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Friday, April 18, 2008

Rudi Johnson & Heath Evans: Revisiting the '01 RB draft -they were undervalued

News - Record book draft - Cincinnati Bengals: "All open questions, but one thing is certain: The '01 draft provided a road map for others to follow with a couple of eternal verities about the process:

1. Take The Best Player
After the first day of that draft when the Bengals had taken Smith, Chad Johnson and tight end Sean Brewer (more on that later), two things happened before the Bengals draft room broke up for the night. As they prepared for rounds four to seven the next day, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski phoned Yarber to get his impressions on Houshmandzadeh as the Bengals lined up their board with the remaining players.

The top player on the list was Auburn running back Rudi Johnson and so the Bengals took him with one of Sunday's first picks in the fourth round even though they took running back Curtis Keaton in the fourth round the year before, they would sign Corey Dillon to a long-term deal a month later, and Brandon Bennett had successfully returned from reconstructive knee surgery.

'We had solid third-round grades on Rudi and we were surprised he was still there,' says director of football operations Jim Lippincott. 'Yeah, we had backs, but you were talking about a guy from a creativity standpoint that had all the things you're looking for in a, NFL running back: Strong. Lateral snap. Great vision. Later, that allowed us to trade Keaton for another pick.'The one thing that was missing, of course, was speed and that's why Johnson was sitting at the top of the fourth and his Auburn teammate, Heath Evans, had gone in the third round to Seattle.

"That surprised me from a football player standpoint," says Bengals running backs coach Jim Anderson. "Heath ran faster. But Rudi played fast. He was fast on tape."

Evans is still in the league, but only as a role player. Of the 10 backs drafted ahead of Johnson, only future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson (the fifth pick in the draft) has scored more touchdowns and only Tomlinson and Travis Henry (second round) have more career carries and yards.

Another knock on Johnson was he played just one year of Division I ball before coming out early. But a big selling point to the Bengals was the kind of year he had.

"Dominant. Player of the Year in the SEC," Lippincott says, and Anderson says, "If you're not moving in the SEC, you're a tattoo."

And Anderson saw something else that wasn't in the stats but that he thinks will revive Johnson's career this year:

"He's a very prideful man," he says."

Rudi against Wyoming

Patriots 2007 season (Evans shown)

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