The College Football Bowl season ramps up this Thursday as multiple Top 25 teams will play in notable games, drawing the national eyes of fans, recruits and NFL scouts.
One player with plenty to prove is Michigan State’s running back LJ Scott, who sometime after the Spartans season finale against Washington State will announce his decision to enter the 2018 NFL Draft or return for a standout senior year.
Masked by a slow start to his college career, Scott carries the mold of a feature back at the professional level, but still has much to prove to scouts who want consistency from the junior running back. If he can merge a strong performance in Thursday’s bowl game with proof of speed and explosiveness at the NFL Combine, Scott should be a high value pick you will want to pay attention to later down the road.
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As a freshman at Michigan State, Scott burst into the national spotlight when the highly-touted tailback led the way for the Spartans (12-2, 8-1) with almost 700 yards rushing on less than 150 carries, and added to his effectiveness with 11 rushing touchdowns.
Now a junior, Scott has improved in all facets, proving to be an effective every-down tailback despite being on a struggling Michigan State team the last two years, which has won only 12 total games since Scott’s freshman season. His sophomore and junior campaigns proved NFL-worthy for Scott, who surpassed over 900 total yards in both seasons, carrying the ball no less than 180 times (averaging 4.8 yards per carry) and finding an effective role in the passing game as well.
This season, Scott only topped the century mark twice in 11 games, and more notably was shut down by an Ohio State defense loaded with professional talent. This will be a mark against him, as NFL owners will want to see more consistency and an ability to make big plays even when the run game is shut down.
Thursday’s opportunity against a suspect defense will give Scott a chance to prove his value to NFL scouts, which should be the determination of whether he declares or not. If he can explode for around 200 total yards, I can see this giving him the needed confidence to take his skill set to the next level.
Physically, Scott holds all of the intangibles that many of the NFL scouts have been raving over. At 6’1”, 230 pounds, he holds NFL size, stature and physically compares to the likes of David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell (who also played at MSU).
Due to a lack of true breakaway speed, Scott will likely be advised to drop five to ten pounds prior to his drafting, which is typical of many collegiate prospects. Right now, experts are predicting his 40-yard dash time to be around a 4.6, but with a strict training regimen leading up to the NFL Combine, I would expect to see a lighter, quicker and more explosive running back who comes across the line at the mid 4.5 mark, jumping up a few draft boards in the process.
The true downhill runner needs to show an ability to get to the outside of plays when all gaps have been filled. While this is much easier to do at the collegiate level, we still see Scott get run down by slower defenders as he attempts to bounce runs to the edge.
On a positive note, Scott has improved his craft every year since arriving at MSU, proving to be a very intelligent, balanced running back with the ability to grow as a pass-catching option out of the backfield. While it may take a few years for this tail back to develop at the professional level, the team who drafts him will be getting a high value pick paying dividends for years.
Ultimately the decision to forgo his senior season and enter the 2018 NFL Draft will rest upon Scott in the coming months. There is value for him in either decision, but coming out after this season could prove worthwhile.
This season, we saw the value of running backs surge in the NFL. Just when we thought it was safe to conclude the wide receiver position had surpassed running backs in the NFL, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, and Leonard Fournette made sure to rewrite those assumptions.
LJ Scott will have plenty to prove to owners prior to the NFL Draft. They will want to see improved explosiveness and ball security, but due to his intangibles he is a high value pick who could sneak into a rotation and end up making noise in the 2018-2019 season.
With the value of the running back position skyrocketing, look for multiple rookie running backs to go in the first round of the NFL Draft, giving Scott a great opportunity to land in the mid-third round of owners draft boards if he can test well.
Michigan State has consistently produced underrated draft prospects, with many blossoming into NFL stardom. LJ Scott will have plenty of developing to do once at the professional level, but do not count out his ability to create big plays and take on a larger role than expected of him as he has done throughout his time at MSU. If he can mature himself in the passing game and execute his opportunities, I can foresee Scott having a memorable career in the NFL.