Junior running back Maurice Drew enters the 2006 National Football League Draft coming off a season in which he emerged as one of the most dangerous weapons in University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) school history. Despite his small size, 5-foot-7, 207 pounds, Drew's game-breaking ability and knack for finding the end zone have commandeered a great deal of attention in the months leading up to the draft from teams looking for a quick boost on offense.
Drew finished off his college career with a school record 1,863 all-purpose yards (13th in the nation) and 20 touchdowns (eighth in the nation) while leading the Bruins to their first bowl victory in three years. A quick glance at Drew's 2005 stat-sheet reveals just how versatile he can be as a football player. He led the Bruins with 914 rushing yards, finished third on the team with 453 receiving yards and led the nation in punt returns with a 28.5-yard average. His 15 punt returns produced 427 yards, another school record, and three touchdowns. In fact, Drew leaves UCLA with an impressive career average of 23.2 yards per punt return, good enough for second all-time in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) history.
While Drew may be leaving college a year early, he has been a three-year starter with the Bruins, leading the team in rushing yards in each of those seasons. In 2004 he posted 1,007 rushing yards on 160 carries with eight touchdowns while catching 18 receptions for 262 yards and three touchdowns. He added 152 yards on 15 punt returns, one of those going for a touchdown. In 2003, Drew's freshmen season, he posted 583 rushing yards on 135 carries with five touchdowns and added another 104 yards on 15 receptions. Drew also handled kickoff returns in 2003, totaling 533 yards on 20 returns (26.7-yard average) with two touchdowns. If nothing else, Drew's seven career special teams touchdowns make him a valuable commodity in the upcoming draft.
As a runner Drew possesses solid mechanics and elusive quickness. He has blistering speed, evident by his 4.39 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He runs with awareness, making decisive cuts when holes open up. While he may be short, he possesses good muscle build and keeps his pads low when he runs, making it difficult for opposing defenders to get a clean hit on him. As a result, Drew will break more tackles than his size would indicate.
His experience in the passing game only adds to his value. He has above-average hands and a willingness to contribute in any way he can. Where Drew stands out is in his ability to expose the weakness of an opposing defense. He's quick and versatile, which makes it difficult to spy on him with a linebacker. Twice in his college career Drew exploded for five touchdowns in a game, including a 322-rushing-yard, record-breaking effort against Pac-10 rival, the University of Washington.
Unfortunately for Drew, his size will likely prevent him from ever becoming an every-down back in the NFL. At UCLA Drew was rarely asked to carry the ball more than 15 times in a game. It's difficult to imagine him carrying the ball more 10-12 times a game without wearing down over the course of an NFL season. While he avoided a major injury in college, he did get dinged up a couple of times, including a sprained ankle and a left shoulder contusion, which limited his ability to contribute in games.
Drew just isn't the sort of running back that can play without his quickness. He struggles running between the tackles and lacks the bulk to move the pile in the short-yardage game. While he is a technically sound blocker, he can become a liability picking up the blitz, as much larger linebackers will run right through him on their way to the quarterback. However, unlike other running backs that may be facing questions regarding their ability to adjust, Drew's positives and negatives seem clear cut. Any team that drafts him will be doing so with an understanding of exactly what Drew can and can't bring to the offense.
Due to his ability to contribute instantly as a kick return specialist, Drew projects as a Day 1 draft pick. His size will keep him out of the first round, but his presence as a dynamic playmaker will be too much for teams to pass on starting as early as Round 2. It is most likely that he slides into the top of the third round, as he is battling Wisconsin's Brian Calhoun and Louisiana State's Joseph Addai to be the fifth back selected.
He compares well with current Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook and, to some extent, San Diego Chargers running back Darren Sproles; he could assume a similar role with a team such as the Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams or Baltimore Ravens.
About Shaun McGuire
Shaun McGuire has been a KFFL contributor since 2006.
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