Throughout the 2011 college football season I will be providing initial impressions of prospects based on my research for the 2012 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. Here are three backs you’ll be hearing about this winter.
Arkansas RB Knile Davis: Watching Davis’ 26/139/0 Sugar Bowl performance, his agility was something that you might not notice at first glance. He consistently made the first defender miss and weaved through tight spaces in traffic as if he had not encountered a serious obstacle. Yet, Davis didn’t demonstrate any hard cuts in this game.
My greatest concern with Davis is his running style. The Razorback runner carries his pads over his feet and his head drops too early in the face of contact. It’s difficult for a runner to explode into contact and maintain balance to run through tackles when he’s running in this manner.
His nine first downs against the Buckeyes provides a little validation of what I saw from Davis: Arkansas’ offensive line did a nice job of opening creases and Davis demonstrated nice patience, especially on plays where the lanes don’t appear immediately. However for a back with his size (6’0″, 220 lbs.), he did not flash the power one would expect. In my estimation, Davis broke one tackle in this game and his running style was a significant reason.
Initial Takeaway: Davis will miss his junior year with a fractured ankle. He’ll need to demonstrate a full recovery and have a strong all-star performance after his senior year to be considered more than a second- or third-day selection. The reason is that Davis’ running style doesn’t endear him to breaking tackles at a level that will be even a step beyond Ohio State’s defensive prowess.
Oregon RB LaMichael James: There were elements of James’ game that wowed me in the BCS National Championship Game versus Auburn. Whether is is behind the line of scrimmage or in the open field, James as best-in-class vision. The aspect of his vision that was so impressive was his decisiveness.
It’s easy for a back with James’ agility to buy time with his skills to make defenders miss, but the Oregon back doesn’t go overboard with this aspect of his running style. At least in this game, James demonstrated the skill to get downhill quickly and use his agility with maturity and economy.
Initial Takeaway: I have no doubt James will be a dynamite change of pace runner and receiver, but the real question is whether this Pac-10 star has enough functional strength to warrant consideration as a 15-touch back. Most importantly, will he hold up in pass protection?
North Carolina RB Ryan Houston: At 6’2″, 240 lbs., Houston looks the part as a between the tackles grinder. Against the University of Pittsburgh he carried defenders and bounced off hits with his muscular base. He demonstrated good feet and as he got more carries he really got into a rhythm; pressing holes and even finding alternate cutback lanes that the play did not appear designed to go.
What is especially intriguing about Houston is how far he’s come as a football player since he arrived at Chapel Hill at an “Ironhead-like,” 273 pounds. Houston has unearthed a little more speed and burst after dropping the weight. With another year of conditioning and potential to start as a the lead back, his development is worth watching.
Initial Takeaway: I saw a back in Houston with qualities that remind me of a late-career Ricky Williams. He has power, quick feet, and a knack for finding creases at the line of scrimmage. The concern is whether Houston can maintain his conditioning and focus to maximize his potential.