Forget Leon Sandcastle. He’s a joke – albeit a hilarious one. I’ve dug deep into my contacts to unearth a gem. A prospect so good that he will make you wonder if his career will be on par with the all-time greats. In fact, I guarantee it.
To give you some context, Bo Jackson was the greatest runner I ever saw play in my football lifetime. Gale Sayers, Walter Payton, Earl Campbell, Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders, and Emmitt Smith have supplied the most consistent number of oohs and aahs I’ve witnessed at the running back position. They are the pantheon of great running backs.
I believe Adrian Peterson has a strong shot to be mentioned above them all. But this month I believe I have found the next Adrian Peterson. I know this is bold, but perhaps it’s better stated that I found a player who is the next step on the evolutionary scale of running back – ahead of Peterson.
He’s that great.
Thanks to my resources, I have analysis to back it up. My video man had to use antiquated means to provide these highlights so the footage is grainy. It’s still worth your while to learn about this 6-2, 232-pound running back prospect.
This is a draw play where the left defensive end, defensive tackle, and outside linebacker all meet this runner in the backfield.
The runner manages to elude them despite taking just a step past the quarterback exchange point. Look at the pad level this runner has even as he begins this run. I love that he also has his head up and eyes down field. But what’s amazing is what you’re about to see next. In this sequence.
The quickness this prospect has to stiff-arm the defensive end, accurately hit the defender in face, and still have the power to knock the opponent’s helmet off while the prospect turns his body away from the defender to the outside is an athletic feat on par with Bruce Lee’s one-inch punch.
This runner’s quickness, accuracy, power, and agility is rare even at the NFL level. The rest of the run is speed for a big man that rivals Peterson.
This lineman as a decent angle on the runner and my prospect goes by him like it’s not even a threat, turns the corner at the 35, picks up a block by his wide receiver at the 40, and he’s gone for the touchdown. The speed is fantastic for a 230-pound man, but it’s the short-area quickness and power that blows me away.
I’m a huge proponent of great pad level with runners. This 23 personnel short-yardage run makes Spencer Ware look like a good Pop Warner back by comparison. No.32 takes this run off left tackle with penetration from the end that nearly derails the play in the backfield.
No.32 demonstrates good ball security to avoid the strip and manage good strength early in the run to tear through the grasp of this lineman. But it’s the pad level on this play that is extraordinary. The only backs I have ever seen with pad level as good on a consistent basis were Walter Payton and Edgerrin James. And if you’ve been reading my blog since the beginning, then you know how much I revere James’ game. It was James’ pad level and vision that helped him be a very good back despite losing his greatness when he tore his ACL early in his career.
No.32 consistently runs between the tackles with his pads forward, his head up, and with a forward lean that earns him yards after contact as well as any back I have ever seen. As he helps his teammate knock down defender No.55, he’s already looking ahead to the defender coming over top from the inside.
As the blockers and defenders converge on No.32, his flexibility to get his back flat and drive through the wrap of the defender he knocked down the frame before also helps him push the pile while running through the tackle attempt. At this point, most runners are on their way to the ground, especially with a defensive back (No.42) on his way to deliver the kill shot.
The defensive back gets great pad level, but the running back’s pad level is so extraordinary that the defender’s hit lands squarely at the front of the runner’s shoulder. Because the runner has the leverage advantage with his legs driving through the contact – as well as the trailing defender losing his grip on the ground – No.32 is able to bulldoze through the contact and lift the defensive back upward while driving his legs. It’s no different than a lineman with leverage in the trenches, but with far more obstacles happening before the execution.
What’s even crazier about this sequence is that the runner switches the ball to his outside (left) arm as he emerges from the defensive back’s wrap. I’m not confident that he’ll be able to execute this kind of transition at the NFL level, but it’s a good display of awareness.
I would caution against it. I know that Peterson had his issues with ball security early in his career and I think great runners tend to have the confidence to perform feats most prospects wouldn’t get away with. Still a minor point. No.32 does a good job with ball security considering the amount of contact I’ve seen him encounter.
After this amount of contact, he still has the stamina and acceleration to work around his receiver’s block and beat the secondary to the end zone with a 65-yard sprint. It’s a lot like this Bilal Powell run at Louisville for an 85-yard touchdown.
The difference is that I think this prospect demonstrates even more balance and power against better tackle angles from these defenders than Powell, who’s determination combined with defender’s losing him in the pile are bigger factors in his jaunt.
Here’s a toss sweep from a 12 personnel set at the runner’s 35 that would make Peterson envious.
The runner does a great job of working behind the outside shoulder of his pulling tackle to the left hash, giving him position for a two-way go as the play develops ahead. Note once again, the use of the outside arm to secure the ball. He will protect the ball with either arm and there are so many runners these days who just keep it on one side.
As our prospect gets the edge, beating the backside pursuit to the corner, he demonstrates that consistent skill to run with his eyes and set up defenders at least a step ahead of his current situation.
You’ll see in the next frame that what No.32 is seeing is what’s behind the next defender because as he beats this defender up the flat, he’s setting up his attack of the defensive back 10 yards behind the linebacker he just outran.
What you’re about to see below is a defensive back hit No.32 in the hip, the runner spin outside the blow, maintain his footing inside the boundary and then cut the run across the middle of the field. If he didn’t see this open area in the middle well before this sequence then I’d call it fortuitous. However, I’ve seen enough of this guy’s tape to know that it’s conceptually something he’s made a career of doing. It’s one of the better runs I’ve seen in terms of setting up his actions steps ahead of his current situation.
Hell, watch the highlights of Jim Brown, who celebrates his 77th birthday today and you should have little doubt that he is the greatest running back of all time.
Detractors say the 230-pound Brown was as big as many linemen and the athleticism of the game had not caught up with him. Consider the angles these defenders have on Brown; where they make contact with him; and how much or little momentum the defender or Brown has at the point of contact; and you should see that the Cleveland Brown has physical and conceptual skills as a runner that even a modern runner like Alfred Morris says he studied during his college career.
Any back who at age 49 calls out a Steeler and challenges him to a race gets bonus points in my book. It’s arrogance bordering on insanity that you perversely can’t help but admire. Leon Sandcastle…that’s rich.
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