By: Nicholas Minnix, KFFL.com

On Day 3 of the NFL Scouting Combine, the league was trotting out players on the defensive side of the ball for us to verbally poke and prod. Defensive linemen and linebackers did most of the talking today, but I wanted to jump to the other side of the line of scrimmage for a moment.

Little debate takes place when the topic of the best skill position player available comes up. University of Arkansas running back Darren McFadden is the odds-on favorite to be selected at the head of that class, if not the principal of the entire school. Quarterback Matt Ryan receives plenty of consideration, but in the past few years, these so-called prototypical signal callers seem to get attention because of the lack of quality players in the NFL at that position and not because of their probability of filling that role successfully.

McFadden said it himself: He believes that he’s the best back available in the draft. The pundits and the hype machine are right there with him. I think they’ve been hanging out at the wrong end of the dock, though; not only are they missing the boat, they aren’t even aware that the better choice is a hydroplane … with wings.

The University of Oregon’s Jonathan Stewart, easily the best running back prospect of this year’s crop, would have given Paul Revere nightmares; one or two lanterns simply wouldn’t have been enough. Stewart travels by land, sea and air. I’m not sure which teams plan to install an aquatic surface in their new stadium, but I’m willing to speculate that he’d excel on water as well.

Indications are that the general public (or, at least, NFL Draft addicts) agree that McFadden is the premier long-term solution available, too. In an NFL.com/combine poll, visitors are asked which of three running backs – McFadden, the University of Illinois’ Rashard Mendenhall and Stewart – they believe will have the best NFL career. McFadden (48 percent), as expected, leads the way, followed by Mendenhall (28 percent) and then Stewart (24 percent).

McFadden is a spectacular athlete, don’t get me wrong. He’s extremely versatile and will provide some team with home run-threat ability. McFadden can slash through the line and take it to the house. He can line up out wide, take an end-around and gain big chunks of yardage if he’s given the open space. He can take a pitch or a snap and throw it down the field to a streaking wideout. He provides an offense with an array of options.

While tricks aren’t solely McFadden’s game, I think he fits an offense that resorts to gimmick plays and trickery more often than a traditional attack does. There’s nothing wrong with that. Such plays and players can provide plenty of excitement as well as win you a ton of games – in the regular season. For my money – for my top-five money – I want a player that is built for, and has the ability to make a lasting mark in, the playoffs.

Stewart is that guy. In fact, he knows it. “You don’t really see a player my size at this position being able to do the things I can do. I’m explosive. I have good lateral movement as well. I have great speed as well. Put those things together and it can be something great,” Stewart said. That almost sums it up. At 5-foot-10, 235 pounds, he’s a load to bring down. When that load is moving at the speed of a freight train, it doesn’t get any easier.

Stewart can get the tough yards, and he can break away to get the not-so-tough yards. If he has an opening, he’ll end up in the end zone the same as McFadden will. The difference is that McFadden needs more help to get into the open field. The Hogs’ offensive line was notorious for parting the Red Sea for McFadden as well as Felix Jones, his draft classmate and former backfield mate. When asked how he was able to average seven yards per carry in college, Jones responded, “It’s just great blocking up front. My teammates, they did a great job…. They just provided the hole I needed to hit.”

It’s not to say that either wouldn’t have been successful with less support; Jones is an outstanding prospect as well, and he’ll make an excellent complement to, say, Dallas Cowboys running back Marion Barber III. Stewart is the total package, though. Watch him run, and you’ll see it. He’s patient, he can see the holes, he can quickly hit them, he can’t be brought down with arm tackles, and he can catch the ball. The best part is, he had only 516 carries (269 fewer than McFadden) at Oregon, so he doesn’t have a great deal of wear and tear on him. He was remarkably consistent, averaging at least 4.1 yards per carry in all but one game of his senior season. He also answered lingering doubts about his durability by playing in all 13 of the Ducks’ games. Oh, and you wonder how many times he fumbled in college? Same number as McFadden: not once. Maybe most simply believe that there’s more than meets the eye with these backs. I don’t buy it. Watch Stewart run the football and tell me you wouldn’t want him lined up seven yards deep for your team.

Somebody in the middle of the first round or later is going to get one heck of a building block, that’s for sure. Will it be the Carolina Panthers? Arizona Cardinals? Houston Texans? Seattle Seahawks? I’m not really certain, but whichever club it is will be thrilled.

Now, on to some notes from Day 3:

  • Southern California linebacker Keith Rivers (ankle) said that he tweaked his right ankle last week, so he won’t be running at the combine. He will at his Pro Day April 2, though. He said that he hurt the left one this past season and played through it. Rivers wore the famed No. 55 jersey at USC, carrying on the tradition of previous greats Junior Seau, Willie McGinest and Chris Claiborne. He claims that he can play all three linebacker spots, but he prefers the strong side.

  • University of Illinois linebacker Jeremy Leman (ankle) said that he won’t be able to run at full speed until late April following surgery on his left ankle. Leman is telling teams not to hold that against him, but they probably won’t listen. That’s the kind of development that could make him a steal in the middle rounds. Leman will bring strong leadership qualities, a great mind and fantastic instincts to the middle of some linebacker corps. Last year, the 6-1 3/4, 245-pounder earned his master’s degree in human resources after already wrapping up his bachelor’s in speech communication. The man they call “J” seems like a fit for the New England Patriots, although he’d probably have to fall to the fourth round, and I’m not too sure about his camerawork.

