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As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on April 30,
I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths
and weaknesses of at least the top 15 offensive skill-position prospects
available in this draft.
Ameer Abdullah is a first round talent
stuck in a frame smaller than NFL personnel types would like.
Abdullah spurned offers to attend schools like Alabama or Auburn
because most of the coaches recruiting him wanted him to play cornerback.
He ascended to second on the depth chart behind Rex Burkhead and
made his impact mostly as a returner in 2011 before taking advantage
of an early knee injury to Burkhead as a sophomore and went on to
run for at least 100 yards in his first five starts – the
first Nebraska to accomplish that feat since 1994. Abdullah eventually
posted the first of his three 1,000-yard rushing seasons, which
is a school record for a program renowned for its running backs.
His assault on the school’s record books began in earnest
as a junior, stringing together 100-yard games in 11 of his 13 contests
– including eight straight at one point – while his
1,690 rushing yards in 2013 were enough to help him beat out Wisconsin’s
Melvin Gordon for All-Big Ten honors. Abdullah was one of the leading
candidates for the Heisman Trophy halfway through his final season,
putting together four 200-yard rushing performances through the
first eight games and even setting a school record with 341 all-purpose
yards against Rutgers. He sustained a sprained left MCL injury the
following week and was limited by it for the rest of the season.
Nevertheless, Abdullah still accomplished enough to be considered
a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, Hornung Award and Wuerffel
Trophy in 2014. He ranks second on the school’s all-time rushing
list behind only Mike Rozier and is one of just 11 players in FBS
history to surpass 7,000 career all-purpose yards.
Best Scheme Fit: Zone-running scheme.
Combination of patience, vision, decisiveness and burst after
he plants his foot is as good as any runner in this draft. Could
easily hold his own in a power-based scheme as well due to his
ability to fit through tight creases, sense cutback lanes and
willingness to run between the tackles.
Violent jump-cut and incredible anticipation makes
it nearly early impossible for tacklers to square him up; runs
angry and fights for more yards after contact than most runners
Regularly exploits cutback lanes and can immediately
accelerate after stopping on a dime; will leave defenders flat-footed
with his quickness and ability to change speeds in space.
Excellent patience/vision and sets up second-level defender
well; reaches top speed quickly and difficult to catch from
Consistently lowers his shoulders to give defenders
even less of a target and delivers the blow while avoiding the
Hands-catcher and sure-handed receiver out of the backfield
(73 career receptions) who was underutilized in that regard
by the Huskers’ run-heavy offensive philosophy.
Impeccable character and fearless competitor that will
give his team everything he has on and off the field.
Played in all 53 games, but totaled 978 total touches
over his college career – including 886 on offense and
92 on kickoff or punt returns.
Despite his well-known commitment to weight room, lack
of ideal size makes it difficult for him to push the pile or
create an opening when one doesn’t exist.
Will not back down from bigger defenders, but effort
– sometimes will only put a shoulder into a defender –
and execution are somewhat lacking in pass pro (will adding
5-8 more pounds be enough to help him anchor better against
Unwillingness to give up on runs and small hands have
played a big role in ball-security woes (24 career fumbles,
17 lost), although his fumble rate improved as his career progressed.
Before critics talk about how Abdullah cannot be a feature back,
let me remind you that LeSean McCoy was 5-10 and 198 pounds with
8 7/8-inch hands coming out of Pittsburgh. (Abdullah was a more
productive college player and is ranked by most analysts in the
same neighborhood that “Shady” was drafted in 2009
(McCoy was drafted No. 59 overall). Here’s
a trip down memory lane; let me know if you see any
similarities between the profiles of the two backs. While
I think the majority of NFL teams will see Abdullah as a complementary
change-of-pace back that can also return kicks initially, I believe
his floor is as a lead back with a good possibility that he will
be featured early in his NFL career. Unlike Bradshaw, the Alabama
native does not enter the league with off-field concerns or suffer
from a chronic injury, so his future employer may be more apt
to trust him right away and let him prove he cannot withstand
the punishment of the NFL first before putting him in a committee
backfield. Abdullah is a first-round talent stuck in a body that
is about two inches and 5-10 pounds smaller than the NFL would
like. Is that really enough reason to make him a mid-Day 2 pick?
In the mind of NFL talent evaluators, the answer is probably yes.
Fantasy owners don’t have to make the same mistake; Abdullah
is no worse than the fourth-best running back prospects available
and one of the best bets at any position to outperform his draft
Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and appeared in
USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine in 2010 and
2011. He is also the host of USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff
fantasy football internet chat every Sunday. Doug regularly appears
as a fantasy football analyst on Sirius XM’s “Fantasy
Drive” and for 106.7 The Fan (WJFK – Washington, D.C).
He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
E-mail Doug or follow
him on Twitter.