By Dave-Te' Thomas
Every year, the elite draft prospects garner most of the media attention leading up to draft day, and rightfully so. There are players who might not get the recognition that they deserve, but end up becoming fan favorites for their ability to handle the "grunt" work, go out and play the game like a pack of "junk yard" dogs. In order to make my Tough As Nails Team, I want players that perform, no questions asked. I want players that laugh at the face of adversity; those that would much rather tear an opponent's head off rather than make a passive tackle, run through a pile rather than avoid contact, flatten defenders with devastating down field blocks and relish playing on special teams.
The players listed below might end up being the best performer in the draft by the time all is said and done with the NFL careers. They might not be the first taken at their respective positions, but if I put a team on the field, they need to be "Tough as Nails" as this starting unit.
Colin Kaepernick, University of Nevada Wolf Pack #10 6:04.5-230
One of the fastest rising stars at the quarterback position, many "draft experts" had this Wolf Pack passer as low as a sixth round prospect back in January. After a stellar week at the Senior Bowl practices, followed by yet another impressive performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, Kaepernick began his accent up many teams' draft boards. His recent invitation to attend the 2011 draft festivities in New York City speaks volumes for what has happened when coaches watched game film on this former highly regarded pitching prospect.
Few quarterbacks in the collegiate ranks boast the blend of talent that Kaepernick possesses. He is the only player in NCAA annals to throw for over 10,000 yards and run for over 4,000 yards in a career and the only quarterback in college annals to amass over 1,000 yards on the ground and 2,000 aerial yards in a season in back-to-back seasons, much less accomplish that feat in each of his last three campaigns.
Kaepernick is also the only college quarterback to run for over 1,000 yards in three consecutive campaigns. Missouri's Brad Smith is the only other collegiate passer to rush for over 1,000 yards three times in a career, but did not produce that feat in consecutive seasons. The Wolf Pack offensive captain joined West Virginia's Pat White (4,480 yards from 2005-08) and Missouri's Brad Smith (4,289 yards from 2002-05) as the only major college quarterbacks to rush for over 4,000 yards in a career.
Kaepernick closed out the 2010 campaign with 1,206 yards rushing and 3,022 yards passing, joining Vince Young of Texas (3,036 passing, 1,050 rushing in 2005) and Dan LeFevour of Central Michigan (3,652 passing, 1,122 rushing in 2007) as the only major college players to ever rush for over 1,000 yards and throw for over 3,000 yards in the same season.
The "pistol" offense has been a perfect fit for Kaepernick's incredible athleticism. Perhaps the most electrifying player in the collegiate ranks, it is fitting that this team-first athlete has not only realized personal success, but also became part of one of the most explosive ground games in the history of the game, at any level.
Along with Nevada tailback Vai Taua, they are just the second duo in the history of college football to each rush for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. Kaepernick and Taua hit the mark for the first time in 2008. That same duo, along with Luke Lippincott, did so in 2009 as well -- becoming the first team in NCAA history to have three rushers go for 1,000 yards. The only other team to accomplish that feat is Minnesota (Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney) from 2003-05.
He led the Wolf Pack to a 13-1 record and the WAC title in 2010, as he averaged 86.14 yards per game rushing, becoming the fourth major college quarterback to rush for 20 touchdowns in a season. He finished 11th nationally with an average of 302.0 yards per game in total offense, 19th with a 150.46 pass efficiency rating and sixth with an average of 17.57 points responsible for per game. He totaled 3,022 yards with 21 touchdowns on 233-of-359 passes, completing a career-best 64.9% of his attempts.
COMPARES TO: Donovan McNabb-Washington-Kaepernick is an athletic "stallion" in the mold of McNabb during Donovan's prime. He needs to add some bulk to his frame to absorb punishment at the next level and undergo some mechanical refinement (wind-up and low release point), but I challenge anyone to find another quarterback eligible for the 2011 draft that has his arm strength, running ability and quickness. His arm rivals that of Joe Flacco's, his ability to avoid the rush reminds me of Vince Young and his swagger is favorably compared to that of Matt Ryan's. He's just not utilized to his best assets by the Nevada coaches, as he should be in a pro-style offense, rather than be confined to a "pistol" type of scheme.
