79. Boston College RB A.J. Dillon
6-foot, 247 pounds
Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.80 — starter potential
The lowdown: The Eagles’ bruising back was a three-year workhorse starter and one of the best runners in college football when healthy. Although power is his calling card, Dillon isn’t just a mass of humanity who rams into the line. He possesses nice vision, strong burst, underrated athleticism and outstanding power and contact balance to shed would-be tacklers.
Opponents knew Dillon was BC’s offense the past three seasons as the team cycled through personnel changes and often struggled to throw the ball consistently. Even with some quality OL talent on the team, Dillon faced many defenses that were geared to slow him down — and he often thrived despite that.
Injuries and a heavy workload are two big concerns for NFL talent evaluators. Dillon suffered a broken leg in high school that wiped out half of his senior season, and he was sidelined for two games in 2018 with an ankle injury. Plus, he amassed 866 touches over three seasons, which suggests that he will enter the NFL with far less tread on his tires than other backs who were used more sparingly.
Another problem is that only 21 of Dillon’s touches came through the air, lacking great hands and route-running feel. Scouts worry that his value will be seriously limited on third downs and that he'll be used on only basic pass routes such as screens and checkdowns. Credit Dillon as a pass protector: He eagerly seeks out work and will throw his big frame around to protect his passers, even if his pass-pro technique needs work (see Clemson and Notre Dame games).
By the numbers: Dillon had 12 games with 32 or more carries in his 35-game career, with a career-high 40 carries in a loss to Florida State in 2019. And he had only two career contests in which he received fewer than 10 rush attempts. The first was Dillon’s first game at BC, running the ball five times in a win over Northern Illinois in 2017. The second was a six-carry game in 2018 in which Dillon ran for 149 yards and three TDs in a 62-14 win over Holy Cross.
Interesting fact: Dillon’s grandfather, Tom Gatewood, was an All-American football player at Notre Dame, a college football Hall of Famer and the first African-American team captain in ND history, catching passes from Joe Theismann for two seasons with the Irish.
Dillon and Gatewood are close to this day.
“We have a great relationship,” Dillon said at the scouting combine. “He’ll reach out to me before games and things like that, and he has been helping me out throughout this process and just [telling me to stay] true to myself, keeping my head on straight and just respecting everybody you come in contact with and just do your best you can and let the cards fall where they may.
“He has a tremendous legacy, and it’s something I don't like to say [I] live up to, but something that I definitely admire about him. He’s definitely a big role model for me.”
Draft range: Round 4