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Dickey: Tough decisions await talented Bay Area backs

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The Bay Area’s two premium collegiate running backs, Cal’s Jahvid Best and Stanford’s Toby Gerhart, are facing big decisions about their futures.

For Best, the first question is whether he even wants to continue playing football. He has had various injuries before this season, but none as horrifying as the one he suffered in a game against Oregon State on Nov. 7, when he leaped to score a touchdown and was flipped over to land on his head and shoulder in the end zone. He was unconscious for several minutes and, when he was later diagnosed with a concussion, as bad as that is, it was a relief.

It was the second concussion for Best, and he also suffered back injuries, which have lingered. He will not play in Saturday’s season finale in Seattle against Washington and may also miss whatever bowl game the Bears play.

It’s likely Best will decide to return to football when he’s healthy. Football players are a different breed. They enjoy the physical contact. Remember how reluctant Steve Young was to retire, even though he had multiple post-career options. He wanted to play more football. When he’s recovered, I think Best will feel the same.

The next question, then, will be: When does he opt to enter the NFL draft?

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A year ago, it was a given that Best would leave Cal after his junior year. He had already shown his speed and explosiveness, mainly as a runner but also as a receiver.

That’s no longer true. Given his injury history, I think NFL clubs would be very wary of drafting Best high until he proves he can come back at a high level. Unless he feels he has to start making money immediately, he’d be better off coming back to Cal for his senior year.

Gerhart has no health issues. For him, it’s strictly a football decision. Because he was injured and hardly played in 2007, he’s said he’ll talk to pro scouts and decide whether to enter the draft next spring or petition the NCAA for another collegiate season.

I think this is a no-brainer. Gerhart has had a tremendous season, setting both season and career records for touchdowns for a Stanford running back. What more could he accomplish? And there’s always the chance he’ll get injured, which would diminish his value.

There’s another factor, too. More and more, it seems that NFL owners and the players association will not be able to agree on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which means next season will be an uncapped year. If they reach agreement for 2011, there will almost certainly be a rookie cap, to cut back on the outrageous rookie contracts.

So, if you’re Toby Gerhart, which year would be the most appealing?

The final question: Who will be the most effective in the NFL? Best is certainly the most explosive, reminiscent of Reggie Bush — but you know how Bush’s NFL career has gone. Gerhart is more of a power runner, but the ability to run between the tackles is usually the mark of the best NFL backs. Bet on Toby.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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