TEAMS SHOWING THE MOST INTEREST: Indianapolis, Tennessee, San Francisco, Oakland, Miami, Kansas City, New England, Seattle…It is strange that one of the most quarterback needy teams, the Minnesota Vikings, never even scheduled a workout or a visit with a player who is regarded to have the strongest arm and best athletic skills for any quarterback in this draft. The Colts are looking for an eventual replacement for Peyton Manning and the Nevada QB might prove to be their version of Aaron Rodgers – a talented youngster who could be afforded time to develop behind an NFL legend before taking over the helm. What makes this pick even more ideal is Kaepernick's already established relationship with Peyton, having attended the Manning Passing Camp, where he received top honors prior to the 2010 season. New England could also be a nice place for Kaepernick to learn behind Tom Brady. With the Pats' slew of early round draft choices, they could easily afford to bring in someone to eventually take over for Brady. Oakland is a logical residence for Kaepernick, as their head coach, Hue Jackson, has had considerable success turning athletes into quality pro passers. Tennessee and San Francisco have shown considerably strong interest and could opt for Kaepernick early in round two. Miami, Kansas City and Seattle have all burned the "midnight oil" looking over the QB's films, but realize that he will not be around past the late first/mid second round stage of this year's draft.
Randall Cobb University of Kentucky Wildcats #18 5:10.6-190
Pittsburgh Steelers fans have grown to expect the "Davey vs. Goliath" nature from Hines Ward to be commonplace on game day. Much like Ward, Cobb is a tough hombre with outstanding blocking skills. Versatility is his middle name, as he's starred at quarterback, running back, all three receiver positions, as a return specialist and a gunner on special teams. No, he does not also sell popcorn in the stands during half time, but he does also hold for field goals and placements, in addition to serving as the blocking back on the punting unit. Standing just a shade over 5:10, teams look for the smaller receivers to have explosive speed, but Cobb has excellent route running skills and has made quite a nice living going over the middle and turning a short pass into a long gainer.
Cobb arrived at Kentucky as a quarterback before the team moved him to wide receiver. In addition to catching the football, Cobb also served as the team's punt and kickoff return specialist, as well as their placeholder on field goals. In an effort to get him the more touches, Kentucky started running Cobb out of the "Wildcat" formation. He experienced so much success out of that formation that the team has dubbed their version the "WildCobb."
In 35 career games at Kentucky, Cobb accumulated 4,674 all-purpose yards and ranks fourth all-time at the school in that category. His mark is surpassed only by Derek Abney (5,856; 2000-03), Rafael Little (5,343; 2004-07) and former teammate Derrick Locke (4,973; 2007-current). In 2010, Cobb set the Southeastern Conference season record for all-purpose yardage with 2,396 yards, breaking the previous mark of 2,310 yards by Darren McFadden of Arkansas in 2007.
The Kentucky performer twice set the school's season-record for average yards per play, gaining 9.84 yards per touch in 2009 before posting an impressive 12.10 yards each attempt in 2010. As a receiver, Cobb ranks eighth all-time at Kentucky with 1,483 yards, while his 126 receptions place ninth on the school's career record list. He's also managed 1,265 yards on the ground, placing 23rd on the Wildcats' all-time rushing list, despite having just 220 carries. Even more impressive, Cobb broke the Mark Higgs' school record (5.43; 1984-87) by averaging 5.75 yards per carry in his career (min. 200 carries).
Cobb emerged as one of the nation's elite all-purpose threats in 2010. The junior ranked second in the NCAA with 184.31 all-purpose yards per game and earned a first-team All-America selection as an all-purpose player by the Associated Press. He was also a first-team All-SEC choice as an all-purpose player and a second-team pick as a wide receiver. He finished as a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award (Most Versatile Player) and a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award (Top Wide Receiver).
