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Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Beyond the 1st round: Running back

By Mike Reiss

(Each day this week, will highlight one position that the Patriots are projected to target in the NFL draft and highlight one prospect in rounds 2-7 who might fit. With so much attention placed on the first round in mock drafts, "Beyond the first round" focuses on lesser-publicized options beyond the first 32 picks.)

Second round: Kendall Hunter (Oklahoma State)
At 5-foot-7, 199 pounds, he is considered undersized for the position, but analysts note that he's a deceptively good inside runner (a la Danny Woodhead). The Pro Football Weekly draft preview notes that he "possesses starter-caliber speed, burst, instincts and run strength." He reportedly took a pre-draft visit to Gillette Stadium, one of the 30 allowed by NFL teams.

Third round: Shane Vereen (California)
Vereen (5-10, 210) came across as mature beyond his years at the NFL combine, as he enters the draft after his junior season. Analysts view him as one of the better pass-catching backs in the draft, which is a skill valued in the Patriots' system, and he's also one of the strongest at his position (31 reps on the bench press).

Fourth round: Jordan Todman (Connecticut)
This would be a homecoming story as Todman grew up in Dartmouth, Mass., where he lit up the high school ranks in becoming the state's second-leading rusher (5,083 career yards). He is one of the faster backs in the draft (4.4 speed in the 40) and projects to add value as a returner. He enters the draft after his junior season.

Fifth round: Johnny White (North Carolina)
A special teams and offensive captain, he could fit nicely into the overall 53-man roster -- and 45-man roster -- because of his experience in the kicking game (e.g. gunner on punt coverage). Analysts note that White runs with a physical style that doesn't necessarily reflect his physical build (5-10, 209), but that he could fit nicely in a complementary role.

Sixth round: Stevan Ridley (LSU)
One of the bigger backs in the draft (5-11, 225), he is viewed as a later-round option in part because of speed questions (4.67 in the 40) and the fact he was the top back for just one season. He was a team captain and has special teams experience, entering the draft after his junior year.

Seventh round: Graig Cooper (Miami)
Medical questions could drop Cooper into the later rounds, or perhaps out of the draft (knee surgery). His skill set is such that he could be effective running screens, draw plays and stretch plays (according to the Pro Football Weekly draft preview), which is a big part of the Patriots' offense.

(Round projections aided by Pro Football Weekly draft value chart and Pro Football Weekly draft preview.)