1) Jonathon Stewart
Jonathon Stewart is a physical freak. Built very low to the ground, at 5'11" and 230 lbs, Stewart has the advantage in nearly every physical confrontation he'll find on the field. Blocking and breaking tackles are all about leverage, and Stewart has that in spades. He bench presses in excess of 400 lbs, at a position where most of the top teir prospects are barely breaking 300. And his phenominal strength and bulk in his legs allow him to power through any defender in the NFL. Rushed for over 1,700 yards in one of the toughest conferences in FBS football, and did it at a 6.2 YPC clip to boot. Excellent ball security too, despite playing in an offense that deals with a lot of uncertainty at the handoff. PAC 10 fans are happy to see him go.
On the downside, Stewart, while extremely fast, isn't quite as fast as speedsters like Jamaal Charles. His ability as a reciever is also limited. The big red flag on Stewart is his durability, he's dealt with a lot of little ticky tack injuries over his three years in Eugene.
This is the pick that's gonna have some readers up in arms. Everyone loves McFadden, and I do too, but running back is a position where raw talent rules, and no one has more raw talent than Mr. Stewart. Think Larry Johnson, before Herm Edwards ran him into the ground.
2) Darren McFadden
McFadden is a tall, lean running back. At 6'2", 215 he's reminicent of Eric Dickerson, with the same upright flowing stride that lends itself to breaking long runs once he's broken past the second level of a defense. This is supported by his extremely fast 4.33 40 that he put down at the NFL combine. McFadden is also very versitile, famously taking snaps out of Arkansas' "Wildcat" formation. He has some experience returning kicks, and has proven himself capable of handling a full 300+ carry load for a season.
McFadden has had limited opportunaty as a reciever at Arkansas, due to the instability at QB for the duration of his stay. He also lacks lower body bulk, which can translate into reduced running power at the next level. He carries the ball a little looser than he should, and has had some problems with fumbles because of it. In addition, there are some off the field incidents that Goodell just loves to crack down on. Two seperate incidents outside of nightclubs, one ending in his being handcuffed, the other ending in him requiring surgery on his toe, don't look very good.
McFadden is the instant impact runner in this years draft. While I feel that Stewart is more talented, McFadden is much more polished at this point. If he gets the starting job from day one, which is likely, he's my early pick for ORoY.
3) Rashard Mendenhall
Mendenhall is very similar in his skillset to Stewart. He's compact, 5'11", 225. He's fast, 4.37 40. And he's strong, 26 reps of 225 lbs on the bench press. He, like Stewart, posseses optimal power between the tackles, while retaining breakaway speed on the edge. He has soft hands, making him a prime target coming out of the backfield. He's also very studious of the game, which helps limit the potential of his being a bust.
Mendenhall was never asked to block very much. He's a straight line runner. Like Stewart, and unlike McFadden, Mendenhall didn't play at a high level for multiple seasons, he had his breakout year, and now wants to get paid.
Mendenhall was built for the current Denver Broncos. He's the one cut runner that Shannahan drools over. However, unlike the previous great RB in Denver, Clinton Portis, Mendenhall has the power to break through weak holes opened by a young line. He'd be a good choice for most teams that want to compete while rebuilding their line. He's remenicent of a pre suspension Ricky Williams. Let's hope he lacks the off the field issues that took down Ricky.
4) Jamaal Charles
Jamaal Charles is an average sized back, with mediocre blocking skills, and hands that are just OK. He does have one thing going for him though... he runs with face melting velocity. He doesn't do anything else particularly well, but he can hit a hole and vanish with impressive alacrity. Defenses can forget pursuit angles with this guy, because if the first guy misses, no one else will catch him.
On the downside, he really doesn't have anything else going for him besides his speed. He doesn't do anything particularly bad, but he doesn't knock you dead with anything else either. His ball security is an issue.
Think Willie Parker, only bigger and faster. If you've got a decent set of blockers who can pick up linebackers and safeties, then Charles is going to be a huge asset. The Vikings would love him if they didn't have Purple Jesus already.
5) Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson is very similar to Jamaal Charles, only a hair smaller at 5'11", 195, and a hair faster. Johnson posseses the same track start speed that Charles does, and is also a slightly better reciever, and has better lateral burst.
However, with decreased size comes decreased strength, leverage, and other physical characteristics. While Charles has limited pop at the point of impact. He also has some durability issues, having had neck surgery, and the dreaded "Turf Toe".
If Jamaal Charles is Willie Parker, Chris Johnson is Jerious Norwood. The ECU standout will make a very effective 3rd down back, and if he could put on ten more pounds without compromising his speed, he'll be an effective starter.
The Guy You've Never Heard Of...
Yvenson Bernard: The 5'9", 205 lb Oregon State standout is everything that a team wants in a third down back. While lacking the physical gifts to be a full time starter, Bernard is an excellent reciever, good blocker, and excellent short yardage back. He runs like a cockroach, in a good way. Ever see a roach slip through a crack the size of a quarter? That's all the room the O line needs to give Bernard for him to squeeze through and pick up those tough yards. Look for him to go on the second day, and make a team very happy.
But What About?
Felix Jones: his times at the combine were nothing exceptional, and combined with his limited exposure in college, it's iffy that he'll be able to carry the load. He's a solid third round pick though.
Mike Hart: he ran a 4.7 40. That's fullback speed, not running back speed. And it's not like he has fullback size. Second day pick.
Steve Slaton: I actually like Slaton as a running back. But not as much as my top 5. another solid third rounder. He made a huge mistake coming out early.
Ray Rice: Ran faster than I anticipated. He might have pushed his stock into the second round.
Teams likely to take a running back.
New York Jets