Loading scores...
NFL Draft Preview

Day 3 Running Backs Deep Dive

by Eric Froton
Updated On: April 18, 2020, 1:28 pm ET

For the next few weeks I will be selecting a few Day 3 prospects from each position and writing a complete retrospective of their careers to this point and how they project at the NFL level. 

 

Running Backs:

 

Raymond Calais - 5'8/188 - Louisiana 

Calais is a local boy from Lafayette, LA who grew up in the shadow of Cajun Field. The unheralded two-star prospect ranked as the 245th best running back nationally and 162nd rated recruit in the state of Louisiana according to 247 Sports. Though undersized Calais ran for over 5,000 yards in his high school career but received only one FBS scholarship offer which was extended by his hometown school. He was named Gatorade Louisiana Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year as a senior, winning the 100-meters, 200-meters, 4X100 and 4X200 state championships as well as the overall team state championship.

Calais spent his first two seasons primarily focusing on special teams. He came into his own in 2017 when he returned 29 kicks for 699 yards, a 24.1 YPR and two touchdowns. He also chipped in with 43 carries, 205 yards, a 5.4 YPC and two touchdowns on the ground over those first two years for the Ragin' Cajuns. Unfortunately for Calais, he was buried behind talented RB's Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell on then head coach Mark Hudspeth's offensive depth chart and appeared to be destined for special teams work for the foreseeable future. 

In the 2017 offseason, and on the heels of three consecutive losing seasons, the UL athletic department elected to move in a different direction with the football program and hired offensive guru Billy Napier to serve as head coach. Though still behind the Ragas/Mitchell combo in the RB pecking order, Napier used Calais' talents to accentuate the offense by putting him in position to utilize his elite speed to create chunk plays. Calais is never going to be a battering ram, but he can certainly cause havoc with his speed and athleticism. In 2018, he rushed 80 times for 743 yards and a whopping 9.3 YPC to go with seven touchdowns while receiving a very respectable 80.2 PFF rushing grade on the year. He impressively averaged 5.03 yards after contact, showing that his compact frame can shake a would-be tackler and still accelerate enough to break a big run. 

Calais' senior year would prove to be his best, as he surpassed Trey Ragas in carries as the preferred change-of-pace option behind leading rusher Elijah Mitchell. Calais rushed 117 times for 886 yards, a 7.6 YPC and seven touchdowns, earning All-SBC honors as a rusher for the first time. His production was consistent throughout the year as he didn't receive a PFF rushing grade under 63.0 in any game last season. Despite only receiving an average of eight carries per game, he rushed for 100+ yards on three occasions while avoiding 22 tackles and setting a ULL school record with a 92-yard touchdown run. His explosiveness was evident as Calais posted 24 runs of 10+ yards and 12 rushes of 15+, greatly contributing to his 51.7 breakaway percentage. His efficient productivity earned him an 86.1 rushing grade from Pro Fantasy Focus. 

Receiving-wise, Calais caught 20-of-21 passes for 163 yards/1 TD and only one drop. His PFF Pass Block grade is a paltry 41.1, as he had major breakdowns in pass protection against Mississippi State and Texas State. Calais is not particularly elusive in space, recording only two tackles avoided in 20 touches. His versatility allowed HC Napier to flex Calais out to be used in the slot or out wide depending on the formation. Calais also dominated in the return game, averaging the seventh best kick return average in the nation with 28.6 YPR and being named as the first-team All-SBC kick returner.  His 106.7 all-purpose yards per game and contributions in multiple phases helped ULL achieve a 11-3 record in HC Billy Napier's second season. 

In his post-season testing, Calais showed the measurables to back up the attributes he flashed on film. His 4.42 40-yard dash time was good for third in the RB group, while his 37.5 vertical jump and 20 reps on the bench press put him in the top half of combine participants. His ability to burst through the hole and make quick, decisive cuts on the second level could put him in position to see playing time as a compliment to a bigger primary running back. He posted the tenth highest RAS score amongst the RB class with a 7.58, which eclipsed the score of projected top-3 2020 RB D'Andre Swift. Even so speed is his game, but not shiftiness. His kick return and coverage skills could help him secure a roster spot, though his hands are still fairly untested. This is a role that Calais is intimately familiar with and has the physical attributes to succeed in. Calais reminds me of a less-dynamic Tarik Cohen

 

Patrick Taylor - (6'1/217) - Memphis

The Humble, Texas native is a former three-star 2016 prospect who graded as the 107th best running back and 185th ranked 2016 recruit from the state of Texas. Taylor originally committed to Colorado before reversing his decision a month later after an on-campus visit to Memphis. 

