It’s flu season and you know what the doctor ordered? More tape. So that’s what I did — I put on more tape of Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins. I’ve been a fan of him since I laid my eyes on him a few years back, but during the summer he got lost in the shuffle with guys like Zack Moss and Travis Etienne.
Sometimes the process isn’t pretty, nor is it easy. Fortunately, we’re still early enough in the process, and J.K. Dobbins is playing the best football of his career — yes, even better than his days at La Grange High School (La Grange, Texas), where he tallied over 5,100 rushing yards and 74 touchdowns before breaking a bone in his right leg. Regardless of missing every game but one during his senior season, Dobbins was still rated as one of the top-five running backs in the country.
Ultimately, he chose Ohio State and enrolled early there in the winter of 2017. After a good spring camp, he was the first freshman to lose his black stripe and did something that only six players have ever done at Ohio State: start as a true freshman. He’s the first and only other running back to do that since Maurice Clarett (2002). Since his arrival, Dobbins has never been able to show exactly what he could do until now. Before 2019, he was in a time-share and only had 20-plus carries in four games. That’s saying something for a player that has 40 career games under his belt, but the Buckeyes are finally unleashing the kid they nicknamed Meatball.
During 2019, Dobbins already has seven games where he’s touched 20-plus carries and has 30-plus carries in consecutive games (Michigan and Penn State). Even though the offense is clicking at every level, Dobbins is proving he can be an every-down back. Let’s take a look at why his value is at an all-time high for the 2020 NFL Draft!
Natural Jump Cut Ability, Vision and Change of Direction
For starters, I had to go back to what I watched and wrote about Dobbins this past summer. I was studying some tape of him from his freshman campaign (2017), and his ability to jump cut and beat defenders laterally immediately stood out. It’s the first trait that stands out, and not only is it effective, but it’s also natural.
In his first career game, Dobbins played Indiana and had 29 carries for 129 yards. After just one start, in which he had 20-plus carries, it looked like he was going to get plenty of chances to carry the load for the Buckeyes. Instead, he ended up sharing the backfield with Mike Weber, and plenty of people viewed him as a one-trick pony or just a change-of-pace back. You will learn that Dobbins is much more than that.
As you can see above, Dobbins looks more like a pinball than a meatball in that first start against Indiana. He initially is going towards the A-gap but notices the split-zone block from Marcus Baugh (TE 85), so he cuts up in the opening that is created by the entire right side of the offensive line reach-blocking and double-teaming to their left. As he emerges through the line of scrimmage (LOS), Dobbins finds himself jump-cutting through the second level. This forces defensive players from the Hoosiers to take bad pursuit angles, and this puts Dobbins in a positive position to gain more yardage. That’s exactly what he does.
This time, we go to his sophomore season (2018) against Minnesota. This time, Dobbins only had 10 carries for 35 yards, and this was, by far, his most impressive run from that afternoon. As he emerges from his own goal line unscathed, watch him at the second level. Both safeties start to close in on him, but look at Dobbins “throttle down” and cut laterally to his left and force the safety (#34) to miss on the tackle. It’s just another one of those runs where he makes it look easy, and it comes to him naturally.
Now we fast forward to this season against Indiana, and the junior running back not only puts his cutting ability on display, but also his vision. Despite a nice job by the Buckeyes’ left guard (#73), who seals off the linebacker, Dobbins does a great job showing patience and vision to see a cutback lane inside and follow through. That slight hesitation to cut outside-in forces the linebacker to over-commit to the outside, and that opening is created because of it. Dobbins takes advantage and picks up the first down. These types of runs are what is helping him get the rock fed to him right now.
This season against Cincinnati, Dobbins had 17 carries for 141 yards and two touchdowns. The play above isn’t the prettiest play, but it’s a pivotal play in his evaluation and development as a runner. The center attempts to climb to the linebacker (#6), and the left guard (#73) tries to reach block on the nose-tackle (#90).
Unfortunately, a line stunt is run by the nose-tackle (#90) and the linebacker (#11). This forces the left tackle to also reach block to his right and help the right guard. Due to the penetration from the linebacker (#11), it look like the Bearcats have Dobbins “dead to rights”. Fortunately, they don’t. You’ll notice how Dobbins jump cuts to his left to an opening and gets five yards out of nothing. This ability to stop on a dime and change direction is going to be important when facing the strongest and fastest defensive players in the NFL.
Leg Drive and Running Downhill
Sometimes, people will disregard how much of a beating a running back takes during a game. This leads to people believing that running backs will create bad habits such as avoiding contact by bouncing outside or trying to do too much in the short areas of the field. Like I said, you’ll immediately notice the lateral ability from Dobbins, but don’t be surprised to see him run hard between the tackles.
