The nation’s best college running backs in 2015 comprised a who’s who of NFL running backs today: Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette.
And included on that Mount Rushmore of the country’s highest-rated backs, as compiled by metrics site Pro Football Focus, was a little-known freshman.
That’s the kind of company Gaskin kept throughout his college career at the University of Washington.
That’s how it was for Washington’s all-time career rushing leader and touchdown scorer. That’s how it was for the first player in PAC-12 history ever to post four 1,000-yard seasons.
And it might be kind of surprising that Gaskin, a seventh-round pick for the Miami Dolphins in 2019, would be in the same company with future Pro Bowl running backs, right? Well, perhaps that’s something of a theme for Gaskin because it’s also kind of surprising he has emerged as the Miami Dolphins lead back in 2020.
“If you’ve been around here, you’re not surprised at all about Myles,” linebacker Jerome Baker said. “He goes hard. He’s smart. He truly works hard, not just during practice but outside of practice. Even this week we had a few days off. I come in to do some stuff in here, he’s on the field doing ladder drills, running. He’s a guy that does way more than what they ask him.”
Gaskin hasn’t just earned his spot as the lead back, by the way, but has become an example of what a Miami Dolphins player should be.
“Myles [Gaskin] is really everything we’re looking for in a Dolphin,” coach Brian Flores said this week. “He’s tough. He’s smart. He’s competitive. He loves to play. He loves to practice. Team first guy.
“He’s done a really nice job, especially making the Year 1 to Year 2 leap. Great teammate and he really works at his craft, so a really competitive young guy and always trying to get better. We’re happy to have him.”
The Dolphins insist they’re using a committee approach to the running back position with starter Jordan Howard, Gaskin and Matt Breida. But that wasn’t necessarily the plan when training camp opened and it certainly wasn’t part of the plan to have Gaskin leading the team in rushing yards (152), carries (38) and receptions (15) after the first month of the season.
“I’m not sure we had in mind who was going to do what going into training camp,” offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said. “The only guy we had any experience with — Eric Studesville, our running backs coach, knew Myles and thought he was going to be a good player. But we just kind of let it work itself out during the course of training camp the first couple of weeks.
“He’s been the most productive. The most productive guys play the most right now. That’s just the way it is. Whether that continues, we’ll see. But that’s the way it’s proven to be thus far.”
That’s just fine with Gaskin. Listen to him speak and one hears absolutely no sense of entitlement. Perhaps that’s because being a seventh-round pick in 2019 and not playing a lot as a rookie apparently erased any pride from Gaskin’s college days.
“I have a lot to prove in this league, but I don’t think the second part of what you said has anything to do with anything else in college,” Gaskin said. “College is college. I never even thought about college since I left college. But yeah, I’ve got a lot to prove to myself, to this team. Yeah, I’ve got a lot to prove.”
(Yeah, this sounds something like the anti-Kalen Ballage approach.)
Gaskin’s ascension to his current role obviously didn’t happen overnight because his rookie year was, on the surface, kind of forgettable. He was inactive eight games. He ran only 36 times, and finished the year on injured reserve.
But that seemingly unproductive year apparently laid a good foundation for Gaskin.
“It’s just not playing at all last year made me more hungry for this year,” Gaskin said. “Being able to get on the field and trying not to look bad. Last year was definitely a learning experience, definitely humbling experience. So it makes you hungry, not playing the game.”
There’s something intangible in Gaskin’s makeup that has pushed him to rise from last year’s relative anonymity. But the tangible issues he addressed — adding experience, getting stronger — are one reason he’s improved now.
“He just learned how to be a professional,” Flores said. “Not that he didn’t take a professional approach, but in that first year you always ... there’s things you don’t know. You don’t know what you don’t know, which I learned that early in my coaching career.
“So he learned the best way to prepare physically in the weight room from a conditioning standpoint, but also mentally and from a preparation standpoint, as far as how he watches opponents’ defenses.”
And now a dose of reality: Gaskin is playing well. He’s averaging 4 yards per carry. He hasn’t turned the football over on a fumble.
But he’s not exactly tearing up opposing defenses yet. He’s 29th in the league in rushing and his 4.0 yards per carry average is tied for 30th in the NFL.
So good, not great. But improving.
Improving, by the way, is important.
“He’s continuing to grow,” Flores said. “He’s asking questions today about ways he can get better, and that’s what you’re looking for in a young player. I think we’ve got a lot of young guys who are trying to improve and trying to get better and ask a lot of questions, and Myles is one of many young guys we’ve got.
“Hopefully over time, we improve and we see the fruits of some of the labor that they’re putting in right now.”