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Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft breakdown: running backs

The situation

The Bucs were 23rd in rushing in 2009 at 101.7 yards per game and had only five touchdowns (31st). True, they often fell behind quickly and had to abandon the ground game. But it's hard to say they have a big-play back. Cadillac Williams came off two major knee injuries and led the team with 823 yards (3.9 average) and four touchdowns. But he is entering the last year of his contract. Derrick Ward was a bust after signing a four-year, $17 million contract, rushing for 409 yards and one touchdown. The Bucs continue to insist Earnest Graham is a fullback, and he has battled injuries as a result. B.J. Askew is coming off a back and neck injury sustained in a car crash, and Clifton Smith's role is kick returner.

What they're looking for

The Bucs need someone who can hit the home run now and then as a rusher or receiver. The Bucs' longest run from scrimmage last season was 35 yards. Williams still is effective around the goal line, but long runs are probably a thing of the past.

Top 10 prospects

Player, vital STATS Comment
1. C.J. Spiller Clemson, 5-10, 196 Draws comparisons to the Titans' Chris Johnson; a good returner
2. Ryan Matthews Fresno State, 5-11, 218 Led the nation in rushing last season; most instinctive back in the draft
3. Jahvid Best Cal, 5-10, 199 Fast but battled injuries in college and might be a better third-down back
4. Ben Tate Auburn, 5-11, 220 Ran a 4.34 40-yard dash; strong with good hands
5. Jonathan Dwyer Georgia Tech, 5-11, 229 Not extremely fast or a good receiver but can run between the tackles
6. Toby Gerhart Stanford, 6-0, 231 Reminds some of Mike Alstott
7. Joe McKnight USC, 5-11, 198 Lacks size to be an every-down back but could be a poor man's Reggie Bush
8. Montario Hardesty Tennessee, 5-11, 225 Has had three knee surgeries but could be a workhorse
9. Dexter McCluster Ole Miss, 5-9, 172 Former Largo High star had great Senior Bowl and can play receiver
10. Anthony Dixon Mississippi State, 6-0, 223 Improved his stock at the Senior Bowl; powerful with good hands

Best guess

The Bucs have bigger needs. But some pretty good backs likely will drop into the second round, where the Bucs have two picks, because of the draft's overall depth. Dexter McCluster, who is similar to Warrick Dunn, and Jahvid Best might be good fits. It's all about creating mismatches and finding explosive players to upgrade team speed.

Rick Stroud, Times staff writer

Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft breakdown: running backs 04/18/10 [Last modified: Monday, April 19, 2010 7:27am]
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