We covered the quarterbacks and the wide receivers, but the position you really should watch closely heading into this year’s draft is running back. These runners have worked their way into the favor of their current coaching staffs and may stand a much greater chance of seeing the field than that guy that gets taken in the second or third round this year. Are there any Ray Rice hype machine victims in the audience? Moving on…
Jalen Parmele – Baltimore Ravens
Taken by the Dolphins in the sixth round of the 2008 draft, Parmele didn’t have a lot of press despite his productive junior and senior seasons. The Ravens plucked him off the Dolphins’ practice squad to support their running attack in the last game of the regular season against Jacksonville, and he remains with the team entering 2009. He’s comparable to Tashard Choice, who tore it up in huge games down the stretch for the Cowboys. If the RB situation in Baltimore changes and Parmele gets pack of backs, you might hear his name again in 2009.
Ryan Moats – Houston Texans
Moats grabbed headlines this offseason for his incident with a certain overly-demanding police officer, but he could be in the spotlight once again if he lands a role with the Texans running game in 2009. Steve Slaton need someone to keep him durable during the regular season, and veteran journeyman Chris Brown is more fragile and injury-prone than Slaton. Moats could see some time if injuries come into play, and he wasn’t too shabby in 2008 when needed.
Mike Hart – Indianapolis Colts
Hart didn’t have much of a debut this season as he was quickly injured once he got his chance to play for the Colts, but he still ranks very high on a lot of dynasty lists. His production at Michigan may lead some to doubt how much he has left in the tank, but his intangibles and heart for the game have led many to stand behind him. With Dominic Rhodes out of the picture, Hart could have a real shot at stepping into a big role with the Colts this season and sharing time with Joseph Addai.
Chris Henry – Tennessee Titans
Though Chris Johnson has largely stolen his thunder–or lightning, as the case may be since LenDale White owns the copyright on “thunder”–Henry still has a chance to play a part for the Titans. If anything were to happen to White, he’s the likely candidate to step into Tennessee’s potent running attack, and he may have more chances this season if the Titans move to more of a three-back system to keep Johnson fresh and injury-free for the playoffs. Without a healthy Johnson, the Titans just didn’t look the same.
Jacob Hester – San Diego Chargers
With LaDainian Tomlinson approaching his golden years, many folks are looking for the Chargers to draft a running back this season to help Darren Sproles. But do they really need someone else? Given the production of fullbacks turned running backs like Peyton Hillis, Hester might be an adequate partner in the running game to support Sproles and Tomlinson as L.T. approaches the end of his career. We’ll see if the Chargers think he is enough come draft day.
Danny Ware – New York Giants
With a stall of running backs that could dominate any team in the league, you’d think that the Giants would be willing to sell off some of their surplus at the position, but surprisingly, the Giants have been very protective of Ware. If the team who was okay letting Ryan Grant walk and Derrick Ward sign elsewhere likes this guy, dynasty owners have to agree. He sits just behind Jacobs on the depth chart, and he might become part of the new Earth, Wind and Fire if Jacobs needs help in the run game.
Lorenzo Booker – Philadelphia Eagles
When he was traded to the Eagles from the Dolphins, Booker was touted as the likely backup to Brian Westbrook, but despite Booker’s comparable skills, he didn’t ever find his way onto the field last season. With Westbrook’s contract extended and Correll Buckhalter going over to the Broncos in free agency, Booker could be the guy we thought he was going to be in 2009. Then again, the Eagles could get greedy and take another running back in the draft to support Westbrook.
Justin Forsett – Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks drafted Forsett in the seventh round of the draft only to waive him early in the 2008 season. After a short stay with the Indianapolis Colts, Forsett was again waived and returned to the Seahawks practice squad to sign as the punt specialist. Considering the lack of depth at running back on Seattle’s current roster, he could play a larger role than expected this season if the injury plague in Seattle moves from the wide receivers to the running backs. Forsett scored 15 touchdowns in his final season at Cal after sitting behind J.J. Arrington and Marshawn Lynch for most of his time there.
Kregg Lumpkin – Green Bay Packers
With a name like that, what else could you be but a running back? Lumpkin started to gain some ground on the Green Bay depth chart just before he injured his hamstring early last season. With Ryan Grant looking more human and less like the hero he was in 2007, it’s possible the Packers give guys like Lumpkin and Brandon Jackson more opportunities in 2009. I don’t expect Grant to lose his job, but if Lumpkin gave it his all, he might jump over Jackson on the depth chart.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis – New England Patriots
The man we so lovingly called “Law Firm” in 2008 is likely to find himself back on the sidelines as we enter the 2009 season, but while he may be gone, he should not be forgotten. Green-Ellis, like many other Patriot backs, was successful when given the opportunity. If Laurence Maroney fails again this season, which is likely, Green-Ellis might even get another chance to work his way into the rotation for Bill Belichick.