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RUNNING BACKS FOR GREEN BAY
4/21/2007


Jerry Gilbert

With the departure of long term starter Ahman Green, general manager Ted Thompson and his staff will almost certainly use the 2007 NFL Draft to find at least one player who can help at the running back position. Many are predicting that the Packers will select California tailback Marshawn Lynch with the 16th pick in the first round, and that may happen. At 5-11 215 with 4.46 speed, Lynch has been both a workhorse and a big play performer. As a senior he averaged over 6 yards per carry and found the endzone on an average of nearly once per game. He also caught 34 passes for a 9.4 yard average and scored 4 more touchdowns as a receiver. Scouts say that he is a good blocker who can pick up the blitz.

A negative for Lynch is that he has been a fumbler in big games in college, and unless he can add some good weight, Lynch will not be a back who moves the pile. He also has serious off field issues including a charge of sexual assault by an ex girlfriend that was dropped for insufficient evidence. She did convince a family court judge to give her a restraining order. The perceived maturity and dedication of this college junior will determine where he is drafted. There is little question about his physical skills. The problem for the Packers is that if they are convinced that he is worthy of pick 16, another team is very likely to select Lynch in the top 15. He may be gone, even if Ted Thompson wants him. It is therefore important to look at some other running backs.

Kenny Irons 5/11 204 4.45 forty is a round two or three possibility. Irons was very successful in two years starting for an excellent Auburn team averaging about 5 yards per carry. His blocking and receiving have been questioned, and he may not have been a dedicated student of the game in college, but Irons is a big time college running back who could step in and be a contributor as a rookie. Some believe that he would be ranked higher but for nagging injuries in 2006.

Also at this point in the draft, the Packers could select Brian Leonard 6-2 226 4.5 from Rutgers, a fullback halfback tweener, who could remind running backs coach Edgar Bennett of a couple of former Packers including himself, not to mention Dorsey Levens and Jim Taylor. The question about Leonard is whether he has the elusiveness and speed to be a primary NFL ball carrier. On the other hand, he was the best receiver out of the backfield at the Senior Bowl and displayed the skills of a big time pass protector. While not the complete answer, Leonard could be a nice complement to Vernand Morrency and an immediate threat as a short yardage and third down option.

In round four, the Packers might consider Louisville's Michael Bush. At 6-2 243 with good speed, Bush may be a more elusive Jerome Bettis. Had injuries not put him on the shelf in 2006, Bush might have been a top ten draft choice. But Bush did miss last season and he still cannot run for the NFL scouts, and there is a good chance that he will miss his rookie season. However, similar to Willis McGahee a few years ago, a talented but injured runner is worth taking at some point. For the Green Bay Packers, with important holes to fill on the roster, that point would be no earlier than round four, but some other GM could take Bush in round 3 or even sooner.

A candidate in Round 4 or 5, who could play this season, is Jackie Battle 6-2 235, 4.42 from Houston. Battle is ranked this low because, after a great freshman campaign, injuries plagued him until his senior season, and scouts question whether he will play hurt. However, in 2006, while sharing carries, he set a team record scoring 15 touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Battle has not been used much as a receiver or blocker, which leaves questions to be answered. He could be an immediate threat in short yardage and as a change of pace inside pounder with the speed to make big plays if the initial tackler does not wrap him up.

In round 5 or 6, the Packers could turn to Dwayne Wright 6-0 228, 4.6 from Fresno State. Wright is another tailback who excelled in 2004, but did little else until this, his junior season, because of injuries. Wright added bulk for the 2006 season during his rehabilitation, and he emerged as a complete player who averaged 5.6 yards per carry along with being his team's second leading receiver. Wright was the best back at the Hula Bowl, and the Packers have a history of selecting players the top players from bowl games. On the other hand, he may not be fast enough post injury to be any more than a complimentary pile mover and third down receiver type of running back who lacks a break away dimension. On the other hand, some players regain their speed after a couple of years. Wright could be a very good second day value.

In round six or seven, there is a Division II player who could be a good fit. Germaine Race 5-10 218 4.6 who played at Pittsburg State in Kansas was a small school All American for three consecutive seasons. For his career, he ran for 6,985 yards, which is a Division 2 record, and his 109 total touchdowns (107 on the ground) shattered previous records. He is the all time touchdown leader in the NCAA at any level, and he accomplished this as a grind it out runner who seldom broke away. Race was an adequate blocker and very occasional receiver at his level. If scouts believe he can break tackles, and learn to protect the ball in the NFL, Race is worth drafting.

The Green Bay Packers will not enter the 2007 season without adding at least one running back in free agency the draft or both. The brain trust claims that they are happy with Vernand Morrency as the main man, but, even if that is true, they need a short yardage back and a better pass catcher. Marshawn Lynch of California in round one and Dwayne Wright of Fresno State in later rounds could fill that role. Depending on who else is available at pick 16, I think selecting a back in a later round is more likely that the selection of Lynch at 16.

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