Path to the draft: Running backs

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National Football Post analyst Michael Lombardi lists Georgia's Knowshon Moreno as the top running back prospect in the 2009 draft.

As the NFL draft approaches, the Texans are in search of a bigger back to ease the burden on Steve Slaton (5-9, 201), who is coming off of a 1,282-yard rookie season. Slaton's current backups are Ryan Moats and Chris Brown.

Moats (5-8, 210) has a similar build to Slaton. Brown (6-3, 220) has the frame and skill set the Texans want in a bigger back, but he has been beset by injuries throughout his career and missed the entire 2008 season with a back injury.

"We need somebody who can do a little more pounding, red zone, short yardage, those types of things," head coach Gary Kubiak said earlier this offseason.

At the March NFL owner meetings in Dana Point, Calif., Kubiak said that he wants a bigger back who can get 10-12 touches a game and be able to start a few times during the season. That player will have to be suited to the Texans' zone blocking scheme, which requires a back to make one cut and get up the field.

A back with the vision of Knowshon Moreno (Georgia) or the size and agility of Chris Wells (Ohio State) might be a good fit in the Texans' scheme. After the first round, Rashaad Jennings (Liberty), Andre Brown (North Carolina State) and Shonn Greene (Iowa) are other backs who have the right attributes to excel in a zone scheme.

Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith have a history of unearthing 1,000-yard running backs in later rounds of the draft: Slaton (third round) last year, and four players with the Denver Broncos: Terrell Davis (sixth round), Olandis Gary (fourth), Mike Anderson (sixth) and Reuben Droughns (third). Clinton Portis (second) also topped the 1,000-yard plateau in Denver.

"You look at the history of where I've been, and in Denver we found really great success in second-day running backs," Smith said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I think you saw a ton of running backs come out of the draft and play at a very productive level.

"I think a lot of is due, in large part, to teams understanding what they are looking for and drafting players who fit their systems. Then, those guys can come in and they understand what they are being asked to do and they let their athleticism take over. We saw that last year, and I think we'll see that again this year."

Early draft buzz suggests that all of the top running backs might still be on the board when the Texans pick at No. 15 overall on April 25, day one of the 2009 draft.

In an exclusive for HoustonTexans.com, Michael Lombardi of The National Football Post offers his Top 5 running back and fullback prospects in the 2009 draft class. As the draft approaches, Lombardi, a 23-year veteran of NFL personnel departments, will list his Top 5 prospects at each position group. We begin today with running backs and fullbacks:

Michael Lombardi's Top 5 Running Backs

1. Knowshon Moreno: Georgia (5-11, 217) Lombardi: One of the most natural and instinctive running backs to come along in years. Moreno possesses ideal balance, quickness and vision at the line of scrimmage to make plays in between the tackles. He displays elite body control and shiftiness in space and has the ability to consistently make a man miss in the open field and attack upfield.

2. Chris Wells: Ohio State (6-1, 235)
Lombardi:Wells' draft stock is really beginning to soar, thanks in part to an impressive showing at the Ohio State pro day, where he ran his 40 in 4.38-seconds. He is a strong, well-built runner with good vision and great athletic ability for his size. He is at his best attacking downhill and exhibits an impressive first step and lateral mobility at the line of scrimmage.

3. Shonn Greene: Iowa (5-11, 227)
Lombardi:Greene possesses a thickly build, sturdy frame and runs with such a low pad level that he consistently bounces off tackles and picks up yards after contact. He isn't a burner, but has the burst, vision and body control to make a man miss and attack upfield. He is a guy who gets better with the more carries he gets and will certainly be able to wear down an opposing front seven at the next level.

4. Donald Brown: Connecticut (5-10, 210)
Lombardi:A powerful, hard-nosed runner who attacks the line of scrimmage with a good first step and burst. However, Brown needs to showcase more patience as a runner, as he consistently runs up on the backs of his offensive line. He displays good power in his lower half and the balance to bounce off tackles and create plays in the second level.

5. LeSean McCoy: Pittsburgh (5-11, 204) Lombardi:One of the draft's top big-play threats, LeSean McCoy possesses impressive footwork and body control as a runner. He consistently is able to make the first man miss and has the explosion to separate in the open field. He does most of his damage outside the tackles and needs to become more patient and physical as an inside runner. Doesn't appear to like contact inside.

Nick Scurfield's Top 5

1. Chris Wells: Ohio State Scurfield:Built like a linebacker; has the most unique skill set of any back in the draft. Ran for 1,197 yards and eight TDs in just 10 games in 2008.

2. Knowshon Moreno: Georgia Scurfield:The shifty Moreno is the only back in Georgia history besides Herschel Walker to run for 1,000-plus yards in consecutive seasons. Also a pass-catching threat.

3. Donald Brown: Connecticut Scurfield:Wowed scouts at his pro day. Topped the 2,000-yard plateau (2,083) at UConn last year, and can also be a weapon as a kick returner.

4. LeSean McCoy: Pitt Scurfield:Needs to improve bulk, but a supreme talent who ran for 1,328 yards as a freshman and 1,488 as a sophomore.

5. Shonn Greene: Iowa Scurfield:Great size but not great speed. Made the most of his one year as a starter with 1,850 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Michael Lombardi's Top 5 Fullbacks

1. Quinn Johnson: LSU (6-1, 246) Lombardi:Johnson was a real standout at the 2009 Senior Bowl, where he demonstrated the ability to not only be a physical lead blocker, but also caught the ball well out of the backfield and was a physical short-yardage runner. Johnson has all the tools and versatility needed to become a starting fullback in the NFL.

2. Conredge Collins: Pittsburgh (5-11, 224)
Lombardi:Collins possesses only adequate size for the position, but he plays with reckless abandon as a lead blocker and does a nice job getting under the pads of defenders. He does a nice job driving his hips through contact and getting a good initial push. Collins offers some versatility out of the backfield and showcases solid hands in the pass game.

3. Tony Fiammetta: Syracuse (6-0, 245) Lombardi:Fiammetta possesses a thick, well-built frame with long arms and good body control as a blocker. He attacks the line of scrimmage and takes good angles as a lead blocker. Fiammetta displays the ability to get good initial drive on his man and possesses the length and technique to stay on blocks. However, he lacks ideal power for the position and at times gets ripped too easily when he can't get his legs under him.

4. Brannan Southerland: Georgia (6-0, 242) Lombardi:Southerland was viewed as one of the nation's top fullback prospects entering the year. As a junior, he displayed impressive lower body strength and was consistently able to create movement as a lead blocker. However, after returning in Week 7 from a broken left foot, Southerland was not nearly the same prospect and needs to prove to NFL officials he is healed up and can return to his junior form.

5. David Johnson: Arkansas State (6-2, 260)
Lombardi:Johnson is a massive fullback prospect who possesses an impressive blend of body control, vertical speed and hands out of the backfield. He has the ability to be a real mismatch in the passing game at the next level but needs to learn to become a more physical in-line blocker.

Nick Scurfield's Top 5

1. Tony Fiammetta: Syracuse 2. Quinn Johnson: LSU 3. Eric Kettani: Navy 4. Brennan Southerland: Georgia 5. Conredge Collins: Pittsburgh

*Michael Lombardi spent 23 years as a high-level executive in NFL personnel departments, working with the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos. He has spent 26 years evaluating college and pro football talent. He currently serves as one of the main contributors of The National Football Post.
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