The play above is a perfect example of the type of leg drive that he brings to the table. Once the ball is snapped, Dobbins cuts through the A-gap. He runs through one arm tackle, bounces off a tackle, and then carries another tackler for a split-second before being taken down after gaining positive yards inside the five-yard line.
The last example I’ll use of him running downhill is from the same game against Indiana. It’s just a few plays earlier than the previous play. You’ll notice Dobbins get through the A-gap and flip his hips laterally up-field before bracing himself for contact by covering up the football the way he’s supposed to. Meanwhile, he lowers his shoulder into the defensive end that’s tackling him. By barreling forward, this still allows Dobbins to gain an additional yard or two, but it also allows him to set the tone between the tackles. This lets a defense know that he’s arrived and he’s not going anywhere.
Whenever we’re looking for a three-down back, we want to be able to know if he can catch passes out of the backfield and pick up blitzes for the quarterback. Those who can’t, we know who they are, and we always see what their role is at the next level. For those who can, well, it’s a different story. Their role gets expanded and we see more of them on Sundays.
On the play above, you’ll see Dobbins matching up against a defensive back (#9) from Cincinnati. Regardless of who it was going to be, Dobbins was going to win this battle. Immediately, you’ll notice how low his pad level is on initial contact. Meanwhile, Dobbins has a perfect base as his feet are square and he sits perfectly before getting underneath the shoulder pads of the defender. This buys Justin Fields (QB #1) plenty of time to go through progressions and maneuver in the pocket. As the play comes to a close, you’ll notice how Dobbins throws the defender to the ground and taunts him a little bit. You absolutely love to see it.
To be honest, I could be here all day posting clips on J.K. Dobbins. He’s a talented running back that is already being compared to Ray Rice. We know how I feel about pro comparisons, but regardless, Dobbins has a unique skill-set, and after reviewing more of his tape, he’s clearly a front-runner to make a significant move up my draft-board.
JK Dobbins, laddies and gentlemen. You see the lateral agility as he sticks his foot in the ground on the angle route, then again when he leaves the Michigan’s defender’s jock strap on the turf. RB1 pic.twitter.com/zE12jKqscK
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) November 30, 2019
Like I previously mentioned, in his last two games he’s totaled 67 carries for 368 rushing yards and six touchdowns. That’s not a fluke, either. Those numbers are against the two best teams on Ohio State’s schedule, Penn State and Michigan. Even though the Buckeyes have tons of talent on a defense led by Chase Young and a Heisman trophy candidate in quarterback Justin Fields, they’re relying on the legs of J.K. Dobbins.
1 drive, 13 plays, 90+ yards…
JK Dobbins shreds the Penn State defense for 56-yards on the ground and finishes it off with the TD 💪
⭕️hio State (-20) gets on the board first and takes an early lead in Columbus.
— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) November 23, 2019
On the season, Dobbins has 250 carries for 1657 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. Per Sports Info Solutions (SIS), he has 835 yards after contact with 50 broken tackles during 2019. Meanwhile, 86 of his 250 carries have been for first downs, which is good for 34.4-percent of his carries. It goes to show that he’s a tough runner between the tackles and he’s also got the dynamic ability and explosiveness needed to move the sticks.
2020 NFL Draft Stock
Going into the season, J.K. Dobbins was the fifth-ranked running back on my big board. He was ranked behind D’Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor, Travis Etienne, and Zack Moss. After watching four games of him from earlier in the season, re-watching games of him from 2017 and 2018, and watching his last two games (Penn State and Michigan) live, I feel confident in saying that Dobbins has made a significant jump up my big board. He’s a different running back from where I evaluated him during the summer. Now, he’s running with a different purpose and it’s showing in a big way.
With the regular season coming to a close, Dobbins now sits as the second all-time leading rusher at Ohio State with 4,113 rushing yards in his career. He only trails Archie Griffin, who has 5,589 rushing yards in his career. Dobbins has shown that he can be an every-down back and he has no issue carrying the load for an offense.
He now sits as the second-ranked running back on my big board and is firmly in the conversation as a top-25 overall player. His athletic testing from the NFL Scouting Combine could impact his final spot on the board, but we’re months away from that process. Regardless, the tape speaks for itself, and right now, nobody is making a bigger impact on football games than J.K. Dobbins. He’s running between the tackles with aggression and has some of the best lateral agility of any running back in the 2020 NFL Draft. If there was any time to buy on a prospect, the time is now on J.K. Dobbins because his value is at an all-time high.