Cobb started 12-of-13 games and set a conference season-record with 2,396 all-purpose yards. He led the team with 84 receptions for 1,017 yards (12.11 ypc) and seven touch-downs, adding 424 yards and five scores on 55 carries (7.71 ypc). Cobb also returned 31 kickoffs for 736 yards (23.74 avg) and 28 punts for 219 yards (7.82 avg) and one touch-down. He also completed 5-of-10 pass attempts for 58 yards and three more scores.COMPARES TO: HINES WARD-Pittsburgh…Wouldn't it be fitting to see Cobb come out of the first round wearing a Pittsburgh cap next to the commissioner on the draft podium. Just look at his body of work – as a receiver, he pulled down 144 tosses for 1,661 yards and 13 touchdowns. As a ball carrier, he amassed 1,313 yards with 22 scores while averaging 5.76 yards per attempt. As a passer, he completed 62-of-122 tosses for 689 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 24.57 yards on 44 kickoff returns and 9.82 yards with a pair of scores on 63 punt returns. Place Cobb in the slot receiver position and some team is going to see that while he might not have sprinter's speed, he is perfectly capable of coming out of his breaks cleanly and gobbling up the cushion. Yes, he might lack ideal size, but he has quick feet, very good hands and more than enough power to beat the jam. He has that smooth weave and good leverage, along with quick transition to accelerate through speed cuts and outstanding separation agility, as he knows how to sink his hips, carry route depth and slide to create lanes. TEAMS SHOWING THE MOST INTEREST: Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Baltimore and Atlanta…Ward is not going to last forever and Limas Sweed failed to live up to his first round status. Mike Wallace can easily stretch the field, but Cobb would be an instant replacement for Antwaan Randle-El in the slot for the Steelers, giving less-than-mobile QB Ben Roethlisberger not only another receiving option, but probably the best receiver in the draft picking up the blitz. Indianapolis has invested quite a few draft picks in upgrading the receiving unit in recent years, but injuries have taken their toll on Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez. The Colts prefer bigger receivers, but also enjoy one of the best scouting departments in the industry that have been taught the most important aspect in a player's resume is production, not a tape measurer. Kansas City needs a playmaker to take the constant double pressure off Dwayne Bowe. Imagine what former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis could have done with Cobb and Bowe, along with a healthier Dexter McCluster handling receiving chores. Roddy White is in the same boat as Bowe – a lack of a playmaker at the other receiver position to take pressure away from him. Matt Ryan loves to go over the middle, Cobb's area of expertise.
EDMUND GATES Abilene Christian University Wildcats #8 5:11.7-197
ACU has been producing some nice late round finds in recent years, one which was Gates' cousin, Cincinnati tailback Bernard Scott. A raw route runner who really did not dedicate himself to his craft the first two years, Gates would close out his career earning favorable comparisons to former Wildcats receiver, Johnny Knox (Bears). Most draft experts feel that Gates is a likely mid round selection, but some also feel he could sneak into the back end of the second round, which would be the earliest a Wildcats receiver has been taken since Johnny Perkins went to the Giants in round two of the 1977 draft.
Gates' road to the NFL could be a great idea for a Hollywood movie, as his path to the gridiron was filled with lots of twists and turns along the way. As a scrawny freshman at Vernon High School, Gates would not put on a football uniform again until walking on the Abilene Christian campus six years later.
"I just felt like I had no future in football, Gates related to Joey D. Richards of the Abilene Reporter-News in a recent interview. "I thought I would never grow. My dad is 5-7, so I thought I would be that small all my life. I thought I'd never go to the NFL being that small." A guard on the Vernon basketball team, he turned his thoughts — and dreams — instead to basketball.
Football assistant coach Desmond Gant suggested Gates come to ACU and walk on the basketball team. "I was like, ‘What is ACU? Where is ACU?' I had never heard of Abilene or ACU," he said. "But I had heard of Coach Thomsen. Bernard used to tell me a lot about him. I was like, ‘All right, I'll think about it.'
Gates was expected to fill the receiving vacancy left by the graduation of Johnny Knox in 2009, as he pulled down a respectable 49 balls for 702 yards (14.33 ypc) and five scores, but it was hardly the breakout year the coaches expected from their junior. Gates suffered because the team as a whole was adjusting to several new faces on offense, especially at quarterback and the other receiver spots.
ACU compiled a 9-4 record in 2009, but the offense struggled, going from an average of 558.8 yards and 52.3 points per game to 370.7 yards and 28.9 points a game in a season that saw them finish fourth in the Lone Star Conference.
