Two running backs were on display tonight, and both impressed. However, while one is known by all and may be a bit overvalued, the other could be undervalued as a prospect. Find out more...after the jump!
Looking at the first back on tap, Noel Devine is an interesting case. Personally, I am a huge Devine supporter. He has elite quickness, a versatile skillset, and is more durable than some might assume. He is still slightly built at 5 foot 8, 180 pounds, but he seems comfortable at that weight and able to take hits. Considering he plays in one of the most physical conferences in the country, he still was stellar last season and I expect him to be great this year as well.
However, something scares me a bit about Devine, and it was on display tonight against Marshall. The things that made him so special, his speed and tackle-breaking ability, have not appeared yet in these past couple of games.
Sure, Noel averaged nearly 5 yards a carry and had over 100 yards on the ground. However, his longest run was 17 yards, and he did not seem to be breaking many tackles. This performance came off another game against Charleston Southern where Devine averaged less than 5 yards per carry. Consider that Devine should be having huge games against substandard competition, and it is a bit disconcerting.
In the NFL, which currently places a high value on having a running back by committee, Devine would theoretically be used as a pure speed scatback, which gives him early third round value in my eyes (given, of course, that a running back should never go in the first round unless they are truly elite in every sense of the game.) However, it seems that, at least through the first couple of games, Coach Bill Stewart is trying to get Devine more runs up the middle and testing his toughness. This new running style is not conducive to Devine's long-term success. I will be very interested to see how Devine looks at the NFL Combine, and I fully expect his performance to pick up, but I want to see a bit more of that legendary burst which will be his meal ticket at the next level.
On the other hand, Bryce Beall is a running back who may be slipping under the radar. At 5 foot 11, 209 pounds, Beall is a junior who I think could come out for the draft this year. He has a straight ahead running style and is fast enough to run away from defenders.
He will not be nearly as high of a draft pick as other running backs in this class; considering the offense he plays in and the nature of running back drafting in the NFL, it will take a team to fall in love with him in the fifth, sixth or seventh rounds to hear his name called. However, he has the skillset to succeed no matter where he is picked. He can run the ball, catch, and block. Playing in spread offenses is a hinderance to quarterbacks in terms of professional preparation, but running backs can benefit. An ability to protect the quarterback will go a long way for Beall.
I think Devine will probably end up going in the early second round a la Dexter McCluster, (even though for both I had/have third round grades) and Beall will be a late rounder or undrafted. However, keep an eye on the young Cougar; he could be a really nice late round pick, and we have seen unheralded running backs make massive impacts in the NFL before.