NFL draft position preview: Running backs

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NFL draft position preview: Running backs

There was a time when running backs were hot items in the NFL draft. Not any more.

Last year the first running back did not come off the board until the 28th pick when the New Orleans Saints selected Mark Ingram, the Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama. He was the only running back chosen in the first round.

More teams started drafting running backs in the second round (four were selected) and others came off the board in the third (three) and fourth (seven). That is probably how it will go again this year as more NFL teams adopt the interchangeable two (or three) back system and move away from one stud workhorse back.

Also, teams know they dont have to use a first-round pick on a running back. Last season, three of the top four rushers Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars), Ray Rice (Ravens) and LeSean McCoy (Eagles) were second round picks. Frank Gore (49ers) was a fifth round pick. Arian Foster (Texans), who led the league in rushing in 2010, wasnt drafted at all.

It would not be a surprise if this years draft unfolded just like last years, that is, with only one running back being selected in the first round and once again it will be a back from Alabama, Trent Richardson. He is the class of the field and should be a top 20 pick.

The Top Five

1. Trent Richardson, Alabama
Red flags went up when it was reported Richardson underwent minor knee surgery after the season, but it doesnt seem to be that much of a worry. He was injured in practice before the BCS championship game and it didnt slow him down (96 yards rushing vs. LSU), so there is no reason to think it will pose a problem going forward. At 5-11, 225 pounds, Richardson combines power, balance and the speed to run away from defenses. He is a complete back who can play in any offense. He set a school record last season with 1,679 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns.
2. Doug Martin, Boise State
Improved his stock with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl. Flashed good speed (he runs the 40 in 4.49), hit the hole hard and displayed some shiftiness on kickoff returns. Also impressed with his blocking as he was solid in pass protection and threw a nice downfield block on a touchdown by Gerrell Robinson. At 5-9 and 215 pounds, Martin runs effectively between the tackles, but he is quicker and more elusive than he looks. He averaged more than 100 yards rushing per game (108.3 to be exact) last season. Could sneak into the bottom of the first round, but it is more likely he goes high in the second.

3. David Wilson, Virginia Tech
Named ACC Player of the Year and second-team All-America. Speedy back that rushed for 1,709 yards last season and averaged almost six yards per carry. At 5-10 and 205 pounds, he isnt as physically strong as either Richardson or Martin, but he has more straight-line speed. He rushed for more than 100 yards in seven consecutive games last season, but he was shut down late in losses to Clemson (11 carries for 32 yards) and Michigan (24 carries for 82 yards). Projects as a second round pick.
4. Lamar Miller, Miami
Lots of physical talent, but still a little raw. Good size at 5-11 and 212 pounds and very good speed (4.4). Only played two college seasons and carried the ball just 335 times, so he doesnt have much wear and tear on his body. He has an explosive first step and gets to top end speed in a hurry. He also has good vision and finds the cutback lane. He really impressed with a 26 carry, 184 yard game against Ohio State. He also had a big day against Virginia Tech, rushing for 166 yards and averaging 9.2 yards per carry. Drawbacks? Needs to improve his blocking but thats true of most backs coming to the NFL. Projects as a second round pick

5. LeMichael James, Oregon
Reminds me of Darren Sproles, who has been a super productive player in the NFL for seven years. He is a little bigger (5-9, 185) but with the same kind of quickness and ability to make defenders miss without slowing down. He has good hands and knows how to execute the screen game. He rushed for more than 200 yards four times last year finishing with 1,805 yards and a 7.3 yard per carry average. Most analysts project him as a third round pick, but I wouldnt be surprised if someone grabbed him in the second.

Dont Forget

Bernard Pierce, Temple
Set all kinds of records for the Owls, including most touchdowns (54) and most points (324). He has good size (6-1, 218) and good instincts. The only knock on Pierce is durability. He missed time with injuries throughout his three seasons at Temple, but still finished with 3,570 yards rushing, second only to Paul Palmer in the schools history. Third round pick.

Eagles' Interest
In McCoy, the Eagles have one of the best all-around backs in the game, but they dont have much behind him. Dion Lewis only got a handful of touches last season as a rookie and still is an unknown and a small one (5-8, 195) at that. If the Eagles see a worthwhile prospect on the board they could take him, but not before the middle rounds.

Others to Consider
Chris Polk, Washington; Isiah Pead, Cincinnati; Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M; Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State: Tauren Poole, Tennessee.

E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net

Sources: Eagles to sign former Villanova LB Don Cherry and former Alabama S Nick Perry

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The Associated Press

Sources: Eagles to sign former Villanova LB Don Cherry and former Alabama S Nick Perry

The Eagles have a serious depth problem at linebacker, and they're looking at a local prospect to try to fix it. 

The team will sign former Villanova linebacker Don Cherry on Sunday, pending a physical, a league source told CSNPhilly.com. ESPN's Adam Caplan first reported the deal.

Cherry, 21, first signed with the Bears after going undrafted in the spring, but was cut by Chicago in June. 

The 6-1, 240-pound Cherry was an All-CAA selection as a sophomore, junior and senior. During his time on the Main Line, he was credited with 331 tackles, 46 1/2 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception. 

Even with Cherry, the Eagles are still light in the depth department at linebacker. After starters Mychal Kendricks, Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham, the team has Najee Goode, Deontae Skinner, seventh-rounder Joe Walker and a couple of other undrafted free agents. 

After cutting wideout Jonathan Krause on Friday, the Eagles had three vacancies on their 90-man roster. They're filling another of those openings with former Alabama safety Nick Perry, according to a league source. The perry deal was first reported by Al.com's Matt Zenitz. The 6-1, 211-pound Perry spent last season on the Ravens' practice squad after going undrafted in 2015. 

Eagles training camp kicks off Monday, and the first full-team practice is Thursday. 

