NFL Draft: Profiling the top senior RBs from the SEC

NFL Draft: Profiling the top senior RBs from the SEC

The Southeastern Conference has long been known to churn out dynamic running back talent at the NFL level. Notable running backs that have been drafted in the first two days of the NFL Draft includes Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, Alvin Kamara, and Nick Chubb.

While much of the attention is rightfully focused on D’Andre Swift, Kylin Hill, and Rakeem Boyd in 2019, the SEC offers a talented quartet of senior running backs who hope to hear their names called during the 2020 NFL Draft. 

I’ve highlighted the four seniors, who will each have a tremendous opportunity to boost their stock for the 2020 NFL Draft: Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Scottie Phillips, Rico Dowdle, and Lamical Perine.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn

Vaughn began his collegiate career as a member of the Illinois Fighting Illini, where he rushed for 1,024 yards and nine touchdowns in eight starts over his two seasons. He transferred to Vanderbilt in 2017.

The 5-foot-10, 218-pound dynamo took the college football world by storm in 2018, rushing for 1,244 yards and 12 touchdowns over a 12 game span. The redshirt junior finished second among all SEC running backs and averaged 103.7 rushing yards a game.

What does Vaughn have in store for an encore, you ask?

Last season’s breakout star, Vaughn was named to the preseason Maxwell Award and Doak Walker Award watch lists entering his redshirt senior campaign. Through four games, the Commodores’ biggest threat on offense has amassed 398 rushing yards and four touchdowns on just 69 carries.

Though the chiseled downhill runner checks off many boxes at the next level, the biggest question surrounds his receiving ability. To be a true, three-down RB at the next level, he will need to prove he is just as adept at catching the football as he is running the football between the tackles. Assuming he can put together a well-rounded season to close out what has been a prolific collegiate career, Vaughn could potentially be selected as early as the third round in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Scottie Phillips

Phillips has taken an indirect path to college football stardom.

A star at Jones County Junior College, Phillips was touted as a four-star JUCO recruit by ESPN.

The JUCO standout wasted little time making an impact at Ole Miss, starting 10 of 11 contests in 2018. The 5-foot-8, 211-pound runner finished third in the SEC in rushing touchdowns (12) and ninth in rushing yards (927). He was also named to the Athletic Director’s Fall Honor Roll list.

Through five games, Phillips has 389 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 92 carries.

Built similarly to Maurice Jones-Drew, Phillips has the size, balance, and vision to create running lanes. Like the aforementioned Vaughn, he will need to demonstrate his receiving prowess if he expects to be more than an upside-laden Day 3 pick in this year’s NFL Draft.

Rico Dowdle 

Dowdle may be the most intriguing player listed here, simply because his brilliant flashes of potential have been precisely that — flashes.

Dowdle’s South Carolina career got off to a promising start. Playing in nine games as a true freshman, the six-foot, 215-pound slasher rushed for 764 yards on just 133 attempts, scoring six touchdowns on the ground and one through the air. He was named to Athlon’s SEC All-Freshman second team for his efforts.

A fractured bone in his leg would limit the talented rusher to just eight games the following season, however. His abbreviated sophomore campaign yielded 251 yards on 66 carries, including two scores.

Dowdle returned to lead the team in rushing the following season. The ascending junior ran for 654 yards in 12 games (8 starts). Despite his success on the ground, the Gamecocks’ standout was criminally underutilized throughout the season.

Throughout five games in 2019, Dowdle has compiled 370 yards on 56 carries and added eight receptions for 72 yards through the air. The adversity-stricken senior is currently on pace to surpass his stellar first season in Columbia.

While he may never be a feature running back in the NFL, Dowdle would thrive in a committee backfield. His size would seemingly default him to a punishing, between the tackles runner, but he’s proven to be a capable receiver out of the backfield. Teams may be a bit wary of his injury background, but I suspect those issues will be put to rest after this season. I currently have Dowdle as a Day 3 selection.

Lamical Perine

In terms of raw talent, Perine is arguably among the best in the draft at his position.

After finishing second on the Gators with 421 rushing yards as a freshman in 2016, Perine hasn’t looked back.

Perine played in all 11 games the following season (8 starts), rushing for 562 yards and eight touchdowns on 136 carries. Despite Florida’s storied tradition of a committee backfield, Perine emerged from the crowd once again, leading the team with 643 total yards of offense. 

The 5-foot-11, 218-pound dual-threat maximized his minimal amount of carries in 2018, leading the team with a career-high 826 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Amazingly, he accomplished this feat despite making one start last season.

Perine is currently ranked 19th in the SEC in rushing yards, accumulating just 197 yards on the ground over the first five games. Carries have been hard to come by for the Alabama native, as he’s yet to surpass 14 in any game thus far.

Perine is a player who should garner Senior Bowl consideration and will likely test well at the NFL Scouting Combine and Florida’s pro day. Much like Dowdle, and most Florida running backs in recent years, for that matter, Perine probably won’t be a bell-cow runner for most teams.

Most scouts are likely to be intrigued by Perine’s penchant for maximizing his inconsistent opportunities over his four seasons, while others may point to those same inconsistencies and hold that against him.

As of now, I have Perine as an early Day 3 pick, with a chance to play his way into late Day 2 consideration.