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Position Preview: Running Backs

If there's one position on a football field that needs little acclimation to the NFL it's running back. History has shown that quality running backs from the college ranks can come in and contribute to a NFL team in their first year.

When the 2006 season ended, running back was at the top of the Texans' priority list. While Ron Dayne dominated for much of the month of December and rookie Chris Taylor looked strong against the Browns in the season finale, it was still apparent at season's end that Houston could use another player for their stable of backs.

The need to draft such a player became unnecessary with the team's first significant offseason move in March when Ahman Green signed a free agent pact with the Texans.

Suddenly, drafting a running back became a luxury, not a necessity, and one could argue that move also allowed the Texans to part with their second round pick in this year's draft (and next year) for Matt Schaub.

Therefore, the ramifications of signing Green might be felt for year's to come, but if the deal does nothing else, it keeps Houston's options open in less than two weeks.

However, if Houston does deem it necessary to add to the depth chart at running back, there are some talented runners available this year.

The Crème for the Crop

Adrian Peterson (6-1, 217), Marshawn Lynch (5-11, 215)

Peterson, an NFL star in the making since he stepped onto the field for the first time in Norman for the Sooners, is almost assuredly guaranteed a spot in the top-10 on April 28.

Could he slip to 10th overall? It seems possible, but unlikely. At the scouting combine, Peterson chose to run the 40-yard dash and looked like a thoroughbred race horse doing so, clocking in at 4.4 with some scouts having him at 4.38.

He possesses ideal size for the NFL and has shown the ability to catch passes out of the backfield, despite the fact that he was rarely asked to do so for Oklahoma.

Peterson's only question mark appears to be durability, though if you look closely at his injury history (ankle, collarbone), it could be said that he has just been the victim of some bad luck and is not damaged goods as some have suggested.

Peterson will certainly contribute from Week 1 this fall and if he happens to slip to the 10th pick, that could be perhaps great news for the Texans. Not because Houston needs a running back, but because the 10th pick becomes extremely valuable in the eyes of a franchise in desperate need of a potential game breaking running back and is willing to trade up to nab Peterson while adding selections to Houston's coffer.

Unlike Peterson, Lynch will likely be available when the Texans go on the clock. And if you looked hard enough you could find a scout willing to rate Lynch ahead of Peterson.

However, few teams will likely be willing to trade up for the former Cal star and with Ahman Green already slated as their starting running back, the Texans won't "reach" for Lynch at 10 either.

That likely puts Lynch in the middle of round one and whichever team chooses him could be getting a steal. Not only has Lynch shown a tendency to make people miss out of the backfield, he has also shown soft hands in the passing game and could also be used as a kick returner as a rookie, making him a valuable addition to any team's offense.

The Best of the Rest

Kenny Irons (5-10, 203), Tony Hunt (6-1, 233), Antonio Pittman (5-10, 207)

After Peterson and Lynch, there is a noticeable drop-off in talent at running back in this year's draft. Kenny Irons, Tony Hunt, Antonio Pittman and a truckload of other backs could be successful in the NFL, but their future is much less certain than their peers who will be selected in the first round.

The one thing this trio has in common is that all have performed at a high level on a major stage.

Irons reminds some of Cadillac Williams, a fellow Auburn alum. Unlike Williams, Irons carried the load in his last year with the Tigers and drove a sometimes overmatched Auburn offense.

Iron's isn't the thickest back and has had trouble staying on the field in the past which has raised some red flags with more than one team. He also isn't likely to run over many NFL linebackers and without elite speed, he probably won't run away from many people in the league either.

However, those have all been "cons" of other backs coming out of college who went on to have excellent pro careers so while Irons' stock isn't as high as some would like, in the end it won't matter if he can play, which he certainly can.

Unlike Irons, Hunt already has an NFL body and is a brute to tackle. However, Hunt lacks elite speed and as far as NFL running backs are concerned, he might be considered slow.

Hunt excels in measurables that can't be seen on game film in the areas of work ethic and attitude. He also was the lone, constant on an up-and-down Penn State offense this past season and was run into the ground on more than once occasion during his career in State College.

With all of that on his shoulders, he has yet to break down physically which says a lot of the 233-pound back, who rarely is brought down by a single tackler.

Of these last three, Pittman may be the best pure running back. By pure, Pittman is an outstanding runner, but lacks skills in some other areas that might distance him from other backs like blocking and pass-catching capabilities.

You would think that if coached properly, Pittman could improve in those two areas, but at 5'10" and 207 pounds, you have to wonder if he'll ever want to embrace the notion of blocking a blitzing linebacker.

It's possible that Irons, Hunt or Pittman could slip into round one, but if they did it would be a stretch for whatever team selects them. However, it would be surprising if all three were not gone sometime during the first day of this year's draft.

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