Gates rededicated himself to the task at hand prior to the 2010 season. He had never thought of himself as the team's go-to receiver with Knox out of the picture. "Honestly, that never really touched me until this summer," he said. "Last year, I knew I was the guy, but I didn't really know I was THE guy. I wasn't prepared to be an every down receiver."
Gates did not disappoint the coach that gave him his one opportunity. The 2010 season saw the senior earn All-American and All-Lone Star Conference honors. He gained at least 100 yards receiving in seven games, led the Wildcats with a career-best 66 receptions for 1,182 yards and thirteen touchdowns. He registered 53 first-down grabs and had a hand in setting up 33 ACU scoring drives with his catches (28 touchdowns/5 field goals).
COMPARES TO: Lee Evans-Buffalo…Like Evans, Gates' best asset is his quickness. He is still a relative neophyte as a football player, having not taken up the sport again until 2007 after playing just his freshman prep season of organized ball. He showed great strides as a route runner in 2010, but still has work in front of him to refine his route running skills. He will likely be a nice project for a patient coach, but with added reps, there is no reason to not think that he will be productive at the next level.
Gates is not only explosive out of his blocks, but much like Minnesota's Percy Harvin, he is quick agile and slippery. Second level defenders trying to catch him must liken his escape skills to that of trying to catch an electric eel in a whirlpool. He is not only fast, but also sudden. He releases off the line with good explosion, using it along with a sudden thrust to get into his route immediately. He is still a work in progress though and must continue his learning process in how to use his speed to explode into his route with consistency, but each game, you saw marked improvement.
He shows smoothness in his running stride and the flexibility to snatch the ball and then set up the defender in attempts to separate. He has more than enough sudden burst to surprise defenders coming off the snap, and looks well balanced in movement. He knows how to short-step in his stride to gain on the defender and maintains his ease-of-movement throughout his route.TEAMS SHOWING THE MOST INTEREST: Chicago, Kansas City, Cincinnati, St. Louis, San Diego…Like most teams, the Bears look for bigger receivers, but Cobb might be the "total package" to remind offensive coordinator Mike Martz of his Rams "Greatest Show on Turf" days with Az-Zahir Hakim. The Chiefs and Rams need an energy boost to their less than inspiring receiving units. St. Louis is especially thin if Demario Alexander, Mark Clayton and Steve Avery fail to return from their myriad of injuries in 2010. The Bengals have all but said good-bye to Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson, or whatever he wants to call himself these days (anything but a soccer player) could be following Owens to the unemployment line.
Tandon Doss Indiana University Hoosiers #2 6:02.3-209
Off-season hip surgery could see Doss slide back into the mid-round picture, but teams are fully aware of his capabilities for producing big plays. He's a big, physical receiver, but his recent workout for teams left most convinced that he is still not fully recovered from his injuries. He shows tremendous focus looking the ball in and is also a capable return specialist. He is very comfortable playing in the slot, where his size and power saw him consistently manhandle the physical safeties and the smaller nickel backs. Still, hip, shoulder and knee issues kept him from performing at peak level in 2010, though most NCAA receivers would have loved to have put up his numbers last season.
Versatility is Doss' strong suit, as he did it all for the Hoosiers. In addition to duties as a wide receiver, he also returned kickoffs and punts, and even took snaps as a quarterback in Indiana's wildcat formation, in addition to generating big plays running out of the backfield on the reverse. He was the Big Ten Conference's most productive all-purpose threat over the past two seasons and his exploits have garnered all-league honors.
After injuries plagued his true freshman campaign, Doss bounced back in 2009 and led the conference in all-purpose yardage. He averaged 138.83 all-purpose yards per game to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors by the league's media, as well as a second-team choice from the coaches. He improved on that mark in 2010, as he ranked first in the conference and fourth nationally with an average of 175.82 all-purpose yards per game, again garnering All-Big Ten accolades from the league's coaches and the media.
Doss' versatility allowed the Hoosiers to line him up out wide or inside as a slot receiver. In his first season at the university, the Hoosiers' passing attack averaged a lowly 181.25 yards per game through the air and ranked 90th nationally. A year later, Doss started ten games and the production rose, as Indiana managed 247.92 aerial yards per contest to place 34th in the country.