Taylor proved to be game ready right out of the gate receiving 93 carries for 546 yards, a 5.9 YPC and two touchdowns as a true freshman in 2016. The following season Taylor formed a potent thunder and lightning backfield combination alongside current LA Rams running back Darrell Henderson. Taylor out-carried Henderson 157-to-130 in 2017, but was still out-gained by the fledgling star Henderson 1,154-to-866 yards with Henderson averaging a ridiculous 8.9 YPC. 

In 2018 Taylor started only one game, but still rushed 207 times for 1,114 yards, a 5.4 YPC, 16 touchdowns and 29 rushes of 10+ yards as a compliment to Henderson who rushed 214 times for 1,909 yards, 8.9 YPC and 22 touchdowns. Taylor finished the season strong with 100-yard efforts in six of the last nine games while recording 36 avoided tackles en route to an AAC title game appearance. Taylor came into his own as a one-cut back with a big, chiseled frame who thrived between the tackles while still possessing the speed to break big gains. Taylor would sometimes lineup up as QB in goal line and short yardage Wildcat formations. Most prominently he ran 10 snaps as Wildcat QB in the 2018 AAC Championship Game against UCF. With Henderson departing for the NFL draft, Taylor was poised to finally be the alpha-dog in the Memphis backfield the following year.

In 2019 Taylor picked up right where he left off as he propelled Memphis' opening week 15-10 upset of Ole Miss. He shouldered a 27-carry load rushing for 128 yards and one touchdown while catching four passes for 25 yards in the contest. However late in the game Taylor injured his leg, and the season that began with such promise was derailed for two-and-a-half months until he returned on November 16th. Even when Taylor returned he was still noticeably slowed by his injury and simply did not have the same decisiveness and burst the he possessed previously. His numbers suffered accordingly, rushing only 50 times for 222 yards in the five games following his return. Year-over-year, his overall PFF rushing grade dropped from 75.3 to 67.7 and his receiving grade plummeted from 71.5 to 52.9. 

In the receiving game, Taylor caught 55 passes on 79 targets, 70% catch rate, 434 yards and three touchdowns with 7 drops and 8 AVT in his four-year career. His receiving production cratered in 2019 as he committed three drops on 14 targets, with all three drops occurring after his Week 1 leg injury.  Taylor had averaged 11.6 YPC in 2018 with a 123.1 NFL passer rating when thrown to, but that number fell dramatically in 2019 down to 6.5 YPC with a 65.2 NFL PR. His route tree was limited too, as Taylor was only targeted on screens and in the flats since he lacked the explosion to stretch the field on wheel routes and didn't appear to fully trust his leg post injury.

Taylor had been billed at 6'3/225 pounds throughout his college career but measured 6'1/217 at the NFL Scouting Combine. Athletically. his testing profile shows that Taylor has the pedigree to play at the next level with an Adj. SPARQ rating of 0.53 and a RAS score of 7.13 out of 10. He ran an official 4.57 40-yard dash at the combine which is a respectable time for a back his size, but his 15 reps on the bench press are puzzling considering Taylor looks like he's carved out of granite and is in the 220 pound range. Taylor routinely would punish smaller defensive backs in a manner that may not translate to the next level because of his upright running style. He's not the most natural runner and is best utilized in a one-cut system. Questions linger whether or not he can handle a full load at the next level since he has always been in a time-share scenario. 

Overall Taylor's evaluation process has been hampered by his 2019 leg injury. If he can get back to being the explosive player he was in 2018, we could see Taylor settle in as a valuable between-the-tackles member of a NFL backfield rotation in the near future for the reasonable price of a Day 3 flier. 

 

LeVante Bellamy - (5'9/192) - Western Michigan

Bellamy is a consensus three-star prospect from Indianapolis, IN who slotted as the 139th wide receiver prospect in the 2015 class and 18th best recruit in the state of Indiana. He was a sought-after signee in the mid-west region, receiving eight offers including from Toledo, MTSU, Ohio, Ball State and the school 247 Sports initially predicted he would attend, Cincinnati. A standout track and field athlete, Bellamy rushed for 3,297 yards and 50 touchdowns in his high school career before eventually buying into the culture established by then HC P.J. Fleck and enrolling at Western Michigan.

