With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on Feb. 24, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure. In 32 games, Leshoure gained 2,464 rushing yards and scored 20 touchdowns on 395 carries. He also caught 35 balls for 418 yards and five scores. Leshoure shot up from 140 yards in his first season, to 765 in his second, to 1,559 (on just 252 carries) in 2010.
Pros: For his size, (6-foot, 230 pounds), Leshoure displays excellent first-step burst off the snap, and he can take the ball off-tackle with the right blocking. Acceleration allows him to be an effective runner on delays and draws. Excellent runner in space; his footwork on fakes and jukes is pretty remarkable for a big back. Hits the hole with authority and cuts back quickly into gaps; can be a rotational "one-cut-and-go" back at the next level because he sees openings quickly and hits them decisively.
Much faster than he looks, and those front-line cuts transfer well into space, where he can be a real problem for linebackers and defensive backs. Tough to outrun once he builds up a head of steam. Especially powerful on zone slides, where he can go with the momentum and blast through to the second level. Good receiver with a decent grasp of routes common to his position.
Cons: Runs with an upright stance that is generally a problem for power backs in the NFL, and his stature as a man among boys from a physical perspective could have his rushing power oversold on college tape. Though Leshoure can bop off initial tackles, he doesn't possess the kind of consistent leg drive that will allow him to fight for extra yards after he's wrapped up.
Serious bursts and dips in production from game to game points to an inconsistency question that still needs to be answered. Missed time in 2008 after his jaw was broken in a fight with a teammate, and was suspended for violating team rules in 2009. Really caught on with a different level of focus in 2010, though. Still learning the finer points of blocking.
Conclusion: Straight power backs are a dime a dozen, but Leshoure has a far more interesting skill set. Though he has the kind of physical stature common to the LeGarrette Blounts of the world, Leshoure is more of a hybrid player in that he brings a burst at the first level but doesn't really push defenders back.
The concerns are two for him, and one can be addressed at the scouting combine -- if he runs in the mid-fours in the 40-yard dash, he'll be seen as a Ryan Mathews(notes) type and most likely be taken in the mid-first round. If he flashes a slower time, that could fold into the other potential issue -- that his lack of post-contact power will be more of a problem in the NFL. Few players in this draft have more riding on their combine and Pro Day performances. The Lynch comparison bets the over, but Leshoure seems to be on a pretty serious upswing.
More Shutdown 40
#40 -- Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State | #39 - Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee
| #38 - Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor | #37 - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas | #36 -- Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami | #35 -- Danny Watkins, OL, Baylor | #34 - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State | #33 -- Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State | #32 - Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida | #31 - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado | #30 - Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame