|Boise State's Doug Martin ran for 1,299 yards with 18 total touchdowns in 2011. (US Presswire)|
Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith boasts one of the most impressive resumes in NFL history: A three-time Super Bowl champion. Four-time NFL rushing leader with 18,355 career rushing yards.
So it's safe to say he knows a thing or two about the running back position.
With the 2012 NFL Draft around the corner, Smith agreed to spend a few hours to sit down and evaluate film of running backs prospects from this class. Actually, he insisted. His eyes lit up at the mention of breaking down some football tape. He might have bagged his cleats, but this is still a man who knows and loves the game.
The beauty of scouting: Each evaluator sees the game differently. So what does Emmitt Smith look for when assessing running backs?
"I'm looking for balance, quickness, low center of gravity, the ability to break tackles and get downhill in a hurry," he said. "Quickness, elusiveness. The position is much more than just being built or a good athlete."
|More on NFL Draft|
We're in agreement that Alabama's Trent Richardson is the top back in this draft and didn't include the surefire first-round pick on our evaluation list.
"Trent is the best," Smith said. "I'm looking at his conference, his competition. Playing against the Auburns, the Floridas, the LSUs -- just on that alone. This kid can play football."
The ties are deeper than their SEC roots. Richardson and Smith are Florida natives and played football at Escambia High School in Pensacola. They developed a close friendship years ago and remain in touch to this day. Just last month, Smith delivered opening remarks during the Doak Walker Award ceremony where Richardson was recognized as the top running back in college football.
"He comes from a pro-style system," Smith added. "Trent is one of the most NFL-ready prospects in the draft. If I have a need for a running back in the top 10, I'm going to go get him."
However, the college running back who stood out most to Smith last season isn't even in this draft class.
"I think Montee Ball [Wisconsin] looked better than most of these guys," Smith said. "From what I saw, Ball looks like the real deal to me. There is something about him that has me convinced. He's a guy to watch for next year."
For this particular afternoon of film evaluation, we focused on four highly ranked very different prospects: Doug Martin (Boise State), Lamar Miller (Miami, Fla.), Robert Turbin (Utah State) and Bernard Pierce (Temple).
DOUG MARTIN, Boise State Height: 5-9 1/4 | Weight: 223 | 40 time: 4.51
2008: (11 gp/0 st) 107 rush yards on 24 carries (4.5).
2009: (14 gp/8 st) 765 rush yards on 129 rushes (5.9) and 15 touchdowns, 16 tackles on special teams.
2010: (13 gp/13 st) 1,260 rush yards on 201 carries (6.3) and 12 touchdowns with 28 catches for 338 yards and 2 scores, earning First Team All-WAC honors.
2011: (13 gp/13 st) career-best 1,299 rush yards on 263 rushes (4.9) and 16 touchdowns with 28 catches for 255 yards and 2 scores, earning First Team All-MWC honors.
GAMES SCOUTED: vs. Georgia, Nevada and Arizona State
SMITH'S TAKE: His speed isn't bad, not bad at all. He definitely has enough speed. Did you see him make that jump cut and get forward? I love that. Finishes runs. Nice cut, nice read. Puts his foot in the ground and gets north-south. Tough inside, nice balance, very good vision, patience.
He has very good feet. He's an inside guy -- see how that counter is downhill and he stays inside? His problem is he might be too much of a between-the-tackles runner -- like me [laughs]. Great balance, good core strength. Goes downhill and gets back inside. Strong legs. Good out in open space, he's not taking the big hits. I see the injury risks as pretty low for him, his falls aren't damaging to the body.
This kid has some skills, great read ability and he hits it hard. Patient, creative, willing to take chances. Good run instincts. Holds the ball in right position. Great vision, very good balance and lower center of gravity. I love how he finishes runs. Enough speed, between-the-tackles type of runner. Doesn't go wide for long, gets downhill eventually. Sets up his blocks up pretty well and it takes more than one tackler to bring him down. First hit won't bring him down, it's going to take more than one.
BRUGLER'S SCOUTING REPORT
STRENGTHS: Chiseled frame with good bulk on his body, adding nearly 30 pounds of muscle since high school. Will drag defenders and fight for every yard. Excellent balance to stay coordinated through contact and stay on his feet. Physical and simply refuses to go down. Runs with excellent pad level and gets lower than tacklers to bounce off them, looking to deliver blows. Quick feet to make guys miss with his cutback ability. Very good vision with sharp footwork to plant-and-go and sidestep defenders with elusiveness. Runs decisive and determined with a chip on his shoulder. Finishes runs and never gives up. Little wasted steps with quick lateral movements and jump-cut ability to create room to work. Decent ball skills and focus as a pass-catcher and offers value as a kick returner. Gives up his body in pass protection and does a nice job on the perimeter. Durable and toughs out injuries. Excellent production with 17 100-yard rushing performances.