In 2015 Bellamy established his initial role in the Western Michigan backfield pecking order by sharing time with fellow freshman Jamauri Bogan as the co-backups to MAC 2014 Offensive Player of the Year Jarvion Franklin. Franklin's production dipped to 735 yards on 4.8 YPC while Bogan led with 1,051 yards and was named MAC freshman POY. For his part Bellamy rushed 77 times for 493 yards, a 6.4 YPC and two TD's as a dynamic quick hit, change of pace back. He acquitted himself well enough to receive an overall rushing grade of 75.2 from PFF in his first dose of college level ball.

There was much reason for optimism in Kalamazoo for the 2016 season as HC P.J. Fleck ran the table in the regular season with a 12-0 record before losing 29-23 in a thrilling MAC Championship Game to Ohio. Unfortunately Bellamy sustained a season-ending knee injury three games into the season that he would spend the next several months rehabbing from. The bad luck continued into 2017 when he again was lost for the season early on with a broken leg, ending his 2017 campaign prematurely. 

Heading into 2018 Western Michigan sought to replace first-team All-MAC RB Jarvion Franklin after the team had regressed to a 7-7 record under new HC Tim Lester in 2017. Bellamy and Bogan found a nice balance with Bellamy taking the majority of the carries, stretching out the defense and handling third down duties, while Bogan came in to pound away at the middle of the line and handle goal line work. Bellamy thrived in his new feature role, rushing 205 times for 1,252 yards, a 6,0 YPC and six touchdowns with 30 receptions for 185 yards and a touchdown in the air. Bellamy filled the all-purpose role well, but his limitations between the tackles allowed Bogan to siphon off 16 touchdowns. Additionally Bellamy had some trouble holding onto the ball, fumbling five times in 232 touches. All-in-all, 2018 was a hugely successful season compared to his previous two injury marred campaigns. 

With Bogan now departed, it was Bellamy's backfield to lead. He embraced all the responsibilities of a true collegiate bell-cow, including handling short yardage and goal line reps. He answered the challenge and then some, logging 265 carries for 1,471 yards and an FBS-leading 23 rushing touchdowns. Bellamy showed the grit and patience needed to let his blocks develop, in the process answering any questions about his ability to lower his pads and run hard in short yardage. He held up to the rigors of a full campaign and kept his explosiveness by recording 24 rushes of 15+ yards with a 52.3 percent breakaway percentage. He finished 27th in the nation with 54 avoided tackles, being named an honorable mention PFF and Phil Steel All-American along with MAC Offensive Player of the Year. Bellamy cemented his stellar PFF rushing grade of 82.7 by fumbling only once all season after dropping the ball five times in 2018. All was not well however as he caught 15 of 22 passes, 68%, 3.7 YPC for 55 yards and zero first downs in 2019 with 2 drops, earning a paltry 45.7 PFF receiving grade. He previously snagged 31-of-37 passes with three drops in 2018 for 194 yards and one TD. Additionally Bellamy only recorded 5 AVT on 58 career receptions which is concerning when projecting his receiving skills. 

Over the course of his WMU career Bellamy amassed 4,448 all-purpose yards while averaging a 6.0 YPC on 3,720 rushing yards with 17, 100-yard games and scoring 35 touchdowns. He also caught 58 passes for 370 yards, a 6.5 YPC and one TD in the air. 

Bellamy tested where he was expected to athletically, with the exception of his slightly slower than expected 4.5 40-yard dash at combine. He supposedly ran a 4.38 40-yard dash last June and plays that fast on tape. Bellamy's 38.5 vertical jump was excellent and his 16 bench reps were respectable given his smaller frame. His overall RAS of 6.50 shows that Bellamy possesses the requisite NFL level of athleticism. He possesses great feet and lateral quickness. Bellamy exhibits a willingness to pick through the trash to make extra yards. He's willing to run inside despite size limitations that hurt his ability to pass protect. Still, Bellamy has speed that can hit home runs. He lacks the physicality of an every down back at the next level, but he has an athletic profile intriguing enough to carve out a third-down specialist role. Bellamy has shown enough potential to earn a Day 3 selection in my opinion.