NFL Draft Report Super Sleeper: RB McKinnon

He's not much of a passer, but Georgia Southern's Jerick McKinnon has an incredible combination of speed and power to be a potential star at running back. NFL scout Dave-Te' Thomas breaks down 15 phases of his game and compares him to a former NFL star in this exclusive scouting report.

The Georgia Southern Eagles have never been a team known for having a formidable passing attack. Most of the players who have manned the quarterback position were generally ball-toting athletes with little hope at remaining a passer in their hopes for playing in the National Football League.

For 31 games as a starter, Jerick McKinnon managed to complete just 34-of-81 passes (41.98%) for 829 yards and twelve touchdowns while lining up behind center. However, he would prove to be a dangerous play-action type as he was one of nine players at the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision level to rush for over 3,500 yards during his career, placing fourth in team history with 3,899 yards on the ground.

Expected to reside at tailback in his quest for an NFL roster spot, McKinnon is a perfect blend of power and quickness. His 1,817 yards rushing in 2012 were the most ever by a Southern Conference junior and his career average of 6.3 yards per carry is seventh-best in league annals. His 42 touchdown runs tied for sixth on the school career-record chart and ran fourth among active FCS players.

With experience at quarterback, slot-back, fullback and A-Back, McKinnon was a dangerous weapon in GSU's triple-option attack, but questions linger about his receiving skills, as he's managed to catch just 10 balls for 165 yards during his career. The team captain's main success has come as a ball carrier, having led the team in rushing during each of his final two seasons.

Where McKinnon skyrocketed on most teams' draft boards came after his outstanding performance at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, where he became the first running back prospect in the last decade to lead players at his position or rank among the top five in every agility tests the players were required to participate in.

His first eye-opening performance came in the weight room, where he not only led all tailbacks and fullbacks attending the event with 32 reps at the 225-pound bench press test, but that figure ranks second to 250-pound fullback Tommy Bohanon (36 in 2013) for all running backs at any Combine since 2004.

Moving on to the speed drills, McKinnon clocked 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash, second-best among all 2014 Combine ball carriers. He was also seventh among the 2014 runners with a 40 1/2-inch vertical jump, the seventh-best figure for running backs during the last 10 Indianapolis events. His 11'0" broad jump was also second among the 2014 crop and fourth among runners since the 2003 Combine.

Further impressing teams, McKinnon then rolled through the shuttle drills. In the 20-yard event, he placed fourth among running backs with a 4.12-second clocking. He later registered 6.83 seconds in the three-cone drill, finishing third among the 2014 running back participants.

Because of his likely position change, McKinnon will likely be a third-day draft choice, but his blend of power and speed make him an inviting target for teams like the Giants and Patriots, as they both require versatility in their players. He will never start under center at the next level, but for teams that incorporate the "wildcat," he's capable of taking the snap and proving to be a dangerous threat on the option pass.

Jerick McKinnon

Georgia Southern University Eagles
5:09.0-209

Body Structure

McKinnon has a compact, well-built frame with good upper and lower body muscle definition. He shows minimal body fat, thick thighs and calves and a frame that can carry additional weight with no loss in his outstanding quickness. He might be a bit undersized, but he generates great power and leg thrust that easily helps when breaking tackles or running through defenders, evident by his highly impressive weight room performance (bench pressed 225 pounds 32 times) at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine.

Athletic Ability

McKinnon runs with suddenness and raw power, as he can just as easily elude or run through tacklers. He shows outstanding acceleration in the open field (see 2013 Wofford, Samford and The Citadel games). With his superb body control, he can readily adjust on the move when trying to avoid. He shows above average balance, flexibility, agility and quickness, along with the sudden burst to instantly reach top end speed. His initial burst is evident, but it is his jitterbug, stop/start action that sets him apart from most backs, drawing comparisons to Carolina's DeAngelo Williams in that area. He has above-average vision, quickly anticipating the coverage and generates very good acceleration in the second level. With his extraordinary speed, he has the ability to cut on a dime and stop-&-start with ease, displaying that special ability needed in an outside running threat.

