The NFL Combine featured WRs, RBs, and QBs on Sunday. I was quite interested in the RBs as it is a need, this year, for the Dolphins. I particularly focused on the top three RBs. I was disappointed that Daniel Thomas (Kansas State) did not perform due to a hamstring injury. Mikel Leshoure (Illinois) performed just about as expected. But, I was really disappointed with the mediocre performance by Mark Ingram (Alabama).
Mark Ingram was the Heisman Trophy winner in 2009 playing with the National Champions. In 2009, he ran 271 times for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns in the SEC – an average of 6.1 yards per carry and 127.5 yards per game without a fumble. He also had 32 receptions for 334 yards and 3 touchdowns. However in 2010, he missed the first two games with an injury and stats show he really did not return to the same rushing form of 2009. He only ran 158 times for 875 yards and 13 touchdowns – that is an average of only 5.5 yards per carry and only 79.5 yards per game. In fact, he only had 2 games in 2010 where he rushed for more than 100 yards. It is worth noting, however, that he split time at RB in 2010 when he got healthy.
At the Combine, Ingram measured a 5’ 9” and a light 215 lbs with an hand size of 9.5” – he supposedly lost weight in order to improve his speed times. But, he ran a pedestrian 4.62 seconds in the 40 yard dash and dismal 7.13 seconds in the 3 cone drill. He clearly isn’t the break away player the Dolphins are looking for and his agility is somewhat suspect.
Mikel Leshoure (Illinois) is considered by many to be the second highest rated RB in the upcoming draft. In 2010, Leshoure ran 281 times for 1,697 yards and 17 touchdowns playing in the rush happy Big 10 – an average of 6.0 yards per carry and 130.5 yards per game without a fumble (9 games over 100 yards). He also had 17 receptions for 196 yards and 3 touchdowns. His 2010 rushing stats were better than Ingram’s Heisman Trophy year of 2009. At the Combine, Leshoure measured 5’ 11.5” and 227 lbs with a hand size of 9.5”. He ran a 4.59 seconds in the 40 yards dash and 6.82 seconds in the 3 cone drill. Leshoure’s times (carrying 12 more lbs of weight) were slightly better than Ingram.
Daniel Thomas (Kansas State) is considered by many to be the number 2B rated RB in the upcoming draft. In 2010, Thomas ran an impressive 298 times for 1,585 yards and 19 touchdowns in the Big 12 – an average of 5.3 yards per carry and 121.9 yards per game without a fumble. He also had 27 receptions for 171 yards sometimes being split wide in a WR role. In 2009, he ran 247 times for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns – an average of 5.1 yards per carry and 105.4 yards per game without a fumble. He also had 25 receptions for 257 yards. Thomas is impressive because he carried a heavy load in both 2009 and 2010 without missing any games due to injury and showing steady improvement. At the Combine, Thomas measured 6’ 2” and 230 lbs with a hand size of 9”. It would have been nice to see him run at the Combine to compare with Ingram and Leshoure.
I should note that I really like Thomas because of his durability and his straight ahead, one cut running style that does not include dancing at the line of scrimmage.
I know that looking at stats and Combine results don’t tell the whole story about prospective draftees – game film and character analysis are more critical. But, they do say something considering all three top RBs in this year’s draft come from three major college conferences (SEC, Big Ten, Big 12). Ingram has been pegged as a 1st rounder – likely to go before the 20th pick. I don’t believe he is worth the 15th pick in the draft given the number of Dolphins needs and given the Dolphins don’t have any 2nd round picks. If the Dolphins trade down in the 1st round and pick up a 2nd round pick in the deal, they can likely get on OL in the 1st and either Leshoure or Thomas in the 2nd. This scenario is far more attractive given the track record of RBs drafted in the 1st round and the success of later round picks.
By the way, another somewhat shocking RB performance at the Combine was Roy Helu (Nebraska). Helu measured 6’ even and 219 lbs with large hands of 10.25”. Not known for his speed, he jetted to a 4.42 second 40 yard dash (9th fastest of all players at the Combine thus far to include WRs) and 6.67 seconds in the three cone drill (3rd fastest of all RBs). In 2010, Helu ran 188 times for 1,245 yards and 11 touchdowns in the Big 12 – an average of 6.6 yards per carry. In 2009, he ran 220 times for 1,147 yards and 9 touchdowns – an average of 5.2 yards per carry. And, in 2008, he ran the ball 125 times with an average of 6.4 yards per carry and also had 25 receptions for 266 yards proving his value as a receiver. In three years, he ran the ball 533 times without a fumble – I guess the 10.25” hand size come in handy (in comparison to Ricky’s small hands and his propensity to fumble). He was projected to be a 7th round or Free Agent pick with stock likely on the rise after his Combine performance.
Alternatively to Helu, Kendall Hunter (Oklahoma State) is projected to be a second round pick. Hunter measured a smallish 5’ 7” and 199 lbs with Ricky sized hands of 8.75”. He ran a good 4.53 second 40 yard dash and 6.74 seconds in the three cone drill (both times slower than Helu, but faster than the top three). In 2010, Hunter ran the ball 271 times for 1,548 yards and 16 touchdowns also in the Big 12 – an average of 5.7 yards per carry. He also had 20 receptions for 101 yards. In 2009, he was plagued with injuries. But, in 2008, he did have numbers similar to 2010.
I don’t see the Dolphins picking Hunter in the 1st or 2nd rounds. He is not a featured back due to his size and durability issues – Leshoure or Thomas can better handle the load. But, I think Helu could be a steal in the 6th or 7th round as a #2 back and special teams performer. The difference between these two backs is not only their projection in the draft. But, I could see Helu playing on both sides on the ball on special teams to include returner. I don’t see Hunter playing gunner on punt teams due to his size and durability issues.
I continue to beat the drum to trade down in the 1st round using the later 1st round pick to get an OL. Then, they should pick Leshoure or Thomas in the 2nd round. And, then they should pick up someone like Helu or Delone Carter (Syracuse who broke Larry Cszonka’s long standing rushing records) in the later rounds. The NFL Combine only confirms my beliefs.
Next, I will tell you what I think about QB – you will be surprised.