INDIANAPOLIS

Ask Laurence Maroney to compare himself with the other top running backs in the draft, and the St. Louisan draws a blank.

"I really don't watch sports too much," Maroney said. "And I really don't like to compare my style to the next running back, because we all bring something different to the table.... We all have different styles."

But Maroney's statement about not watching sports on TV should be amended to college sports. Maroney knows all about Edgerrin James of the Indianapolis Colts.

"He has a nice little swagger about himself," Maroney said. "He's shifty. He's a downhill runner, and has good hands, speed, and feet."

An interesting analysis, especially when you consider some have compared Maroney's running style to that of James.

"I could see that," Maroney said.

After a productive career at the University of Minnesota, Maroney also could see himself lining up as a Colt next fall.

"The Colts have a nice team and I like their style of offense," Maroney said. "I can see me fitting in well with the Colts."

James, a pending free agent, isn't expected back with Indianapolis next season. And the early draft speculation is that the Colts would jump at the chance to take Maroney at No. 30 overall. There's just one problem with that scenario: Will Maroney still be on the board that late in the first round?

Outside of Reggie Bush, the Southern Cal back expected to go No. 1 overall to Houston, Maroney came to the NFL scouting combine tightly bunched with USC's LenDale While and Memphis' DeAngelo Williams for status as the second-best back in the draft.

That's rare for a St. Louis-area product, particularly at running back. The St. Louis area hasn't produced a first-round draft pick since defensive lineman Wendell Bryant, of Ritenour High and the University of Wisconsin, went to Arizona with the No. 12 overall pick in 2002. The area hasn't had a running back chosen since 2001 when Wentzville High's Dan Alexander went in the sixth round to Tennessee.

Maroney put up impressive numbers in three seasons with the Golden Gophers before turning pro a year early. He finished second on Minnesota's career list in rushing yards (3,933) and all-purpose yards (4,797). In gaining a school-record 1,464 rushing yards last season, he joined Wisconsin's Ron Dayne and Michigan State's Sedrick Irvin as the only players in Big 10 history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first three college seasons.

Not bad for a kid from Normandy High, a program hardly known as a football power.

"Everything's happened so fast," Moreney said. "Coming from Normandy, I always felt like I had to work twice as hard as the next guy because it's not a football school. A lot of colleges don't look at Normandy."

Make no mistake, a lot of NFL teams are looking at Maroney.

"Is he in the class of a Cadillac Williams and Cedric Benson from last year?" asked Detroit running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery, the former Rams assistant. "I don't think so. But he's tough. That's what I like about him."

Williams and Benson were top 5 picks a year ago; Maroney looks like a mid-to-late first-rounder at this point.

"Hopefully, I'll go in the first round," Maroney said. "It would be a blessing if I did. But right now, all I'm focused on is just working hard and getting ready for my pro day."

Maroney's pro day is March 23 at Minnesota. Maroney planned to run and work out at the combine, but he suffered a strained hamstring in mid-January at a training center in Arizona. The hamstring isn't quite healthy.

"The doctor and my agent just felt it would be better to be 100 percent and run at my pro day, than 90 percent at the combine and risk getting hurt again," Maroney said.

Oddly enough, the injury occurred while working on his receiving skills - running routes. Few question Maroney's running ability. At 5-11, 217 pounds, he runs with a low center of gravity and has a solid burst to get through the line of scrimmage and around the perimeter. But Maroney rarely caught the football in college.

"Catching was one of the major things a lot of scouts wanted to see," Maroney said. "It wasn't that the running backs couldn't catch (at Minnesota); it just wasn't a part of our package. We were just used specifically for running. I had 18 catches this year. ... I can catch the ball good."