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Is Ameer Abdullah an every down running back

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Breaking down the Senior Bowl MVP to see how he translates to the NFL

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Ameer Abullah's weight at the Senior Bowl was 198 pounds and was measured in at just over 5'8. So, naturally, it's fitting to label him as a "small" back. Or a "gadget", "Sproles type" player. Is he short? Yes. Is he small? No. Not at all. While I can certainly understand how one would label Abdullah as a small back, there are aspects to his game that would suggest otherwise.

Pre Line of Scrimmage

For this trait, I'm factoring in vision, patience, footwork, manipulating linebackers to open space, pressing the hole and then bursting through it. From what I've seen most running backs fail because of what they do before they get to the line of scrimmage, not because they're not physically capable of succeeding. In Abdullah's case, his decision making before the line of scrimmage his outstanding. The GIF below demonstrates every quality I listed above.

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Abdullah could've easily ran up the offensive lineman's back or sprinted through the hole and into the defender for a 6-7 yard gain. Instead, his patience pays off and he's rewarded for a 50 yard touchdown. Something Abdullah consistently does is press and explode through the hole.

Some of these traits can be tied together. In the run below, by pressing the hole, Abdullah manipulates the defenders by drawing them close and bunched together near the middle of the field. Then, on a dime, he changes directions to avoid the 1st level defenders, and again to maximize the yardage on the play.

Draft Breakdown has 6 games from 2014 and in every game you can see Abdullah excel before he crosses the line of scrimmage.

Post Line of Scrimmage

What separates the Ryan Mathews' of the world from the Marshawn Lynch's is what they do after the line of scrimmage. One will take what's given to them, the other will create on his own. I'm looking for a running back to run through arm tackles, make guys miss in the open field, push the pile, and consistently fall forward after they cross the line of scrimmage. Common sense tells you a sub 200 pound running back isn't running anyone over or isn't making plays after contact. Well, Abdullah isn't your common sub 200 pound back.

Games Touches Yards Broken tackles Yards after Contact
6 160 1148 37 206

Abdullah broke a tackle at a higher rate per attempt than the other 2 running backs I've written about, Melvin Gordon and Duke Johnson. It's hard for me to describe why, and it really goes against conventional wisdom. Abdullah runs with a great deal of energy, combined with his impressive burst and it leads to having some pop in his pads that assist him in running through tackles. Below is a good example of Abdullah "getting skinny" through the hole as well as running through tackles.

Abdullah doesn't run with power, and when defenders are able to wrap him up, that's usually the end of the run. This might scare off some evaluators or fans because it won't lead to many successful short yardage situations. As you saw above, Abdullah is beyond capable of running through tackles.

One of the more impressive areas to Abdullah's game is how he makes the 1st defender miss. His ability to cut at full speed is something else. Below was from a Senior Bowl practice, but you see every game.

With his ability to make defenders miss, Abdullah avoids the big hit, another important trait for running backs.

Passing Game

Abdullah has untapped value in the passing game. He only had 22 receptions but a big part of this was because his quarterback wasn't all that accurate. Abdullah has no issues catching the ball with his hands and away from his body and is a mismatch for linebackers. He's simply too quick 1-on-1. Pass protection is an area Abdullah will need to get better at, and it's an area where I have no doubts he will. Again, people will point to his size as an issue and mention he won't hold up. For running backs, I'm more worried about them being in the right spot and being the aggressor. The Michigan State game is a great example of Abdullah. At times, he'd come across the formation to make a fine block. Other times he'd go for the cut block, give himself up too early, and the defender would easily jump over him. When Abdullah loses, it's because he waits for the defender. Most running backs aren't able to sustain the contact of a blitzing defender running full speed at them. It's an area to watch to see if Abdullah develops. Danny Woodhead is a great example of an excellent pass protecting running back who is the aggressor and knows where to be.

Where is his value?

Multiple Pro Bowl Player, Top 10 8.5 – 9.0
Highly Productive Starter, 1st Round 8.0 – 8.4
Very Good Starter, Early 2nd Round 7.8 – 7.9
Reliable Starter, 2nd Round 7.5 – 7.7
Potential Starter in Year 2, 3rd Round 7.0 – 7.4
Backup/Spot Starter, 4th Round 6.5 – 6.9
Productive Backup, 5th Round 6.0 – 6.4
Very Good Backup/STs, 6th Round 5.5 – 5.9
Quality Backup/Good STs, 7th Round 5.0 – 5.4
Backup/STs/Project Player, 7th Round 4.5 – 4.9
Priority Free Agent w/ Limitations 4.0 – 4.4
Non-Draftable 4.0

Trait Weight Grade
Pre-LOS 4 3.7
Post-LOS 4 3.7
Quickness/Burst 3 3
Speed 2 1.7
Power 2 .7
Passing Game 2 1.6
Ball Security 2 1.6
Durability 2 2
CoD 2 2
Versatility 2 2

Abdullah grades out to a 7.85, or an early 2nd round talent. He has value on every down and on special teams. He was 10th in the country in kickoff returns and 11th as a punt returner 2 years ago. You really see Abdullah's ability to cut at full speed on special teams. Though he doesn't run with the type of power you'd like, his understanding of what to do before the line of scrimmage, ability to make guys miss, and what he'll be as a passing option in the NFL lead me to believe he'll be a very successful running back at the next level. He understands how to play the position, that's why he's an every down running back. I'd have no problems with him as an every down back, preferably in a zone blocking scheme.

How he fits as a Charger

Abdullah is an upgrade over any running back on the roster right now. He's better before the line of scrimmage, and is a better natural runner than any of the current runners. He can flip the field for you on special teams, not only make defenders miss but take advantage of every crease and turn those into 20+ yard runs. Those inside zone plays from shotgun that everyone hates? Abdullah won't put his head down and run up the lineman's backs. He can offer plenty to San Diego and if they do draft Abdullah, the Chargers got an upgrade at running back.