Scouting Combine Research Series: Running Backs (Part 2)

Which top prospect was offered a scholarship before his freshman year of high school? Which troubled player matured into a team captain? Whose father played in the NFL? Those questions and much more as we get to know the top running back prospects.

Here are the 30 running backs (and two fullbacks) who have been invited to the Scouting Combine. Players are listed in alphabetical order. Heights and weights come from CBSSports.com/NFLDraftScout.com. All players are seniors unless noted. Here is Part 1. And Part 3.

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Leonard Fournette, LSU (6-1, 230): Junior. Fournette had one of the great seasons in college football history as a sophomore, when he rushed for 1,953 yards (6.5 average) and 22 touchdowns. That was almost 300 yards better than any season in school history and was enough to give him first-team All-American honors. He needed only five games to reach 1,000 yards — fastest in FBS history. His final season, however, was ruined by an ankle injury that limited him to seven games. He rushed for only 843 yards (6.5) and eight touchdowns. In three seasons, he rushed for 3,830 yards and 40 touchdowns and caught 41 passes. “He can make them miss," former LSU defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. "Or he can make them wish they hadn't found him.”

At Saint Augustine High School in New Orleans, he was ranked the No. 1 player in the nation by Scout.com. “This kid is something extraordinary.” Those words were uttered about Fournette when he was an eighth-grader. That year, he was moved up to the freshman team. The other team complained, believing he was a senior. LSU coach Les Miles offered Fournette a scholarship before Fournette’s freshman year at St. Augustine.

His brother, Lanard, rushed for 13 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2016. Fournette recently donated a truckload of water to tornado victims. He also gave back to St. Augustine.

It’s a happy ending for a kid who has seen too much violence in his life. “You have to watch the places you go. It's not really safe,” he said while still in high school. “They shoot up parties, so that's why I only go to parties around this area. Well, it's not really safe. They still shoot here. I was about to go to this party over here and a girl I know went and got shot in the mouth. Yeah ... it happens a lot.” When he was 10, Hurricane Katrina ripped through his hometown. Through it all, Fournette avoided the potholes of life. “I’ve known some that have been put away 6 feet under," his high school coach said. "[Fournette] sees that. His dad talks to him all the time. It's easy to go astray. It's hard to stay on that narrow path.”

Wayne Gallman, Clemson (6-0, 215): Junior. Gallman rushed for 3,416 yards in three seasons, including 1,514 yards (5.4 average) and 13 touchdowns in 2015 and 1,133 yards (4.9) and 17 touchdowns to help the Tigers win the national championship in 2016. He added 66 career receptions to give him a total of 3,902 yards and 36 touchdowns from scrimmage.

Gallman is not big but he is physical. His mother, Felecia Sheard, has some fond early memories that explain the origin of that toughness. “Wayne gave me a run for my money,” she said. When he was 3, he would hurt himself by repeatedly rolling himself out of bed. He also liked to run into walls.

Gallman is used to being an under-the-radar player. At Grayson High School in Loganville, Ga., he was teammates with Robert Nkemdiche, who was the No. 1 overall recruit in the Class of 2013. At Clemson, it was with quarterback Deshaun Watson. “I do whatever it takes to help the team," Gallman said. "I don't care too much about the spotlight.”

De’Angelo Henderson, Coastal Carolina (5-7, 209): Henderson is the two-time FCS national offensive player of the year finalist and two-time All-American with a Division I-record 35 consecutive games with at least one touchdown — all 14 in 2014, all 12 in 2015 and all nine in 2016. (Henderson missed three games with a shoulder injury, and he fell three games short of Danny Woodhead’s all-divisions record of 38 consecutive games with a touchdown.) He scored a whopping 58 touchdowns during that span. Henderson holds school records with 4,635 rushing yards, 25 100-yard games and 5,556 all-purpose yards. He’s even sixth with 97 career receptions. Even though he played only three seasons in the Big South Conference, he ranks third with 3,479 rushing yards and fourth with 42 touchdowns. Henderson rushed for 1,534 yards and 20 touchdowns as a sophomore, 1,346 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior and 1,156 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior. His career average is 6.4 yards per rush.