Five Eagles with the most at stake during training camp

Five Eagles with the most at stake during training camp

Training camp officially kicks off on July 25, when rookies, QBs and select vets report. Three days later the Eagles have their first full team practice. 

For the weeks after that, the team will be formed, and we’ll finally get a better understanding of the 2016 Eagles. Some players will definitely make the roster. Some already have their starting positions locked up. 

Then there are the players with the most to prove during the few-week camp. There are way more than five guys who need to impress during August. There are players who will make the team and who will lose the team, who will win starting gigs and lose them. 

But here are five on the roster that I’ll be watching closely: 

Josh Huff
Huff is a curious case. He’s super talented; he really is. He just hasn’t figured it out yet, and it’s fair to wonder if he ever will. He’s going into his third season and has just 35 catches in his first two years. There’s a chance he could win a starting job. Then again, there’s a chance he could lose his roster spot, though that’s probably much less likely. In Doug Pederson’s offense, receivers get moved around a lot, something Chip Kelly refused to do. I’d like to see Huff be given a chance to play in the slot. Obviously, Jordan Matthews has shined in that position, but if he lines up outside, Huff might be a good fit. 

Chris Pantale
During the spring, Pantale often lined up as a fullback with the first team, which meant the Eagles want to see if he can be a lead blocker. But training camp is where they’ll find out. Can he take a hit? Can he deliver one to a linebacker? The coaching staff will be looking to answer those questions. If Pantale can prove he’s a capable fullback, he can earn a spot on the roster and force the Eagles to either keep four tight ends or cut Trey Burton, who will also be given a shot to prove himself as a fullback. 

Isaac Seumalo
Through no fault of his own, the rookie offensive lineman is behind. The third-round pick was stuck at Oregon State because of the arcane NCAA graduation rule and missed all of OTAs. “I definitely think that will be tough for him,” Allen Barbre said when asked about Seumalo’s catching up this summer. For now, Barbre is the starting left guard, but Seumalo — along with Stefen Wisniewksi — will have a chance to challenge him for the position during camp. 

Eric Rowe
During OTAs and the mandatory minicamp, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks were the Eagles’ two starting cornerbacks, and Rowe came on the field as an outside corner in the nickel package, while Brooks slid into the slot. That means Rowe isn’t really a starter after he came on strong as a rookie a year ago. He’ll have to have a good camp to retake his starting job.  

Kenjon Barner
Barner looked pretty good this spring. In fact, he even took some first-team reps at running back. But that doesn’t mean he has a job locked up. Last season, he was the fourth running back behind DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. This year, with Murray gone, he’s in the mix with Mathews, Sproles and rookie Wendell Smallwood. Will the Eagles keep four backs again? If they do, Barner has a very good shot to be on the team. But if the Eagles keep three, they might elect to keep a promising fifth-rounder in Smallwood over him. 

NFL Notes: League to review domestic violence allegations against Ezekiel Elliott

NFL Notes: League to review domestic violence allegations against Ezekiel Elliott

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The NFL says it is reviewing domestic violence allegations against Dallas Cowboys rookie Ezekiel Elliott.

A police report says Elliott denied allegations that he assaulted his girlfriend early Friday in Columbus, Ohio, causing bruises and abrasions. The report says he wasn't arrested because of conflicting versions of what happened.

Three witnesses told police they didn't see Elliott assault the 20-year-old woman. Elliott says the woman got the bruises and abrasions in a bar fight.

The player's father, Stacy Elliott, said in a statement Friday that the claims are "completely false" and that his son has cooperated with the investigation.

Ezekiel Elliott is a running back who played at Ohio State. He turned 21 Friday.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy says the allegations will be reviewed under the league's personal conduct policy (see full story).

Colts: NFL suspends Art Jones for 4 games
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts defensive lineman Arthur Jones has been suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Jones has struggled to stay on the field since signing a five-year, $33 million contract in 2014. He missed seven games in his first season with Indy with an injured right ankle. He missed all of last season with an injured left ankle he sustained during the preseason.

Jones won't be eligible to return to the team until Oct. 3 but will be allowed to participate in training camp and preseason games.

His brother, Jon, a UFC fighter, also has run afoul of that league's anti-drug policies.

Vikings: Ribbon cut at new $1.1 billion stadium
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph spent his first three seasons playing in the Metrodome, a cramped, dingy noise box that tested the patience of fans and players alike.

The home locker room only had five bathroom stalls for 53 players and dozens of coaches and support staff. So when he walked around U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings' new $1.1 billion stadium that is set to open this season, he said comparing the two was like "ground chuck and filet mignon."

The Vikings held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday to mark the official beginning of life in their new home. The celebration featured current coach Mike Zimmer blowing the gjallahorn -- a huge horn used in Viking lore -- with coaching legend Bud Grant by his side and fireworks after a host of speakers praised the new stadium.

With a cutting-edge design that includes a translucent roof to allow in the daylight, a wall of glass with 100-foot doors that open to let the autumn breeze in and a locker room that is twice the size of their former home in the Metrodome, U.S. Bank Stadium has thrust the franchise into the 21st century (see full story).

Bears: Charles Tillman retires with Chicago
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Charles Tillman is officially retiring as a member of the Chicago Bears.

The two-time Pro Bowl cornerback signed a one-day contract and called it a career with the team that drafted him in 2003 on Friday.

He had announced Monday on Twitter that he was retiring. The 35-year-old Tillman, known for his "peanut punch" after forcing 44 career fumbles, spent his first 12 seasons with the Bears and went to two Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl with them.

He started 12 games last season with the Carolina Panthers before suffering a season-ending knee injury and missed the team's run to the Super Bowl.

Chicago also terminated defensive back Omar Bolden's contract on Friday.