Toby Gerhart, Stanford
Gerhart started August training camp with a late 3rd round projection from the NFS and has done his part to potentially improve that mark with a fabulous senior season that saw him almost capture the Heisman trophy. Many would argue that his stellar play was short-changed from a lack of exposure with the 6-1, 240 pound bruiser playing in the less glamorous Pac-10, and for a school (Stanford) located on the West Coast, causing him to lose the coveted trophy by the closest margin in history to the high profile SEC candidate playing on the East Coast, Alabama’s Mark Ingram.
The 2009 Doak Walker Award winner (ironically beating out Mark Ingram for the award), also a top pro baseball prospect, hit the ball out of the park this year with 1,736 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns, smashing the stigma that white running backs can’t excel at an elite level in major college football. You’ll hear many experts use comparisons to former Redskins great John Riggins, but the first-team All-American appears to a far superior athlete and the Management Science and Engineering graduate should only help himself during the chalk-talk, football IQ portion of the pre-Draft process. The body of work from his senior season, highlighted by standout efforts against USC and Notre Dame, in combination with his athleticism, smarts and character intangibles, make Gerhart a likely mid-to-late second round pick in the 2010 Draft.
Montario Hardesty, Tennessee
After an injury-filled collegiate career- including three different surgeries on his knees, Hardesty saved his best performance for his last year as a Volunteer, leading the SEC with 121.2 rushing yards per game during new head coach Lane Kiffin’s inaugural season. Hardesty finished as the SEC’s 2nd leading rusher behind Alabama’s Mark Ingram, Jr..
After an initial Summer grade from NFL scouts that read ”lacked sufficient playing time to grade”, due to his lack of playing time caused by his injury difficulties, scouts have now added to their reports that the 6-0, 215 pound slasher competes on every snap and practices just as hard as he plays in the games, against some of the best defenses in the country. His no-quit, never-say-die touchdown run against Cal 2006 is emblematic of the style of his boyhood hero, Walter Payton, whom he tries to replicate on every carry. Size, strength, balance and agility are his primary strengths and the North Carolina native will need to address the perception that he is quick, rather than fast, and may lack the burst to get to the outside on runs. Teams whose schemes favor power over elusiveness will most likely have a heightened interest in the former Volunteer. Overall, Hardesty’s superb senior season has helped raise his Draft stock noticeably, from being an unknown in the Summer to an early second day pick possibility (rounds 3-5) before the pre-Draft process gets started.
Keiland Williams, LSU
Williams (6-1, 221) started this year as a seldom-used, situational, afterthought, projecting an initial bottom of the 6th round grade going into his senior season, with his more celebrated Tigers teammate, Charles Scott (6-1, 234), LSU’s starting RB, receiving a bottom 2nd round projection this Summer. An underachieving Scott succumbed to a season-ending broken collarbone against Alabama in early November and Williams seized the opportunity to showcase a powerful running style equipped with game-breaking, finishing speed. With good size, agility and elusiveness (5.3 average per carry) and a demonstrated ability to pass block, there is a growing notion within the NFL scouting community that Williams game will actually translate better to the NFL than Charles Scott’s, however, he’ll first need to recover from and show no ill effects from what was termed a “significant break” of the ankle bone in LSU’s 25-23 loss to Ole Miss in late November.
Lamarcus Coker, Hampton
The Tennessee transfer finished off a productive final campaign for the Hampton Pirates leading the MEAC in rushing yards (1,027) and second overall in all-purpose yards (1,537). An impressive showing (204 yards and three touchdowns) highlighted by a scorching forty time rumored to be in the high 4.2s during the practice week, earned the Hampton senior MVP honors at the East Coast Bowl, an all-star game consisting of players selected from Championship Subdivision, Division II, Division III and NAIA. The 5-10, 205 pound speedster started the year with a priority free agent grade and as he likely heads to the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis has improved his standing enough to be considered a value pick in the sixth or seventh round of the 2010 Draft.