Henderson graduated in Spring 2015 but stayed in school to pursue a second degree in communications. He could have headed to the NFL. Or, with his degree, he could have transferred to a big-time program and played immediately. “I had to think about everyone involved with this program,” he said. “I wanted them to be a part of this decision and when it came down to that I knew I had to stay. Too many people were depending on me. I can’t be selfish about a decision like this. It’s not just about me.”

Henderson endured a rough childhood. “She was around, but she had some stuff she had to figure out,” Henderson said of his mother during his high school years. “I bounced around a lot. I never had a really stable home. I went from family to cousins to friends to coaches, really whoever could let me lay my head down somewhere.” A high school coach provided this motivation: “Look, 10 years from now, you can have two choices: You can wake up with a pile of money or a pile or turd. Which one do you want?”

Brian Hill, Wyoming (6-0, 219): Junior. Hill had a big sophomore season with a school-record 1,631 rushing yards (5.8 average) and six touchdowns. His encore was even better, with 1,860 yards (5.3 average) and 22 touchdowns. Hill was suspended for the first quarter of his final game, the Poinsettia Bowl, for a reported curfew violation. He rushed for 93 yards in the game and wound up third in the nation behind San Diego State’s D.J. Pumphrey (2,133 yards) and Texas’ D’Onta Foreman (2,028). Hill finished his three-year career with 4,287 rushing yards — 1,300 yards more than any other player in Wyoming history.And with that’s it’s off to the NFL — though he’s been paid to play before. Hill earned from his mother $5 for each sack and touchdown when he was a kid growing up in East St. Louis, Ill. At Wyoming, he quickly showed he belonged. “His first carry, Game 1 against Montana, it was in the fourth quarter. I wanted to get him in,” running backs coach Mike Bath said. “We threw him in on a power read, and he violently struck their all-American safety, and it was one of those things, we were watching it the next day ... and we’re like, ‘Hmm. Wow.’”

Hill’s decision was easy. He had 775 carries at Wyoming, including 349 in 2016. “After talking it over with my mom and just thinking about how many carries I’ve done over these three years, this was a pretty easy decision not to put my body through 300 carries again.”

Elijah Hood, North Carolina (5-11, 220): Junior. Hood exploded onto the scene as a sophomore in 2015, rushing for 1,463 yards (6.7 average) and 17 touchdowns. He wasn’t quite as effective in 2016, with 858 yards (5.9 average) and eight touchdowns. His three-year total was 2,580 yards (6.0 average) and 29 touchdowns. Of his 40 career catches, 25 came this past season. As a high school senior, the 2013 North Carolina Player of the Year rushed for 3,690 yards and 53 touchdowns.

Plus, the former Eagle Scout was a two-time member of the all-ACC academic team. His thoughts race from fiscal analysis to chess to getting his pilot’s license. His favorite show is “How It’s Made.” He’s a football player. But more than a football player. “A greater purpose than football?” he says. “I can see it. I can see football as a beginning.” It’s obviously not something that’s the end-all of who I am, not the least bit. If you’ve been asking people now, you probably know football is merely a piece of Elijah Hood.”

Kareem Hunt, Toledo (5-10, 208): Hunt piled up merely 5,500 scrimmage yards during his four seasons, including a school-record 4,945 on the ground. Hunt rushed for at least 866 yards in each of his four seasons, including 1,631 yards (8.0 average; second in the nation) and 16 touchdowns as a sophomore and 1,475 yards (5.6) and 10 touchdowns as a senior. He fell just short of 1,000 yards as a junior after missing two games with a suspension (team rules) and two others with an injury (hamstring). “I’ve grown in a lot of different ways. I’ve definitely grown on the football field by learning the game more and being able to read the defenses and being able to know where blitzes are coming from and all that. Pretty much I’ve matured a lot as a person and grown up. Just being immature sometimes, I just grew up. And I thank coach [Matt] Campbell and the whole coaching staff and all the people in Toledo for helping me.”