WEAKNESSES: Lacks elite speed to routinely win the corner and will never be the fastest player on the field. Not a quick-twitch mover and takes a few seconds to get going after his momentum is stopped. Runs a bit upright at times and is still growing at the position. Had several drops as a receiver. A tad tightly wound and isn't overly shifty. Has some durability concerns with his physical running style, missing some time with a leg injury in 2011.
FINAL WORD: Nicknamed the "muscle hamster," Martin is one of my favorite prospects in this draft because no one runs hard with his tough, physical running style. Smith agreed. In fact, he even uttered the words "he might be better than Trent" not only once, but twice. I asked him if watching this No. 22 -- Martin's jersey number, as it was Smith's -- was bringing back any memories. Smith responded simply with, "he's representing extremely well."
NFL DRAFT PROJECTION: Top 40
LAMAR MILLER, Miami (Fla.) Height: 5-10, 3/4 | Weight: 212 | 40 time: 4.36
2010: (11 gp/1 st) 646 rush yards on 108 carries (6.0) and six touchdowns with 1 KR for a score.
2011: (12 gp/12 st) 1,272 rush yards on 227 rushes (5.6) and nine touchdowns with 17 catches for 85 yards and one score, earning Second Team All-ACC honors.
GAMES SCOUTED: vs. Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech
SMITH'S TAKE: He's a bigger Clinton Portis, a bigger Clinton Portis. And faster. Look at those moves. He sees the running lanes very well. He knows what to do with the ball once he has the ball in his hands. Miller puts his foot in the ground, cuts back and it's over with. This kid has some talent.
Great vision -- he sees the run lanes nicely. And he's in a pro-style offense. He's a bigger Clinton Portis, I'm telling you. He loves to put his foot in the ground and go get it. He doesn't need a whole lot of room to run, look at that cutback. He's a sprinter. He has that "it" thing plus speed. He's not missing many cuts.
I could see why some would say he's a Felix Jones type of guy. This kid sees it and knows how to go get it. He maneuvers through run lanes, makes himself small and gets big when he has to. Exceptional speed and home-run threat, without a doubt.
BRUGLER'S SCOUTING REPORT
STRENGTHS: Balanced athlete with dynamic start-and-stop ability and smooth change-of-direction skills. Stays patient before burst upfield and accelerating to top speed quickly when he sees daylight. Nimble feet to make defenders miss and shows an extra gear to run away from them, too. Very good vision and cutback ability, finding the run lanes, following blocks and staying patient behind the line of scrimmage. Good body strength and stays coordinated through contact, running with a purpose. Very good at forcing defenders to take poor angles with his lateral quickness and natural explosiveness. Effective pass catcher with good ball skills and body control to make tough grabs. Good experience as a kick returner. Very good production in his two seasons on the field with the third-best season rushing total in school history last year. Nine career 100-plus-yard performances.
WEAKNESSES: Upright runner with a narrow frame. Doesn't break many tackles and goes down too easily, struggling to create in tight areas. Too patient at times and looks indecisive with a questionable feel between the tackles. Lacks the strength to power through contact and doesn't have the body type to withstand a heavy beating. Appears to freelance a lot and needs to allow the designed play to develop. Relies too much on the "big-time" play and needs to be content with simple positive gains. Suspect ball security and tends to wear down over the course of a game. Suspect durability playing most of 2011 with a shoulder issue. Part of a tandem backfield and lacks the size to be a bell-cow back. Started 2011 with five straight 100-yard rushing games but finished with just two in the final seven contests. Still growing at the position and there are some questions about whether or not he will put in the necessary work to reach his potential.
FINAL WORD It's easy to get excited about Miller's upside and potential, but there is also some below-average tape on him. He's a smooth, one-cut runner and talented athlete who can turn on the jets with big-play ability. It took about two plays before Smith made the Clinton Portis comparison and he didn't back down from that assessment.
PROJECTION: Top 50
ROBERT TURBIN, Utah State Height: 5-10 | Weight: 222 | 40 time: 4.48
2007: appeared in one game as a true freshman before a foot injury ended his season, earning a medical redshirt.
2008: (12 gp/6 st) 106 carries, 485 rush yards on 106 carries (4.6) and eight touchdowns with 20 catches for 256 yards and two scores.
2009: (12 gp/11 st) 1,296 rush yards on 207 rushes (6.3) and 13 touchdowns with 30 catches for 418 yards and five scores, earning Second Team All-WAC honors.
2010: suffered a knee injury, missing the entire season and redshirting.
2011: (13 gp/13 st) career-best 1,517 rush yards on 249 rushes (6.1) and a school-record 19 touchdowns with 17 catches for 171 yards and 4 scores, earning First Team All-WAC and conference Offensive Player of the Year honors.
