Cardinals weigh drafting impact running back - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Cardinals weigh drafting impact running back

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Posted: Sunday, April 20, 2008 10:17 pm | Updated: 8:37 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

They may have missed the boat last year. So will the Cardinals grab a star-caliber running back this time around? This weekend's NFL draft seems stocked with a number of backs who could make an impact.

Read Mike Tulumello's blog, 'Bird Watching'

Maybe the Cardinals won't have the opportunity to grab a player as elite as Adrian Peterson, bypassed last year in favor of tackle Levi Brown.

Then too, the Cardinals could go in a different direction entirely, opting for a cornerback or a defensive tackle or anybody they think is top notch for their defensive front seven.

Darren McFadden

The Cardinals, citing the draft's history, are hoping they can grab an impact player at No. 16, somebody who might pan out better than some picked in the top 10, without as huge a dollar investment.

Should they go with a running back, the consensus is that at least three or four are difference-makers.

Darren McFadden, the Arkansas back some consider the most talented college player in the country, almost certainly will be gone by the time the Cardinals pick.

That would leave Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois, Jonathan Stewart of Oregon and Felix Jones, McFadden's running mate at Arkansas.

If the Cardinals go in another direction in Round 1, the small but versatile Chris Johnson from East Carolina could be available when they pick in Round 2 (No. 50 overall).

Stewart and Johnson scheduled visits to the Cardinals.

Draft analyst Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. has suggested Stewart might have been a top-10 pick if not for a history of nagging injuries.

Jonathan Stewart

Even so, McShay has Stewart pegged as the No. 12 player and predicts he will go no lower than No. 22, to Dallas.

Stewart is now recovering from a right toe injury suffered Nov. 15 at Arizona.

His agent, Ben Dogra, has predicted Stewart would be ready to go by training camp in July.

"There's nothing you can do about it," Stewart said on his Web site. "So there's nothing you can do about it."

Stewart rushed for 1,722 yards in 2007, most ever by an Oregon back and ninth highest in Pac-10 history.

He's also an accomplished kick returner, averaging nearly 29 yards per return in his career.

There's also a chance that Mendenhall, more a punishing runner than a speedy one, could be available at No. 16.

Rashard Mendenhall

In fact, draft analyst Mike Mayock of the NFL Network predicts the Cardinals will take him, saying, "Ken Whisenhunt continues the transition to a physical team. Last year, Levi Brown. This year, Rashard Mendenhall.

"I think he's the best back in the entire draft," Mayock said.

Mendenhall set Illinois rushing records for most yardage (1,681) and touchdowns (17) and all-purpose yards (1,999) in 2007.

Cardinals scout Lonnie Young, speaking of both Mendenhall and Stewart, says, "We'd be ecstatic to consider either one. They could make a difference for your team right away."

Then there's Jones, who averaged an eye-popping 7.7 yards per carry at Arkansas.

Most mock drafts have him going somewhere in Round 1. He's explosive and quick, though an analysis by NFLDraftScout.com says he too often goes down on the first hit.

Chris Johnson

If the Cardinals take a player at another position in Round 1, they could look at Johnson in Round 2.

Johnson is only 5-foot-11, 195 pounds. But he's an accomplished pass catcher as well as runner.

He ranked No. 1 in the nation with 228 all-purpose yards per game for East Carolina, including 109.5 yards on the ground.

If the Cardinals take a running back, he would presumably share time with Edgerrin James.

Still, James remains a valuable player, Young said.

"He's running as hard as he ever has. And he understands blitzes.

"Often, young backs miss their assignments and cause your quarterbacks some pain."

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