Melvin Gordon and James White could change the perception of the Wisconsin running back in NFL circles.
For years, NFL scouts have seemingly ignored Badger running backs in the evaluation process due to concerns about their collegiate success translating to pro production. Part of the reluctance to place high marks on Wisconsin runners can be attributed to the steady presence of NFL-caliber offensive linemen upfront. Since 2000, the school has produced 14 draftees along the offensive line, yet just four running backs (Michael Bennett, 2001; Anthony Davis, 2005; Brian Calhoun, 2007; Montee Ball, 2013) have been selected in the draft despite the school perennially ranking among the top rushing offenses in college football.
This baffling fact has been compounded by the reality that few Badger running backs have enjoyed success in the NFL. Just look at the plights of recent stars Anthony Davis, John Clay and P.J. Hill as examples of former Badgers failing to translate their collegiate success into consistent pro production. Factor in the pedestrian numbers compiled by former Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne during his seven-year NFL career, and there is a growing belief that Wisconsin runners are beneficiaries of a solid scheme and supporting cast.
White and Gordon, however, could change that opinion over the next few seasons based on their impressive set of skills and NFL-ready running styles.
Watching White perform against BYU last weekend, I saw an effective running back with explosive short-area quickness and burst. Although he lacks elite top-end speed, he is a shifty runner in the hole, with a knack for making defenders miss. Throw in his willingness to finish runs with power and pop, and it is easy to see White carving out a role as a complementary runner at the next level.
In Gordon, the Badgers trot out a dynamic runner with exceptional speed, quickness and burst. He excels at turning the corner on fly sweeps and perimeter runs, while also displaying the grit, power and toughness to pick up tough yards between the tackles. In addition, Gordon flashes a bit of pitter-pat and elusiveness that makes him difficult to corral in the hole. With Wisconsin committed to giving him carries on the edges, Gordon has been able to routinely pop big gains, which has keyed his robust 8.1 yards-per-carry average.
Of course, some will question whether Gordon can handle a full workload as a runner based on his relatively light workload (only one game with 20-plus carries this season), but the fact that his production has been sensational with limited carries suggests he could be an impact player at the next level as a big, athletic change-of-pace back.
White and Gordon have been impressive this season combining for 2,111 yards and 22 rushing touchdowns. It might be time for NFL scouts to spend some more time investigating the underrated games of the Badgers' talented tailbacks.