GAMES SCOUTED: vs. Idaho, Nevada, Ohio
SMITH'S TAKE: He needs to work on staying between the tackles and not bouncing everything. This offense is an outside style offense so when he runs the counter, I would like to see him be more downhill. In the NFL, you have to be able to read the kick-out blocks and get north-south. Most of your counter plays are designed to go inside. I see too much dancing. Too much hopping. Too much bouncing around waiting for the play. I don't see a whole lot of creativity when things break down. So when the run lane isn't there, I'm afraid he's just going to stop and won't be able to find a backup plan.
He's making some nice jump cuts, but not making too many players miss. He tries to escape to the sideline and loves going outside. Has the ability to finish runs with a pretty good lower center of gravity to be shifty. But too many one-man tackling, getting brought down by one guy isn't going to get it done. Doesn't always run like a 225-pound power back, runs like he's 205 or 210.
Looks like a Tim Hightower-type of back, but needs to work on his blocking. I think of a lot of his issues are a product of Utah State's system. I'm not sure he would have survived in the SEC.
BRUGLER'S SCOUTING REPORT:
STRENGTHS: Thickly-built frame with strong arms and muscle-bound upper body. Passes the eye test. Runs with balance and the mentality to run through defenders. Has the body strength to stay on his feet through contact. Nimble footwork for his size and good build-up speed. Good ball skills out of the backfield. Very productive on the field, finishing his career in the top five of every school rushing category, including a career 5.9 yard-per-carry average. Has done a nice job bulking up, weighing only 185 pounds in high school
WEAKNESSES: Not an explosive or sudden player and gets in trouble when he tries to move laterally. Indecisive as a runner with suspect run instincts and vision. Tries to bounce too many runs outside and struggles to create when the hole isn't there. Too patient and hesitant, failing to anticipate run lanes. Runs upright with inconsistent pad level. Needs work in pass protection and looks disinterested if the play isn't to him. Part of a crowded backfield with only one career game of 25-plus carries. Didn't face the toughest defenses in the WAC and wore down late in the season. Strong durability concerns after missing two full seasons with different injuries -- tore his ACL prior to 2010 and missed 2007 with a foot injury.
FINAL WORD We both agreed Turbin looked the part with surprising athleticism and foot quickness for his size. However, he lacks explosive traits to be dynamic or make defenders miss. Turbin also has inconsistent run instincts and as Emmitt commented, "looks like he can do it physically, but I'm not sure it's there."
PROJECTION: Top 100
BERNARD PIERCE, Temple Height: 6-0 1/4 | Weight: 218 | 40 time: 4.47
2009: (12 gp/9 st) 1,361 rush yards on 236 rushes (5.8) and 16 touchdowns, earning Freshman of the Year and First Team All-MAC honors.
2010: (10 gp/5 st) 728 rush yards on 154 carries (4.7) and 10 touchdowns, earning First Team All-MAC honors.
2011: (12 gp/10 st) conference-best 1,481 rush yards on 273 rushes (5.4) and school-record 27 touchdowns, earning First Team All-MAC honors.
GAMES SCOUTED: vs. Maryland, Army, Wyoming
EMMITT'S TAKE: His style kind of reminds me of Darren McFadden -- light lower body, upright running style. Obviously not nearly as fast or dynamic. I'm not seeing a whole lot. He's a little bow-legged. He runs too high, allows his upper body to get ahead of his legs, that's how injuries happen. He has good vision with a little bit of wiggle, but struggles to create on his own.
I don't see anything special. Holds ball too loose. He's not flashy, doesn't do much to excite me. He's a "guy." He's not a back who can consistently help me. His type will have to play special teams or be a third-down back and I don't see that in him. I'm sure he's tough and so forth, but I'm just not seeing it.
DANE'S SCOUTING REPORT:
STRENGTHS: Good-sized frame with strong build. Flashes initial burst and good lateral quickness to bypass defenders or bounce runs outside. Instinctive runner with elusive moves. Displays very good feel as an inside and outside runner with good vision to make sharp cuts. Good patience and footwork to pick through defenses. Physical and doesn't shy from contact, lowering his pads and absorbing contact with balance. Fights for every yard with toughness. Put together a strong collegiate resume the past three seasons with above average production.
WEAKNESSES: Tall, upright runner who lacks imposing power. Not a sudden athlete and forced to gear down too much. Not very loose throughout his frame and looks tight when quickly redirecting. Lacks great straight-line speed and will struggle to win the edge. Lacks an extra gear to separate himself. Tends to dance too much and go east-west too much. Some ball security concerns and offers limited versatility as a receiver with only 19 career catches and one return on special teams. Raw in pass protection. Took a beating in college and has strong durability concerns, missing extensive time last year with a hamstring issue.
FINAL WORD Can't ignore the production with a school-record 53 rushing scores in just three years, leading the MAC in rushing twice. He shows good vision and patience to pick through defenses, making him ideal for a zone-blocking scheme. However, he runs tight and lacks explosive speed to be a home-run threat. Pierce also carries strong durability concerns and it's tough to imagine him staying healthy for a full NFL season. Emmitt had few positives to say about him.
PROJECTION: Top 125