USA TODAY Sports

Scouting Combine Research Series: Running Backs (Part 3)

Which player started his career on defense? Which powerful prospect started lifting weights when he was 8? Who retired early in his senior season, only to top 1,000 rushing yards? Those answers and more as we get to know the 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 here is Part 2.

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Dare Ogunbowale, Wisconsin (5-10, 208): The former walk-on began his UW career as a defensive back before switching to running back early in his sophomore season. He finished his career with 1,518 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns and 60 receptions for 507 yards and two more scores. As a senior, Ogunbowale rushed for 506 yards (5.6 average) and five touchdowns and caught 24 passes for 208 yards (8.7) and one touchdown. With premier runner Corey Clement missing most of the 2015 season, Ogunbowale led the team with 819 rushing yards and seven touchdowns while adding 36 receptions for another 299 yards. Ogunbowale paid his own way for three years before finally getting a scholarship before the 2015 season.

Ogunbowale, whose father was born in Nigeria and is a school principal and whose mother is a teacher, is well-rounded. He was co-president of the school’s “Beyond the Game” program, which is designed to get student-athletes ready for life outside of sports. And he’s an avid piano player. “There’ll be times that I’ll just go to the piano and realize that I’ve been trying to learn a song for a couple hours. You know, it’s just so much fun to me. And I still can’t believe my sister and brother quit. I just don’t get it. I have so much fun doing it, I don’t know why they quit. It’s all right. I usually play for them when I go home.” His sister plays basketball at Notre Dame.

Samaje Perine, Oklahoma (5-10, 235): Junior. Perine needed only three seasons to set Oklahoma’s career rushing record. Perine rushed for 1,713 yards (6.5 average) and 21 touchdowns as a true freshman, 1,349 yards (6.0) and 16 touchdowns as a sophomore and 1,060 yards (5.4 average) and 12 touchdowns as a junior to give him a three-year total of 4,122 yards (6.0) and 49 touchdowns. He should have had 13 touchdowns this past season. Perine added 40 career catches.

As a freshman, a week after Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon rushed for a FBS-record 408 yards, Perine beat it with 427 yards against Kansas. Perine was a Freshman All-American in 2014 and and Academic all-Big 12 as a sophomore. He seems almost too good to be true. Has he even gotten in trouble? “Let me think,” his mother, Gloria, said. “Hmmm … No, not really. Once, maybe it was in first grade, he had to get put in timeout. He was talking when he shouldn’t have been talking.”

Perine started lifting weights when he was 8. “One day I came home from work and he had closed the door to his room,” Gloria explained. “I heard some noise so I walked in. He had gotten some duct tape and had taped some bricks around the dumbbells. Instead of asking for more weights, he just added some bricks. All he had to do was ask.”

Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State (5-8, 169): You’ve heard about dynamite coming in small packages. Pumphrey is dynamite. The two-time Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year set the FBS career rushing record with 6,405 yards, breaking former Wisconsin star Ron Dayne's mark of 6,397 yards during the Las Vegas Bowl. Pumphrey surpassed former Wisconsin star Ron Dayne's mark of 6,397 yards early in the fourth quarter of the Aztecs' 34-10 win over Houston during the Las Vegas Bowl. (Even if the record comes with an asterisk.)

Pumphrey rushed for 2,133 and 17 touchdowns as a senior, 1,653 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior and 1,867 yards and 20 touchdowns as a sophomore. For his career, he rushed for a robust 6.0 yards per carry. His four-year total was 99 receptions for 1,039 yards, giving him a staggering total of 7,444 yards and 67 touchdowns from scrimmage.

Pumphrey’s stardom was forecast early. Very early. As in while a 5-year-old running circles around everyone else in flag football. “(One man) told me, ‘D.J. will go to the NFL,’” his mother, Gina Padua, recalled. “I was like, ‘What? He’s playing flag football. What are you talking about?’ He said, ‘Mark my words. This kid is going far.’”

Along with going for the record, Pumphrey gained motivation from his young daughter, who was born on Senior Night when he was at Canyon Springs High School in Las Vegas. “I got injured on the first play of the game because I should’ve been in the hospital,. Ever since, I’ve told myself I’m going to do whatever it takes to be the best player I can for her, and ever since, everything’s fell into place for me.”

Devine Redding, Indiana (5-10, 208): Junior. Redding shared time in the backfield with standout Bears rookie Jordan Howard in 2015 and rushed for 1,012 yards. Carrying the load in 2016, Redding rushed for 1,122 yards (4.4 average) and added a career-high 27 receptions. Redding became the fourth Hoosier to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and the first since Vaughn Dunbar a quarter-century ago. He leaves ranked 11th in school history with 2,252 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns. Indiana was the only school to offer Redding a scholarship.