Doss started all eleven games he played in during the 2010 season and the aerial attack took their production to new heights. The Hoosiers ranked 13th nationally with an average of 287.17 passing yards per game. He presently ranks sixth all-time at Indiana with 1,854 receiving yards, surpassed only by James Hardy (2,740; 2005-07), Courtney Roby (2,524; 2001-04), Ernie Jones (2,361; 1984-87), Thomas Lewis (2,324; 1991-93) and Duane Gunn (2,235; 1981-83).
His 154 receptions rank fourth in school annals, while his thirteen touchdown receptions rank ninth. In 2010, Doss became just the sixth player in Big Ten Conference history with 1,000 or more kickoff return yards in a season, as he set a school season-record with 1,016 yards, breaking Derin Graham's previous IU mark of 897 yards in 2000. He ranks fourth in school annals with 1,549 career kickoff return yards. He's accumulated 3,786 all-purpose yards in his career, ranking seventh all-time at Indiana.
Entering his junior season, Doss was named to watch lists for the Biletnikoff Award (nation's top receiver) and the Paul Hornung Award (nation's most versatile player). He started all eleven games he played in, missing only the season opener with a groin injury, and placed third on the Hoosiers with 63 receptions for 706 yards (11.21 ypc) and a team-high seven touchdowns.
His average of 64.18 receiving yards per game ranked eighth in the Big Ten and 65th nationally, while his 5.73 receptions per game placed second in the conference and 29th in the country. On special teams, he produced the fourth-highest kickoff return yardage total in league history with 1,016 yards. His 41 kickoff returns also set an Indiana record, as his average of 24.78 yards per kickoff return placed sixth in the conference and 52nd in the nation.
Doss also returned seven punts for 49 yards (7.00 avg). He was one of the nation's leaders in all-purpose yardage, as his 1,934 yards placed fourth in school annals, while his average of 175.82 all-purpose yards per game led the Big Ten and ranked fourth nationally.
He also added 163 yards and a score on 28 carries (5.82 ypc).
COMPARES TO: Brandon Tate-New England…Doss is a bit faster than Tate, but both take great pride in their physicality on the field, as they have had great success powering their way through press coverage to come up with the clutch catch underneath. Doss has impressive timed speed and impressive leaping skills, but is utilized more as a possession receiver because of his ability to move the chains and get the tough first down.
He needs to refine his route running, especially on deep patterns, as he will drift some, but that could be the after-effects of a season-long groin injury in 2010. He is a smart, savvy player who knows how to settle into the soft areas on the field and use his frame to shade defenders from the ball. He is not going to simply fly past defenders, but he is a master at locating the soft areas over the middle and breaking arm tackles.
He is used a lot on shallow and wheel routes, as he has the strength to power his way to the ball in the crowd. He has the long reach to get under the fades and bubble screens and when utilized in crossing patterns, he can turn up field in an instant after the catch. He has made steady improvement extending for the ball with defenders all over him, and is effective at dropping his hips and separating out of his cuts.
On deep routes, he needs to utilize his second gear more and he will drift at times when going long distances. He has good turning motion to catch the ball over his outside shoulder, but does not turn as quick when having to look the ball in over his inside shoulder. He has that functional burst to separate at the line of scrimmage, but must utilize it more in attempts to separate on deep routes.
TEAMS SHOWING THE MOST INTEREST: New England, Buffalo, Baltimore and New York Jets… The Pats are looking for more size at the receiving position. Wes Welker will more likely handle slot chores for New England, allowing Doss to shift outside, where he can eventually team with Brandon Tate to give the team more physicality at the wide-out slots. Buffalo was very pleased with the progress shown by youngsters Steve Johnson, David Nelson and Donald Jones last year, and will have speedy Lee Evans returning from the injury list, but Chan Gailey likes the way that Doss can break tackles and run with good body lean. Baltimore needs to replace aging Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh has made enough noise over his unhappiness due to a lack of playing time that the Ravens might just cut the two vets and bring in a few big receivers on draft day. The Jets would like Santonio Holmes to return, but don't seem that willing to extend the same offer to Braylon Edwards, as his work ethic and erratic play grated on the coaching staff last season.
