Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Hokies TB Ryan Williams at tough position for NFL Draft

This week's Q&A-Mac is brought to you by The Running Back: A dying breed in the NFL.

Q: Are you saying we've seen the last of the great tailbacks in pro football?

A: You'll still have some good ones come through. But the days of every Pop Warner kid wanting to be Barry Sanders -- or tattooing "Lil Sweetness" on his arm, as Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams did in honor of Walter Payton -- are coming to an end. More and more, you're going to see the best athletes opt for other positions.

Q: Why?

A: Not only do running backs have short career windows, but the position simply isn't valued as much anymore in today's pass-happy pro game. Look at the NFL Draft results in Thursday's first round: 12 defensive lineman taken, one running back (Former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram out of Alabama, 28th overall). Five years ago, talents such as Williams and Mikel LeShoure of Illinois would have been snatched up in the opening round.

Q: Well, you did have three running backs go in the first round of last year's draft, didn't you?

A: Yes, and it didn't help that the first one, C.J. Spiller of Clemson (ninth overall), had a miserable rookie year in Buffalo. But there is good news for kids who want to run the ball in college: They can always play quarterback.

Q: Speaking of quarterbacks, what did you think of the Vikings' selection of Florida State QB Christian Ponder at No. 12 overall?

A: I'll defer to Travis Williams, a Vikings fan who posted this outstanding analogy on my blog Friday: "Sometimes as a shopper you panic. You see everyone else getting a Wii, start thinking about the possibility of an empty spot under your Xmas tree, and end up dropping too much coin on eBay for something still on the shelves. Welcome to Tickle Me Elmo-ville, Minnesota."

Q: You think that's it? Panic?

A: I'm pretty sure the Vikings thought Washington's Jake Locker still would be available at that spot. Once the Titans reached for him at No. 8, Minnesota did some reaching of its own. But hey, Ponder is a smart, hard-working guy and was the MVP of the Senior Bowl. Hope it works out for him.

Q: Tonight's race in Richmond marks the one-third point of the NASCAR Sprint Cup pre-Chase season. What has surprised you thus far?

A: Obviously Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the big one, sitting third in points. Paul Menard (11th) and A.J. Allmendinger (15th) remain in the mix despite long odds. On the negative side, Denny Hamlin hasn't built on last year's supposed momentum at all. And I really thought Joey Logano (24th in points) would start making bigger strides this year than he has.

Q: Who wins the race tonight?

A: I think this is one where you can throw out a few of the favorites. Hamlin, who has an average finish of 8.0 at Richmond, has yet to turn the corner this season. Points leader Carl Edwards isn't great at this track. Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson are too easy to pick. Let's go with Tony Stewart in a mild upset.

Q: The much-anticipated Heat-Celtics series opens Sunday afternoon. Who wins?

A: Heat in 7. I know Miami doesn't have the postseason experience of Boston as a team, but it won't matter. Official changing of the guard, and more proof that the NBA regular season has as much importance as NFL exhibition games.

Q: Speaking of which, who led the 2010 NFL preseason in rushing?

A: That would be San Francisco's Anthony Dixon.

Q: Who?

A: Exactly.

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