that thought Mills was a better prospect coming out of high school than Ben Gay, who was rated higher that year. Like some of those that have already been mentioned, Mills was a guy whose explosiveness and speed was his trademark. He looked like a future star as a young player at Arizona before simply washing out.
19. Shaud Williams - Andrews (No. 11 in 1999)
Comment: Oh man, talk about an electrifying little water bug of a football player. If you had seen Williams at the high school level, you would have seen a player that most players and teams in West Texas just couldn't get their hands around. A great high school runner that was incredibly productive, Williams was a total all-purpose threat that could run, catch and return kicks. Amazingly, Williams wasn't a guy that was nationally recruited coming out of high school, but he was a kid whose talent I absolutely loved.
Comment: Although Gray often lined up at quarterback in high school, it didn't take a nuclear physicist to figure out that his explosive running skill would make him a potentially dynamic weapon at the collegiate level. He just finished his sophomore season at Texas A&M and earned honorable mention all-conference honors.
Comment: In an era when non-spread game running backs seemed to be few and far between, Calhoun emerged in 2008 as a prospect with a seemingly perfect blend of size, speed, athleticism and running skill. Of course, the big knock on him coming out of high school was his level of competition and thus far he's yet to live up to his status as a big-time prospect.
16. Hodges Mitchell - Dallas Skyline (No. 9 in 1997)
Comment: He was Shuad Williams coming out of high school, but with probably an extra-gear. Yet another guy who was explosive with the ball in his hands from any spot on the field.
Comment: Goodson was a guy whose skill set greatly outweighed his productivity in high school, but there was no way to get past the fact that he had nearly the perfect blend of size, speed and agility. His problem is that he simply never was a great player, just a guy who could make spectacular plays. Well, his form held firm and he never turned out to be more than a pretty good college player, but he still has enough ability to make a living on Sundays.
Comment: This is a kid that certainly would have been in the top 10 and maybe even the top five after his sophomore year, but I've slowed down on anointing Green after a somewhat disappointing junior season. Still, when he's at his best, he's as explosive and electrifying as any back on the list. If he bounces back as a senior this year and looks like the guy I thought he was at this time last year, he'll have a strong chance of moving up.
Comment: If we were to go up and down this list of 25 prospects, I'm pretty positive that the list of players that I would rank ahead of Sims as over football players (pound-for-pound) is small sort of like Sims, himself. Whether he's running, catching or returning kicks, Sims is a dominant player that has the ability to will his team to victory. He's this state's version of Brian Westbrook at the high school level.
Comment: Williams is another player that's outside of the top 10, but probably has a chance to move up with a strong senior season AND if he can hold off the likes of Sims/Green from jumping in front of him. A terrific blend of size, speed and explosiveness, Williams can be a violent runner who seeks out contact on the field, but he's also a skilled receiver that's incredibly tough to tackle in space.
Comment: I'm still trying to figure out how he hasn't developed into a college star. As a junior and senior at Longview, the coaches from around East Texas were calling him the second-best runner in over a decade next to Adrian Peterson. McGee was an extremely productive runner, who showed great feet/balance, above-average speed and he was a guy that broke a ton of tackles. Of all the players in a very good 2006 running backs class from Texas, I thought he was the best.
10. Tyson Thompson - Irving (No. 6 in 2000)
Comment: How good was Thompson? Good enough that he could make the NFL, despite a college career that watched him lose his career at TCU because of an incident involving a few missing items at Irving High School. Still, he bounced around a little and eventually his talent allowed him to land a spot with the Dallas Cowboys. Thompson was an incredible high school runner, who specialized in the big play because his speed. As a senior at Irving, he was as dominant of a high school runner as I've seen next to Cedric Benson.
Comment: He's probably the second- or third-best blend of size, speed and overall ability on the list. Although there were questions about his character while he was in high school and he eventually lost his career when he was arrested on drug charges, Hardeman is still the most naturally talented back that Mack Brown has ever landed at Texas in a lot of people's eyes. The guy could do it all on the field - run, catch and block. His problem centered on the fact that the only tackle he couldn't break was trouble.