Virgil Green University of Nevada Wolf Pack #85 6:03.3-245
Green's record-setting position performance at the NFL Scouting Combine made teams take immediate notice, even though some less than stellar draft "experts" started comparing him to Dorin Dickerson instead. Granted, he's not in the Vernon Davis (49ers) category stats-wise, but he can certainly give Davis a run for his money in the agility tests. And who is to say that he won't put up impressive numbers in a pro style offense? Playing in the Pack's "pistol" offense, the tight end is usually the last receiving option, but in 2010, he led the Western Athletic Conference with seventeen touchdown-resulting blocks.
"Virgil has developed into a consistent and dominant player, not just in the passing game, but also in the rushing game," Nevada head coach Chris Ault said. His blocking skills, especially in the second level, allowed the Wolf Pack to become the first team in NCAA history to boast three 1,000-yard rushers in the same season, as they accomplished that feat in 2009 (QB Colin Kaepernick gained 1,183 yards, while running backs Vai Taua had 1,345 and Luke Lippincott picked up 1,034).
As a junior, he collected thirteen touchdown-resulting blocks and continued that dominating performance in 2010, as he registered blocks on thirteen of the team's 52 rushing touchdowns, adding six more touchdown-resulting blocks on pass plays. But, there is much more to Green's "game" than just clearing out rush lanes. In his last 40 games, 48-of-72 receptions by the tight end have produced first downs (66.67%), converting 22 third-down tosses and one more on fourth-down passes in the process.
Green pulled down eleven scoring strikes during that 40-game span, but also came up with crucial receptions that led to 32 Nevada touchdowns and on ten possessions that resulted in Wolf Pack field goals. 35 of his catches were for at least ten yards, including 11 for 20 yards or longer. His power was evident on 21 non-touchdown catches, as the opposition needed multiple defenders to stop him on those grabs. He even proved to be a dangerous threat as a motion receiver, as five of his reverses were good for first downs and set up scoring drives.
During the 2010 season, the All-Western Athletic Conference first-team tight end managed to grab a career-best 35 passes for 515 yards (14.71 ypc) and five touchdowns. He also carried the ball four times for 19 yards and registered fourteen touchdown-resulting blocks, as the offense ranked second in the nation in total yardage (535.54 ypg) and five in scoring (42.62 ppg) during the regular season schedule.
COMPARES TO: Owen Daniels-Houston…Green is much quicker than Daniels, but both have made a nice living by their ability to locate and settle into the soft zone areas. Green has more power when breaking initial tackles, but both show the forward body lean and leg drive to make it tough for third level defenders to take them down in one-on-one situations. I see Green being used more in motion than the traditional tight end position, but don't thing for one minute that because of his lack of ideal size at the position that he won't win battles in the trenches as a blocker. In a system that requires their tight ends to work underneath, Green is a nice fit.
Green is one of the quicker pass catchers you will find at this position. He shows very good "get off" running his routes, even when aligned near the line of scrimmage. He also has that explosive burst to be a dangerous threat on the reverse when lining up in the backfield (see 2010 Boise State, 2009 Idaho and 2008 Fresno State games). The thing that he does best is generating the lateral range to escape and get up field (see 2010 Eastern Washington, California and New Mexico State, and 2009 Utah State and Idaho games).
In this day and age in the NFL, teams are looking for players like him to stretch the field, as he can flash to gain advantage and battles with very good intensity to escape the jam. He is an explosive mover when he gets a clean release and steps quickly to contact as a blocker while also getting off the line with a good burst as a receiver.
POWER RUNNING BACK
Mikel Leshoure University of Illinois Fighting Illini #5 5:11.6-233
Leshoure finally got his opportunity to show what he could do as a starter in 2010 and did little to disappoint. He is a powerful inside runner, more in the mold of the Rams' Steven Jackson, but has a long way to match up to the Rams' franchise player as a receiving threat. With Mark Ingram receiving a few red flags due to medical concerns over his knee, Leshoure could end up being the only running back selected in the first round of the draft. For those draftniks out there, keep a close eye on Leshoure's back-up last season, Jason Ford, as more than a handful of scouts feel that Ford might be the Illini's best running back prospect in the last decade.
