I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.
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TJ Yeldon, RB, Alabama - 6'1, 226 - Junior
What makes the NFL draft such a difficult study - even for those who do it at the highest level for their entire careers, is that there is no way to equalize performances. You cannot measure - fairly - the difference between being surrounded by future NFL players at every position when playing teams that have a significant talent disadvantage versus a player who is the only NFL prospect on his offense, playing teams who are generally better man for man.
That is why when you look at a RB from Indiana and a RB from Alabama, you have to trust your eyeballs, but also remind them all of those variables that make it next to impossible how to completely and fairly evaluate the RB on his own merits. Then, you have past Alabama Runners who blur the vision of TJ Yeldon even more. Nevertheless, we tried to judge him on his own merits by looking at Auburn, Mississippi State, West Virginia, and Ohio State for this report.
What I liked: There is plenty to like on the surface with Yeldon. He is a big, strong, and at times electric back who can do it all once he gets in the open field. There have been times over his 3 years at Alabama where he has been absolutely jaw-dropping with his runs that show the combination of size and quick feet that you really want to see. As a receiver he has the ability to catch and run on the fly, although he was used minimally in that regard. He is a strong kid who can bust a tackle and forces you to take him on squarely or he will leave you behind. He does have a nice burst through the line of scrimmage and gets into the open field with vision that often results in a big play. Also, there is no question he has an extra gear when he gets down near the goal-line where he is willing to get that last yard regardless of what it takes. Sometimes, he appears to be very decisive as a runner.
What I did not like: Unfortunately, there is also plenty to question. He runs upright which does two things - risks the ball and makes himself a much larger target. You could argue in 2014, there were many occasions where he was the type of RB who "gets what is blocked" for him, meaning, the results were rather replacement-level behind the ground-and-pound Alabama line. He also appears to hesitate between the tackles is there is not much inviting ahead, stopping his momentum and ending the opportunity for the play. What you want to see with a man this size is the instant acceleration when he must reroute his run, and in 2014, that disappeared from the amazing 2012 and 2013 Yeldon which had runs that made you think he was a Top 5 pick. Honestly, after watching him so much over his 3 years at Alabama, I am led to believe that his injuries in 2014 robbed him of his special qualities and made him a shadow of himself (which actually made him the 2nd best RB option at Alabama by the end of the year).
Summary: I know he is better than this, but right now he doesn't look like he is on the same level as these other backs I have studied. He looks heavier, plodding, less explosive, and frankly, appears to be running at 80% - especially against Auburn and Ohio State (the games late in the year) and at the Combine. For me, it will require teams to operate under the premise of what he was in 2013 to take him in the top 60, and believe that once he heels and maybe drops 10 pounds that he goes back to being that special talent we have all known about for so long. He definitely has attributes that you really like, but I am quite perplexed about the issues that jumped out at me when going through his 200 snaps to see the current version of TJ Yeldon. Again, I am no doctor, but he spoke quite a bit recently about an ankle and hamstring that zapped him of his explosion, so perhaps the tape is not the best version of him and a team exam would put everyone at ease. As it stands, I would not be certain at pick #60, which I am sure puts me in the minority.