Detroit Lions running backs coach David Walker has been all around the country scouting potential additions to the Lions backfield. One of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL still needs some retooling to be effective. After the team dropped serious free agency cash on offensive linemen T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner, they have looked to the deep crop of rushers in the draft to possibly help in that area. The team has already been directly or indirectly linked with more than twice the number of running backs that we were able to spy on their draft board last season and one of the most recent and substantial of such links was with college football’s all time rushing record setter* Donnel Pumphrey.
Pumphrey doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence with his athletic profile mostly due to his diminutive size. 5-foot-8 wouldn’t be a big deal on its own (heck, that was Barry’s listed height), but he played under 170 and measured only 176 at the NFL Combine. He posted a strong 40-yard dash of 4.48, but skipped the agility drills he was expected to excel in. Instead, he managed only 5 bench reps (the weights and bar weigh almost 50 pounds more than he does) and put up below average broad and vertical numbers. Essentially you’re banking on the small and fast, and hoping the shiftiness is real.
While his size is going to raise some durability concerns, Pumphrey was the definition of durable in college. He posted an astounding 1,059 carries for 6,405 yards and 62 touchdowns. That’s just his rushing numbers, as he added 99 catches for 1,039 yards and another five touchdowns through the air. The sheer volume by itself is impressive, but throw in that he managed that while going for 6 yards per carry and 10.5 yards per catch and you’ve got a guy who knows how to be productive in a system.
Pumphrey is tough to project in the NFL since there isn’t really anyone who matches his body type. People often point to Darren Sproles (as they do with any small rusher), but Sproles measured more than 10 pounds higher at weigh ins and played nearly 20 pounds higher at Kansas State than Pumphrey did in college. Sproles also posted 23 bench reps despite being only 187 pounds and didn’t skip the agility drills so we knew he was elite there (Sproles posted a ridiculous 3.96 short shuttle). While we often assume the Lions are looking for a power compliment to Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick, it’s worth noting that Theo Riddick recently had surgery on his wrists so the team could be looking to find at least a temporary replacement for that production. Pumphrey’s value is pretty wild, but most have him going as early as the fourth round and as late as the sixth. If the team looks at him as an eventual Theo Riddick replacement, I’d split the difference and take him in the fifth.