So the Texans aren't likely to take a RB in the first round, you say? Okay, fine. How's about the third? With this year's fairly deep running back class, I thought it was time we took a closer look at the second-tier prospects that might find themselves trying to outdo Darius Walker come August. For your consideration and analytical scrutiny, I give you the following three possibilities: Jamaal Charles, Chris Johnson, and Ray Rice. All three of these prospects are projected to go between the second and third rounds. While I don't have any illusions of having a choice of the three, there is a good possibility one of them will be there for the Texans to consider drafting with their third-round pick (79).
Jamaal Charles, Texas6'1" 200
Combine 40: 4.38
Jamaal Charles is a nifty runner. I wouldn't call him elusive, but he has a little shake in his bake. While he can turn the corner with the best of them, he doesn't seem to find his way out of tight squeezes at the line. In college, he took advantage of undisciplined defenses that were prone to bite on misdirection plays, allowing him to get to the outside. In the NFL, he'll have seasoned vets like Bob Sanders and Ray Lewis waiting to eat his lunch if he chooses to bounce everything to the right. He's demonstrated good vision and decent patience when attacking the middle; however, this needs to improve tenfold at the next level. Also, he needs to prove that he's cured his case of fumblitis. The NFL is merciless, and coaching staffs will have very little patience with him if he can't secure the ball.
All in all, if he falls to the third round, his ability to take it to the house on any given play, could make him too good to pass up at pick 79. Projected mid-second to early mid-thid rounder.
Chris Johnson, East Carolina5'11" 195
Combine 40: 4.24
To say that Chris Johnson is fast is like saying Bill Gates is rich. It's an understatement, people. At the NFL Combine, Chris Johnson turned in an incredible 4.24 seconds in the 40 yard dash. That ties him for the best electronically timed 40 yard dash - ever. Oh, did I mention that he can catch too? Last season, Johnson hauled in 37 passes for 528 yards. That's a 14.3 ypc average from a halfback. While he may lack the ideal stature of an every-down back, he has the breakaway speed that an OC dreams of and the dynamic versatility that keeps a DC up at night. While he didn't face top-notch competition playing in Conference USA, that shouldn't do much to lower his stock, because as the saying goes, you can't coach speed.
I don't think he'll fall to 79, but the thought of lining him up wide, instead of Vonta Leach, makes my heart do the harlem shake. Projected early second to early third.
Ray Rice, Rutgers5'8" 200
Combine 40: 4.42
Prior to this year, I would say that Ray Rice would be the most likely of the three to be available at 79. Then came the little cannon ball out of Jacksonville that we Texans fans love to hate. Seriously, if Maurice Jones-Drew wasn't so damn good at what he does, Ray Rice would slip to the third or fourth round on size issues alone. But with the NFL being the copycat league that it is, I'm sure there will be more than one GM who would love to have this proven workhorse share the load with its current starter... and who could blame them? What makes Rice so appealing is his knack for turning little holes into big gains. While he seems to lack that explosive second gear that Charles or Johnson have, he's fast enough to get beyond the first down marker. He doesn't shy away from defenders either, and although he won't break a lot of tackles, he keeps his legs moving through the initial contact, gaining extra yardage.
With his low center of gravity and his ability to find holes, I think he is built for a pure zone-blocking scheme. He may be the best fit for the Texans, but who knows if he'll be available by the middle of the third round.
So now the question is, do we spend our pick on one of these second-round prospects that slip to us in the third? With a draft class as deep as this one, I fully expect the Texans will again find an impact player with their third-round pick. Smith and Kubiak have shown a knack for finding talent in the third (see Eric Winston, Charles Spencer, Jacoby Jones). And who knows, with our stable of QBs, we might be able to barter our way to an extra pick and land one of these playmakers. I can't wait. See you this weekend!