Most of Hunt’s receiving production came as a senior, with 41 catches for 403 yards. As a freshman, he tied idol Barry Sanders’ bowl-game record with five rushing touchdowns vs. Arkansas State. His climb to stardom wasn’t a day at the beach. “My mom, when I come home, she just starts crying she's so proud.”

Aaron Jones, UTEP (5-10, 205): Junior. Jones, who played his high school ball in El Paso, stayed home and set UTEP’s career rushing leader with 4,114 yards in three seasons. He posted 17 100-yard games, five 200-yard games, six 100-yard halves and 4,760 all-purpose yards. In 2016, he set single-season school records with 1,773 yards and 17 touchdowns, including 301 yards against North Texas — a Conference USA record. He averaged a sizzling 7.7 yards per carry and added 28 receptions. Jones rushed for 1,321 yards in 2014 but missed most of the 2015 season with an ankle. Jones’ father is an Army veteran and his mother is an active-duty member of the military. Because of them, there was no time for Jones to have a pity party after the injury. “They were on me to get back out there. They wouldn’t let me feel bad for myself or sit down and mope around. They always kept me in a positive mindset. That’s the big thing, coming back from injury. They wouldn’t let me get down.” Twin brother Alvin is a linebacker for UTEP. And both moonlighted for the UTEP basketball team.

Alvin Kamara, Tennessee (5-10, 215): Junior. Kamara is considered a top prospect despite his modest production. In two seasons, he started only eight games and rushed for 1,294 yards and 16 touchdowns. As a junior, he rushed for 596 yards (5.8 average) and nine scores. He excels in the passing game, with 34 catches (for 291 yards and three touchdowns) in 2015 and 40 catches (392 and four) in 2016. That gave him 1,977 scrimmage yards and 23 total touchdowns, plus a 10.9-yard average on punt returns, in two years. Kamara was Georgia’s Mr. Football in 2012. He redshirted at Alabama in 2013, a dismal year in which he had preseason knee surgery, wasn’t allowed to practice for one week and was suspended for the Sugar Bowl. Then, he was arrested. He spent 2014 at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. Kamara took advantage of his second chance at Tennessee, ascending into a role of team captain. "Man, freshman at Alabama Alvin to now, I'm already a character right now, but then it was more immature, I would think. I was immature. I wasn't really focused on details. I wasn't really focused on what it takes to be great.”

T.J. Logan, North Carolina (5-9, 195): Logan never had a great season but he was consistently productive in his four seasons, finishing with 2,165 yards (5.4 average) and seven touchdowns on the ground and 76 receptions for 663 yards (8.7 average) through the air. With 2,828 scrimmage yards and 2,098 kickoff-return yards, Logan just missed 5,000 total yards. “The guy’s always got a smile on his face, he’ll do whatever you ask him to do,” coach Larry Fedora. “Whether it’s punt return, kickoff return, you put him on the field, whether he’s got a block, he’s got to do his job – he’s going to get his job done. He’s a tremendous teammate.” He had career-best totals across the board as a senior: 650 yards and seven touchdowns rushing, 29 receptions for 224 yards and three touchdowns passing, and a 32.9-yard average and two more touchdowns on kickoff returns.

Logan and teammate Elijah Hood, another running back in this draft class, were on opposite sidelines of a North Carolina high school championship game. Logan ran for merely 510 yards and eight touchdowns in a 64-26 victory. “He got us good,” Hood says. “T.J. was such a dynamic, explosive player in high school. He’s still got that same ability. Any given play, he can take it to the house and guys can’t even touch him. When I came here, I knew me and him would have a great thing going together — his speed and my power. It’s something we embraced as soon as I got here.”

Marlon Mack, South Florida (5-11, 205): Junior. Mack needed just three season to set the school career records for rushing yards (3,609), all-purpose yards (4,107) and touchdowns (33). Mack became the third FBS player in state of Florida history to rush for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. In 2016, he rushed for 1,187 yards and 15 touchdowns while finishing 13th nationally with 6.82 yards per carry. Mack rushed for 1,041 yards (5.2 average) and nine touchdowns as a freshman and 1,381 yards (6.6 average) and eight touchdowns as a sophomore. He added a career-high 28 receptions in 2016. In the process, he helped turn around a program. Not bad for a prospect that was projected to play safety.

