Terrell Davis knows a thing or two about taking advantage of every opportunity as a late-round NFL Draft hopeful.
A sixth-round pick of the Denver Broncos in the 1995 NFL Draft, the Georgia product went on to run for more than 7,600 yards and 60 touchdowns en route to two NFL Offensive Player of the Year awards, an NFL MVP and two Super Bowl titles.
And as all league eyes this week turn to Indianapolis, where 300-plus NFL hopefuls will make their case for all 32 teams this week at the NFL Combine, Davis said there's five running backs coming out of two conferences — the Big Ten and the SEC — that have caught his eye.
Davis tabbed three backs from the northern conference (Tevin Coleman, Indiana; Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska; Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin) and two out of the country’s southeast (T.J. Yeldon, Alabama; Todd Gurley, Georgia) as his top running back prospects this year.
Check out these photos of Melvin Gordon, a workhorse running back from the University of Wisconsin.
Despite playing in only six games due to injuries, Gurley racked up 911 yards on 123 attempts (7.4 yards per carry) with nine touchdowns. In 10 games with 42 more carries as a junior, the 6-1, 236-pound back managed just one more touchdown and 78 more yards.
When Gurley takes the stage in Indy, all eyes will be on him and Davis believes he’s the most complete back in the group.
“Here’s a guy that possesses every single attribute you want from a running back: big, physical, great vision, great body length, great balance. He has it all,” Davis said. “But unfortunately for him, he tore his ACL. I think he’ll be able to bounce back from that injury. I still think that people will take a chance on him.”
Statistically, Gordon leads the way for this year’s class of running backs. The winner of the 2014 Doak Walker Award and the 2014 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, Gordon finished with 2,587 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns, both topping the rushing charts in the NCAA.
A powerful back that has a nose for the endzone, Davis sees a lot of Jamaal Charles, who’s rushed for three-consecutive 1,000-yard seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs, in the former Badger.
“They have a similar running style,” Davis said. “The guy possesses a lot of qualities you look for in a back. He has durability. I think he’s going to do well.”
The Crimson Tide of Alabama has produced several quality backs in the past five years. Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy, Indianapolis’ Trent Richardson and New Orleans’ Mark Ingram have all gone on to have successful careers following their time in Tuscaloosa.
This year, Yeldon seems primed to continue that tradition.
After rushing for more than 1,000 yards in his first two seasons as the starter, Yeldon’s numbers dropped as a junior, rushing for just 979 yards and 11 touchdowns and averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Davis, however, isn’t worried about his production; rather he’s more interested in what type of role he’ll play in the NFL.
Check out these photos of the Redskins' running backs in action during the 2014 season.
“His numbers were a little bit down from his previous years,” the 1998 NFL MVP said. “I’m curious to see what kind of back he is. Is he a system back? Because they do run a pro-style system at Alabama. Is he going to be an Eddie Lacy? Or will he turn out to be more like a Trent Richardson?”
To round out his five, Davis heads back north to the Big Ten with Abdullah and Coleman. At 5-8 and just 195-pounds, Abdullah’s body type is certainly different from that of Coleman (6-1, 210-pounds). Both, however, enter the combine on the heels of career-high seasons.
Second only to Gordon, Coleman rushed for 2,036 yards and 15 touchdowns in his junior season for the Hoosiers. He averaged 7.5 yards per carry and finished his career averaging 7.1 yards per touch, the third-best career average in the Big Ten since 1956.
“He reminds me a little bit of Darren McFadden,” Davis said. “He’s got the long strides as he breaks away. He looks like him, so I want to keep my eye on him to see what he can do at the combine.”
Much smaller than his Indiana counter-part, Abdullah capped off his time with the Cornhuskers by rushing for 1,611 yards on 22 touchdowns, his third-consecutive with at least 1,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. Out of the backfield, he proved to be a reliable target, catching 22 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns as a senior.
Davis, who stands just a couple inches taller than Abdullah, says that the size shouldn’t be what holds him back in the eyes of the scouts.
“There are a lot of backs in the NFL who are only 5-8, 5-9, so don’t let the size fool you,” he said. “This guy is a very good back. [He] reminds of [Cincinnati Bengals running back] Giovanni Bernard – very good out of the backfield, has great start and stop ability, great top end speed. He gets there quickly.”
Last year, it wasn’t until the Tennessee Titans took Bishop Sankey 54th overall in the second round that a running back was taken off the board. This year, however, Davis doesn’t believe the wait will be that long.
“I think you take a flyer on Gurley because he is a unique back,” Davis said. “You don’t see that type of quality from backs often, so I think you do and I think for Melvin Gordon, you have to. I would pick him somewhere in the first round.”