In the NFL’s modern landscape of advanced passing offenses, there’s been a shift in the usage of running backs. Much has been said about the “shelf life” of running backs in the NFL, as many of them can burn out quickly when given heavy workloads. In today’s league, however, franchises have become more aware of over usage.
Nearly every NFL team operates with multiple running backs getting touches throughout the game, in an effort to keep their legs fresh for entire seasons. This generally means more defined roles, as backfield stables need versatility in order to keep offensive schemes multiple.
As evidence of this, look no further than the number of rushing attempts among league leaders. Currently only Ezekiel Elliott (304) has over 255 carries on the season. Back in 2000, a whopping 18 running backs finished the season with over 255 carries.
The need for versatility among backfields affects the NFL Draft as well. When teams already possess a running back with power, they’ll likely target one with ability in the pass game, and vice versa.
While running backs with all-around games are still sought after in the early rounds (see: Saquon Barkley, Joe Mixon, etc.), there’s still a need for niche runners in the later rounds. In the 2018 NFL Draft, we saw change of pace running back Ito Smith taken in the 4th round, while power running back Bo Scarbrough was taken in the 7th round.
When it comes to finding those niche running backs on Day 3 of the 2019 NFL Draft, one particular name sticks out: Devine Ozigbo.
The Nebraska product, who will attend next month’s East-West Shrine Game, had a breakout senior campaign this past season. On just 155 carries, the 6-foot and 236 pound back averaged 7.0 yards per carry and ran for 12 touchdowns. After just modest production in his first three collegiate seasons, Ozigbo credits an off-season body transformation for his improved play.
For a 236 pound running back, Ozigbo moves light on his feet:
The contact balance and power is exactly what you'd expect, but the vertical burst is unexpected for a running back of his size. The most promising aspect of this rep is Ozigbo's speed in the open field, as nobody comes close to catching him from behind.
While having ability in the open field is a plus, a running back of his size must be able to produce in the redzone. Ozigbo's 12 touchdowns were no mistake, as he is able to churn his legs through defenders and pick up yardage near the goal line:
Another promising trait that Ozigbo possesses is his field vision. While the hole he runs through on this next play is massive, pay attention to his second and third level vision.
Ozigbo sees the safety, cuts away from him and slices between blocks for extra yardage far down the field. This ability to process movements around him and take advantageous angles occurs constantly on his film:
The last play that exemplifies Ozigbo's underrated ability is one of my favorite running schemes in football. The play is known as "Counter Bash." The term "bash" stands for back away, meaning the running back is going opposite the counter blocking.
The quarterback's job is to read the backside end man on the line of scrimmage; if he bends down to stop the counter, then the running back is handed the ball. This play can be challenging for bigger running backs, as they end up in space with even blocking numbers on the edge:
Ozigbo is able to turn the corner, slice between blockers and get up the sideline. That speed in the open field and ability to finish the run is uncommon for traditional downhill power running backs.
While Ozigbo is mostly underrated because of his lack of production for three collegiate seasons, his senior year tape shows a draftable running back. Projecting him to the next level, he will fit nicely into a stable of running backs.
With an encouraging combination of power and space ability, he projects as a player built better for the next level. Look for Ozigbo to climb draft boards with a strong performance at the East-West Shrine Game.