Pac-12: Darren Sproles

Opening the mailbag: LaMike vs. Jacquizz

March, 23, 2012
3/23/12
5:30
PM ET
Here's hoping everyone's bracket is in fine shape.

If you go here, you will be able to answer the question of just how fun it would be to follow me on Twitter.

To the notes.

Brenden from Portland writes: I was curious of your thoughts as to the potential draft place of LaMichael James. It seems with RBs trending down in recent draft positions, and LM potentially having inflated "system" numbers, might spell a much lower draft position than people are anticipating (especially those overly confident duck fans). But really I am just looking for a glimmer of hope with a long ago bet (a delicious bottle of whiskey) made with a friend on who'd get drafted higher, Quizz or LM.Thanks,An Optimistic/Delusional Beaver Fan.

Ted Miller: James will be drafter higher than Jaquizz Rodgers, of that I'm almost certain. Rodgers was selected in the fifth round by the Atlanta Falcons last spring. If James falls past the third round, I'll be shocked. Mel Kiper has moved James up to No. 2 among available running backs Insider, behind only Alabama's beastly Trent Richardson.

James' stock has been rising since he got a solid 40 time at the NFL combine and was even faster during Oregon's pro day. He also has shown that he can be a capable receiver, which used to be a knock on him.

As many of you might recall, I've entertained this James vs. Rodgers debate a number of times, favoring Rodgers as sophomore but then admitting that James had grown as a player and had become more than just a speed back after the 2010 season. My feeling now is that James ranks among the top five running backs all-time in the Pac-12.

James and Rodgers are similar in stature -- James is a bit taller and Rodgers is a bit thicker -- but James is clearly faster, and speed is something you can't teach. Both have been compared to Darren Sproles, an undersized but highly productive back. A better comparison, to me, might be James to former California speedster Jahvid Best, only far more durable.

Will James become a feature back? Hard to say. It's critical for him to get into the right situation. I think it's ignorant that some folks dismiss James as a "system" back, or that he can't run between the tackles. That said, my feeling is James will be more effective if he's playing with an offense that uses a lot of zone blocking, as Oregon does. That fits better into his skill set.

Scott from Lafayette, Colo., writes: When you fill us in on Colorado's Spring practice can you find out if they are going to move senior LB Jon Major inside or leave him on the edge. Inside I think he could lead the conference in tackles and be our next All American LB. Outside, teams scheme away from him and he is in coverage so much he losses production in the run game. He started inside his sophomore year and was unblockable before going down with an injury. Paired with a healthy Rippy, they could make up one of the better LB duo's in the conference.

Ted Miller: Major is listed as the Buffaloes starting strong side linebacker on the pre-spring depth chart. Brady Daigh is presently listed No. 1 at MLB, but when Douglas Rippy comes back, he's almost certain to be the starting "Mike." Junior Derrick Webb is the weakside 'backer.

But defenses aren't inflexible. Recall that the Buffs were officially a 3-4 last year but are now back to a 4-3. I expect to see Major move around as the Buffs use different looks, so plenty of times he will appear to be playing an inside LB position.

And if Rippy and Major stay healthy, they are potentially one of the better tandems in the conference.

Pete from Calgary writes: Stanford's secondary took a lot of criticism last season for a number of reasons, usually revolving around not being able to tackle in space after a catch. Accepting the premise of the question (that they didn't play that well), do you think this is a result of the defensive scheme they ran (stop the run first, and let the opposition catch a few balls), injuries, not having the right players, something else, or all of the above? Do you see any reason to believe they will be better this coming season?

Ted Miller: There's a bit of all of the above, but there's also a need for some perspective.

Yes, when Stanford's defense got burned this past season, it did seem like it was the secondary getting burned. Still, playing against Pac-12 offenses, the Cardinal yielded 21.9 ppg and 337.62 ypg, totals that both ranked among the nation's top-30. Further, Stanford's defense got ripped by three teams: Oklahoma State, Oregon and USC. Those are the Nos. 2, 3 and 16 offenses in 2011.

Yes, there were some missed tackles, most notably against Oregon and Oklahoma State. Yes, it still seemed the Cardinal was just short of the sort of across-the-board athleticism you'd like to have in a secondary. There was a little too much 4.6 and not enough 4.4. Further, there were some injury and youth issues.

