Change-of-pace backs. Scat backs. Situational backs. Third-down backs. Smaller backs that would break in little pieces if given 18 carries a game.
They are called by countless names. And NFL teams figure to begin calling quite a few of them during the middle rounds of the draft.
This year’s running back class isn’t strong at the top – there is at least one rumor that Alabama’s Mark Ingram, perceived to be the only sure-fire first-rounder – could slip into the second round. But there are plenty of smaller, shifty backs that could help diversify NFL backfields, the Niners’ included.
General manager Trent Baalke has stated the 49ers will add a third running back and, given the current labor situation, the draft appears be the best way to do so.
The Niners, presumably, are looking for a back capable of complementing their present power duo of Frank Gore (5-9, 217) and Anthony Dixon (6-1, 233). They are in the luck given the depth of this year’s class. The problem? Which pint-sized back should they pick?
CBS Sports draft analyst Rob Rang says it’s a “jumbled-up mess” after the first few backs come off the board. But Rang, who terms them “secondary backs,” offered up three who could separate from the pack:
Taiwan Jones, Eastern Washington
Draft position: Second to fourth round
2009: 162 carries, 1,213 yards, 7.5 avg.; 40 catches, 561 yards, 14.0 avg.
2010: 168 carries, 1,319 yards, 7.9 avg.; 24 catches, 342 yards, 14.3 avg.
Overview: Let’s see, an upright runner who had a broken fibula, a broken bone in his left foot, surgery for a sports hernia, an abdominal bruise and hand, shoulder and hip flexor injuries during his three college seasons. If that happened at the Division I-AA level what could happen to Jones in the NFL? Well, Rang believes a team could spend a second-round pick to find out based on Jones’ jaw-dropping speed. He is expected to run his 40-yard dash in the 4.3-second range on his pro day on April 14 and he had 16 plays of at least 60 yards during his two seasons as a running back at EWU (he played cornerback as a freshman). Speed kills. And tantalizes.
Notes: Jones was diagnosed with dyslexia as a senior at Deer Valley High in Antioch and NFL teams could have concerns about his learning disability being a factor in absorbing aspects of an offense such as blitz pick-ups, according to Rang … after missing the NFL Combine and EWU’s pro day on April 1 due to his season-ending foot injury, he will conduct his pro day before at least 26 NFL teams at Los Medanos Junior College in Pittsburg on April 14.
Rang says: “In terms of pure talent, he is the most electrifying runner in this draft. He has another gear that most running backs, especially in this year’s class, simply don’t have. He has legitimate 4.3 speed and it translates well to the field. He has some make-you miss ability along with quickness and agility. And then he has the pure speed to rocket on past defenders.”
Shane Vereen, Cal
5-10, 210, 4.49 40-yard dash (NFL Combine)
Draft position: Second to fourth round
2008: 142 carries, 715 yards, 5.0 avg.; 27 catches, 221 yards, 8.2 avg.
2009: 183 carries, 952 yards, 5.2 avg.; 25 catches, 244 yards, 9.8 avg.
2010: 231 carries, 1,167 yards, 5.1 avg.; 22 catches, 209 yards, 9.5 avg.
Overview: Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, Jahvid Best … and now Vereen is hoping to become the latest Cal running back to enjoy NFL success. Vereen, who could have every-down-back potential, is a no-frills, north-south runner who never missed any of his 38 games in college despite playing the final three games of 2009 with a torn meniscus. Jim Harbaugh no doubt remembers Vereen, who had 193 yards on a career-high 42 carries in Cal’s 34-28 win over Stanford in 2009 (yes, 42 carries with a torn meniscus). Vereen has some return experience – he averaged 23.0 yard on 24 kickoff returns as a sophomore.
Notes: Finished fifth in school history with 4,069 all-purpose yards despite declaring for the draft after his junior season … spent most of his sophomore season as a backup to Jahvid Best … his 31 reps of 225 pounds at the combine ranked second among running backs.
Rang says: “What I like about Vereen is not only is he a pretty solid runner in all facets, but he’s also a good blocker and a good receiver. So that’s more of a safe pick. He certainly doesn’t have Taiwan Jones’ breakaway ability. But in terms of coming in and being able to pay relatively quickly, that’s something he can do.”
Jordan Todman, Connecticut
5-9, 203, 4.40 40-yard dash (NFL Combine)
Draft position: Third to fifth round
2008: 47 carries, 296 yards, 6.3 avg.; 2 catches, 4 yards, 2.0 avg.
2009: 235 carries, 1,188 yards, 5.1 avg.; 21 catches, 185 yards,
2010: 334 carries, 1,695 yards, 51. avg.; 19 catches, 94 yards, 4.9 avg.
Overview: Todman isn’t known as a refined blocker or receiver, meaning he would have to mature into a third-down back in the NFL. But he is a fast, shifty runner with an excellent vision who runs bigger than his size – he had six 30-carry games in 2010. He could also help immediately in the return game. He averaged 25.3 yards per kickoff return in 2009 and had a 96-yard return for a touchdown against Notre Dame.
Notes: Was the Big East Offensive Player of the Year in 2010 and a second-team AP All-American … ranked second in the country in rushing yards … declared for the draft after junior season … finished third in school history in yards (3,179) and touchdowns (31).