2019 NFL Draft: Florida Atlantic's Devin Singletary is the premier sleeper running back prospect
The Owls' star has been very productive thanks to elite elusiveness, contact balance, and acceleration
Devin Singletary is the sleeper running back prospect you absolutely need to know.
The Florida Atlantic ball-carrier has far and away been the most productive player at his position over the past three seasons -- he's nearly 600 yards ahead of the second-leading rusher since the start of 2016 -- and he has serious NFL talent.
Ia few weeks ago, and while not household name by Saquon Barkley standards, we've all seen him play -- and thrive -- in his fair share of high-profile games in the Big 12.
Singletary gets one, maybe two contests against Power 5 opponents per season, so it's not on you if you've never heard of or seen him play. But he's a blast to watch.
Here's what I'd call a solid first impression, from this season's game against Oklahoma.
Even before the power, balance, and elusiveness he put on display at the end of that crazy run, notice how Singletary made two jump cuts essentially in succession through the line of scrimmage and as he was approaching the second level. Not something you see often when watching running back prospects.
And to erase any possibility of that being a fluke. This is what Singletary did on his very next run, which came two plays later in that contest against the Sooners.
Singletary is one of the rare players to make a huge impact as a true freshman at the collegiate level. In 2016, he played his first collegiate game on his 19th birthday. That season, he toted the rock 152 times and accumulated 1,021 yards (6.7 yard-per-carry average) and put a cap on his breakout debut campaign with a 235-yard, three-score effort on 29 carries against Middle Tennessee State in the season finale, which was his second 200-plus yard game in the final month of 2016.
As the unquestioned feature back a season ago, Singletary logged a whopping 301 carries -- which tied Colorado's Phillip Lindsay for the most in the nation -- and amassed 1,918 yards on the ground with 32 rushing touchdowns, tops in Division 1. He had 12 consecutive contests with 100-plus rushing yards.
Singletary's yards-per-carry average has dipped from 6.4 in 2017 to 5.4 this season, but he's already over 1,100 yards and has 20 rushing touchdowns with two games left in the regular season. The Owls need another win to become bowl eligible.
Since the start of last year, in two games against top competition -- Wisconsin in 2017 and Oklahoma in 2018 -- Singletary parlayed 35 carries into 137 yards (3.9 yards per) with two rushing touchdowns.
And this isn't a 23-year-old sixth-year redshirt senior who's gashing players two and three years younger than him. Singletary will be 21 when he's drafted and turn 22 just before the start of the 2019 NFL season, which will make him somewhat young for a rookie at the professional level. Producing at a high level in college at a young age is a relatively good indicator of success at the pro ranks.
During a 19-carry, 171-yard outburst against Louisiana Tech just a few weeks ago, Singletary put this run on film. Like the above scamper against Oklahoma, it's easy to be in awe of what he did at the end of the run, but don't overlook the first cut that got him free.
The innate ability to make defenders miss is the most important aspect of playing the running back position. It's what I look for first when evaluating the position. Elusive backs flourish at all levels.
And Singletary is probably the most elusive back in college football. He had forced 74 missed tackles before racking up 148 yards with two touchdowns on 22 carries against Western Kentucky over the weekend.
What's more ... Singletary was one of the nation's most elusive running backs in the country a season ago too. According to Pro Football Focus, "he ranked third in the nation with 83 missed tackles forced."
While I wouldn't label him as someone who'll run in the high 4.3s or low 4.4 range at the combine, his acceleration through the second level is very impressive and allows him to generate a lot of chunk plays, even if they might not go for 60-yard touchdowns.
Prime example below.
Listed at 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds, Singletary has a very compact frame and won't be seen as undersized by most teams. Eclipsing the 190-pound threshold is important for NFL backs.
There are a few exceptions to the rule -- like Darren Sproles and Tarik Cohen -- but you'll be hard pressed to find successful NFL running backs who weighed under 190 pounds when they entered the league.
I haven't settled on an NFL comparison for Singletary, but the strengths of his game remind me of Packers running back Aaron Jones, a super-productive but overlooked ball-carrier from a Group of 5 college who's been one of the most efficient runners in the NFL this season.
Jones was picked in the fifth round of the 2017 Draft, and with a little more juice and balance, I see the Florida Atlantic star being selected somewhere on Day Two or the early stages of Day Three. But like Jones, don't be surprised when Singletary ultimately outplays his draft position in the NFL.
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