Will He Be Daredevil?: Late Round Running Back Bargains in the NFL Draft
Ever watch a movie so bad that you swear it must have been written and directed by a collective of squirrels?
And I don’t mean the smart squirrels, I’m talking about the ones that don’t have any idea how to develop characters, put basic plot elements together, or, say, write dialog that sounds like what an actual person would say.
Well, I have.
If you follow me, you know I’m a big fan of super hero movies. I mean, with the popularity of the “Avengers”, super hero movies are actually kinda cool now. But back in 2003 when Ben Affleck played “Daredevil” in the movie of the same name, I basically lost all faith in humanity as there’s no way sane people thought this movie would be any good. Of course, it wasn’t nearly as bad as Nicolas Cage completely decimating the character of “Ghost Rider” not once, but twice. I’m still not 100% sure there was actual script written for those movies. Heck, I don’t even think Nick Cage knows what character he’s supposed to be playing. When asked to describe Ghost Rider, Cage gave this response:
What? Is that even a complete sentence? I think he’s just stringing words together hoping no one thinks about it too much. I mean, it’s been awhile, but that doesn’t sound anything like the character I remember from the comics. Nor like anything a normal human being would say. But I digress.
As you might know, “Daredevil” was recently rebooted as a TV show. Now, I really like the character, but boy was that 2003 Ben Affleck movie bad. But, thankfully, I decided to watch the new “Daredevil” series, and it was awesome. Like so awesome that I’ve totally forgotten how bad Ben Affleck was in the movie version. But not awesome enough to make me forget Nick Cage’s “Ghost Rider”. There are some things you just can’t unsee, like “Ghost Rider” and, well, Nick Cage in any interview he’s ever given.
So why did I take a chance and watch the new “Daredevil” series? Well, because it was on Netflix and I already pay for Netflix. So the low cost of watching the first episode (i.e. one hour of my time plus the chance my wife mocks me for making the same bad decision twice, which actually happens more than you think so I’m totally used to it) was totally worth the risk of me hating it. And that’s exactly what teams should be saying about the 2015 NFL draft running back class.
Of course, not every team has a first round pick to spend on Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon. But almost every team does have a spare pick to risk in the fourth round or later on an upside running back. And I don’t think any of those lottery tickets are better bets than Cameron Artis-Payne and Karlos Williams.
Cameron Artis-Payne – Auburn
Projected Draft Round – Fourth
Cameron Artis-Payne has had a long road getting to this point. It’s been seven years since Artis-Payne was in high school, making him a potential 25-year old rookie. But he’s had a lot of experience running the ball at all levels and showed tremendous growth and patience at Auburn until he had his time in the spotlight in 2014. At 212 pounds and 5 foot 10 inches, he’s closer to change of pace back than workhorse (for comparison, Shane Vereen is 205 pounds and 5 foot 10 inches). But what he lacks in girth, he makes up for in skill and vision. In 2014, Artis-Payne amassed an impressive 1,608 rushing yards on 303 carries and totaled 13 touchdowns. Aside from demonstrating great instincts, little hesitation and an ability exploit openings in the line, Artis-Payne also proved that he could handle a full workload in the NFL. And his 4.53 second 40-yard dash doesn’t hurt either.
Whether his size will be a cause for concern in the NFL, though, will remain to be seen. At Auburn, he had no issue taking contact, but taking contact in the NFL is whole other level. In addition, unlike Vereen, Artis-Payne has not had significant success catching the ball out of the backfield, a skill necessary for change of pace backs in the NFL. In fact he only had 13 receptions in total during his 2014 season at Auburn, and it’s been noted that he’s unproven as a route runner.
Of course, Artis-Payne is no stranger to adversity, and has been running his way through it for more years than most.
“Anybody who has talked to me and gets to know me knows I have a chip on my shoulder. I had to work real hard to get to this level. At the end of the day, I believe I can make it here. People said I couldn’t play in the SEC. People said I couldn’t do this or that, I led the SEC in rushing and had one of the better rushing seasons in Auburn history. It’s all motivation.”
Although far from a sure thing, for a fourth round pick, Artis-Payne has potential to be an every down back, or at minimum, a significant and productive part of a committee. For running back needy teams, he’s a great flyer to take in the fourth round that could pay off in spades.
Karlos Williams – Florida State
Projected Draft Round – Fifth
If you want a workhorse back, you need a player that not only has speed, but has power and can take contact. You need a player that can zone in and hit hard — perhaps even someone who used to do exactly that, but on defense as a safety. Yes, Karlos Williams was a safety prior to converting to running back in 2013. In fact, prior to attending Florida State, Williams was ranked the number 2 safety in the nation by Rivals.com. But after he took his first touch on offense for a 65 yard touchdown against NC State, people began to wonder why he just didn’t start at running back from the get go. Williams continued to have a breakout year in 2013 with 730 yards and 11 touchdowns averaging 8.0 yards per carry.
It looked like sky was the limit, but Williams ceded ground to Delvin Cook in 2014, eventually sharing carries and, although managing to score an impressive 11 touchdowns, only totaled 689 yards on 150 attempts at a 4.6 yards per carry average.
Williams is incredibly athletic and versatile. He’s started at safety, linebacker, running back and on special teams during his tenure at Florida State, and has excelled at each position played. Although people will view his 2014 season as disappointing, in actuality, the skill set did not decline, and it’s clear that he has potential to be a three down back in the NFL as he has size (235 pounds), speed (40 yard dash of 4.48 seconds) and has significant ability to make yards after contact (surely a result of being an aggressive and gifted tackler on defense and on special teams).
Of course, there’s significant risk as Williams hasn’t displayed the instincts of a workhorse running back, most likely due to the fact that he’s only been a running back for just under two seasons. It’s been mentioned that he likes to go outside and does not run well inside between the tackles, which would be a significant concern in the NFL, especially for a three down back.
And just like many other Florida State prospects, Williams has had his share of off the field issues, as he was implicated as an associate in an armed robbery in June 2014 and was involved in an alleged domestic battery in October 2014. But after Williams acquired an attorney and refused to make statements in either case, and Williams’ ex-girlfriend — the alleged victim in the domestic battery — agreed to receiving assistance from a victim’s advocate but adamantly refused to make a statement, no charges were ever brought against Williams.
With the potential off field concerns and the limited experience at running back, it will be a risky proposition selecting Williams. But with the sheer athletic potential, acquiring him in the fifth round could prove to be a risk worth taking.
And there you have it. Sometimes you can’t be successful unless you take a chance. And when the price is right, sometimes that chance ends up being Larry Brown, Wilbert Montgomery, Jamal Anderson, Terrell Davis, or Bo Jackson (yes, he was drafted in the first round by the Buccaneers in 1986, but didn’t join the NFL until he was drafted in the 7th round by the Raiders in 1987).
And remember, as Nick Cage said:
“I am not a demon. I am a lizard, a shark, a heat-seeking panther. I want to be Bob Denver on acid playing the accordion.”
I have no idea what that means, but I’m really looking forward to the movie where he plays a “heat-seeking panther.”