Football Sense

McKinnon has had no problems taking plays from the chalk board to the playing field. He is a student of the game, putting in extra hours in the film room. He shows solid awareness throughout his play (see 2013 Wofford and The Citadel games), along with great instincts and a feel for the rush lanes. He is an instinctive runner who has shown the ability to quickly adapt to a variety of roles, having started at four different positions in the Georgia Southern backfield.

Competitiveness

McKinnon is a tough, aggressive, physical inside runner, uncommon for a player of his size. He thrives with the ball in his hands during pressure situations and will do whatever it takes to improve all areas of his game — whether in the film room, training room or in practices. He has that ability to make the big play seem commonplace. He even shows good willingness as a blocker, as he uses his strength efficiently to be a factor in that capacity. He has a tremendous fire in his belly, where he feels that football is very important. He plays hard, setting a great example for the younger players. Ask any teammate and they tell you they will go to war with this guy in a second. He never misses practice and has a high threshold for pain.

Initial Quickness

McKinnon can instantly gain advantage with his suddenness coming off the snap. He has the balance and quickness to avoid on the move and incredible acceleration in the open field (see 2013 Wofford, Chattanooga and Samford games). His extremely quick feet lets him get in and out of his cuts with no wasted steps and he also shows excellent lateral movement, along with the explosion running down the sidelines. When he gets past the second level, he makes people miss while disappearing into the end zone. He has the ability to get up to speed quickly, but he can also execute jitterbug type of moves when exploding off the snap. One area that he excels in is his quick-cut agility as he doesn't need to gear down to execute those moves. You can see on film that he is a player very capable of getting to top speed in a step or two.

Acceleration/Burst

Few runners have the quickness and burst to reach top speed like McKinnon can. He can fluidly accelerate coming out of his cut and gain separation (see 2013 Chattanooga, The Citadel and Florida games). With his incredible combination of speed and strength, you can see he not only has that explosive second gear, but can also beat angles with his vision and feel for coverage. He can change gears and accelerate through the holes. Once he gets into the open, his hip swerve and burst gets him free from the defenders quickly. He has very good success separating in the open and he does a nice job with his stop-and-go action, which will generally leave the initial defender grabbing at air.

Instincts/Balance

McKinnon has a great feel for the cutback lanes and with his natural feel and ability in traffic, it is very hard to bring him down. On close to a third of his 2013 non-touchdown carries (47-of-149), it took at least two defenders to bring him down one he got past the line of scrimmage (see 2013 Chattanooga, Samford and The Citadel games). He runs with excellent vision, as he knows how to avoid and find the seam. He has the low center of gravity to navigate and find daylight with his inside runs, uncommon for a back with his size. His instincts with the ball in his hands show in his creativity, as he is always looking to see where holes and lanes are going before they open. He shows great balance and can get extra yards on contact. He lowers his pads and shifts gears instantly to avoid the trash and is very effective changing direction. He does an excellent job of anticipating rushing lanes, shows patience waiting for blocks to develop and is quick to improvise when the holes fail to materialize. He is so instinctive seeing creases and defenders, that by the time the opponent positions to make the tackle, McKinnon is already shifting down, changing gears and eluding his man.



Inside Running

After his weight room performance at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, McKinnon eliminated any questions teams might have had in regards to his ability to generate enough power to attack second-level defenders at the next level. He is patient letting his blocks develop and has the second gear to pull away, but it is his cutting against the grain and his balance that gets a defense oft-kilter most of the time. He is too light to be a pounder at the next level, but is a "tough cookie" with a high threshold for pain. Even with his adequate size, he attacks the inside holes in a hurry. He will run through arm tackles, but is also consistent in attempts to move the pile. He has very good balance and forward body lean to pick up additional yardage after initial contact. When he finds the seams, he runs hard and with good urgency. For a player his size, he surprises defenses with how powerful he is running up the gut. He runs with good leverage and has the quick footwork to pick his way into the second level. He has the strength to push the pile and is very sudden in his movements when cutting back.

