The Miami Dolphins are in the running back market this offseason. We all know this. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are both unrestricted free agents. Patrick Cobbs will either be a restricted or unrestricted free agent, depending on the terms of the new CBA (if a deal ever gets done). That leaves two exclusive rights free agents on the roster - Lex Hilliard and Kory Sheets - who combined have a total 24 career regular season carries.
With the potential brewing of a prolonged lockout, there's a very good chance that the NFL Draft will take place before free agency ever gets underway - if it does get underway at all this offseason. So the Dolphins will have to address the position in the draft. So let's discuss what, if anything, we learned about some of the prospects in the 2011 draft class at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Mark Ingram's 40 time not ideal, but it doesn't matter
Most draft analysts this offseason are taking the way way out and simply connecting the dots. The Dolphins have a need at running back. A Heisman winning running back could be available at pick 15 in the first round. Hence the obvious - sending Ingram to the Dolphins in their mock drafts.
But the Dolphins want to upgrade their team speed and you have to figure the running back position is one of the spots where this will be addressed. And speed is not exactly Mark Ingram's forte. The Combine showed that, timing an official 4.62 in the 40 yard dash even after he admitted to dropping a few pounds in hopes of improving his time. It's worth noting, though, that many scouts claim the "official" times were off and that Ingram actually ran a 4.58. Either way, that's not an ideal time.
However, it doesn't need to be. Nobody expected Ingram to run a blazing 40 to begin with. His strength is not so much speed as it is strength, balance, vision, and (most importantly) initial burst. That initial burst was on display at the Combine. Scouts clocked Ingram at a 1.53 second 10 yard split - a very impressive time.
He lacks great top-end speed, but Ingram is every bit deserving of being the number one back on draft boards and a mid first round pick. The question is if taking any running back in the top half of round one is a good idea in terms of draft value. That's what GM Jeff Ireland must figure out.
The best of the rest
Here are some thoughts on others that make up the 2011 running back class:
- Mikel Leshoure ran a 4.59 40, though some had him clocked as high as 4.54 - impressive for a 227 pound back. The Dolphins are rumored to be high on the Illinois back, too. But I was unimpressed with Leshoure's ability to change direction quickly. Mikel seems more like a straight-line runner.
- Nebraska's Roy Helu Jr. surprised me with his "official" 4.42 40 - which may have been as high as 4.39 according to some. At 5'11, 220, Helu worked out well, looking agile and showing good burst. But when I see film, he doesn't seem as fast or agile. Not sure what to make of that.
- One of my favorite "sleeper" backs is Kentucky's Derrick Locke. At 5'8, 188, he isn't built to carry the bulk of the running back duties. But he's got speed (4.40 officially, with some watches showing the high 4.3s) and doesn't seem to lose that speed when cutting. In other words, he can make people miss without shifting into a lower gear.
- One guy who is, without a doubt, may favorite day two or three back is UCONN's Jordan Todman. Todman didn't disappoint me at the Combine, either. He clocked in "officially" at 4.40, and was possibly as fast as 4.37. He looked like the most athletic back in the drills, He showed good burst and an exceptional ability to change directions. At 5'9, 203, he's also got some bulk to him and should be able to hold up at the next level - something that worries me about Locke and other "shorter" backs.
- Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter continued his climb up draft boards. He was "officially" clocked at 4.53. But I have it on good authority that many had him closer to 4.40 than 4.50. The best thing about Hunter, though you wouldn't know it from the Combine, is his ability and willingness to step up in pass protection and knock a blitzing linebacker on his butt. This dude is tough - and is the kind of player I'd want on my team.