Leshoure burst on to the national scene as a junior, ranking fifth in the nation and second in the Big Ten Conference with an average of 130.54 yards per game. He also finished second in the league with an average of 145.62 all-purpose yards per game in 2010. The third-leading active rusher in the Big Ten with 2,557 yards, the Illinois tailback also etched his name into the school and conference record books.
Leshoure established a new school season-record with his 1,697 yards on the ground. His seventeen scoring runs tied another Illini annual mark, while his 281 carries in 2010 are the second-highest total in school annals. He also ranks second with 1,893 all-purpose yards and set the Illini season-record with nine 100-yard rushing performances, tying for second all-time by going over the "century" mark twelve times during his career.
Leshoure started 17-of-33 games at Illinois, carrying the ball 424 times for 2,557 yards (6.03 ypc) and 23 touchdowns. He also caught 37 passes for 439 yards (11.86 ypc) and five scores, registered 170 points and recorded four solo tackles. He tied Juice Williams (2006-09) for sixth place on the school career-record list with 2,557 yards rushing, while his 1,697 yards on the ground in 2010 broke the previous Illini season-record of 1,681 yards by Rashard Mendenhall in 2007.
COMPARES TO: STEVEN JACKSON-St. Louis Rams…Unlike Jackson, Leshoure may not rank as the most complete back in the nation, largely because of a lack of natural hands as a receiver, but he will prove to be a very big load for defenses to handle. He has above average toughness and runs with deceptive power. He breaks tackles easily and can turn on the jets when turning the corner. He's the type that can light up the score board once he sees daylight.
While not used much in this area, he is equally effective running the reverse out of the slot, but is best as an I-back. Two areas that need to improve are his receiving skills and route running ability, as he is not much of an asset in either area, presently. Still, he can play a one-back, halfback or fullback role due to his size and speed.
However, Leshoure's deceptive speed and inside running ability makes him more suited for a one-back system, as he never seems to tire. Blocking is a work in progress, but he does show willingness. He does need to do a better job of sustaining vs. the blitz, as he does not always get his hands into a defender's chest, but with some technique refinement, he could be adequate in this area.
If given the opportunity to be the featured back, Leshoure could be a player that defenses will always have to account for. This big back is a bruiser, but he can be shifty as a runner, can make the first man miss, has the speed and vision along with balance to turn the corner with no problem and has the power to get extra yards after contact. He has toughness as an inside runner, follows blocking patterns well and hits the hole quick and hard. Many talent evaluators feel that he can become the best performer among the running backs eligible for the 2010 draft.
TEAMS SHOWING THE MOST INTEREST: Green Bay, New Orleans, Miami, Washington and Denver…Teams don't seem willing to invest an early first round pick in a running back any more,. Mostly due to the wear and tear than makes a featured back's career shorter than most. The Packers will have oft-injured Ryan Grant and James Starks compete for the starting job, as Brandon Jackson's uninspired performances leave the Pack with a gaping hole in the backfield. Leshoure could bring back memories of the John Brockington era with his physical inside running skills. New Orleans also is dealing with injury issues with their tailbacks – Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Reggie Bush, and could use someone with great success moving the chains, rather than a scat back type, as they already have one of those in Bush. Miami is not going to be bringing back Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown, so they have a crying need for a featured ball carrier. The big question is if they feel that the 15th pick is where the team should take one. Washington and Denver both play with that Mike Shanahan mentality in the backfield – forget about speed and go for a back that can punish an opponent. If they follow that formula this year, Leshoure is the perfect fit. Clinton Portis and Knowshon Moreno have both proven to be too injury-riddled to perform those chores for the Redskins and Broncos, respectively.
SPEED RUNNING BACK
Jordan Todman University of Connecticut Huskies #23 5:09.1-193
Replacing Donald Brown (Indianapolis) in the starting lineup, Todman proved that big things come in "little" packages. He established himself as one of college football's elite ball carriers, earning prestigious spots in the school and Big East Conference record books. He was originally recruited as a receiver because of his speed and immediately endeared himself to the coaching staff upon his arrival at the university.
Todman is a well-rounded runner. Toting a well-built, compact frame, the Husky tailback plays with effort and determination. Although no one will mistake him for a power back, few ball carriers run as hard as Todman, evident by the high amount of multiple tacklers that have been needed to bring him down on his rushing attempts (on 72 of his 2010 rushing attempts, at least two defenders were needed to stop him, including three or more on 32 of those runs).
