In the second edition of my NFL draft scouting reports, I’m breaking down San Diego State Running Back Donnel Pumphrey. If you think you ‘ve heard of the Aztec running back before, it’s because he broke the FBS career rushing record previously held by Wisconsin Running Back Ron Dayne. With 6,405 career rushing yards, Pumphrey certainly has the stats to play for an NFL team, let’s look a little closer at his game and see where he projects to go in April’s draft.
Name: Donnel Pumphrey
College: San Diego State
Born: December 6, 1994 (22 years old)
Year: Senior #19
Hometown: North Las Vegas, Nevada
Standing at only 5’9″ Donnel Pumphrey doesn’t get much attention due to his small stature and small school. But after watching film on the Aztec tailback, I see a lethal weapon that is ready to take the ball to the end zone at a moment’s notice. With the amount of yards he has accumulated over his four-year career to go along with the highlight reel like TDs, it’s surprising that Pumphrey is flying under the radar.
I could show you endless highlights but this gif displays Pumphrey’s great vision as he follows his pulling guard and off-line Tight End, sees the space created by his blockers and absolutely kills #2 on Cal’s ankles. It is a thing of beauty watching this Touchdown run and not even get touched by any of the Cal defenders.
Footwork is Pumphrey’s best friend as his cutting ability is at an NFL caliber level. The shifty juke moves and cuts remind me of Darren Sproles, mixed with the speed of De’Anthony Thomas (his receiving skills are not as good as Sproles or Thomas). The gif below shows his late Touchdown run against Cal.
Pumphrey sees that the hole was closed up by two Cal defensive backs #1 & #2, cuts on a dime and heads to the open space to his left. His speed gets him to the pylon for the touchdown, but the ability to stop and change direction so quick puts Pumphrey on a different level.
This Cal defense isn’t even on the same planet as the star RB let alone the same field. He absolutely embarrassed Golden Bear defense putting up 281 rushing yards and over 300 total yards to go along with three TDs.
At San Diego State, #19 runs most of his plays out of the I-formation, a fullback leading him and the quarterback under center handing him the ball. He doesn’t play in an air-raid type, no-huddle offense that a lot of college teams run where backs are mostly getting their carries out of the shotgun. Being able to read holes and make cutbacks into the correct lane is something that is required in an NFL offense and something that running backs struggle with coming out of college.
Pumphrey demonstrates great vision when given space to run and isn’t afraid to meet defenders head on to gain extra yardage. His ball carry vision helped him gain so many yards at San Diego State, along with his speed, agility and cutting ability.
The receiving aspect of Pumphrey’s game is unpolished, but he is used as a receiver at times whether it’s spread out wide or coming out of the backfield. You’ll see the highlight reel type catch in this gif below.
Pumphrey makes a one-handed grab while getting his arm held by a Houston defensive back and still managing to have a foot in bounds, holding onto the football all the way through to complete the catch.
On this 3&6 play, Donnel Pumphrey is spread out wide off the line of scrimmage and runs a slant route. Initially catching the ball, a second defender hits slot back forcing the pass incomplete even without hitting the ball out of his hands. Good backs make tough catches like these, Pumphrey slipped up this time but it’s not an occurring issue.
While he can make plays, Pumphrey still needs to do work in other different aspects of his game. His pass blocking is a rather large weakness, attributed to his small size and lack of strength. Of the three games I’ve scouted (Fresno State, Cal, and Houston) I did not see Pumphrey give up a sack but didn’t wow me with his protection skills either.
That doesn’t mean he cannot succeed at the next level. The talent is there and plenty of running backs have proven to become better pass blockers coming out of college, given the right coaching and practice. The most common problem for backs coming out of college is pass protection, if Pumphrey can apply the correct skills and bulk up without losing speed I can see him being a suitable blocker.
Donnel Pumphrey needs to do what Donnel Pumphrey does best to succeed in the NFL. Make plays and gain yards. He won’t be drafted to become a starter, but he can wow a team over by making plays as a change of pace back. When the defense is tired in the third or 4th quarter, Pumphrey can be the guy to break off a big run and change the momentum of a football game.
In term’s of ball security, he ranks average according to CBS Sports’ Dane Bruglar in fumble rate. Pumphrey has a lot of carries under his belt and doesn’t seem to have any red flags when it comes injuries, fumbling, or drops.
With that said teams will knock him down their draft boards because of his lack of strength, small school, and smaller competition level. Playing at San Diego State, Pumphrey played football programs in the Mountain West conference. Playing in a non-power 5 conference prevents the explosive back from gathering much attention outside of California and the San Diego area (even while having the most running yards of all time).
Make no mistake, Donnel Pumphrey can straight up play. He plays so smooth and has the ability to spark the crowd whether it be a long touchdown run, a nasty juke move or a highlight reel like reception. An all around lethal weapon, the Aztec running back can be a punt and kick returner, slot back, and can line up anywhere creating a nice mismatch if a linebacker or in the box safety is charged with covering him.
I can’t tell exactly where he’ll be drafted. The running back class is deep for the 2017 draft class and I need to look more into the different prospects at the position. Donnel Pumphrey is intriguing, to say the least. Making it possible for him to be drafted from rounds 2-5.
Some possible landing spots could be teams that like to deploy multiple backs in their offensive schemes. The Patriots and Saints are the first ones to come to mind, but he could be a sneaky addition to anyone’s roster.
Someone is going to land a possible game changer if they draft Pumphrey.