Scouting The AdvoCare v100 And Liberty Bowls
As part of Football.com's coverage of all 35 bowl games, we will provide a draft prospect-primer, so you know whom to watch during every postseason game.
Maybe the workhorse back isn't extinct.
For weeks, I've been suggesting that the NFL is on the brink of a running back resurgence. For all the talk about immediate impacts made by rookie quarterbacks, the truth is more rookie running backs have made the greater first impression. In 2012, it was Doug Martin and Alfred Morris. This year, it's been Eddie Lacy and Zacy Stacy, primarily, with big roles also being played by Le'Veon Bell, Gio Bernard and Andre Ellington.
The running back class for 2014 features a handful of impact backs, and next year's crop will be even deeper. Conventional wisdom is that running backs aren't worth first round picks, but the demand for the Class of '14 might warrant teams consider taking them earlier than they have in the recent past.
Two of the top-5 backs expected to be available in this draft will be sharing the Shreveport stage at the AdvoCare v100 Bowl. As the calendar rolls over into a new year, there won't be a better place to catch the backs of the future.
Andre Williams, RB
No college back ever had a season like Barry Sanders did in 1988. During his best three-game stretch of that unparalleled season, Sanders gained 937 yards and scored 13 touchdown. Williams is no Sanders, but he turned in a plausible impression during one three-game stretch this season. He gained 897 yards and scored six TDs, and in doing so vaulted into the heart of the Heisman race and draft discussion. Williams had never rushed for 600 yards in a season before; he had three 200-yard games this year plus a pair of 300-yard games. Had he not sputtered against USC and Clemson and gotten hurt against Syracuse, Williams just might have threatened Sanders' 2,628-yard regular season.
But what does this breakout season mean for Williams as an NFL prospect? Well, he's a hard-running, one-cut back who will blast away at a defensive front, a runner who wears down defenses and isn't diminshed by the physical play late in games. He doesn't have breakaway speed (though he did break runs of 52 yards or longer in five straight games). He'll get his 25 touches a game the old-fashioned way -- by carrying the football instead of catching it. If Williams catches a pass in the bowl game, it'll be his first of the season.
He's the rare workhorse back coming out of college without a lot of mileage on him. Guys like Montee Ball and Ron Dayne and Ricky Williams came to the NFL with the toll of a ton of carries. Williams has 678 carries in four years, which the NFL will view favorably. He's a Day Two back who will be a 1,000-yard threat from Year One.
Ka'Deem Carey, RB
Carey is a different runner than Williams -- every bit the workhorse that Williams is (he has back-to-back seasons of 300+ carries) and just as consistently productive (3,645 yards, 40 rushing TDs the last two years). But Williams is more in the mold of Lacy and Stacy; Carey is less the battering ram and more of an explosive runner. He has a natural feel for cutback opportunities, and is full-speed full-time.
Plus, Carey has the added dimension of being an every-down back. He's experienced in pass protection and as a receiver, averaging a couple of catches a game. He'll be extremely effective in the screen game, as once he's in the open field, he is difficult to track down.
Marquis Flowers, OLB
Flowers transitioned from safety to Will backer this year and led the Wildcats with 86 tackles, including 8.5 for a loss. Still, he might find himself having to switch back in the pros, as he might be a bit too light to play on the weak side. He's listed at 6-foot-3, 233 pounds but looks leaner, and it wouldn't be a surprise to find out he's shrunk in the offseason.
Richardson is a long, lean corner (6-1, 188) with 10 career interceptions. He may lack the physicality to match up with the big receivers at the next level, especially at the line of scrimmage. He's dependable against the run, so perhaps he fits best as a zone corner in the NFL.
I've always had a fondness for the Liberty Bowl, as it was the first major college football game I'd ever covered. Two weeks after relocating to the wilds of West Tennessee in the waning days of 1989, I was dispatched to cover Air Force and Ole Miss in Memphis (yes, that was the Chuckie Mullins game).
Through my years of covering that game, I encountered more than a few players (and a air share of reporters) who were less than thrilled to be spending New Year's Eve in what they considered an afterthought of a bowl game. Still, I always peek in on the Liberty Bowl, if only for a few snaps. And I suspect a couple of scouts will be tuned in as well, if only to see the one legitimate prospect in the game, who is a potential first-rounder.
Gabe Jackson, G
Guards aren't to go as early as they did last year, when Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack were both top-10 draft picks. But there are three guards with first-round potential: Baylor's Cyril Richardson, Stanford's David Yankey and Jackson. At 6-foot-4, 340 pounds, he's about the same size as Richardson, and with 51 consecutive starts under his massive belt, Jackson is the most experienced player at any position in the country. He is a force as a run blocker, both at the point of attack and getting into the second level. His lateral mobility isn't on par with Richardson or Yankey, but once he gets his hands on a pass rusher, the guy's neutralized.
Chris Boswell, K
A few days ago, we told you abour Cairo Santos, Tulane's kicker and perhaps the top pro prospect among placekickers. Boswell is about the size of Santos plus another half-a-Santos. He's 6-2, 200, and has the kind of leg that the league will like. He's made 13 field goals from 50 yards or longer in his career; no active college kicker has more than five.
Phillip Gaines, CB
One of the more accomplished corners in Rice history, Gaines is a two-time first team all-Conference USA selection who has the chance to be a late-round pick. Opposing quarterbacks didn't look his way too often this year; he was thrown at only 40 times, allowed only 13 completions and had four interceptions.