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Pi Network

Lou: is providing Draft King with a series of articles direct from Indianapolis, the site of the 2008 NFL Combine. Enjoy!

February 23, 2008

NFL Scouting Combine: Day 3
By: Nicholas Minnix,

On Day 3 of the NFL Scouting Combine, the league was trotting out players on the defensive side of the ball for us to verbally poke and prod. Defensive linemen and linebackers did most of the talking today, but I wanted to jump to the other side of the line of scrimmage for a moment.

Little debate takes place when the topic of the best skill position player available comes up. University of Arkansas running back Darren McFadden is the odds-on favorite to be selected at the head of that class, if not the principal of the entire school. Quarterback Matt Ryan receives plenty of consideration, but in the past few years, these so-called prototypical signal callers seem to get attention because of the lack of quality players in the NFL at that position and not because of their probability of filling that role successfully.

McFadden said it himself: He believes that he's the best back available in the draft. The pundits and the hype machine are right there with him. I think they've been hanging out at the wrong end of the dock, though; not only are they missing the boat, they aren't even aware that the better choice is a hydroplane ... with wings.

The University of Oregon's Jonathan Stewart, easily the best running back prospect of this year's crop, would have given Paul Revere nightmares; one or two lanterns simply wouldn't have been enough. Stewart travels by land, sea and air. I'm not sure which teams plan to install an aquatic surface in their new stadium, but I'm willing to speculate that he'd excel on water as well.

Indications are that the general public (or, at least, NFL Draft addicts) agree that McFadden is the premier long-term solution available, too. In an poll, visitors are asked which of three running backs - McFadden, the University of Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall and Stewart - they believe will have the best NFL career. McFadden (48 percent), as expected, leads the way, followed by Mendenhall (28 percent) and then Stewart (24 percent).

McFadden is a spectacular athlete, don't get me wrong. He's extremely versatile and will provide some team with home run-threat ability. McFadden can slash through the line and take it to the house. He can line up out wide, take an end-around and gain big chunks of yardage if he's given the open space. He can take a pitch or a snap and throw it down the field to a streaking wideout. He provides an offense with an array of options.

While tricks aren't solely McFadden's game, I think he fits an offense that resorts to gimmick plays and trickery more often than a traditional attack does. There's nothing wrong with that. Such plays and players can provide plenty of excitement as well as win you a ton of games - in the regular season. For my money - for my top-five money - I want a player that is built for, and has the ability to make a lasting mark in, the playoffs.

Stewart is that guy. In fact, he knows it. "You don't really see a player my size at this position being able to do the things I can do. I'm explosive. I have good lateral movement as well. I have great speed as well. Put those things together and it can be something great," Stewart said. That almost sums it up. At 5-foot-10, 235 pounds, he's a load to bring down. When that load is moving at the speed of a freight train, it doesn't get any easier.

Stewart can get the tough yards, and he can break away to get the not-so-tough yards. If he has an opening, he'll end up in the end zone the same as McFadden will. The difference is that McFadden needs more help to get into the open field. The Hogs' offensive line was notorious for parting the Red Sea for McFadden as well as Felix Jones, his draft classmate and former backfield mate. When asked how he was able to average seven yards per carry in college, Jones responded, "It's just great blocking up front. My teammates, they did a great job.... They just provided the hole I needed to hit."

It's not to say that either wouldn't have been successful with less support; Jones is an outstanding prospect as well, and he'll make an excellent complement to, say, Dallas Cowboys running back Marion Barber III. Stewart is the total package, though. Watch him run, and you'll see it. He's patient, he can see the holes, he can quickly hit them, he can't be brought down with arm tackles, and he can catch the ball. The best part is, he had only 516 carries (269 fewer than McFadden) at Oregon, so he doesn't have a great deal of wear and tear on him. He was remarkably consistent, averaging at least 4.1 yards per carry in all but one game of his senior season. He also answered lingering doubts about his durability by playing in all 13 of the Ducks' games. Oh, and you wonder how many times he fumbled in college? Same number as McFadden: not once.

Maybe most simply believe that there's more than meets the eye with these backs. I don't buy it. Watch Stewart run the football and tell me you wouldn't want him lined up seven yards deep for your team.

Somebody in the middle of the first round or later is going to get one heck of a building block, that's for sure. Will it be the Carolina Panthers? Arizona Cardinals? Houston Texans? Seattle Seahawks? I'm not really certain, but whichever club it is will be thrilled.

Now, on to some notes from Day 3:

* Southern California linebacker Keith Rivers (ankle) said that he tweaked his right ankle last week, so he won't be running at the combine. He will at his Pro Day April 2, though. He said that he hurt the left one this past season and played through it. Rivers wore the famed No. 55 jersey at USC, carrying on the tradition of previous greats Junior Seau, Willie McGinest and Chris Claiborne. He claims that he can play all three linebacker spots, but he prefers the strong side.

* University of Illinois linebacker Jeremy Leman (ankle) said that he won't be able to run at full speed until late April following surgery on his left ankle. Leman is telling teams not to hold that against him, but they probably won't listen. That's the kind of development that could make him a steal in the middle rounds. Leman will bring strong leadership qualities, a great mind and fantastic instincts to the middle of some linebacker corps. Last year, the 6-1 3/4, 245-pounder earned his master's degree in human resources after already wrapping up his bachelor's in speech communication. The man they call "J" seems like a fit for the New England Patriots, although he'd probably have to fall to the fourth round, and I'm not too sure about his camerawork.

* University of Virginia defensive end Chris Long (thumb) said that he sprained his thumb in the Cavaliers' bowl game, so he won't be doing the bench press at the combine. He decided to let it rest for a couple of weeks, and since he began benching again, he's not where he wants to be. He'll put the bar up at his Pro Day at the Virginia campus. The son of Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long recalled his earliest memory of Al Davis: As a child, Chris was visiting his dad at training camp, where family members weren't allowed. When he saw Davis, he ducked down in the car. "Don't tell Al Davis that happened," Chris pleaded. Long said he appreciated that his father remained in the background during his time at Virginia. "I've said, 'Dad, you're an old man now. It's not your time anymore.'"

That's all I got from Indy today. It was surprisingly quiet. USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis was a surprise guest after we heard that he wouldn't join us until tomorrow. That's when - we're told - we can expect Louisiana State Glenn Dorsey, too.


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