The running back position has been devalued in the NFL, but coaches will still find a role for runners who exhibit game-changing skills. One player who will prompt evaluators to reassess their thoughts on the position is Arizona junior Ka'Deem Carey.
Of course, most would expect the nation's reigning rushing champion (1,929 yards in 2012) to garner a ton of interest from NFL coaches and scouts based on his production, but it is Carey's explosive running style that has captivated the attention of NFL teams looking for a workhorse.
Measuring 5-foot-10 and 196 pounds, Carey is a hard-nosed runner with exceptional quickness and burst. He is quick enough to turn the corner on perimeter runs, but is at his best using sudden acceleration to explode through creases between the tackles. Carey has one of the best stutter-step moves in the hole that I've ever seen, and he frequently uses a series of stop-start cuts to elude defenders on the second level.
He also has a violent running style that leads to broken tackles and positive gains at the end of runs. His strength and power is surprising for a back his size, but it is one of the reasons why scouts are captivated by his combination of skills as a runner.
In fact, I had an NFC scout suggest to me that Carey "has some Reggie Bush" in him, when asked about player's running style. Rich Rodriguez told me at Pac-12 Media Day last week that Carey "runs hungry." Arizona's head coach raved about how Carey forces defenders to make solid tackles in the open field, and how his punishing running style sets the tempo for the offense.
From a passing-game perspective, Carey is also everything pro coaches desire in a running back. He is a polished route runner with strong hands and ball skills. He excels at turning screen passes into big gainers by eluding multiple defenders on the perimeter with nifty moves in the open field. While he lacks the home-run speed to take it the distance, Carey is a dangerous threat with the ball in his hands, which is why Rodriguez has made it a point to get him the ball.
While he continues to work on his game, Carey will eventually have to answer for a few off-field incidents over the last several months. In June, he was arrested on a domestic violence charge that was later dismissed. Earlier, he was kicked out of a Wildcats basketball game after a verbal altercation with campus police. If he stays out of further trouble, I don't see it affecting his grade.
At a time when the NFL is trending toward two-back systems with running backs assigned to specific roles, Carey is thriving on the college landscape with a game that should make him a three-down back as a pro.
Word on the Street
Getting early start on underclassmen: The mass exodus of underclassmen into the NFL is forcing NFL teams to get an early jump on the 2014 class. According to several NFL scouts I've spoken to over the past few weeks, many are already evaluating game tapes on juniors (or redshirt sophomores) with the potential to enter the draft at season's end. While most evaluators would wait until the middle of the season to start taking notes on some of the top underclassmen, the record number of underclassmen (73) who declared early for the 2013 draft, including 12 who went on to become first-round selections, prompted more evaluators to get an early jump on the process by getting film work done over the summer.
Scouts are also beginning to conduct some of the background research and character analysis normally reserved for senior prospects. Recently, an NFC college scouting director told me he instructs his scouts to begin taking notes on talented, young players from the time they step onto campus, particularly in the SEC. He talked about the need for scouts to have a working knowledge of some of the five-star recruits that dot the roster, so they are familiar with their backgrounds when they eventually become eligible for the draft. This will certainly add more responsibilities to the college scout's fall agenda, but with the likes of Jadeveon Clowney, DeAnthony Thomas and Marqise Lee dominating the game from the time they step onto the field as freshmen, it could be well worth the investment on the back end.
Gil Brandt's top five college football senior quarterbacksDespite not possessing an elite prospect, this senior class of college football quarterbacks is deep in talent.
ACC becoming hotbed for NFL talent: For all of the attention paid to the SEC for its NFL talent-laden rosters, the ACC is slowly becoming a must-visit for NFL scouts. Last season, the ACC produced 31 NFL draft picks, including six first-round picks, which ranked only behind the SEC in both categories. The ACC has also delivered the second-most draft picks over the past three seasons, including notable prospects like Torrey Smith, Luke Kuechly, Orlando Franklin, T.J Yates and Christian Ponder.
The recent string of top ACC players matriculating to the NFL has prompted some scouts to cast aside the "basketball conference" label that some have associated to the conference based on its success on the hardwood. This season, more scouts will certainly spend time checking out the talent inside the conference, with three quarterbacks -- Clemson's Tahj Boyd, Miami's Stephen Morris and North Carolina's Bryn Renner -- attracting strong interesting as top picks.
Additionally, senior standouts such as North Carolina's James Hurst and Kareem Martin, plus Miami's Seantrel Henderson and Florida State's Christian Jones are also commanding significant interest from NFL teams looking for impact potential. Factor in the tantalizing talents of an underclassmen class that features Clemson's Sammy Watkins, Florida State's James Wilder, Jr., and North Carolina's Eric Ebron, the conference is brimming with the kind of playmakers coveted at the next level.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.