The Southeastern Conference has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the running back position, boasting over a half-dozen prospects poised to hear their names called within the first four rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft.
A vast majority of the conferences’ top rushers all have similar stories. They discovered a love for the game at a young age, were always the best players at every level of football, and highly sought after prospects. Most of them took the traditional path to college football stardom.
Arkansas’ Rakeem Boyd, however, took anything but the conventional path to relevance.
This is the story of Rakeem Boyd, a player that has prospered against seemingly improbable odds to put himself in position to hear his name called in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Perhaps the only thing Boyd has in common with his backfield peers in the SEC, is that he too was a dominant player at a young age.
Rushing for an astounding 6,436 yards and 80 touchdowns over his four-year career at Stratford High School (Houston, TX.), colleges across the nation were in heavy pursuit of the electrifying runner.
Pegged as a three-star recruit by 247Sports, Michigan, Arizona State, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Utah were among the schools courting the Houston native.
Texas A&M, who offered late in the recruiting process, was the school that ultimately ended up with Boyd’s services. He became the Aggies’ 14th commitment of their promising 2016 recruiting class.
Despite the early optimism surrounding Boyd and his potential contributions for an Aggies team in desperate need of a homerun threat, he was given the redshirt designation. He spent his freshman campaign on the scout team and was given the weekly task of emulating the opposing running back in practice to help prepare the defense.
With his redshirt season behind him, Boyd turned his attention to what he hoped to be a breakout sophomore campaign. Academic deficiencies, however, prompted an early transfer — to the unlikeliest of destinations.
Independence Community College
Determined to redirect his once-promising course, Rakeem Boyd opted to test the rugged waters of JUCO football, transferring to Independence Community College in spring of 2017. This would prove to be humbling experience for Boyd, who was going from a renowned Division I program to an obscure junior college in Independence, Kansas — a town with a population size of around 8,800.
While the school was largely considered to be the doormat of JUCO football at the time, the Pirates were coming off a 5-4 season in which they beat multiple ranked teams in the Kansas Jayhawks Community College Conference. The fact that the school had been selected to appear on Season 3 of Netflix’s Last Chance U would only help with Boyd’s exposure.
In a turbulent season that included injuries, academic issues — and a pesky backfield timeshare — Boyd managed to salvage his lone season in Independence. The six-foot, 210-pound redshirt freshman ran for 1,211 yards and 14 touchdowns in 10 games for the Pirates. His season highlights included a 303-yard showing against Coffeyville Community College, and a 215-yard outing against Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College.
He eclipsed the 100-yard rushing barrier in half of the games played, and was tabbed as the No. 3 rated JUCO running back by 247Sports. Before long, the offers began pouring in. Torn between three schools, Boyd decided on the University of Arkansas.
He had achieved what he set out to accomplish when he arrived at Independence: Return to the Division I level.
In 2018, his first season as a Razorback, Rakeem Boyd played through lower back and shoulder injuries, rushing for 734 yards and two touchdowns on 123 carries. He added 23 receptions for 165 yards through the air. He turned in 100-yard outings against Alabama, Mississippi, and Vanderbilt.
Boyd needed surgery on his right labrum after the 2018 season.
Boyd ranks third in the SEC in rushing this season through seven games, compiling 656 yards and five touchdowns on 119 carries. His early-season highlights include a 122-yard, two-touchdown performance against Colorado State, and a 134-yard, two-touchdown effort against Kentucky.
2020 NFL Draft Outlook
Though he’s only played 19 games of Division I football, there is a good chance Rakeem Boyd enters his name into the 2020 NFL Draft.
Boyd’s game translates well to the next level. The Razorback standout offers a unique blend of power, patience, finesse — and his innate vision is unparalleled. At nearly 215 pounds, he offers the flexibility to run downhill or beat defenders around the edge. One of his greatest attributes is his ability to create positive yards, as his collegiate average of 5.7 yards per carry would indicate. His limited tread (242 carries) is another enticing selling point.
While some draft evaluators may point to his limited sample size as a pass catcher (34 receptions) and inconsistencies in pass protection and write him off — there is no denying that he has the makings of an eventual three-down back at the next level.
Though Boyd’s obstacle-laden collegiate career could very well be coming to an end in December, his next journey will find him living out a lifelong dream: playing in the NFL.