After five years, two universities and 3,465 yards on the odometer, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets running back Tashard Choice will be moving on to the big stage after declaring himself eligible for selection in the 2008 NFL Draft. As a star that has made his impact in his last couple of years at the collegiate level, Choice is a versatile runner who uses his exceptional aggressiveness, vision and instinct to make up for his less than impressive speed. Choice is widely considered one of the top 15, if not 10, running backs in this year's draft.
Choice began his collegiate career at the University of Oklahoma in 2003, but he redshirted and played the backup role to current NFL Pro Bowler Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings) in 2004 on OSU's route to the BCS title game. The NCAA granted Choice a special transfer waiver, allowing him to return home to tend for his mother but also continue playing football at nearby Georgia Tech without having to miss a season. The 2005 season found Choice behind running back P.J. Daniels on the depth chart, but an opportune performance in an upset of then No. 3 Miami Hurricanes slated him as the Yellow Jackets' running back of the future.
Choice led the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing in 2006 with nine 100-yard games (including seven straight) totaling 1,473 yards, as well as 12 of Tech's 42 offensive touchdowns, quickly become a Heisman Trophy contender for the 2007 season. Even with missed time due to knee injury, Choice ran for 1,379 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior.
Choice thrives as an inside runner, pounding at the defense between the tackles and exploiting holes. As a result, he excels at all of the skills and talents necessary for this style. Scouts are impressed with Choice's outstanding running vision, balance and excellent natural instincts. He is not afraid to hit the hole hard, and the exceptional strength in his thighs makes him a hard target to take down in the open field. Overall, Choice plays a tough and aggressive but rare brand of attrition football.
Choice is also a quality blocker and a good complement to the passing game. While not utilized as much as they should have been at Georgia Tech, Choice's hands have been noted to be very impressive, giving the team that drafts him an extra weapon out of the backfield in passing situations.
In a league clamping down on character issues of its players, Choice has exhibited discipline thus far and has emerged as a natural leader both on and off the turf. Choice's decision to return home to care for his mother's broken foot is a good indicator of his intangibles. His commendable work ethic and productivity will both be assets to any coach as well.
As part of a deep running back drafting class, Choice carries two main concerns - speed and long-term durability. A combine that fell short of his expectations has not helped his stock.
As a feature back, Choice has very average speed, running an unimpressive 4.52-second 40-time at the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine. There is an obvious lack of a second gear in the open field that is necessary for the next level of play, and he has never relied upon his speed to beat defenders to corners. Scouts have also found that he lacks some of the necessary agility and does not have an acute start-stop ability. At the pro level, these factors may be the difference between a reliable starter and a spot-duty backup.
Lastly, his durability may come up later as an issue. Critics have warned that the physicality and aggressiveness of his play over time, which he relies upon, can quickly wear on his body. Choice also suffered through knee problems in the 2007 season but likely will be fully recovered.
Expected Draft Placement
Due to his limited upside and concerns with speed, Choice is considered a mid-round draft pick. He has some potential to start on an NFL team but will more than likely be playing as a backup to start his career. His size, 5-foot-11 1/2, 215 pounds, could make him a potential short-yardage back for a team in need of one, but he remains a bit undersized for that role. Expect to hear his name called during the second day of the draft by a team looking for a hardworking, humble back that is willing to take on any assignment or chore offered to him.
About James Li
James Li has been a KFFL contributor since 2006.
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