So what about 2012? Well, the return of CB Wayne Lyons should help. You'd also hope the youthful growing pains experienced by safeties Devon Carrington and Jordan Richards will yield mature, seasoned players a year later. And you'd hope that good recruiting -- such as incoming freshman Alex Carter -- will bolster the unit.

Further, it also might help that Derek Mason, the Cardinal's secondary coach, will be coordinating the defense alone, instead of sharing the job with Jason Tarver, who was hired to coordinate the Oakland Raiders defense. That way the front and backhalf will be hearing from one chief voice.

Tim from California writes: I know you're a braves fan so can we get a shout out to Chipper Jones for an amazing career he had, since he announced he's retiring at the end of the year. Also, what are Nickell Robey's NFL prospects?

Ted Miller: Wow, Chipper Jones. A tip of the cap to a great ballplayer. I turn 43 in September, and he turns 40 in April, so his career runs pretty parallel to my adult life. I remember the pure joy of running around Buckhead with my buddies during those glory days in the 1990s when winning was still fresh for Braves fans.

As for Robey, a first-team All-Pac-12 choice, he's certainly a very good college player. He will be a third-year starter in 2012 after winning the job as a true freshman in 2010, and I ranked him 23rd overall in the conference 2011. He was Pac-12's best cover corner last fall.

But the NFL is going to raise an eyebrow at his size: 5-foot-8, 165 pounds, particularly with the proliferation of big receivers. Robey's coverage skills will get him noticed, but his size likely will prevent him from being an early-round draft pick.

Small is the new Big with running backs

October, 22, 2008
10/22/08
5:49
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Arizona running back Keola Antolin is thickly built and, well, dinky. He looks like a weeble.

And he played like one against California, refusing to fall down after first contact from hulking defenders on his way to 149 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the Wildcats 42-27 victory.

Antolin said after the game he was "5-foot-7 1/2," though he immediately laughed after saying so.

Recall that the last time an unranked team defeated a ranked opponent in a Pac-10 game it was Jacquizz Rodgers gashing USC for 186 yards on the ground.

Rodgers is 5-foot-6, 180 pounds.

Hmm.

Turns out that five of the nation's top-10 rushers tip the scales at under 190 pounds, according to their official weights.

Only two are taller than 5-foot-11. Only two weight more than 210.

Recruiting powers like LSU (221-pound Charles Scott), USC (215-pound Stafon Johnson) and Penn State (212-pound Evan Royster) will continue to haul in prototypical backs with size as well as speed, but it seems a lot of non-traditional powers and mid-level teams are stocking their rosters with undersized guys who have two things in common.

They are short. And they produce.

Besides Antolin and Rodgers, Cal uses a pair of sub-200 pounders in Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen. Antolin displaced Nic Grigsby from the lineup last week, but the 178-pound Grigsby has scored nine touchdowns and averaged 5.9 yards per carry.

Arkansas' Michael Smith is 5-7, 173 pounds and is averaging 132 yards per game. Would Ball State be nationally ranked without MiQuale Lewis, who's listed at 5-7, 175? Southern Miss' Damion Fletcher tips the scales at 175 pounds yet averages over six yards per carry.

Michigan State workhorse Javon Ringer weighs 202 pounds, but that's because he's packed his 5-foot-9 frame with a freakish about of muscle over his four-year career (how does this guy find a pair of pants that fit?).

Perhaps the secret of the dinks is out and there will be a big run on little running backs working their magic off the radar of the national recruiting scene where measurables are so important.

"I don't think there will be any more than normal," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "I think it's just a matter of good players. And I really believe they come in all different packages. If you are short or smaller, what are your compensating factors? These guys obviously have compensating factors to not being 6-feet tall."

Fact is, there are some advantages to being small. We snarked about USC's players claiming they couldn't find Rodgers, but Rodgers and Antolin both said they use their lack of size as an advantage.

"I hide behind the linemen all day -- just like [NFL players] Darren Sproles and Maurice Jones-Drew," Antolin said after the Cal game. "It's the exact same. I stay low and hide and explode through the hole."

Score one -- or a few -- for the little guys.

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