INDIANAPOLIS -- After a standout junior season at UCF, running back Storm Johnson weighed the pros and cons of remaining in school another season.
Ultimately, Johnson decided there was not much left to gain, and plenty to lose, by remaining at UCF. The redshirt junior was far from the only player in his position group to reach the same conclusion. Of the record 98 underclassmen who declared for this year's NFL Draft, 20 were running backs - more than any other position.
The large number of early entries at running back is likely due to a perception about the wear-and-tear players take at that position. The career-span of running backs in the NFL is less than three years and statistics shows even premier backs suffer from too heavy a workload, with a steep drop-off in production after a few seasons.
So while Johnson made an impression in 2013 by rushing for 1,139 yards and scoring 17 total touchdowns, his most important stat may have been his 335 career carries.
"It's a good thing," Johnson said. "In some cases, (NFL teams) said I only have one year as a starter, but at least I have low mileage."
Several running backs at the NFL Scouting Combine said they considered their "low mileage" a major factor in declaring early for the start of their professional career.
Florida State running backs James Wilder Jr. (226 carries) and Devonta Freeman (404) each have avoided taking on a major workload, while others, including Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey (743) and Auburn's Tre Mason (516), felt more pressure to go after shoulder a heavier workload.
"I definitely felt that was an advantage for me," Wilder said. "That was one of the major things that I looked at all the while. 'OK, I have low miles on me. I can come in.' I ended with a great season. I ended with nine yards a catch; 7.1 yards a carry; national championship. ... I felt like there nothing else for me to prove."
While the players are putting heavy stock in the total number of carries, former NFL executive Bill Polian said he gave it less weight when he was evaluating prospects.
"Running backs, by the nature of the position, don't have long careers in the National Football League," Polian said. "That's a fact. You can't get around it. But the wear and tear is much more in the National Football League than it is at the college level. They're not facing the kind of guys at the college level that they're facing here."
Former UCF running back Kevin Smith may be a good example of what can happen following a heavy college football workload.
Smith departed the Knights with 905 career carries, including an NCAA-record 450 attempts as a junior in 2007. After being drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2008, Smith managed two seasons with 200-plus carries, but totaled just 143 attempts in 25 games during the next three years.
Carey, who racked up more than 300 rushing attempts in both his sophomore and junior seasons at Arizona, said he absolutely considered the impact of staying in school for another year with similar numbers.
"(Advisers were) definitely were in my ear, saying you have a limited numbers of hits," Carey said. "And running backs, you need to go while you have the chance."