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Head of the Class -- 2005 RBs

Scott Haynes, College Editor

On Campus Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The top of the 2004 NFL Draft was rich with tailbacks that will hopefully change the face of their respective teams. The duo from Auburn (Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams) and Texas' Cedric Benson were three of the first five picks. While that kind of star power from the running back position may be lacking in the next draft, it won't be because of a lack of talent in the college ranks.

Adrian Peterson
In his first season with the Sooners, Adrian Peterson rush for 1,925 yards and 15 TDs.
1. ADRIAN PETERSON - Burst on the scene as a true freshman in Norman in 2004 and finished second in the Heisman balloting. He is NFL ready at this point, but won't be able to make the move for another year. That gives Bob Stoops two more seasons to utilize his gifted tailback as he sees fit. At 6-2, 210 pounds, Peterson is the complete package in the backfield with the ability to run over or around would-be tacklers. In his first season with the Sooners all he did was rush for 1,925 yards and 15 TDs. He could actually eclipse those numbers in 2005, making him the early favorite to win the Heisman.

2. REGGIE BUSH - As great a runner as Peterson is at Oklahoma, no player in the country puts the fear in opposing defenses like Reggie Bush. A rare athlete with the ability to run, catch and return kicks with electrifying results, this Trojan enters this year with a chance at a third straight national title. He has the moves of a smallish back, but at 6-0, 200 pounds, Bush is big enough to take hits (although that doesn't happen all that often). Last season, Bush rushed for over 900 yards and six TDs, while catching 43 balls, for over 500 yards and another seven scores. Although the offense is loaded at USC, Bush is the most dangerous weapon on the field for the Trojans and will get the ball plenty in 2005.

3. DEANGELO WILLIAMS - Peterson and Bush will get all the press, but perhaps the best back in the country plays in Conference USA and comes in the form of Memphis' DeAngelo Williams. He certainly passes the eye-ball test at 5-10, 220 pounds. He enters 2005 as the leading returning rusher, amassing 1,948 yards last season, while also leading the nation in rushing TDs with 22. Is the prototypical workhorse, who gets better as the games goes on. The two-time Conference USA Player of the Year (2003 and 2004), Williams has his sights set on a third such accolade, and perhaps much, much more.

4. LENDALE WHITE - If he played for any other team, White may be at the top of this list, but with an offense that includes Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, often times White's contributions are overshadowed. Still, the 6-2, 235- pounder is a primary weapon in the USC arsenal. He has scored 31 TDs in his first two seasons with the Trojans (most in school history) and despite getting pushed out of the spotlight by his two teammates, White still had a fine 2004, rushing for over 1,100 yards and scoring 15 TDs. He is great in short-yardage, but has the necessary skills to break off huge plays as well.

5. WALI LUNDY - Started out on fire last season, but tailed off down the stretch, finishing second on his team in rushing, despite scoring a whopping 17 TDs. Injury-plagued a year ago, the 5-10, 215-pound Cavalier has had a solid, however not yet stellar career in Charlottesville. If he can pace himself a bit better this year and stay on the field, Lundy has a chance to be the top back in the ACC. With adequate speed and decent power, Lundy could ride the momentum of a solid senior season into a first-day draft selection next April.

6. LYNELL HAMILTON - Perhaps one of the tailbacks with the most eyes watching will be Hamilton. The San Diego State star has suffered injuries that have hampered his rise to the top, but there is no denying his enormous upside. He has ideal size for the NFL (6-1, 220), with the ability to run around or through defenses. In 2003, he rushed for over 1,000 yards as a freshman, despite missing the last two games. If he can keep himself away from the injury bug, a huge season at SDSU, could have him declaring next year, despite half his collegiate career still ahead of him.

7. LAWRENCE MARONEY - Despite splitting carries with Marion Barber III, Maroney led Minnesota in rushing last season with 1,348 yards and 12 TDs. Has good size (5-11, 205) and with Barber gone, not to mention a seasoned Golden Gopher offensive line in front of him, expect Maroney to get plenty of work. He could be that one player that really opens eyes this year on a national scale, with an increased workload and all the necessary skills to take full advantage.

8. LEON WASHINGTON - This Seminole lacks the size (only 5-9, 202) that seem to make NFL scouts salivate, but Washington is a slasher type, with numerous talents. Last season, he played in 10 games, averaging almost seven yards per carry (6.9), while leading Florida State in rushing with 951 yards. Washington has also shown the ability to catch balls out of the backfield, as well as return kicks. His ability to change hats could set up a huge season this year in Tallahassee.

9. MICHAEL BUSH - Bigger than former teammate and current Carolina Panther Eric Shelton, Bush is the biggest back on this list thus far. At 6-3, 250 pounds, this Louisville Cardinal brings power with him when he runs. However, he is not just another big back, as he has plenty of wiggle, as well as being versatile as a receiver out of the backfield. Last season, while splitting the workload, he rushed for 734 yards and seven TDs. With Shelton no longer in the picture and brand new surroundings (Big East), Bush has an opportunity to really make a name for himself this year.

10. MAURICE DREW - Sure, this UCLA Bruin is only 5-8, but he is 205 pounds and has superior athleticism. He won't get the Pac-10 press he deserves with a guy by the name of Reggie Bush right across town, but Drew is another explosive player that can score at will. Drew tallied 12 touchdowns last year, scoring eight on the ground, three via the pass and another on a punt return. He averaged almost 150 yards of total offense per game last season and with the kind of speed he possesses, expect that number to increase in 2005.

Others to Watch:

Joseph Addai - Does many things well (running, receiving and blocking), but may not put up mind-boggling numbers with the arsenal that LSU has this season. Addai was second in the team in rushing last season (680 yards), averaging an eye-popping 6.7 yards per carry. He also caught 26 balls (third on the team) for another nearly 300 yards and four TDs. A complete back at 6-0, 210 pounds, Addai will endear himself to NFL scouts with his unselfish play.

Gerald Riggs Jr. - Certainly has a name that grabs your attention. Much like his father (Gerald Riggs Sr.), this Tennessee Vol brings the lumber at 6-0, 217 pounds. Despite splitting carries with Cedric Houston, Riggs led the Volunteers in rushing at 1,107 yards (5.7 yards per carry), with six TDs. With Houston out of the picture, Riggs could quickly move up this list as the season progresses.

Marshawn Lynch - As a freshman, this Golden Bear was unable to really shine, sitting behind 2,000-yard standout J.J. Arrington. However, when given the opportunity, he showed his enormous upside, averaging nearly nine yards per carry (71 touches for 628 yards) and eight TDs. Look out Pac-10, as Lynch is ready to burst on the scene.

Andre Hall - Has quietly gone about his business, first in the junior college ranks (two-time All-American), before joining South Florida last season. With the Bulls' move to the Big East, Hall will surely get recognized now. Last season, the 5-10, 205-pounder rushed for 1,357 yards (6.5 ypc) and 11 TDs. In the Big East spotlight, those kind of numbers get noticed.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Haynes
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