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Better a Raven than a Bill?

Prior to that ghastly knee injury in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, Willis McGahee was an incredible running back prospect whom many football fans assumed would declare for the NFL draft that year. He did, knowing that whatever team drafted him would almost certainly be without his services until 2004. Might as well get payed while rehabbing! Everybody knows about the stunt his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, pulled on draft day: calling Willis on his cell phone around the time

Buffalo was on the clock, the camera attention possibly helping his cause by making it seem like another team would soon select him. When you’re evaluating talent, Willis McGahee may well be about as good as any running back in the NFL.

Since a very promising “rookie” season in which he rushed for 1128 yards (4.0 per carry) and 13 touchdowns, the personal stats have been average. Lot of yards in 2005 but down to 3.8 per carry, along with 5 rushing touchdowns. Last season, only 3.8 yards per carry again and only 6 rushing touchdowns. Why the decrease in production? Why the underachieving? Now I’m not defending the guy’s general attitude, coachability, or how he was regarded as a teammate in

Buffalo. But it’s no secret Willis McGahee was pretty unhappy all the while he played for the

Bills – maybe because he wasn’t surrounded by playmakers and it became easy for opposing defenses to focus on shutting him down. I project McGahee’s stat line to be much-improved in 2007, thanks to a better supporting class on offense and heck, thanks to

Baltimore‘s defense and the probability the

Ravens will be in position to pound the ball often in the 4th quarter of games.

Despite the worry Willis McGahee would never fully recover from the injury suffered against Ohio State or earn the reputation in the NFL as a durable back, he has only missed two games since coming into 2004 as

Buffalo’s starter. The man’s a

workhorse, significant because most NFL teams distribute the rushing load somewhere between 50/50 and 60/40 between starting running back and the primary back-up(s). (It should be noted that

Buffalo head coach Dick Jauron did lean on running back Anthony Thomas often toward the end of 2006; McGahee was held out of Weeks Ten and Eleven due to injury, plus Jauron’s affinity for “A-train” dates back to their days together in Chicago.) It’s likely he’ll get well over 300 carries per year in

Baltimore, including many a redzone attempt. Expect Willis McGahee to take on maybe even 75% of the rushing load. Remember Jamal Lewis versus AFC North teams, toting carry after carry and basically just wearing down and demoralizing defensive players by the end of games?

The run-blocking left something to be desired within the

Ravens offense last season, but there’s reason to think this will change in ’07.

Baltimore committed to upgrading their interior O-line in April, drafting promising guards Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda in the early rounds. The return of left tackle Jonathan Ogden is certainly a shot in the arm for the

Ravens offense, and Jason Brown in just his second NFL season was thought to be outstanding at times. The pass-blocking was actually pretty good in 2006. From the looks of things, the

Ravens will now feature a more-balanced offensive attack and maybe not utilize a fullback as much. No problem! Willis McGahee has thrived in one-back sets throughout his career, and Steve McNair again brings stability and veteran leadership to a unit featuring quality receivers in Todd Heap, Mark Clayton, Derrick Mason, and up-and-coming Demetrius Williams.

The

Baltimore Ravens are pitted against a number of 2007 opponents that are considered

not as apt to stop the run, to put it nicely. The Rams, Browns (twice) and Colts, to name a few. And you’d better believe Willis McGahee will inflict some damage in his October 21 home-coming @ 

Buffalo. He’s only 26 years old at this point, with a wealth of starting experience already. I rank Willis McGahee among the top-10 running backs, a first-round value in many re-draft leagues although he’ll perhaps be available in the second round or later. So if you’re looking for a breakout performance from someone a little under the radar, mark 2007 down as

the year of the McGahee.

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