Thursday, March 17, 2016

2016 NFL Draft Profile #36 - Devontae Booker, RB, Utah

Utah running back Devontae Booker (23) receives a hug from teammates Sam Tevi (52) and Kenneth Scott (2) after scoring during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Arizona State on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, in Salt Lake City. Utah won 34-18. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Utah running back Devontae Booker (23) receives a hug from teammates Sam Tevi (52) and Kenneth Scott (2) after scoring during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Arizona State on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, in Salt Lake City. Utah won 34-18. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
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. To read more about the 2016 NFL Draft Project, click here.

Devontae Booker, RB, Utah - 5-foot-11, 219 pounds - redshirt senior - No. 23
There is no question that one of the enjoyable components of covering the draft by grabbing one new prospect every day is the exercise of learning their stories. Some are typical and some are certainly not. The case of Devontae Booker would qualify as taking the long route to the NFL Draft. It starts with a verbal commitment to Fresno State, academic shortfalls and confusion, a year out of football, two years in junior college, another year missed with academic confusion, and finally two years at Utah where he dominated the Pac-12 and was a phenomenal all-purpose back.
So, with that lengthy journey, he will turn 24 years old in May and that certainly puts him at the high end of the age range for players in this draft. The fact that he is a running back -- which many of us already plan for a short career span and an expiration date that may only span one contract -- may actually not affect many people's perception of his value. The great thing about drafting a RB is that they are generally ready to go in their rookie season, and there is no question Booker fits that mold. Aside from Ezekiel Elliott, he would have to rank quite high on this year's backs from the standpoint of a guy who can do just about everything you would want from an every-down back. Further complicating the present tense of his case, he is recovering from meniscus surgery on his knee and has been unable to run the 40-yard dash for teams, meaning his pro day on March 24th will actually determine if he is that 4.5 guy that he was a year ago.  And, on top of this, we have a Utah workload in two years that was staggering, as he played in 23 games for the Utes and touched the ball 639 times for an average of about 28 touches per game.  If Derrick Henry's usage in college gave you pause, just know he had 619 in three years (15 touches per game).
Booker nearly doubled that.
What I liked: There is a lot to like about Devontae Booker in terms of how he attacks the defense. If you want someone who catches the ball smoothly, operates well both inside and outside, demonstrates acceleration and patience, and displays top shelf athleticism as he is trying to leap over players in his path, then Booker might appeal to you. He really is dangerous as a receiving option out in the flat and then has a very easy ability to make people miss in space. He runs with vision and patience which might fit well in the zone scheme here as he allows his offensive line to help him. At the same time, there are plays where he has to improvise and accomplish things on his own and he is pretty handy at that as well. He is very good on third downs and led all of college football in third down rushes that resulted in first downs for much of 2015. He can pass protect, but slipping him into space is the best way to chase off blitzes. He runs low and has fantastic balance off contact. He can run through contact and has a turbo boost that makes tackling him a long day. He also seems to have more success in the second half of games as he was averaging four yards a carry in his first 15 touches in each game and six yards after that.
What I did not like: We already mentioned that he is 24 years old and that he is coming off a knee (meniscus) surgery. Those two things are enough to take a top prospect and make him available in the third round. Add to that a few other elements that you would at least want to identify so that everyone is on the same page. There are questions about whether he possesses breakaway speed. For a man with this many touches, he has a low number of home runs that demonstrate that he cannot be caught from behind. He may not have that. He has plenty of 20-yard runs, but the 50-plus-yard touchdown is a rarity.  He also has nine fumbles in 639 college touches which is a bit high, although just three fumbles in 2015 in about 300 touches which is much closer to average.
Summary and potential fit with the Cowboys: Booker has a lot of things to like and he is a very enjoyable player to study. He also plays with a disposition that is attractive in terms of his competitive fire and desire to dominate his opponent. There are certainly reasons why he could slide in the draft, but for a team that needs a running back at the right price, I can certainly see how Booker checks many of the boxes.
Would you like him younger with fewer miles on his odometer (keep in mind we don't have any idea how many hundreds of touches he had in junior college)? Of course. But, watching the tape and studying his skill set and figuring how quickly he could be a starter in the NFL tells you that he is likely in the conversations for the Cowboys in this draft. 
Would he be there at the top of Round 3? I imagine his Pro Day could affect that quite a bit. But, if Dallas wants a college back who is all-purpose and won't have quite the price tag of Elliott or Henry, this player might fit the description pretty well. He is one in a group of candidates for Rounds 3-4 and Booker could give Dallas something it clearly doesn't have right now: a patient runner with vision and acceleration with a awesome ability to pass-catch out in space, too.
He is a solid prospect.

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