“To this moment, I can’t figure that out,” said running backs coach Deland McCullough. “Even when I’m back in the Youngstown area, all the high school coaches say, ‘You were telling us about this kid, but nobody ever made a move on him.’ ”

Redding follows Howard and Tevin Coleman in what has become an Indiana-to-NFL pipeline. "You learn a lot from guys with experience. They really teach you how to transition into playing in a game. That's one of the main points I got from playing with Tevin and Jordan. What both of them told me was just to stay relaxed in the backfield. Don't be too frantic. Don't be too excited back there. Know what you're doing, and things will go great for you. That helps me a lot because I can transfer that mindset with other running backs that are coming in and be ready to go."

FB Sam Rogers, Virginia Tech: In four seasons, he rushed for 692 yards (4.2 average) and four touchdowns, including 283 yards (4.2) and two touchdowns as a senior. He also caught 72 passes for 802 yards (11.1 average) and seven touchdowns, including 24 catches for 301 yards (12.5) and four scores as a senior. “On the field he’s just a nonstop ball of butcher knives,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “I’m telling you he just goes 100 miles per hour, and if you’re in his way, you’re going to pay the price”

Fullbacks are a rarity, especially in college, but versatility is Rogers’ hallmark. “There's times I’ve lined up as an H-back. There's times I’ve lined up in the slot. I’ve lined up out wide. I’ve lined up as the lone running back. I’ve lined up as the fullback,” Rogers said. “They have to put something down. I guess that’s just the two letters they put there.”

Rogers went from a walk-on who played quarterback in high school to a four-year starter. “We were at the All-Metro banquet in Richmond, which honors all of the top high-school players in Richmond, and the overall player of the year was Sam Rogers," said assistant coach Shane Beamer, the son of former coach Frank Beamer.” And I think that got my dad’s attention because he leaned over to me and said, ‘Why aren’t we recruiting him?’ and I’ll be honest, I said ‘What’s he going to play?’”

Rushel Shell, West Virginia (5-10, 220): In three seasons at West Virginia, Shell rushed for 2,010 yards (4.5 average) and 20 touchdowns and added 49 receptions for 341 yards (7.0 average). As a senior, Shell rushed for 514 yards (4.5) and five scores in 10 games. He got a taste of big-time football, courtesy of Khalil Mack. “After that, I understood I’m not the strongest or the fastest on the field anymore. There are people out here just like me. I had to find something to elevate my game.”

Shell had a solid career but it didn’t match the expectations as a two-time Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Player of the Year and former five-star recruit. He spent one season at Pitt before transferring to West Virginia. It’s been humbling, especially with so many of his high schools peers now in the NFL. “You don’t know it all,” Shell said, pausing to reflect. “When I was 18, nobody could tell me I was wrong. I was right no matter what anyone said to me. I was right no matter what. … My journey spoke for itself. I was wrong at times. I learned, and it made me the person I am today.”

De’Veon Smith, Michigan (5-11, 220): Smith posted three strong seasons — 519 yards (4.8 average) and six touchdowns as a sophomore, 753 yards (4.2) and six touchdowns as a junior and 846 yards (4.7) and 10 touchdowns as a senior. He caught 35 passes during that span, including 16 as a senior, when he was an honorable-mention on the all-Big Ten team. The best game of his career came on Senior Day — 158 yards and two touchdowns vs. Indiana. Smith comes from a football family. Smith is the youngest of six boys, and they all played football.

Older brothers Lance Smith (Wisconsin) and Maurice Smith-Davis (Michigan State) played in the Big Ten.  "When I was a kid," said Smith, "I used to sit in my bedroom and watch all their football games on the VHS (tapes). I'd watch them over and over, every day and night after school.”

Being the young one made him tough. Once, bike-riding De’Veon challenged car-driving Lance to a race. De’Veon swerved in front of the car and Lance hit him. When police arrived, De’Veon said he was fine. “They all are (tough),” his mom, Audreanna, said. “I tell them all the time, ‘You got it from your mama.’”

He had a strong week at the Senior Bowl.

FB Freddie Stevenson, Florida State (6-2, 241): In four seasons, Stevenson carried 24 time for 132 yards (5.3) average and five touchdowns and caught 19 passes for 160 yards (8.4) and two touchdowns. Most of the rushing production came as a senior, with 13 carries for 90 yards (6.9) and four scores. That includes a 38-yard run vs. Clemson and a 27-yard touchdown vs. Florida. Mostly, he cleared the way for star running back Dalvin Cook. “The only thing going through my mind is that I've got to get in,” Stevenson, who entered FSU as a linebacker said of those rare ball-carrying opportunities. “I can't get stopped.”

