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    Jaleel McLaughlin, RB, Youngstown State | NFL Draft Scouting Report

    There's speed, and then there's Jaleel McLaughlin's speed. Where will the Youngstown State RB's scouting report see him go in the 2023 NFL Draft?

    Youngstown State has had three players selected in the NFL draft since 1998. They should add one more to that list this April. RB Jaleel McLaughlin is one of the smallest prospects in the class, but his scouting report details why he’s ready for football’s biggest stage.

    Jaleel McLaughlin NFL Draft Profile

    • Position: Running Back
    • School: Youngstown State
    • Current Year: Senior
    • Height/Weight: 5’7 3/4″, 187 pounds
    • Length: 30 3/8″
    • Hand: 8 5/8″

    Likely the best collegiate running back you’ve never heard of, McLaughlin is the NCAA’s all-time rushing leader with 8,166 yards. Shocked? You shouldn’t be — let’s rewind a bit.

    A three-sport star for Forest Hills High School in North Carolina, McLaughlin broke ankles on the court en route to a state championship, sprinted to two more championships on the track, and eviscerated defenses on the football field. Yet, his recruiting trail ran dry, with only DII programs showing interest — and only one who wanted to put the ball in his hands.

    The day McLaughlin planned on announcing his commitment to Charleston, they explained that they wanted him to change positions to defensive back — a move multiple other programs requested. But McLaughlin believed in his skill set as a running back, and Notre Dame College shared his belief.

    MORE: PFN’s FREE Mock Draft Simulator (With Trades)

    The North Carolina native repaid them with a commitment and two of the best DII rushing seasons … ever. McLaughlin became the first player at any NCAA level to run for 2,400+ yards in back-to-back seasons, set multiple school and DII records, and was a two-time finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy (DII’s Heisman).

    But cruising past that level of competition wasn’t enough for McLaughlin. He wanted to be the best he could be, so he entered the transfer portal in 2020 and took his talents to Youngstown State in the SEC of the FCS: The Missouri Valley Football Conference.

    With 578 touches, 4,010 total yards, and 32 total TDs later, McLaughlin has cemented himself as one of the greatest running backs to grace the collegiate gridiron. But his legacy doesn’t end there.

    Jaleel McLaughlin Scouting Report

    YSU head coach Doug Phillips knew what McLaughlin brought to the table, and so did the opposition:

    “You have to be disciplined on defense. If not, Jaleel will make you pay. Often after games, coaches will greet me and say, ‘That No. 8 is special.'”

    But what will McLaughlin bring to an NFL franchise, and where could he land in the 2023 NFL Draft?

    Strengths

    • Keeps his legs underneath his frame, limiting risk of major injury and allowing him to chain together multiple cuts.
    • Generally patient at the line, waiting for his blocks to set up before exploding through holes.
    • Easy accelerator, reaches top gear in an instant.
    • Has the near-elite speed to vanish past defenders in the box and eliminate pursuit angles downfield.
    • Always a threat to bounce any run outside, and if contain is broken, a chunk gain is nearly guaranteed.
    • Smaller stature allows him to hide behind blockers before finding daylight and “get skinny” between linemen in situations most backs wouldn’t be able to.
    • Has “make you miss” movement ability in tight areas as well as in 1-on-1 situations in space.
    • Despite the perception of being a perimeter-only rusher, has nearly identical numbers of carries between the tackles (267) as outside (271) at YSU.
    • Has the vision to produce in outside/inside zone or gap/power schemes.
    • Strong hands as a receiver with untapped potential to be a mismatch nightmare out of the backfield.
    • Immediate No. 1 returner potential with short-area quickness, twitch, and track speed.
    • Willing blocker in pass protection with experience communicating with the offensive line in a “point” system.

    Areas for Improvement

    • Will likely never be a three-down back due to his lack of size.
    • Will struggle to pick up blitzes against linebackers.
    • Has to lay his entire weight into chips against edge rushers, massively delaying his ability to get into his route.
    • Won’t break many arm tackles from larger defenders.
    • Can get stuck in congestion between the tackles — won’t ever push piles.
    • Occasionally bounces outside too early, running into trouble.
    • Belief in speed and overall talent leads to trying to do too much at times, resulting in less yardage than simply lowering pads and charging forward.
    • Will sometimes get tunnel vision between the tackles, not noticing opening cutback or outside lanes.

    Youngstown State RB Jaleel McLaughlin Current Draft Projection

    Although McLaughlin may not be on many draft analysts’ big boards or at the forefront of fans’ minds, he’s certainly caught the attention of NFL franchises. McLaughlin earned an invite to the Hula Bowl this season and reportedly met with 22 teams, including the Las Vegas Raiders, New York Giants, Miami Dolphins, and Carolina Panthers.

    While McLaughlin’s size is far from a strength, speed is the ultimate equalizer — and he has lots of it. At his pro day, McLaughlin ran a 4.44 at 192 pounds, nearly 10 pounds over his playing weight last season (183).

    Additionally, McLaughlin posted a near-17 minute cut-up on Youtube of just pass catching and protection tape, telling Pro Football Network, “One thing I’ve been doing a lot is catching balls from the jug machine and working on my route running. I want to be ready for everything — any situation I’m put into.”

    MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board

    He also explained his role in the pass-blocking scheme at YSU:

    “I was in charge of changing the point. We went by a point system where the offensive line is trying to take the middle of three linebackers (MIKE). I would see blitz indicators and change the point to the WILL or Sam linebacker because those guys are coming, and I know for a fact the MIKE isn’t. I take pride it in because I try to not be wrong at all.”

    I consider McLaughlin a Devon Achane-lite in this class. They share a similar size/speed profile, but Achane produced in the SEC without a strong supporting cast in 2022. As such, I believe he will hear his name called sometime on Day 2. Meanwhile, McLaughlin might have to wait until mid-to-late Day 3, simply due to his level of competition and body mass.

    South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong Jr. went off the board in the fourth round to the Patriots last year. He ran a 4.37 at 5’11” and 207 pounds, and his collegiate production mirrors McLaughlin’s — at least on the FCS level. I’d consider that the YSU RB’s ceiling, assuming he runs the 40 in the expected range. But he isn’t Achane or Strong; McLaughlin is his own prospect — one that merits an NFL draft selection.

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