When the Arizona Cardinals selected Chris "Beanie" Wells with the 31st overall pick in this year's draft there was hope amongst the coaching staff and fans alike that the franchise had finally found the running back to establish a powerful ground game. Wells was a punishing back with a surprising burst while at Ohio State and the only red flag seemed to be his inability to stay healthy, but will his game translate to the NFL? We've seen in recent years that many Big Ten teams have struggled against other conferences and the struggles have also been shared with their running backs at the NFL level.
Since the 2000 draft, nine Big Ten running backs have been selected in the first or second round, although the league seems to be souring on the conference in recent years. After selecting six backs between 2000 and 2003, only four backs (including Wells) have been selected in the first two rounds in the past six drafts. So is Wells destined to join in Big Ten counterparts or will he break out of the mold? Let's take a look at each of the other nine backs.....
2000 Draft: Round 1 - Pick 11: Ron Dayne - Dayne had it all during his days at Wisconsin. He won the Heisman trophy, was the NCAA all-time rushing leader when he left and remains one of the only players in NCAA history to record four 1,000 yard seasons. As a professional though, he never got close to duplicating the kind of success that he had in college. He never even recorded 800 yards in a season and only topped 200 carries once in his career, as a rookie. Despite his size (5'10, 245) he could manage to even carve out a role as a goal line specialist and his last season was in 2007, with his third team in eight seasons.
Career line: 96 games (28 starts), 983 carries for 3,722 yards (3.8 avg) and 28 TDs. 57 receptions for 340 yards.
2001 Draft: Round 1 - Pick 27: Michael Bennett - Bennett was actually Dayne's backup for two seasons before breaking out with over 1,500 yards in his first season at a starter at Wisconsin and he was also a stand-out performer in the 100 and 200 meters. Despite his speed though, Bennett struggled with injuries for his entire career and has only logged 16 games in a season twice. His best season in 2002 was the only year that he broke 1,000 yards or 200 carries and his lack of size (5'7 207) kept him from being a factor around the goal line. Bennett finished the 2008 season with the Chargers, his fifth team in nine seasons, and has been traded or released in the middle of the season for two consecutive years.
Career line: 94 games (50 starts), 817 carries for 3,627 yards (4.4 avg) and 13 TDs. 151 receptions for 1,220 yards and 6 TDs.
2001 Draft: Round 2 - Pick 38: Anthony Thomas - Thomas was a standout at Michigan and still ranks second in the school's history in yards in a career and yards in a season. He blasted onto the NFL scene with 736 carries for 2,928 yards in his first three seasons. In the process he logged 35 starts and won the NFL Rookie of the Year award in 2001. The problem though is that in the five seasons since those first three seasons he's bounced around between Bears, Cowboys, Saints and Bills while managing just 308 carries for 963 yards. His final season in 2007 consisted of two starts, 36 carries and 89 yards.
Career line: 86 games (43 starts), 1,044 carries for 3,891 yards (3.7 avg) and 23 TDs. 113 receptions for 756 yards and one TD.
2002 Draft: Round 1 - Pick 18: TJ Duckett - Duckett can still be found in the top five of most rushing lists at Michigan State University and even though that success didn't completely translate, he's the first guy on this list who has found his niche in the NFL. After flirting with a starting role during his first two seasons, Duckett has basically settled in as a backup running back and goal line specialist. He's never logged 200 carries or 800 yards in a season but he has managed eight touchdowns or more in four different seasons, while playing for four different teams in seven seasons.
Career line: 93 games (14 starts), 717 carries for 2,814 yards (3.9 avg) and 44 TDs. 35 receptions for 303 yards.
2002 Draft: Round 2 - Pick 56: Ladell Betts - At the time Betts left Iowa he was the second leading rusher all-time at the school and was the only Hawkeye to lead the team in rushing each of the four seasons that he played. Betts has never been much more than a backup, although he did break 1,000 in the one season that he started in place of an injured Clinton Portis. During that season, 2006, he logged 245 carries for 1,154 yards but in every other season of his career he's failed to carry the ball more than 100 times or go over 400 yards. He is the first player on our list though that has spent his entire career, to this point, with the team that drafted him.
Career line: 93 games (11 starts), 720 carries for 2,966 yards (4.1 avg) and 11 TDs. 148 receptions for 1,326 yards and three TDs.
2003 Draft: Round 1 - Pick 27: Larry Johnson - Johnson's the first back on our list to become a bona-fide star. Johnson won multiple awards during his final season at Penn State but wouldn't truly break into the NFL until 2005 when he logged back to back seasons of more than 1,700 yards. Since the 2006 season though he's been hampered by injuries after being overworked to the tune of 416 carries. He showed some signs of returning to his former self in 2008 but has spent the off season amidst constant trade talks after multiple arrests.
Career line: 68 games (48 starts), 1,243 carries for 5,638 yards (4.5 avg) and 55 TDs. 139 receptions for 1,293 yards and six TDs.
2004 Draft: Round 1 - Pick 26: Chris Perry - Perry won the Doak Walker Award (nation top RB) after his senior season at Michigan but he's been worse than disappointing as a pro. In four injury plagued seasons he's almost missed more games (29) than he's actually played (35) and he didn't score a rushing touchdown until 2008. Over that time he's managed just 606 yards rushing and started a grand total of nine games. This past season was actually Perry's best season when he started six games and posted a career high with 104 carries but the Bengals were not impressed considering that they cut him shortly after the draft.
Career line: 35 games (9 starts), 177 carries for 606 yards (3.4 avg) and two TDs. 83 receptions for 474 yards and two TDs.
2006 Draft: Round 1 - Pick 21: Laurence Maroney - It's too early to tell what kind of careery Maroney will have but he's managed to decent seasons so far. If he can stay healthy he's proven to have the talent to succeed.
Career line: 30 games (9 starts), 388 carries for 1,673 yards (4.3 avg) and 12 TDs. 26 receptions for 310 yards and one TD.
2008 Draft: Round 1- Pick 23: Rashard Mendenhall - It's way to early to even look at Mendenhall's career considering that he broke his shoulder just 19 carries into his first NFL season.
So of the nine selections (although we'll reserve judgement on Maroney and Mendenhall), and 53 seasons, Larry Johnson and maybe Anthony Thomas were the only picks would probably be considered 'successful picks.' Do you think "Beanie" can break the trend and what will set him apart from these guys? Is there even a trend here?