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Monday, April 13, 2009
GM profiling: The right running back for Cardinals

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The item about Cardinals general manager Rod Graves and the running backs his teams have drafted elicited an underwhelming response.

windknot02: Not an impressive list. On the other hand, maybe Rod is due.

cman548: That list isn't terrible, but it speaks to the importance of offensive line. Any success these backs had came with teams that weren't the Cardinals.

With an assist from Steve Muench of Scouts Inc., perhaps we can give Cardinals fans a little more to talk about. He sees Andre Brown of North Carolina State as a likely starter teams might find available in the second round. He also explained why he likes Donald Brown despite initial misgivings and why he wouldn't draft Chris Wells early.

I followed up with Muench on Andre Brown because we do not hear his name as frequently as we hear others. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt has said he would like two running backs with divergent styles. Current Cardinals back Tim Hightower is 224 pounds. Brown is 228. The similarities might be limited, however.

Muench: Andre Brown is 228 pounds, but he is a lot faster than Hightower. Shonn Greene and Rashad Jennings and Javon Ringer all fall into the category of Hightower-type backs. They are quicker, but they are big backs, not a lot of wiggle. Kory Sheets is an interesting name in the middle rounds. He can catch it out of the backfield. He can complement.

Having spent all last season watching NFC West teams -- and not college prospects -- this was a conversation I wanted to continue. Muench felt the same way; he's spent all his time watching the college prospects. This was a chance for us to bring together our perspectives in trying to figure out what might make sense.

For context, we discussed the chart showing all the running backs Graves' teams have selected since 1994.

Draft Round Pick Graves' Team Running Back
College Conference
2000 1 7
Cardinals Thomas Jones
Virginia
ACC
1995
1
21
Bears
Rashaan Salaam
Colorado Big 12
2005
2
44
Cardinals J.J. Arrington
Cal Pac-10
1998
4
95
Cardinals Michael Pittman
Fresno St.
WAC
1994
4
114
Bears Raymont Harris
Ohio St.
Big Ten
2008
5
149 Cardinals Tim Hightower
Richmond CAA [I-AA]
1997
6
175
Cardinals Rod Brown
N.C. St.
ACC
2002
6
185 Cardinals Josh Scobey
Kansas St.
Big 12
1996
7
253 Bears
Michael Hicks S.C. St.
MEAC [I-AA]

Thomas Jones eventually became a productive back for the Bears and Jets. Some of the others were decent value picks, but the list was short on long-term starters. The Cardinals famously selected offensive tackle Levi Brown over Adrian Peterson in 2007. Arizona had already invested heavily in Edgerrin James. Tackle was a greater need. In retrospect, Peterson obviously would have delivered more, at least in the short term.

Muench: Adrian Peterson could have been at the top of this chart. Hey, they missed on their guy. Maybe they are not going to miss on their guy again if he is there. Graves has found decent complementary backs in the middle rounds. But they need that guy. None of the guys on this list are that guy except for Thomas Jones now. Maybe they are willing to address that in the first round.

I'm interested in seeing where LeSean McCoy comes off the board. Donald Brown [of Connecticut] has really grown on me and I generally do not like the guys who get too many carries [367 last season]. You just see them fall off. I wanted to not like him because he is not that fast and he did not catch it much, but I see him catch it at his pro day and I am impressed. He is a guy who could go at the end of the first round.

Muench and I agreed that the Cardinals would like to add a starting-caliber running back in the draft, even though Hightower proved to be a strong value in the fifth round a year ago. I wanted to know if Andre Brown appeared to have what Hightower might not in terms of the qualities that set apart running backs early in the draft.

Muench: Andre Brown is definitely in that category and LeSean McCoy is definitely in that category. The one thing that separates them a little bit is, McCoy is a little bit of a dancer and it's concerning to me. He dances a little too much and he's going to get killed in the NFL. You can get away with it in the Big East when you are that talented. I can't push Andre Brown hard enough right now.

If the Cardinals do it in the first round, Donald Brown is a legitimate first-round pick. His vision and patience wow me. There is a fine line between being hesitant and patient and he rides that all the time. He is efficient. He is going to get what he can get. He will not break as many long runs as an Adrian Peterson, but he is going to get his yards.

There is always a chance Knowshon Moreno drops because of the poor 40 time. Chris Wells, I am not high on. Everyone in the world has him in the first round, but I am worried about him. He is softer than people say he is -- not soft, but softer than people say he is. And I'm also not convinced he is going to be quick and agile enough. He is a big back with good speed, but I'm worried about his quickness and his wiggle.

We touched on the Cardinals' draft plans more generally when ESPN.com put Arizona "On the Clock" on March 16. The conversation with Muensch helped fill in some of the gaps.