With the return of Ronnie and Ricky questionable for the 2011 season, are Patrick Cobbs and Lex Hilliard capable replacements? How do you rate each player's ability?
That's a really interesting question for a lot of reasons.
First off, I should state right off the bat that I put very little stock in running backs in general. It is proven time and again how fungible they are and how easily a replacement can be found later on in the draft (this is why I am absolutely against drafting C.J. Spiller with the 12th pick). The important part is the offensive line and Miami already has that pretty well covered.
The areas where running backs can truly differentiate themselves from one another are in how well they run routes and catch the ball as well as how well they pass protect. Other important attributes that set guys apart are the ability to break tackles as well their health and durability.
So let's for a minute assume that neither Ronnie Brown nor Ricky Williams are with the Dolphins in 2011 (let's also assume that there is a season in 2011). There are four remaining RBs on Miami's current roster: Patrick Cobbs, Lex Hilliard, Kory Sheets, and Tristan Davis.
Cobbs is the most experienced of the bunch, but he's coming off a torn knee ligament, so it remains to be seen how that affects him when he gets back on the field. He never was the fastest guy so losing another step due to the injury could hurt. Even if he is back at 100% in 2011 though, Cobbs doesn't strike me as an every-down back. He's more of a third-down, jack-of-all trades type player - and he's been excellent in that role.
Lex Hilliard, on the other hand, has the build of an every-down back. He was expectedly average in his limited rushing opportunities this past year, but he impressed me with his receiving skills, which I wasn't sure he possessed. With another season of development under his belt, it's entirely possible that Hilliard could be in the mix for a much larger role in 2011. Granted, he would most likely be part of a committee, but that's a good thing.
Kory Sheets and Tristan Davis are both long shots to make the team this year, never mind in 2011, but with the positional uncertainty arising from Ronnie's contract situation and Ricky's pending retirement, anything is possible. Kory Sheets profiles as a third-down back, but I suppose it's possible he could be in line for a promotion if he manages to stick around. The same could be said for Davis. Both are finesse runners who excel at catching the football.
Of course, the most likely scenario in the event of losing both Brown and Williams would be to draft a running back (not in the first few rounds!) after next season and pair him with whoever is still on the roster.