With the college season done and the NFL closing in on the finish line, the rookie evaluation processes is in full swing. Prospects are going to do anything they can to pop up on GMs’ radars. The combine will be one of the last chances for players to do so. In prior years, we’ve had prospects like D.J. Chark and John Ross make names for themselves at the combine. Who will make a name for themselves this year? Here are three running backs who will watch their draft stock rise even more at the combine.
Darrell Henderson, Running Back, Memphis, 5-9 200 lb
If you ask a lot of analysts (including me), they will tell you they have Henderson ranked right around the fifth overall running back in this class. I have Henderson as my fourth overall running back, and I could see him making a leap at the combine.
Henderson had back to back big years at Memphis. His sophomore year he ran for 1,154 yards and nine touchdowns. His junior year he ran for 1,909 yards and 22 touchdowns. 22! Both years he averaged a whopping 8.9 yards per carry. The other stat which stood out to me is his 63 receptions during his three years at Memphis.
There’s a lot to love about Henderson’s game: his shorter but solid frame gives him a low center of gravity and allows him to tuck behind his blockers and sneak into the second level where he does a great deal of damage. With his balance and low pad level, he’s able to bounce off of defenders and get extra yardage. His tremendously quick feet and agility allow him to change directions with ease. He sets up his blockers well and makes the cut upfield while hitting the right lane. He has the pass catching ability you want to see out of a prospect and he isn’t afraid to pass block, though pass blocking isn’t something I would call a positive nor a negative in his game. He’s so elusive and slippery that with his lower body strength it makes him very tough to bring down.
From what I’ve seen on Henderson’s tape, I can’t find too many red flags in his game. He’s definitely going to be highly coveted by teams in desperate need for a running back, and the combine will only sure that up. He will show the pass catching ability and agility which will make teams fall even more in love with him.
Elijah Holyfield, Running Back, Georgia, 5-11 215 lb
Holyfield spent his sophomore year in the shadows of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. He played in 13 games but registered just one start, the SEC Championship game. Holyfield spent his junior year at Georgia sharing a backfield with D’Andre Swift. Holyfield and Swift mirrored each others production, with Swift largely in the limelight while Holyfield was in the shadows. Holyfield rushed the ball 159 times for 1,018 yards and had 7 touchdowns, with his 6.4 yards a carry ranked 23rd nationally.
The reason teams will fall in love with Holyfield will be his strength and conditioning. His shear strength to bulldoze defenders throughout an entire game and wear them down is where he will succeed at the next level. He has good balance and a low center of gravity that gives him the ability to bounce off defenders with ease. His vision to see holes and the burst he displays when he hits those holes is electrifying. His pass blocking sets him apart from a good amount of top running backs in this class. He wasn’t tasked to pass block as often as I would have liked to see, but when he was, he was successful more often than not. What he needs to show at the combine will be his ability to pass catch. He intermittently showed flashes of receiving ability, but not enough throughout his college career.
This combine will be huge for Holyfield if he wants to show teams he can be more than just a short yardage back. His tape shows that he can be an early down guy, but will he show he can be more? I believe come the end of the combine evaluations, Holyfield will be jumping up draft boards. He is currently ranked as my seventh running back off the boards. To think he jumps into the top five after the combine does not seem out of the realm of possibilities.
Devine Ozigbo, Nebraska, 6-0 235 lb
For someone who had a solid senior year statistically with 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns, Ozigbo really made a name for himself during Shrine Week this year. His vision, balance, and elusiveness were on full display. He has the patience you like to see when a young running back presses the line of scrimmage. His anticipation is ideal; rarely ever is he over-extending himself and he remains balanced at the point of contact and also when shifting laterally. He’s a hard nosed runner that will embrace contact, but also has the smarts to know when to go down.
Ozigbo has many desirable traits to be a early round pick in the NFL Draft. Currently teams are viewing him as a late day 3 prospect. Something he will need to show he can do better is pass catching. He seemed to fight the ball at times when he was tasked at receiving. He, like many young running backs, also has a hard time picking up blitzes. With his play-style and football IQ, this should be an issue which will be fixed. His strengths are going to be on full display at the combine, and his weaknesses will need to be shown to be correctable (which I believe they are) in order to jump up to an early day 3 pick. He is currently around my and other analysts 10th ranked running back in this class. There’s no doubt that after a strong combine, he will jump up those ranks.