Read and watch the pre-draft analysis of Zach Zenner from the 2015 Rookie Scouting Portfolio
This post includes my ranking summary, my scouting checklist, and play-by-play reports on Zenner. For the most comprehensive analysis on rookie skill players available, download the 2015 Rookie Scouting Portfolio and 2015 Post-Draft. It’s one package at an incredible price that includes a 10 percent donation of every sale to Darkness to Light to help prevent and address sexual abuse to children in the U.S. It’s a win-win deal. Download the 2015 RSP now.
9. Zach Zenner, South Dakota St. (5-11, 223)
If it weren’t for Malcolm Brown, Zenner would be my RB sleeper pick du jour. The South Dakota State Superman has nearly identical physical dimensions as Brown and their 40, shuttle, and three-cone times are also similar. The differences begin with how they run the ball. Brown’s stride, change of direction, and balance-power are stylistically in the spectrum of Arian Foster’s game. Zenner’s gait is more compact and reminds me of bigger, stronger Donald Brown.
While the burst and speed are similar, Zenner caught defenders by surprise with his burst more often than Malcolm Brown. Perception is a compelling factor. Brown was a top recruit on one of the most storied major programs in college football. Defenses expect Brown to be quick. Zenner runs for an off the radar team, which fuels the assumption that he’s not big, quick, or fast. He was fast enough to break long touchdown runs against Big-12 teams and big enough to run through their tackles, too.
He’s a deceptively big and powerful player. I can’t say definitively that the assumptions about Zenner are fueled by the fact that he’s a white running back, built for a feature role. However, I wouldn’t find it surprising if race-based associations about who plays what position still exist in some quarters of the league. If Zenner is matched with an organization that doesn’t operate on the assumption that his potential ends with special teams, they will find that they were fortunate enough to land a mature running back capable of productive contributions in a starting lineup. ‘
Zenner runs with refined vision. He’ll read blocks and the second level of the defense. His choices earn him second creases in the hole. When faced with penetration in the backfield, Zenner’s agility and quickness can turn potential losses into actual gains. He runs tight to his blockers when needed and can adjust his pacing and stride to navigate tight creases. When forced to run through trash, he his strength and balance keep him going.
He isn’t special in the open field, but he at least handles like an economy car rather than a dump truck. He can cut, dip, and bend to change direction, but he is not capable of hard cuts and sharp angles.While he found soft spots in short yardage defenses in college, I wonder if he’ll be as successful facing boxes with more defenders packed inside.
Zenner flashes skill with stand-up blocking, moving his feet throughout the play and mirroring the defenders with good hand placement. He catches the ball with his hands and does solid work catching passes to the flat. He has the skills to develop into a good screen receiver because of his strength, vision, footwork in traffic, and hands.
David Cobb, the player Zenner edged out for the No.9 spot, is one of 5-8 backs likely to get drafted earlier in both the NFL and in fantasy leagues. Cobb has more refined skills, but Zenner is a slightly better athlete. The skills he needs to learn for the professional game are typical demands for young runners.