April 14, 2012

Running Back U.: Miami or Texas?

Miami hasn't produced a first-round draft pick since 2008. It's only fitting that a running back has the best chance to end that drought.

Yes, it's a bit of a reach to refer to three years without a first-round pick as a "drought." That represents a long slide only because Miami had produced at least one first-round draft pick every year from 1995-2008.

RUNNING BACK U. 2012
Our choice: Miami.
Who they've sent: Damien Berry (Baltimore Ravens), Graig Cooper (Philadelphia Eagles), Frank Gore (San Francisco 49ers), Willis McGahee (Denver Broncos), Clinton Portis* (free agent, intends to play in 2012).
Who's next: Lamar Miller is a projected second-round pick in this year's draft.
Why we picked them: Gore and McGahee each earned Pro Bowl invitations and ranked among the NFL's top 10 rushers last year. Miami was the only school that had two of its former players rush for at least 1,000 yards last season. Portis also is a former Pro Bowl selection. Gore, McGahee and Portis have each accumulated over 7,000 career rushing yards.
Other finalists: Arkansas (Cleveland's Peyton Hillis, Dallas' Felix Jones, Oakland's Darren McFadden), California (Detroit's Jahvid Best, Seattle's Justin Forsett, Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, New England's Shane Vereen), Oklahoma (Dallas' DeMarco Murray, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson), Texas (free agent Cedric Benson, Kansas City's Jamaal Charles, Baltimore's Chris Ogbonnaya, recently retired Ricky Williams).
Candidate you might not have considered: Tulane has produced 2011 Pro Bowl pick Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears and Mewelde Moore of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Lamar Miller could become Miami's first opening-round pick since Kenny Phillips went to the New York Giants with the 31st overall pick in 2008. Miller is set to become the latest in a long line of Miami running backs to earn a shot in the NFL.

Even though both of Miami's Heisman Trophy winners were quarterbacks (Vinny Testaverde and Gino Torretta), the Hurricanes' running backs have made much more of an impact in the pro ranks lately.

"As much as any position for Miami, the running back position has been strong," said Rob Rang, a senior draft analyst for nfldraftscout.com.

Frank Gore of the San Francisco 49ers and Willis McGahee of the Denver Broncos earned Pro Bowl invitations last season. Gore ranked sixth in the NFL with 1,211 rushing yards, while McGahee was eighth with 1,199 yards. No other school had multiple 1,000-yard rushers in the NFL last season.

And it isn't as if Gore and McGahee are one-year wonders. They've been doing this for quite some time.

Gore is a three-time Pro Bowl pick who has rushed for over 1,000 yards five of the last six seasons. He has run for a total of 7,625 yards and 43 touchdowns during his seven-year career. McGahee is a two-time Pro Bowl selection who has exceeded the 1,000-yard mark four times.

Other former Miami running backs on NFL rosters include Damien Berry (Baltimore Ravens) and Graig Cooper (Philadelphia Eagles), though neither player has a single career carry thus far.

Miami's running back contingent looks even stronger if you add Clinton Portis, a two-time Pro Bowl pick who has run for nearly 10,000 yards in his pro career. Although Portis didn't play last season after getting released by the Washington Redskins, he indicated earlier this year that he wants to play again and has been medically cleared.

Texas' collection of NFL running backs looks equally impressive.

WHAT'S POSITION U.?


The Position U. series is our attempt to determine which schools provide the most NFL talent at each position. We will analyze a different position just about every day up until the April 26 start of the NFL Draft. For the purpose of this series, we only took into consideration players who were still active as of last season.
April 13: Quarterbacks
April 14: Running backs
April 16: Wide receivers and tight ends
April 17: Offensive tackles
April 18: Guards/Centers
April 19: Defensive tackles and DE/OLB
April 21: Linebackers
April 23: Cornerbacks
April 24: Safeties
April 25: Kickers and punters
Ricky Williams retired in February after rushing for more than 10,000 yards in a career that included five 1,000-yard seasons. Cedric Benson ran for 1,067 yards with the Cincinnati Bengals last year, which marked the third straight season he had exceeded the 1,000-yard mark.

Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs rushed for a combined 2,567 yards in 2009 and 2010 before a torn anterior cruciate ligament limited him to two games last season. Chris Ogbonnaya rushed for 340 yards with the Cleveland Browns last year.

Texas very easily could have been the choice. After all, while Miami seemingly sent running backs to the NFL with assembly-line precision about a decade or so ago, it's worth noting that not a single Miami running back has been drafted since the 49ers selected Gore in 2005. Berry and Cooper were both undrafted free agents.

Miami ultimately got a slight edge in part because of Miller's pending arrival.

"We have him as a second-round pick," Rang said. "He is a slashing style of running back who runs a little upright, but he has excellent straight-line speed. And he showed a little more toughness last year than a lot of people anticipated from him because he had been kind of typecast as kind of just a speed threat.

"At the same time, he's only been productive for one year. ... He's not quite as polished as other Miami running backs have been in prior years."

History is on Miller's side. Miami running backs have a habit of outperforming their draft position.

Although McGahee and former Indianapolis Colts star Edgerrin James were first-round draft picks, Portis went in the second round and Gore lasted until the third round. If Miller is as productive as either Portis or Gore, whichever team drafts him will be thrilled.


Steve Megargee is the national college columnist for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.




 

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