As we countdown to the NFL Draft starting on May 8, I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths and weaknesses of at least the top 20 or so offensive skill-position prospects available in this draft.
Hands: 9 1/8”
Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.54
Vertical Jump: 33 1/2”
Broad Jump: 10’
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Background (College Stats)
Every draft year produces its share of feel-good stories and West is one of them this season. Although he was heavily recruited by Clemson after a productive high school career, he needed to take a “prep” year at Fork Union Military Academy (Va.) for the 2009-10 school year when he struggled to qualify academically. West left Fork Union prematurely because he was too far from his home (Baltimore) and thought he had a walk-on offer from Maryland the following season before that fizzled out. The last straw was missing the filing deadline to gain admission to Morgan State. It was at that point West turned to selling shoes in order to support himself and his son before he got permission to walk on from Towson coach Rob Ambrose with the Tigers following their 1-10 season in 2010. Despite being away from football for two years, West “killed it” (in his words) the following spring and began destroying records during his history-making three-year run in the FCS. West drew only one start his freshman campaign, but put the Towson rushing attack on his shoulders when he carried 194 times for 1,294 yards and a FCS freshman-record 29 rushing touchdowns. He posted another 1,000-yard season (with 14 touchdowns on 195 attempts) in 2012 before shattering a multitude of FCS records this past year – including 41 rushing scores and 2,509 rushing yards – en route to finishing third in the voting for the Walter Payton Award.
NFL Player Comp(s): Rashad Jennings
- Patient runner with excellent vision; quicker feet and a bit more elusiveness than expected from a bigger back.
- Thickly-built back that rarely goes down on an arm tackle or first contact.
- A true workhorse runner who was the focal point of the offensive gameplan each week and still thrived despite all the attention defenses paid him; seems to embrace contact and appears to get stronger as the game goes on.
- Has the ability to get “skinny” and squeeze out of a small hole.
- Wasn’t used all that creatively in the passing game, but has natural hands and should serve as a strong safety-value option at the very least.
- Looks to initiate contact and deliver the blow as a blocker.
- Doesn’t always play to timed speed; appeared to destroy defenders’ angles some of the time and unable to break away from FCS safeties and/or linebackers other times.
- Makes too much contact with his blockers at the line of scrimmage.
- Tends to run a bit high at times and will not always keep his legs churning upon contact (the latter seemed to improve as 2013 wore on).
- Did not consistently show he was a classic big back that can move a pile and was stuffed too often near the goal line.
- Massive workload (413 carries in 2013 alone, 802 for his career).
- Carries ball exclusively in right hand.
There are numerous players that have made the jump from the FCS level to the NFL and West has a chance to be as successful as any of them in recent memory. Although many will use the ever-popular “did not consistently face a high level of competition” phrase when evaluating him, the truth of the matter is that Towson faced the likes of Maryland and LSU (as well as North Dakota State, which might as well be a Division I program) and West produced against each of them. As his final numbers will attest, West was a man among boys at the FCS level for most of his career, but he has enough bad tape to give teams a bit of pause – as difficult as that is to believe for someone as productive as he was. (For the bad tape, look no further than his 2013 game against James Madison in which he appeared to be a good FCS back and little more for most of the game. For the good tape, move ahead three weeks and watch him post 39 carries for 354 yards and five touchdowns in a win over Eastern Illinois.) West has navigated a long and difficult road to get to this point, so talent evaluators have to like what they see from a psychological perspective. On the field, West’s best fit is probably going to be in a one-cut, zone-blocking scheme since he possesses above-average vision and the feet to make a move once he is in the hole. West profiles as a “sustainer” between-the-tackles thumper that will eventually wear down opposing defenses if given enough opportunities, but the team that drafts him would be well-served to add a “lightning” component to their backfield (assuming they don’t have one already) to the “thunder” West will provide.