  • University of Virginia defensive end Chris Long (thumb) said that he sprained his thumb in the Cavaliers’ bowl game, so he won’t be doing the bench press at the combine. He decided to let it rest for a couple of weeks, and since he began benching again, he’s not where he wants to be. He’ll put the bar up at his Pro Day at the Virginia campus. The son of Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long recalled his earliest memory of Al Davis: As a child, Chris was visiting his dad at training camp, where family members weren’t allowed. When he saw Davis, he ducked down in the car. “Don’t tell Al Davis that happened,” Chris pleaded. Long said he appreciated that his father remained in the background during his time at Virginia. “I’ve said, ‘Dad, you’re an old man now. It’s not your time anymore.'”

    That’s all I got from Indy today. It was surprisingly quiet. USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis was a surprise guest after we heard that he wouldn’t join us until tomorrow. That’s when – we’re told – we can expect Louisiana State Glenn Dorsey, too.

    NFL Scouting Combine: Day 3 Tidbits

    By Cory J. Bonini and Nicholas Minnix, KFFL.com

    University of Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey weighed in at a hearty 271 pounds, a weight at which he’s comfortable. Harvey said that he played at about 258-260 this past season; he tacked on the extra weight simply because he’s still growing – he turned 21 in November. He likes playing with his hand down, and teams may consider him more of a 4-3 end, like he does. However, Harvey noted that he dropped back in coverage every game with the Gators because they played a lot of zone. Regarding his future role on an NFL defense, Harvey said he felt he could do anything.

    Kansas City Chiefs head coach Herman Edwards stated that his team probably needs eight new starters, some of which will come through the draft, some through free agency. Before that, Edwards was asked about the quarterback position, and he mentioned that the Chiefs, three years ago, nabbed a guy they like in Brodie Croyle. However, in the next breath, Edwards noted, “At all positions on the team, you always want to create competition, especially where we’re headed.” Does that open the possibility that KC drafts a passer, at least on Day 2? Edwards also relayed his impression of University of Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long: “He’s got all the tools. He’s big, he’s pretty athletic, pretty good feet. He’s a guy if you draft, you know he’s going to be a great tackle for 10 years.” The Chiefs select fifth overall.

    Arizona Cardinals vice president of football operations Rod Graves said that he considers linebacker Calvin Pace, scheduled to become a free agent, one of the team’s core players and hopes to bring him back. “He has made it clear he’d like to remain with us, and we’d like to keep him, so we’re still working to make that happen.” Graves also indicated that he didn’t consider wideout Larry Fitzgerald’s rookie contract, which contained many escalators, a mistake. However, Graves said the club “also determined that if we should be at this point, we’d be back at the bargaining table to work out a long-term deal that was a little more palatable for the organization.” He said that if they couldn’t work out a deal, the team would eat the contract and keep Fitz.

    University of North Carolina defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer said that playing end in a 3-4 would be nothing new for him because the Tar Heels had a package in which he played the 4 technique. He furthered that thought when he said if he could compare himself to anyone, it would be New England Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour. “He’s a very versatile player. He plays hard. He plays with passion.”

    University of Michigan linebacker/defensive end Shawn Crable expected to be working at linebacker at the combine. Instead, as he pointed out, he’ll begin work with the linemen. Crable stated that he didn’t have a preference because he’s good at either. Occasionally, he also played defensive tackle for the Wolverines. The knock on him concerns his ability to change direction and play in coverage, but he believes he’ll dispel any doubts about it. Crable said he’s preparing for everything. “I’ve talked to a lot of teams and sometimes I’ve walked into the room and they’ll say ‘You make a better defensive end’ and then I’ll walk out of that room and into another room and they’ll be like ‘No, you’re not a defensive end, you’re a linebacker.'” He said that he had interest in playing for the Cleveland Browns. “My mother would love it.”

    Southern California defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis wanted to make it clear that he can play either spot on the interior of the line in a 4-3. He said, however, that he would be comfortable playing in a 3-4, too, noting that his head coach, Pete Carroll, added some 3-4 wrinkles to the Trojans defense in the past couple of seasons. He believes that his height (6-foot) is actually an advantage. “You get these big 6-5 linemen and I can get up underneath them and uproot them out of what they’re trying to do.” Ellis (309 pounds) also feels that he doesn’t need to add weight because he can move fast yet still shed double teams. He joked that he found a coach’s question on what he would change about himself rather odd. “I looked at him and said I kind of like myself so I really wouldn’t change much.”

    Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt said the team would be interested in offensive guard Alan Faneca, should he not be able to work out a deal to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers within the next week.

    Atlanta Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall said that he felt “stabbed in the back” by the Falcons and wants to play elsewhere. Two Falcons officials reportedly said it would take at least a first-round pick and perhaps more.

    Washington Redskins vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato doesn’t expect the Redskins to be big players in the free-agent market this offseason, especially during the early stages of the process.

    Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher said the team will try sign defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth to a long-term deal. Haynesworth was recently tagged as the team’s franchise player.

    Louisiana State running back Jacob Hester said he was actually a distant cousin of Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw. Hester noted how his great aunt was married to his uncle.

    Georgia Tech inside linebacker Philip Wheeler found himself measuring a quarter-inch shorter at the combine than he did at the Senior Bowl. “6-1 3/4, 248 pounds. Was 6-2 at Senior Bowl, guess I shrunk a bit.”

    University of Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo said his knees are in good shape. “My knees are great. I just got finished doing all the physicals and things like that. The doctors are telling me good things and hopefully it could stay that way.” Mayo’s right lateral collateral ligament was surgically repaired in 2005, and he had a knee scope in 2006.

    Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston said he doesn’t have a preference playing down or as a standing linebacker. Gholston measured 6-foot-3 and weighed 266 pounds.

    Walt’s 2008 NFL Mock Draft

    Walt’s 2009 NFL Mock Draft

    Matt McGuire’s 2008 NFL Mock Draft

    2008 and 2009 NFL Prospects

    NFL Mock Draft Database