Coming into the 2017 season, Alabama’s next big running back star was expected to be Bo Scarbrough. After a reasonably productive 2016 season that saw him hit the end zone 11 times, Scarbrough saw hype as a potential early-round selection in 2018 if he could build on that season the way Mark Ingram, T.J. Yeldon, and others had done before him. There was a catch, however, and it was one that reared its ugly head despite putting up fair numbers in a reserve role.
With the Detroit Lions needing to inject some talent into their running back corps, they’ll likely be looking for someone who can help their woeful power running game. Scarbrough, if he can remain healthy, could be the type of bruising power back that can convert third-and-short yardage situations without the team having to rely on low percentage runs to the outside hoping you can make a single cut and pick up that single yard or two.
Weight: 232 pounds
Current Projection: 5th-7th round
The biggest knock you’ll find on Bo Scarbrough is his inability to remain healthy for any length of time. Plagued by injuries dating all the way back to high school, his talent for finding ways to initiate and power through contact has not been kind to his own general health.
When he isn’t nursing an injury or two, Scarbrough is a load to bring down and a terror in the open field when he gets there. A punishing runner with a knack for getting skinny through holes you wouldn’t expect a 230-pound runner to fit through, you’ll rarely find instances of him falling at first contact. Able to follow his assignments and push through a hole, Scarbrough often gets more yardage than is blocked for him and though he isn’t what you would call fast by any measure, he has more speed than his size and frame suggests he’d have. In DraftTek’s profile of Scarbrough, they compared him to Derrick Henry in how he runs with power:
“As I said, he seems every bit as powerful as Henry was and Scarbrough uses that stiff-arm move just as effectively. Being a taller back, he knows players taking an angle to get to him have to go low, and he is good at shooting those big, strong hands into the defender's upper body or helmet area.”
Medicals and Character
Scarbrough served a four-game suspension as a freshman for the Tide, reportedly due to an NCAA issue related to amateurism. He also tore his ACL that season, the first of several major issues during his Alabama career. It wasn’t his first injured season, though, as he came to Alabama with a reputation of being both a freak athlete (and five-star prospect), and a high injury risk.
"Scarbrough has yet to play a full season of high school football. He broke his ankle in his freshman season, tore his ACL as a sophomore and suffered a high-ankle sprain last year. All three injuries cut his seasons short."
Scarbrough broke out after returning from that ACL tear, but was once again injured in 2016, this time during the National Championship game. Scarbrough was a beast in the game, but ended up breaking his leg and the Tide struggled after his departure. 2017 didn’t start off well, missing time with illness before soundly losing a large portion of his carries to Damien Harris. Scarbrough still saw decent production, but Nick Saban wisely limited his touches to maintain his health.
With prototypical power-back size but better than expected speed and agility, Scarbrough was a top high school prospect based largely on his athletic potential. Despite his lengthy injury history, I expect Scarbrough to measure very well at the combine, assuming he’s healthy enough to measure at all. I’d be surprised if his explosion numbers are as poor as they were coming out of high school, and that his agility numbers are as impressive, but I expect both to be at or above average for a running back. That’s impressive considering his size, but it’s really the combine medicals that are going to be most telling for Bo.
2015 - 18 Attempts, 104 Yards, 5.8 YPC, 1 TD
2016 - 125 Attempts, 812 Yards, 6.5 YPC, 11 TDs
2017 - 108 Attempts, 549 Yards, 5.1 YPC, 8 TDs
During the draft season we’ve been paying very close attention to the running back class with the expectation that it was not only possible but likely that Jim Caldwell remains the head coach of the Detroit Lions in 2018. That seems far less likely now, but what struck me during my viewing was how few running backs would have truly fit in Caldwell and Jim Bob Cooter’s rushing scheme. Bo Scarbrough was one of those few.
Despite being a larger power back, he often ran the same kind of outside runs that Cooter and Caldwell are so fond of. Unlike the Lions, however, Scarbrough was able to find the holes and hit them for positive yardage. If the scheme remained the same, with the same level of poor blocking, I have no doubts that someone like Scarbrough would find more success than we’ve seen from any of the Lions’ current stable of backs. With improved blocking, there’s true breakaway potential.
That said, the inherent risk of fragility cannot be ignored, and a running style that doesn’t exactly shy from contact is only going to open up the chance of injury at the pro level. Bo Scarbrough is expected to measure as an elite athlete, and coupled with his strong tape I would expect some team to take a gamble on him, perhaps even the Detroit Lions. Would he be worth the risk, though?