April 10, 2010 at 1:00 am

NFL Draft: Running backs

Lions expected to take running back early

Jahvid Best was injured for part of 2009 and rushed for 867 yards. In 2008 he gained 1,580. (Scott Boehm / Getty Images)

This is one in a series of previews covering the top prospects at each position in the NFL draft.

Allen Park -- The Lions made it clear they planned to add another running back to their roster this offseason. And since they've passed on the high-mileage options in free agency, expect them to select one in the first four rounds of the draft.

They likely won't get a crack at Clemson's C.J. Spiller, who figures to be a top 15 pick.

"You're going to pay him a lot of money, so you've got to find a way to get him touches," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "He's a big play waiting to happen."

The next back off the board could be Fresno State's Ryan Mathews, with Houston or San Diego among the late-round possibilities, though his injury history might be a concern.

The same is true for California's Jahvid Best, another speed back with return ability. A pair of concussions ended his junior season, and he struggled with injuries throughout his career. But if he's there at the top of Round 2, the Lions would be hard-pressed not to select him.

After that, it's a mixed bag with runners of different shapes, sizes and speeds.

"People are trying to sort all those guys out," San Diego coach Norv Turner said. "Now it comes down to personal preference. What style of guy do you want? Do you want a bigger pounder? Do you want a smaller guy that's elusive? Those guys over the last two or three years have really had incredible success in the league."

Mississippi's Dexter McCluster, whose stock has risen since an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl, is another undersized, all-purpose threat who might project more as a slot receiver and returner. USC's Joe McKnight is a versatile back with receiving skills.

Wayne State's Joique Bell -- as well as Michigan's Brandon Minor -- hopes to get drafted on Day 3, though questions about his speed have hurt his stock.

Top five running backs

1. C.J. Spiller, Clemson: Three-phase standout had 21 TDs of 50 yards or more in college.

2. Ryan Mathews, Fresno State: NCAA rushing leader in '09 isn't without his detractors.

3. Jahvid Best, California: If not for durability issue, Best would be first-round lock.

4. Dexter McCluster, Mississippi: Small, but deceptively tough, and some team will pounce in 2nd round 5. Joe McKnight, USC: Good fit for zone-blocking scheme and his former USC coach in Seattle.

Value picks (on Day 2 or 3): McCluster; Gerhart; Dixon; Montario Hardesty, Tennessee.

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