Comment: I'm not sure that I've ever covered a player in Texas with a better initial burst than Seastrunk. Although he's not the fastest guy over 100 meters on this list, his ability to create separation out of his cuts and his burst from point A to point B is as good as anyone I've seen. More than any kid I've watched in this state, Seastrunk is truly the guy that can change a game in the blink of an eye. He's also probably the biggest boom or bust player on the entire list when I look at the names.
Comment: Michael is the rare player on this list with the ability to outrun defenders to the corner, while also possessing the ability to break tackles between the hash marks with a pounding running style because of his 6-0, 200-pound frame. Although he probably wasn't as versatile as a player like Hardeman coming out of his school, he provided the dream combination of size, athleticism and skill without having to make concessions with character.
6. Dominique Rhodes - Abilene Cooper (No. 4 in 1997)
Comment: Rhodes is another one of these guys that was an extremely talented young player with bad grades, but it didn't matter that he couldn't qualify coming out of high school or if he never played Division I football - it just doesn't matter sometimes when you're that talented because the NFL will find you. I had a chance to see Rhodes in high school when he lost to Drew Brees in the state championship game and he was just so explosive with the ball in his hands. He's the first back that I can remember seeing when I thought to myself that he belonged in a different league than the one he was playing in at the high school level. He's easily one of the most underrated backs on the list when you look at his lack of recruitment from top schools, but grades were obviously an issue.
5. Jammal Charles - Port Arthur Memorial (No. 5 in 2005)
Comment: Speed, speed and more speed. It's funny to think back now and believe that I had questions about Charles' top-end speed when I first watched him, which is solid evidence that you should always take a second or third look at a player if you can because I was a flat out moron when I initially evaluated Charles. Of course, I had the chance of seeing him a half-dozen times after the first watch and eventually I realized just how explosive the kid was. On top of that, Charles was a war horse on the field that would often throw down a 300-yard/40-carry game in three or four game strings. For all of his raw ability, Charles was always a football player - first and foremost.
4. Ben Gay - Spring (No. 2 in 1998)
Comment: The legend of Ben Gay. I wish I had the video to show you guys, but you should have seen the guy coming out of high school. At 6-1, 210 pounds and possessing legit 4.3 speed, Gay was a man-beast at the high school level that just oozed special NFL talent. He was just the kind of guy who could make you drop your jaw three of four times per game with ease. Even though he barely had a college career, Gay's ability still allowed him to get a cup of coffee in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns, but he's basically the Kaiser Soze of running backs from this state.
Comment: From a credentials standpoint, there's never been a better runner and perhaps even a better overall player than Benson, who led Midland Lee to three straight titles and rushed for more yards than any player in the modern era of the state. Benson was never flashy, but he was a warrior on the field and could take over a game with the ball in his hands. As good of a finisher as I've seen at the high school level, Benson had the ability to take a team's soul away from them over the course of four quarters. His balance and vision were as good as anyone.
Comment: As I said earlier this week, I think he's Cedric Benson with an extra gear. No, he hasn't led his team to a state championship yet (let alone three), but when you watch this kid run with the football, you'll forget about resumes and lose yourself in the fact that Brown is a 6-0, 210-pound runner with a perfect blend of power, vision, balance and explosive ability. Like Benson, Brown will pound you between the tackles, but the difference is that when Brown gets a step on the defense after trucking a linebacker or defensive back, he has the speed to leave everyone behind him. While he's not the finisher or warrior that Benson was at this level, his physical skill set is superior.
Comment: The only alien on the list. Peterson might not have been the player that Benson was at the high school level, but there's never been anyone quite like Peterson in the almost two decades that I've been covering high school talent. For now and maybe forever - Peterson remains the bar.