Underdogs R’ Us: Standout Running Backs at the NFL Veteran Combine

We discussed some standout wide receivers in the first ever NFL Veteran Combine yesterday and lo and behold, today, one of those standouts, Nathan Slaughter, was signed by the Arizona Cardinals.

So as we stated, the Veteran Combine works.  It’s a great opportunity for non-rookies to basically interview with every team at the same time in one place on one day.

So now that we’ve looked at the wide receivers, let’s take a look at the running backs that participated in the first ever NFL Veteran Combine:

Bush, Michael RB Louisville
Hampton, Jewel RB Southern Illinois
Hines, Quentin RB Akron
Jones, Felix RB Arkansas
LeShoure, Mikel RB Illinois
Scott, Da’Rel RB Maryland
Wood, Cierre RB Notre Dame

Thanks to Ian Rapaport, we also have their 40-yard dash times:

For some, this was a opportunity to prove that they were still ready for the NFL.  For others, like Michael Bush, who had a terrific 2011 season with the Oakland Raiders with 1395 yards from scrimmage and 8 total touchdowns, and proceeded to have consecutive down years with the Chicago Bears on limited usage behind Matt Forte, this might mean something else:

Of course, an average 4.94 is not really that bad.  At the NFL Combine in February, 31 running backs ran the 40 yard dash, with the fastest time acquired by Jeremy Langford of Michigan State with a 4.42 and the slowest time had by Joey Isofa from Hawaii with 5.02.  So Bush would have been tied for second to last among all running backs, but then again, that’s not so bad for a 30 year old Bush.

But there was at least one running back at the Veteran Combine that may have potential, and that’s former Detroit Lion, Mikel Leshoure:

Leshoure had a terrific run at the University of Illinois over three years, capping it off with 1,893 total yards from scrimmage and 20 total touchdowns in 2010.  This led to his second round selection by the Detroit Lions in the 2011 NFL Draft.  Unfortunately, during a preseason practice, Leshoure tore his Achilles tendon and missed his entire rookie season.

US Presswire Photo

US Presswire Photo

After being suspended for the first two games of the 2012 season, he went on to top 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 9 touchdowns (good for 10th in the NFL that season).  However, due to a lingering hamstring injury, and simply falling behind the competition, Leshoure was only active for three games in 2013 and ultimately was released by the Lions in 2014.  Leshoure had a bunch of visits with several teams in 2014, but never found a landing spot.

With a year off, Leshoure had something to prove at the Veteran Combine.  His 40 yard dash average of 4.80 (with a top time of 4.75), which would have been 26th out of 31 at the NFL Combine, isn’t so bad.  Sure, it’s not breakaway speed, but Leshoure was always better as a two-way back, between the tackles and with yards after the catch (where he averaged 7.2 in 2012).  And he didn’t look bad in other drills (second in the video):

Regardless, it’s also clear that Leshoure is a real competitor, while remaining a committed team player, willing accept any role necessary for his team to be successful.  When his role was reduced significantly in 2013, he was frustrated, but still accepted it:

“It’s frustrating, because you know you could be out there to help the team.  I feel like I’m better than a reserve player, and I have more to give than that, but that’s my role now and that’s what I’m taking.”

Leshoure might not be ready to step back into a premiere role, but many running back needy teams (such as the 49ers, Vikings – if Peterson doesn’t return – and Chargers) could do worse than Leshoure as a roll of the dice in the preseason for a short term incentive laden contract.  He was a second round pick and perhaps won’t live up to that billing.  But the potential to get there still exists.

And don’t we all love underdog stories?


By Ha Kung Wong

Twitter: @FBGarbageTime