His father served time in prison. He calls it a “great blessing.”

Jahad Thomas, Temple (5-10, 188): Thomas was the fourth-ranked running back in New Jersey in 2012 but spent his freshman season at defensive back. It was back to running back for his final three seasons. "I know (quarterback and longtime friend Phillip Walker) always was putting that bug in coach's ear. During my sophomore year at camp, they told me I would get a shot at running back. Deep down inside, I knew I always wanted to be college running back, so when that opportunity came, I had to take advantage of it. I ended making few plays, and I've played offense ever since."

Thomas put up good numbers as a junior and senior. As a junior, Thomas rushed for 1,262 yards (4.6 average) and 17 touchdowns while adding 22 catches. As a senior, Thomas rushed for 953 yards (4.6) and 13 touchdowns while adding a career-high 33 catches for 418 yards (12.7) and six scores despite missing time with a hand injury. Thomas scored at least two touchdowns in six consecutive games, a school record and the longest streak in the nation. In three seasons on offense, Thomas finished with almost 3,600 total yards and 38 touchdowns. He also boasted a 22.5-yard average and one touchdown on kickoff returns. For his final two seasons, he got to wear a single-digit jersey (No. 5). That’s an honor for only the team’s toughest players.

Jamaal Williams, BYU (6-0, 211): Williams set BYU’s career rushing record, beating a record that had stood for 54 years. Williams rushed for 1,233 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore in 2013. Big things were expected as a junior in 2014. However, he was suspended for the opener for underage consumption of alcohol and then the final four games with a knee injury. Then, with the 2015 fall camp under way, he left the team following another violation of team rules. Williams returned as a senior, and the team captain rushed for 1,375 yards and 12 touchdowns. That ran his career totals to 3,901 yards (5.4 average) and 35 touchdowns on the ground. Of his 60 career receptions, 27 came as a freshman.

“I worked hard, I believed, I prayed,” Williams said. “I expect things to happen like this when you do things the right way. When you’re down in your low times, when you’re going through your struggles, all you got to do is pray to God. Do it the right way. Stay loyal, stay faithful. If you’ve got a good support staff behind you — family members and everything — keep them close because those are the ones who believe in you from the beginning.”

His mom was a sprinter at UCLA. "She's the real hero in all of this," he said. Not so, Nicolle said.  "It wasn't any urging on my part," she said. "I was just part of the support system. We have a checklist. One was a degree. One was to come back and finish what he started. That is something that is a family value. We never quit. If we start something, we are going to finish it. If we do something, we are going to do it to the best of our ability. Pretty much, it was all on him."

Joe Williams, Utah (5-11, 202): What a strange career. Two weeks into Williams’ senior season, he retired. "I knew he was down a little bit at the beginning of the year," Utah running backs coach Dennis Erickson said. "He fumbled a couple of times. Mentally, he was drained a little bit. Physically, he was not feeling very good." Then, after Utah’s running backs depth chart was slammed by injuries, he returned after a monthlong hiatus and rushed for 179 yards against Oregon State and a staggering 332 yards against UCLA. "I came back more for than myself," Williams said. "It was more like, 'I'm not going to leave you out to dry ... I'm doing this for ya'll. I'm going to put it on the line for ya'll.'"

There’s more to it than that, though. There was his sister’s death in 2007. Kylee was 7 when she fell out of bed and eventually died. “That’s where the guilt comes in,” Williams said. “Because maybe if I had got out of my bed and maybe I’d held her or she knew I was there, maybe she would’ve woken up. That was the biggest reason of why I blame myself.”

Williams was a two-star recruit. He signed with UConn but was arrested and kicked off the team. From there, he attended Fork Union Military School and then moved onto ASA College, a junior college in New York. And then, he got his chance with Utah for his junior and senior seasons. “I put myself in this position. I have to work my way out of it.”

After backing up star Devontae Booker in 2015, Williams — with his team-best 4.35-second 40-yard time — was supposed to be the man as a senior. And he eventually was. Despite missing a month, he rushed for 1,185 yards — the seventh-best figure in school history. In the six games after returning to the team, he rushed for 1,110 yards and nine touchdowns.

Stanley Williams, Kentucky (5-9, 196): Junior. “Boom” Williams led the Wildcats with 486 rushing yards as a freshman and 855 yards as a sophomore, with a school-record 7.1 yards per carry. That set the stage for 2016, when he rushed for 1,170 yards (6.8 average) and seven touchdowns. He had four runs of at least 53 yards. That gave him a three-year total of 2,513 yards (6.8 average) and 18 touchdowns. He caught 38 passes in his career. He played this season for his sister, Kenyatta, who died on July 11 at the age of 18.

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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