The running back position was featured in today’s countdown post so I thought it would make sense to profile Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure. He visit the Lions facilities on March 29 although their level of interest is yet to be made known.
Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
Weight: 227 lbs.
Arm Length: 32 5/8 in.
Hand Size: 9 1/2 in.
40-yard dash: 4.59 sec
Broad jump: 10’2″
Watch his combine workout here
With some improvements on third down, Leshoure has the size, athleticism and competitiveness to develop into an every-down back. Displays very good burst and quickness for a big back, can get the corner and make defenders miss, but does not have elite speed. Possesses the power to break tackles, push the pile and find the end zone near the goal line, but needs to do a better job of staying low. Has the size and mentality to become an effective pass blocker and the athleticism to turn into a weapon in the passing game but is currently raw in both areas. Leshoure is a second-round prospect.
Most scouting services agree with the second round grade for Mikel Leshoure all though there is some slight disagreement about where he ranks among running backs. Most evaluators see Leshoure as the second best back behind Alabama’s Mark Ingram but ESPN has him fourth behind Ingram, Ryan Williams (Virginia Tech) and Kendall Hunter (Oklahoma State). ESPN’s scouting report doesn’t note any particular strengths other than a nose for the end zone, toughness and some elusiveness. They fill their various categories with a mix of “above average” and “average” ratings.
Fortunately for Mikel Leshoure’s pro prospects, ESPN is harsher with his evaluation than others. His scouting profile on CBSsports.com notes his effectiveness carrying the ball inside and outside:
Inside running: Powerful back, gets behind his pads when running inside. Runs with lean, and has a small strike zone for which opponents to get a square hit. Good vision to cut away from traffic, very smooth in his cuts. Keeps legs moving after initial contact. Can jump over piles near the line. If the line provides a big hole, he has an elite burst to hit second level at full speed. Excellent ball security, keeps it high and tight. Must avoid stopping to run outside when defenders penetrate, instead taking the couple of yards behind his line. Usually uses his fullback when in the I-formation, but must trust him in short yardage situations. Sells fake handoffs.
Outside running: Thick upper- and lower-body build but he has the vision and quick feet to bounce outside as if he were a smaller back. Exceptional burst makes him capable of turning the corner to break off chunks of yardage. Has patience and vision to take a pitch and find a cutback lane and explode through it. Keeps his pad level low outside, which combined with a low center of gravity and strong legs, make him tough to tackle. Not afraid to push a pile or carry a defender a few yards after initial contact. Does not go out of bounds right away, willing to lower a shoulder to get a couple of extra yards.
Wes Bunting echoes a lot of the same sentiments in his evaluation for the National Football Post. He goes so far as to say that Leshoure has the potential to become a featured back.
2011 will certainly not go down as the year of the running back as far as the draft is concerned. That doesn’t mean there some good backs won’t turn out from this draft, however. Wes Bunting wrote an article last February about the under-the-radar nature of Leshoure and called him “the draft’s best back no one is talking about”. He concludes that article with the following:
Overall, I see Leshoure coming in and contributing early in his NFL career as that powerful No. 2 back for an NFL offense. He will be able to keep you ahead of the chains, pick his way through the line of scrimmage and offers enough “make you miss ability” to create his fair share of bigger runs as well. However, in year two I think the team that drafts him can expect Leshoure to take over the starting gig. He possesses the frame to take the punishment that comes with being an NFL starter and looks like a guy who can wear down opposing defensive fronts.
With Jahvid Best already in the fold, the Lions aren’t in the market for a guy to take over a featured back role but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be interested in forming a tandem with a guy that has that potential. The Lions lack the tough inside runner that can be counted on in short yardage situations. Leshoure could fill that role while possessing a much more multi-faceted game. A Leshoure-Best running back duo is intriguing to say the least and something the Lions will be forced to consider depending on how the draft plays out.