I have made a promise to myself to temper my enthusiasm when it comes to Big Ten running backs. And if you are new to the program, I not only drove the hype train on Ameer Abdullah last year, but I also helped build the railroad. So I'm going to do my very best not to repeat the same thing here with Josh Ferguson.
But I'm bad with promises.
Full disclosure, we get a lot of Illinois games here on the West Coast. It always seems to be one of those teams that play on ESPNU or ESPN 8 (the Ocho!) in the 9 a.m. Pacific hour. Of course, we always missed the first hour this season because the premiere season of Madden NFL Live hit during that hour (thank you for watching!). But over the last couple of years I've seen enough of Ferguson to become a fan of his game.
» Quick feet
» Natural pass-catcher
Ferguson is ball of energy out of the backfield. Cliché, yes, but there are times where you can't help but be impressed with his versatility. Not only is he very capable as a receiver out of the backfield, but there were times Illinois would align him in the slot and let him go.
He has great elusiveness and some pretty quick feet. There was a broken play he ran a few years ago in the Heart of Dallas Bowl (looked like a halfback pass call) and Ferguson turned what could have been a disaster into a pretty remarkable play. It's those type of things that get you excited. Even the most mundane can seem remarkable.
Ferguson also shows good patience as a runner, as he's willing to let a play develop. Some might say too patient, but he has that ability to take a small crease and turn it into a big gain. He's got that low center of gravity that allows him to disappear into a pile and then emerge on the other side like a cartoon. He's definitely going to add something offensively to the team that drafts him.
» Small frame, needs to add bulk
» Injuries a concern
» Ball security
Size can be an asset, but at the same time it can be a hindrance to the scouts. And the scouts will point at his shoulder injury last year as proof that he can't be a three-down back. Heck, he might not be able to handle the limited pounding he would take in the traditional role of a smaller scat back.
Ferguson does have the ability to make players miss, but he rarely seems like the guy who is going to break a lot of tackles, which is understandable. Ferguson did miss some time during his junior year but finished with close to 1,000 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns.
The most glaring thing, however, are his handles. He fumbled the ball a lot in 2014 and if he can't get that fixed, he's not going to have a very long career. It was one of the hang ups the Lions have with Abdullah. You have to get that part of your game fixed. Ronnie Hillman is another similar-type back who had numerous opportunities to win the Broncos starting job but couldn't get over the top, in part, because of his fumbling during stretches of his career.
He also needs to get better at just taking what the defense is giving him and being content with chunks of yardage.
Ideal NFL fantasy fits
Any team that needs a secondary scat-back type of player should take a look at Ferguson. The Steelers would be a fun fit for Ferguson. I know Le'Veon Bell is one of the premiere running backs in the game, and everybody wants him back out there running the ball on all three downs. But let's real talk this here; the Steelers need to protect him a little bit. Just a little bit. Plus Ferguson seems like the kind of player that Dri Archer never became. Ferguson isn't as fast as Dri (few are). But he has the kind of versatility to line up at different spots. It's conceivable he and Bell could be on the field at the same time. The Steelers are going to need to be creative with the football in the wake of Martavis Bryant's suspension.
Early fantasy draft projection
I promise I won't draft Ferguson in the fifth-round this year. That's progress. But Ferguson is going to have a monster preseason game and the hype train will be off the rails. The only thing I can promise you is that I won't be driving it.
Well, probably won't.
Actually, I can promise no such thing.