Matt Waldman’s RSP 2020 Senior Bowl Running Backs Preview

Matt Waldman shares his thoughts on the 2020 Senior Bowl running backs. 

Here are the running backs participating on each roster, some essential thoughts on their play, and in some cases, what I’d like to see from them this week in Mobile. Practices will reveal good footwork habits, peripheral vision, acceleration, pad level, and limited but important skills as a receiver and pass protector.

Even so, a running back’s vision is so much more than what he sees but how he processes the information. The backs who have the most well-rounded experience with zone and gap blocking will perform the best this week when handed the ball. We won’t see a lot from them in terms of balance, power, and high-end vision and decision-making maturity.

North Roster

Joshua Kelley (UCLA): A smart runner between the tackles with enough burst to the edge for perimeter runs, we might get to see plays where Senior Bowl defenders test the extent of Kelley’s acceleration during practices—especially on plays like toss, sweep, and outside zone. I expect a good week between the tackles. It’s what he does in addition to ball-carrying that deserves the most scrutiny. I’m looking forward to seeing him catch the football because I haven’t seen enough of Kelley in the receiving game this year. I also want to see Kelley show that he can punch and be the aggressor with position and attack as a pass protector.

JaMycal Hasty (Baylor): A shifty and elusive runner with a physical attitude, I won’t be surprised if Hasty becomes a media favorite because of his ability to bounce plays to the edge and make defenders miss in one-on-one situations. A skilled receiver, expect a lot of oohs and ahhs during drills against linebackers and safeties as an underneath receiver. A high-effort player, expect intensity from Hasty as a pass protector but his overall results are a mixed bag because his diagnosis of assignments has some flaws on tape. You won’t see this in Mobile because most practices for blocking don’t include a diagnostic component for identifying the source of the pressure.

Darius Anderson(TCU): A runner who excels at the diagnostic and technical elements of pass protection, you won’t likely see how much Anderson would otherwise separate himself from Hasty and Kelly as a pass protector because of the limitations of drills. However, he’s the best blocker on this roster. He’s also an efficient runner with refined movement skills to make defender miss, set up blockers and defenders, and re-accelerate once he’s into open space. I’m not sure Mobile will be the environment to determine how violent of a runner he could potentially become. There are a lot of plays on tape where Anderson could bring the heat at the end of a run and instead ducks under contact where he could earn more as the attacker. I expect a good week between the tackles and pass protection drills.

South Roster

Lamical Perine (Florida): Like his cousin, Samaje Perine, Lamical is a powerful runner who bounces off hits, drags tacklers, and catches the ball well. Lamical also needs to prove that he can reach the edge on perimeter runs and turn the corner on safeties and outside linebackers. His patience and footwork are good but how quick he performs against opponents during practice will be worth monitoring. I also want to see more from him in short-yardage situations because the physical traits are there for Perine to be good at the role but the consistency of attack and pad level have not shown up as often based on my tape reviews thus far.

Eno Benjamin (Arizona State): A shifty runner between the tackles and a friendly receiver from the backfield, Benjamin is a skilled runner after contact whose game might look better during real play than it will during practice. I will be nothing how efficient he is with movement, especially the versatility of his footwork to avoid penetration and find the open crease. He relies a lot on dynamic moves that lead to boom-bust results. Expect a good week as a receiver and boom-bust moments as a runner. I’m looking forward to pass-protection drills to see more from Benjamin, who scored well against Michigan State but I want to see more detail and nuance with his hand usage at the point of attack.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn (Vanderbilt): One of my favorite players in this running back class, Vaughn has a well-rounded game that should give him a chance to earn points this week in Mobile. He’s a good press-and-cut manipulator between the tackles and at the edges of the defense who also wards off pursuit with a capable stiff-arm.  Vaughn is a refined runner who will win through contact and display the burst to earn some house calls if he gets loose in the secondary. The greatest flaw I’ve seen in Vaughn’s game is that he occasionally gets frustrated with a lack of creases between the tackles and will abandon his otherwise wise decision-making to bounce plays outside that he shouldn’t.

Antonio Gibson (Memphis): Tony Pollard arrived in Mobile last year as Memphis’s dual-threat, slot receiver-running back and spent the week in the backfield. Gibson is a 6’2″, 221-pound player with better route-running than Pollard and greater power. I was impressed with Gibson’s footwork as a runner, especially transitioning downhill on runs that force him to approach the line working towards the sideline. A tackle-dragging, hit-spinning, knees-churning runner, Gibson also has the speed to break big plays. While I liked his potential as a wide receiver and bet there will be some teams that see him as a wide-out, I’m excited to see more from him as a runner and pass protector.

Go to this page for Matt’s coverage of the 2020 Reese’s Senior Bowl.

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