Chris Brown, Oklahoma
After having received a late round to free agent assessment from NFL teams after his junior season, Brown had hoped his efforts on the ground in his final year as a Sooner would benefit from the air cover provided by a Sam Bradford-led passing attack that also featured a likely first-round pick at the tight end position, Jermaine Gresham. As has been well-documented, the once-powerful Sooner offense went most of this season without the services of both Bradford and Gresham, and Brown’s production suffered greatly as a result, totaling 745 yards rushing (4.1 avg) and seven touchdowns in 12 games. With an impressive group of underclassmen at the running back position threatening to declare early for the 2010 Draft, highlighted by Cal’s Jahvid Best, Fresno State’s Ryan Matthews, Georgia Tech’s Johnathan Dwyer and West Virgina’s Noel Devine, Brown appears to be a sure bet to enter the NFL as an undrafted free agent.
Charles Scott, LSU
(June NFS grade - bottom 2nd round) Scott’s senior year has not gone according to plan after starting with great promise with a 2nd round grade from the National Football Scouting group. The senior’s final collegiate season ended prematurely after nine games with a collarbone injury and his numbers up to that point were an underwhelming 550 yards rushing (4.7 avg) and four touchdowns on the ground, one receiving. Viewed purely as an inside the tackles runner with a lot or work still to be done regarding his pass protection capabilities, Scott’s draft stock now points to the second day, between rounds five to seven.
James Starks, Buffalo
The University of Buffalo’s all-time leading rusher with 3,140 rushing yards and 34 scores entered the 2009 training camp with great expectations for a fantastic final season, including being listed on the preseason watch list for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation’s top running back. Unfortunately, his college goals, and for that matter his NFL aspirations, absorbed noticeable damage when a labral tear in his shoulder was discovered in August, effectively ending his final year before it had a chance to get started. The big (6-2, 204), physical workhorse back was given a preliminary top of the 4th round grade by scouts based on film from his junior year, and missing his senior season almost assuredly drops him into the late rounds and, pending what junior RBs declare, possibly into priority free agency after the Draft’s conclusion.
LeGarrette Blount, Oregon
Blount started the Draft evaluation process with a promising top of the 4th round projection from NFL scouts in June and then the best punch he ever threw (to the chin of Boise State defensive end Byron Hout) turned into a sizeable body blow to the Oregon senior’s draft stock when he was immediately suspended for the bulk of his final collegiate season. The 6-1, 249 pound bruiser’s Draft projection, at the time had risen to between the 1st and 3rd round consideration, and the post game outburst against Boise State plummeted that position into the undrafted ranks. Blount’s reportedly been a model citizen since returning to practice-only activities and that has helped claw his way back into Draft consideration, now sitting around the 5th to 6th round level. After missing most of the season, the quick-triggered ball carrier will have one more collegiate game to showcase his football skills for scouts, the Rose Bowl against Ohio State on January 1st.
Potential Underclassmen considering declaring for the 2010 Draft
Nic Grigsby, Arizona (5-10, 190)…559 yards, five TDs on 75 carries (7.5 avg)
Jahvid Best, California (5-10, 195)…867 yards, 12 TDs on 141 carries (6.1 avg)…22 receptions for 213 yards and four touchdowns
Ryan Matthews, Fresno State (5-11, 220)…1664 yards on 245 carries (6.8 avg) and 17 touchdowns
Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech (6-0, 235)…1,346 yards on 221 carries (6.1 avg) and 14 touchdowns
Darius Marshall, Marshall (5-10, 190)…1,054 yards on 207 carries (5.1 avg) and 11 touchdowns
Da’Rel Scott, Maryland (5-11, 200)… 425 yards on 85 carries (5.0 avg) and four touchdowns
Graig Cooper, Miami (6-0, 205)… 666 yards on 129 carries (5.2 avg) and three touchdowns and 18 receptions for 132 yards and a touchdown
Evan Royster, Penn State (6-1, 213)…1,104 yards on 188 carries (5.9avg.) and six touchdowns with 16 catches for 187 yards and two touchdowns through the air
Donald Buckram, UTEP (5-10, 195)…1,594 yards on 259 carries (6.2 avg) and 18 touchdowns with 30 catches for 453 yards and three scores
Noel Devine, West Virginia (5-8, 176)…1,297 on 225 carries (5.8 avg) and 12 touchdowns with 20 receptions for 149 yards and one score