Junior West Virginia running back Steven Slaton leaves the Mountaineers with 3,925 yards rushing with 55 total touchdowns. Throughout his collegiate career, Slaton consistently put up impressive numbers, gaining more than 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons. He posted respective season averages of 5.5, 7.0 and 5.0 yards-per-carry in each of his three years at WVU.
After a spectacular sophomore season, Slaton's numbers dropped off in his junior year. This, along with what is to be an extremely deep draft for running backs this year, had many expecting Slaton to remain in school for his senior campaign. However, Slaton opted instead to join his West Virginia teammate, fellow junior wide receiver Darius Reynaud, and enter the 2008 NFL draft.
Back in 2005, Slaton ended his freshman year with 1,128 yards on 205 carries with 17 touchdowns and helped the Mountaineers to the 2005 Nokia Sugar Bowl. Slaton earned MVP honors in the Mountaineers' victory over the Georgia Bulldogs, setting a Sugar Bowl record of 204 yards on 26 carries and three touchdowns. Slaton was named Big East rookie of the year and was Freshman All-American.
Then, in the 2006 season opener against Marshall, Slaton picked up right where he left off the previous year with his second consecutive 200-yard game, rushing for 203 yards on 33 carries and two touchdowns. Despite being bothered by a wrist injury all year, Slaton racked up 1,744 yards on 248 carries, an average of 134.2 yards per game, and scored 16 touchdowns. His 1,744 yards set a West Virginia single-season rushing record and placed him third in the nation. He was named West Virginia team MVP and was fourth in Heisman Trophy balloting.
In what was considered a down year, Slaton still managed to rush for 1,051 yards on 210 carries and score 17 touchdowns as a junior in 2007. The drop off in numbers was mainly due to injury, the fact that opposing defenses were now keying on him, as well as having to share carries with West Virginia freshman running back Noel Devine.
In making the move to the NFL, Slaton's size (5-foot-9 3/8, 199 pounds) is apt to be a bit of a concern for any prospective team. He did receive an ample workload throughout his college career and handled it well, sustaining only a few minor dings. The question is, can he hold up physically and be successful against the defensive fronts of the NFL?
Slaton shows good strength and power despite his smaller size. He benched pressed 225 pounds 19 times at the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine. He has good vision and burst. He is extremely agile and has shown breakaway speed. Slaton is a great outside runner that would be perfect for a team that implements a one-cut style running game, such as the Denver Broncos.
Once Slaton gets into the defensive backfield he is very dangerous and a threat to take it all the way. He has also displayed skill as a receiver out of the backfield and could be used as a versatile third-down weapon. While it is highly unlikely for Slaton to ever be an every-down back, he would be a solid player to use in tandem with a primary running back or in a multiple back situation.
In addition to his lack of prototypical size raising questions as to his durability at the pro level, Slaton played in a spread offense at West Virginia. With opposing defenses spread out, Slaton often didn't meet his first defender until he was already past the line of scrimmage. He has shown breakaway speed, but Slaton ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds at the West Virginia Pro Day. Some felt that he should have posted a better time, especially since he ran as high as 4.57 at the combine.
Added versatility as a return specialist would certainly add to his value in the upcoming NFL draft, and although he did on occasion return kicks in college, his experience in that area is lacking. Pass protection is the weakest aspect of his game.
Expected Draft Placement
Slaton's draft stock has slipped in the past month, mainly due to his slower than expected times in the 40-yard dash. His best-case scenario would be as a late second-round pick, but this is not likely. More realistically Slaton is a solid third- or early fourth-round pick.
Both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans have had Slaton in for interviews. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a possibility for Slaton due to questions surrounding the health of running back Carnell Williams (knee) and running back Warrick Dunn's advanced age. The Titans could be looking for a third running back that can also provide help in the return game.
As stated above, the Denver Broncos offense would be an ideal fit for Slaton's running style, and the Broncos are in need of another running back, due to uncertainties surrounding Broncos running back Travis Henry.
While any team mentioned is merely an educated guess, don't expect to hear Slaton's name called until Day 2 in the draft.