Outside Running

McKinnon has the speed to win most foot races and that quickness also allowed the staff to line him up all over the backfield (shotgun, pistol, wildcat, traditional and triple-option quarterback formations). He bounces outside with very good suddenness and exceptional outside vision, especially when trying to pick and slide. He has explosive acceleration after turning the corner and is quite elusive in space, as opponents know he can take the ball the distance. In 2013, he had some minor leg issues late in the year, but he is much more patient waiting for blocks to develop before bursting out of the pack than he was in the past, also doing a nice job with ball security. With his speed and savvy moves, he can easily fake a defender out of his shoes, especially when bouncing outside and racing down the sidelines. You just wish the coaches would give him more opportunity to run outside. He knows how to keep the ball in his outside hand when turning the corner, but most of his stops behind the line of scrimmage came when he failed to get space racing towards the perimeter. Still, he has made good strides in this area as a senior and has shown much better vision, along with quick plant skills for the cutback.

Elusiveness

McKinnon is more elusive than a movie star trying to avoid the paparazzi. He has that natural body control to quickly reach his top end speed and does a fine job of accelerating on the cut to gain separation. He is perfectly capable of executing the "juke," but it is his lateral quickness that will see him disappear from would-be tacklers. He sets up the defender and runs off blocks like a big back, thanks to his loose hips and foot work needed to avoid. He can cut on a dime and the thing you see on film is his ability to do it at full speed! He has above average vision, quick change of direction agility and more than enough explosiveness to his burst to consistently make the first tackler miss. He excels at making the jump-cut and has the vision to avoid, along with the ability to make quick decisions, especially after locating the cutback lanes.

Tackle-Breaking Strength

This is the most pleasant surprise to his game and newest addition — raw power. McKinnon runs with a low pad level, displays proper balance to break quite a few tackles along the way (see 2013 Wofford, The Citadel and Florida games). He will lower his shoulder on contact to drive through the initial tackle and with his lower body strength, he has become a very good "thumper." He runs through arm tackles consistently and also has a nice stiff-arm to keep defenders away from his body. He runs hard and at the proper pad level, especially when he nears contact. He keeps the ball secure when blasting through arm tackles and it is difficult to rock him back, as he has very good body lean to fall forward.

Tendency to Fumble

McKinnon runs with the ball with poor security and needs to learn how to distribute it to keep it away from oncoming defenders. He shows just adequate concentration to his surroundings when running with the ball, even though he has that natural upper-body strength to protect it running through traffic. He can do a much better job of protecting the ball turning the corner if he becomes conscious of never leaving the sphere exposed (had eight fumbles as a senior).

Receiving Skills

Even when he aligned at other backfield positions outside of quarter-back, McKinnon was never in a system where the ball carrier is required to catch the ball much, but he does an adequate job of extending and plucking outside his frame. He shows good flexibility getting into his routes and makes decent adjustments to snare the toss in his hands. More reps are needed, but he is effective when used on screens, options and in controlled routes. He has the burst needed to separate and does a nice job of keeping eye relationship on the ball, timing his leaps to get to the pass at the high point.

Route Running

McKinnon shows good acceleration getting into his routes and the hand usage to avoid the jam. He has a good concept and feel for the route's progression and does a nice job of separating working underneath. He is just not used on any variety of routes to truly evaluate here.

Blocking Ability

Because of his size, McKinnon is limited as an in-line blocker, but he does show good effort and face-up ability blocking vs. edge rushers. He has good "warrior" mentality and will take on bigger athletes, but at the next level, he could be walked back by a stronger opponent. He keeps his hands inside his frame and won't whiff or duck his head on contact, but is better with the ball in his hands than lead blocking. Still, despite his shorter-than-ideal height, he gives good effort as a blocker. He's a sound technician who will not hesitate picking up the pass rush or blitz at the line of scrimmage. He squares his shoulders properly to take on his target, striking with a strong hand punch. In the open, he is effective cutting down linebackers. He's usually aligned deep at tailback and is not asked to run block, but he steps up aggressively on pass protection to face up and sustain.

Compares To

TIKI BARBER-ex-New York Giants: Like Barber, do not discount McKinnon's ability as a power runner due to his size. He has a nice blend of strength and low pad level to push the pile taking the ball up the gut. His speed is evident by the opposition's inability to stop him once he gets into the second level. He is still a work in progress as a receiver and has to do a much better of securing the ball as an outside runner, but with his excellent athleticism, teams will see he is much more than just a change-of-pace back.


Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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