Where would the Bucs' running game be if not for LeGarrette Blount? Certainly a lot worse. The rookie, left, went from undrafted to a waiver claim in the preseason to a 1,000-yard rusher. Although Blount rushed for 1,007 yards and showed an ability to be physical and elusive (How many defenders did he hurdle, anyway?), running back is a position of need for two reasons.
First, Blount's body of work, while impressive, is tiny. He played sparingly or not at all in the season's first five games. Second, there is little depth. Veteran Cadillac Williams had a strong finish to 2010 in a complementary role that allowed him to stay fresh, but he's a free agent and determined to test the market. Kareem Huggins returns after a season-ending knee injury but has no resume as a pro. And FB Earnest Graham has been consistently reliable, but at 31, his age will begin to work against him.
What they're looking for
The Bucs fed Blount the ball in large doses coming down the stretch in 2010. But offensive coordinator Greg Olson and coach Raheem Morris have maintained their wish is to use multiple running backs. In the draft, they most likely will be looking for a third-down back who is adept in pass protection and catching the ball. Those are areas in which Blount wasn't reliable while Williams excelled. But Williams' status as a free agent means the Bucs have to protect themselves or, perhaps, look for an upgrade. Because of depth issues, they probably will look to add overall talent.
Fitting the bill
There are several backs available who would be considered good value for the Bucs. One is Jordan Todman, top, of Connecticut. The versatile back is considered a perimeter threat who would present a good complement to a tough-nosed runner such as Blount. Having caught 42 passes during the past three seasons, Todman also offers a receiving option, a key on third downs. And with nearly 2,800 rushing yards during the past two seasons, he has proved he can be an every-down back. The size of Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter makes him unlikely to be a No. 1 back, but he's ideally suited to be the second half of a running-back tandem. Hunter, 5 feet 7, 200 pounds, is a speedy option who would add spice to a running game, evidenced by his 4.46-second 40-yard dash at the combine. Both players are projected to be chosen in the second to fourth rounds.
Top 10 prospects
|. Mark Ingram
Alabama, 5-9, 215
|2009 Heisman Trophy winner could be the only first-rounder.|
Illinois, 5-11, 229
|Led Big Ten with 1,697 yards and ran for 17 touchdowns.|
Virginia Tech, 5-9, 212
|Injury-plagued last season but had 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2009.|
Oklahoma, 6-0, 214
|Multidimensional back owns school record for all-purpose yards.|
Kansas State, 6-0, 229
|Former quarterback has impressive size and strength.|
Oklahoma State, 5-7, 200
|Big 12 offensive player of the year has 4.46 40-yard speed.|
Connecticut, 5-9, 202
|A dangerous runner and returner with a 4.4 40-yard time.|
Cal, 5-10, 209
|Consistent runner averaged 5.1 yards during three-year career.|
Syracuse, 5-9, 220
|Imposing, powerful runner was MVP at East-West Shrine Game.|
Oregon State, 5-6, 198
|Undersized but productive and versatile; 44 receptions in 2010.|
The Bucs probably won't feel pressured to invest an early pick in a running back, but it has to be a consideration at some point. Truth is, the Bucs haven't given much attention to this important position. They haven't drafted a running back before the seventh round since taking Williams fifth overall in 2005. Look for Tampa Bay to use a mid- to late-round pick on a multifaceted running back who can play different roles and provide depth.
Stephen F. Holder, Times staff writer