Mack’s parents moved the family out of Miami to Sarasota. To make it work, his dad worked two jobs and his mom completed her bachelor’s degree to become a social worker. "Oh man, my parents are very big. My dad was the one who pushed me in football, my mom pushed me in school. They made sure my head was on straight. They made sure I never stayed out (late), so they've been the biggest part of my career."

Christian McCaffrey, Stanford (6-0, 202): Junior. McCaffrey turned in back-to-back brilliant seasons for the Cardinal. As a sophomore in 2015, he rushed for 2,019 yards (6.0 average) and eight touchdowns to finish second in Heisman Trophy voting. In 2016, McCaffrey rushed for 1,603 yard (6.3 average) and 13 touchdowns. A superb dual-threat back, he caught a combined 82 passes for 955 yards and eight touchdowns during his final two seasons. In the first five games of the 2015 season, LSU’s Leonard Fournette rushed for 1,019 yards. In the final five games of the 2016 season, McCaffrey rushed for 991. While he somehow wasn’t a Heisman Trophy finalist, he was named the CoSIDA Academic All-American of the Year. This is McCaffrey: In a Rose Bowl rout of Iowa to wrap up the 2015 season, McCaffrey piled up 368 all-purpose yards, breaking Jared Abbrederis’ Rose Bowl record and pushing him to 3,864 all-purpose yards for the season, which Broke Barry Sanders’ national record. His final play was a 7-yard reception. He was mad because he didn’t break a tackle. Cardinal coach David Shaw wrapped an arm around him and said: "You just broke two Rose Bowl records. You're going to stand here and enjoy it."

McCaffrey certainly has the DNA. His father, Ed McCaffrey, 565 passes in 13 NFL seasons. His mother, Lisa Sime, played soccer at Stanford. Older brother Max played receiver at Duke and was promoted to the Packers’ active roster for the NFC Championship Game. Younger brother Dylan was a four-star quarterback who committed to Michigan. Lisa’s father, Dave Sime, was dubbed “Superman in Spikes” for his sprinting prowess.

Elijah McGuire, Louisiana-Lafayette (5-9, 212): McGuire rushed for 863 yards as a freshman behind former Packers back Alonzo Harris before ripping off back-to-back-to-back seasons of 1,264 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore, 1,058 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior and 1,127 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior. That rank his four-year total to 4,312 yards (6.1 average) and 42 touchdowns. If that wasn’t enough, he caught 129 passes for 1,383 yards and 10 more scores. He finished just shy of 5,700 scrimmage yards. He also played 16 games for the basketball team in the 2015-16 season.

McGuire is the youngest of six children. Behind academically, he completed four years of high school in three years so he could stay within age requirements. He then graduated from Lafayette in three-and-a-half years. McGuire’s father died when he was 12. Giving back has been a priority. “I didn’t grow up with dreams of going to the NFL or anything like that,” said the Houma, La. native. “All I want to do is give back to the community and make an impact on somebody’s life. If the opportunity presents itself to go the NFL, I will try it out. If it doesn’t I will just find a career in something else that will allow me to have an impact on people’s lives.”

Jeremy McNichols, Boise State (5-9, 212): Junior. McNichols was a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation’s top running back. He finished the season with 1,709 rushing yards (third in Boise State history) and 23 rushing touchdowns (fourth). Plus, he caught 37 passes for 474 yards and four more scores. That gave him scrimmage totals of 2,255 and 27 touchdowns. McNichols rushed for 1,337 yards, caught 51 passes for 460 more yards and scored 26 touchdowns in 2015. He earned second-team all-conference in both of those seasons. His three-year total was 3,205 rushing yards (5.6 average) and 103 receptions for 1,089 yards (10.6 average). Actually, it was about two-and-a-half seasons. Boise planned on redshirting McNichols but changed its mind at midseason.

Despite the huge numbers, he was underrated in national circles. His numbers at Boise are startling compared to his somewhat-meager total of 798 rushing yards as a senior at Santa Margarita High School in Long Beach, Calif.

Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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