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Off The Radar Prospect: Timothy Flanders

by David Seigerman
Jun 10, 2013 8:41 PM EDT



Timothy Flanders is not Barry Sanders. With all due respect to former Montana coach Robin Pflugrad, being a sub-6-foot running back with shifty moves doesn’t make you Barry Sanders anymore than weighing 250 pounds makes you a Kenmore.

You can understand why Pflugrad felt that way when he made that comparison in December 2011. He’d just seen Flanders rush for 287 yards against his Grizzles in an FCS semifinal.

And he wasn't alone in that opinion. After one particular run in which Flanders flashed a couple of full-speed lateral cuts, Andre Ware – Sanders’ former teammate in Detroit – expressed the same suggestion during the ESPN broadcast of that game.

Still, height, moves, jersey No. 20 and names that rhyme do not make Flanders Sanders. That’s not a knock. No one else is Sanders either.

But Sandersesque . . . now that’s a different story . . .

Flanders enters his senior season at Sam Houston State as an off-the-radar running back whose name you should know before the 2014 NFL draft. In three seasons with the Bearkats, he’s produced impressive numbers (4,243 rushing yards, 52 rushing TDs) without the workload that causes scouts to worry. Flanders has averaged 120 total yards per game, rushing and receiving, in his career on only 20.4 touches an outing. That’s roughly six yards per touch, regardless of how the ball gets in his hands. There will still be plenty of tread on his tires when the NFL comes around to take him for a spin.

And what strikes you when you watch film on Flanders is that, yes, you do see a move – a change of direction without losing a step – that is reminiscent of you-know-who.

Go back to that Montana game. Up by three with two minutes left, Sam Houston State faced a fourth-and-1 on its 48. Had the ‘Kats punted, they could have forced the Grizzlies to have to drive the full field. But they had Flanders and the hope he’d take it between the tackles for the yard they’d need to seal the game.

Flanders took the handoff and headed up the middle, where it looked like he had the room to gain the yard. But he felt the flow of the defense leaving its right edge unattended. Without slowing down, he cut back against the flow, shoulders square the whole time, just out of the desperate reach of a defender. He made the edge easily, and the first down, and a bunch more. He slid down at the 30, icing the game and helping Sam Houston advance to the FCS final. In a game full of big plays, that perhaps was the biggest.

At 5-9, 210 pounds (built more like Stepfan Taylor than the smaller Sanders), Flanders can gain the tough yards. But he has the field vision and the feet to break the big play when he sees the opportunity – as his eight career TD runs of 50 or more yards would suggest.

In fact, Flanders sets up the big play. “In the beginning of a game, I like to keep it front side, get everybody committed. Then, let the cutback come later,” said Flanders.

That suggests a player who isn’t running purely on instincts. Flanders says he likes to watch film to better understand how a defense will attack him; he’ll even pop into the O-Line film study sessions to see how they’re planning to block a certain play.

Such attention to detail serves a back well. Flanders has 25 career 100-yard games on his resume already, along with the last two Southland Conference Player of the Year awards. That’s the kind of consistency that will open scouts’ eyes long enough to see a play that will turn their heads.