The thing you notice about Todman is that much like San Francisco's Brian Westbrook during his prime, he maintains a good pad level and can bounce off would-be tacklers who make the mistake of not wrapping up. The All-American performer and 2010 Big East Conference Offensive Player of the Year also has the speed to reach the edge and the burst to accelerate up field in a hurry.
Todman routinely displays the patience and vision that make successful pro runners, as he consistently waits for his blocks to develop. Despite having just eighteen starts under his belt, his 3,179 yards rushing with 31 touchdowns rank third in the school record books. His average of 5.16 yards per rushing attempt is the fourth-best average by a Husky running back, while his average of 88.31 yards per game on the ground placed fifth on the school all-time record chart. He also rushed for over 100 yards in 15 of his 18 starts (83.33%), as his percentage for reaching the century mark is the best for any collegian since the turn of the century.
The junior finished the 2010 season leading the Big East Conference while ranking second in the country with an average of 141.25 yards per game on the ground. He also ranked second in the league while ranking 15th nationally with 153.67 all-purpose yards per game. He amassed a career-best 1,695 yards with 14 touchdowns on 334 carries (5.07 ypc), the ninth-best season total by a Big East performer.
His average of 27.83 rushing attempts per game is the fourth-best average for a ball carrier in a season among Big East players while his 334 carries rank fifth on the conference's annual record charts. He ran for over 100 yards ten times, tying for the second-best total in a season among league participants. He placed fourth on the squad with 19 receptions for 94 yards (4.95 ypc) and added 55 yards on two kickoff returns to total 1,844 all-purpose yards.
COMPARES TO: TIKI BARBER-ex New York Giants…Actually, Todman is a combination of several tailbacks. He has the leg drive and power that Barber and Baltimore's Ray Rice possess, the sudden burst and acceleration that compares well to Chris Johnson (Tennessee) and the special teams ability of Brian Westbrook (49ers) and Warrick Dunn (ex-Atlanta/Tampa Bay) displayed earlier in their careers. How the Doak Walker Award committee (nation's top running back) did not include him on even their top ten list in 2010 defies logic.
Few backs have had to carry the offensive load for their team like Todman did this season. But, with Connecticut's shaky quarterback situation and mediocre offensive line, let's hope the coaches don't run this kid into the ground before he gets an opportunity to show his wares at the NFL level.
Do not be fooled by his size, as Todman can punish defenders that think they can handle him in one-on-one situations. He is a surprisingly effective pounder who has enough strength to push the pile, along with the balance and leg drive to stay up on his feet after initial contact. He knows how to lower his head, square his shoulders and compete for tough yardage, but is also flexible enough to bounce off and redirect.
Todman runs hard at a low pad level when near contact and has that strong burst to break arm tackles. He is also aware of his ability to fall forward, as it is rare to see a defender have much success attacking Todman's outside leg. His low center of gravity and strong lower frame makes it very hard for an opponent to knock him off his feet, as he pushes forward constantly to generate additional yardage.
TEAMS SHOWING THE MOST INTEREST: New England, New York Giants, St. Louis and Seattle…While New England has been linked to Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams, Todman is more suited for Bill Belichick's style of player – a blue collar type with blue chip pedigree. Todman might lack great size, but he's a surprisingly powerful runner (put up the weights 21 times at the Combine), evident by the fact that it took more than one defender to bring him down on 22.5% of his non-touchdown runs in 2010 (72-of-320). The giants don't seem to be too crazy about bringing back Ahmad Bradshaw, mostly due to his fumble issues, but Todman has no fumble issues. Through 584 carries at Connecticut, he has turned the ball over just three times (0.05%). He is also alert to his surroundings, recovering two of his own fumbles in the process. St. Louis is looking for a change of pace runner to spell Steven Jackson and have been on an endless search for a player with Todman's shiftiness ever since Marshall Faulk retired. Buffalo finally traded away Marshawn Lynch, turning over running duties to C.J. Spiller next year, but despite his second half success, Seattle is still looking for more options than Lynch in their backfield.