Scouting Combine Running Backs: Dominating Dobbins and Brilliant Benjamin
There will be 30 running backs at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Get to know them in this three-part feature. Part 1 includes Cam Akers, Eno Benjamin and J.K. Dobbins.
Salvon Ahmed, Washington (5-11, 196)*: Ahmed rushed for 1,020 yards (5.4 average) and 11 touchdowns during his final season, when he was honorable mention all-Pac-12 and an academic all-district selection. In his three seasons at UW, he played in 39 of a possible 40 games, rushing for 2,016 yards and 21 touchdowns. Of his 50 career catches, a career-high 21 came as a sophomore. He also had a 25.0-yard average on kickoff returns.
A native of Kirkland, Wash., he went to Washington to become a school adviser or counselor for middle-school students. “When I go back to Kirkland, it’s inspiring to see,” Ahmed told the school newspaper. “Kids are coming up. We didn’t really have anyone that went to UW, or was the number one guy who got to be a part of something like this. That’s just what I want to be to my community.” He once engaged in a series of midnight 40-yard dashes with Myles Gaskin, the Huskies’ former star running back and a close friend, to determine who was faster. “It’s never going to stop,” he told the News-Tribune. “It’s going to keep going. We’re going to keep racing. I’m going to continue to be faster than him.”
Cam Akers, Florida State (5-11, 212)*: Akers had the best season of his career in 2019 with 1,144 rushing yards (5.0 average) and 14 touchdowns, 30 receptions for 225 yards and four more scores and 4-of-6 passing to earn second-team all-ACC. His three-year totals included 2,875 rushing yards – sixth-most in school history – and 69 catches.
Akers was the top running back in the 2017 recruiting cycle. At Clinton (Miss.) High School, he finished his four-year varsity career by passing for 8,140 yards and 78 touchdowns, while rushing for 5,103 yards and 71 scores. As a senior, he accounted for 5,233 yards and 65 touchdowns. In the state title game, Akers promised he’d put the team on his back. So, he scored seven touchdowns. He was called a “legend” when he was 12. Part of his relentless style comes from his mom. She was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was 10 but emerged victorious. “That instilled something in Cam,” said his father, Conni. “He learned that if his mom can go through that type of something, there is nothing that can stop him from getting what he wants.” His toughness was obvious as an eighth-grader. Instead of going to a hospital because of dehydration, he puked in a garbage can and re-entered the game. He’s not tall but he’s so strong and explosive that he can dunk.
Darius Anderson, TCU (5-11, 212): In four seasons, Anderson rushed for 2,418 yards and 18 touchdowns. He rushed for 768 yards as a sophomore, 598 yards as a junior (a season ended with an ankle injury) and 823 yards as a senior, when he also caught a career-high 22 passes.
Anderson goes by the name of “Jet,” and for good reason. He had a 93-yard touchdown against Ohio State in 2018 and a 70-yard touchdown against Texas in 2016. In the Senior Bowl, he had a 75-yard touchdown catch. Actually, the nickname didn’t start how you might think. Originally, it was “Jetson,” and it was given to him when he was 14 by a friend, Zachary “Esco” Escobar. During their senior year of high school, Escobar died in a car accident. "I know everyone just thinks [the nickname] is because I'm fast, but Esco gave it to me, and it sticks with me. I'm never going to get rid of it," Anderson said in a game program.
LeVante Bellamy, Western Michigan (5-9, 190): Bellamy rushed for 3,720 yards and 35 touchdowns for his career, including 1,228 yards (and a career-high 30 catches) as a junior and 1,472 yards (and a career-high 23 rushing touchdowns) as a senior. It was a monster final season for a guy who battled E. coli after the 2018 season and saw his weight plunge to 155 pounds. "It was a very long month-and-a-half," Bellamy told the Battle Creek Enquirer. "I was battling through it, I was real sick... After they figured it out, I started to get a little better, but I was super out of shape, I lost a lot of weight, so it was hard to lift and hard to start to eat again."
According to the school, he’s run a laser-timed 4.28 in the 40. "I think the biggest thing with him is that he has a great demeanor about him," coach Tim Lester told MLive.com. "He'll work harder than anybody you have, which is very unique when you have a player that's arguably the best player on your team and is also the hardest-working player on your team, which is something that means a lot for what he could do for an NFL team somewhere. His speed – speed is speed. Every team seems to have those guys that can flat-out run, and he's 190 pounds, so he's not small, and he runs hard."
Eno Benjamin, Arizona State (5-10, 210)*: Benjamin had two huge seasons, with 1,642 rushing yards (5.5 average), 16 rushing touchdowns and 35 receptions as a sophomore and 1,083 rushing yards (4.3 average), 10 touchdowns and 42 receptions as a junior. He earned All-American honors as a sophomore – a season that included a school-record 312 yards vs. Stanford – and academic all-district as a junior. With 2,867 rushing yards and 82 receptions, his three-year totals were 3,492 scrimmage yards and 31 touchdowns. Benjamin and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor led all FBS running backs with six fumbles.
At Wylie (Texas) East High School, Benjamin totaled 7,546 rushing yards and scored 111 total touchdowns in four seasons. Eno is short for Enotobong, which is Nigerian for “God’s Gift.” Benjamin learned well from his brother, Ubong, who is three years his senior. Ubong ran into trouble in high school and never recovered. "He learned a lot," Ubong said. "Things to stay away from. ... My growing up, it was hard. It was hard for me. My parents weren't really as happy, but my brother, it's like, 'Wow.' It's good to see my parents happy.” He learned a wicked spin move from a Hall of Famer. “I think a lot of it comes from playing soccer I would say back in the day,” Benjamin said. “And then, I also used to work out at home and I used to train a little bit with LaDainian Tomlinson, so he kind of coached me up on the spin move.” Benjamin is competitive, driven and humble. “I know I’m not the biggest or the fastest or the strongest, but I can get the job done. I take a lot of pride in that and being able to put my team in the position to win.”
Raymond Calais, Louisiana-Lafayette (5-9, 185): Calais rushed for 754 yards as a junior and 886 yards as a senior, giving him a four-year total of 1,845 yards (7.8 average) and 15 touchdowns and 17 receptions. His 7.6-yard average as a senior ranked third in the nation. More than just a runner, he boasted a career average of 25.2 yards with two touchdowns on kickoff returns.
At Cecilia High School in Breaux Bridge, La., he rushed for almost 5,000 yards in his career and was the Gatorade Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year as the state champ in the 100 and 200 meters. “Anybody can make a big play when it comes down to it,” quarterback Levi Lewis told the Vermillion. “When Ray is in the game, I usually think he’s either going to house it or get like 50. It’s a different look when Ray is in the game.” Calais built himself into a quality back. Before his senior year, he caught 150 to 200 passes every day to improve his hands. As coach Billy Napier told the Advocate: “The reports we got from around the office from the people here before were that he was fast, good returner, but hey, this guy’s not a running back. He’s a slot receiver or whatever. All this guy’s done since I’ve been here is master his craft. He’s worked on his footwork, his eye discipline. You go back to his high school tape and the guy was an instinctive, violent, physical runner between the tackles.”
DeeJay Dallas, Miami (5-10, 214)*: Dallas rushed for 1,527 yards in three seasons, including 617 yards (5.7 average) and six touchdowns as a sophomore and 693 yards (6.0 average) and eight touchdowns as a junior. Half of his 28 career catches came in 2019, a season cut short by a gruesome arm injury.
Dallas became a father before the season. “It’s a blessing,” Dallas told the Miami Herald. “In the back of your mind, you’ve got somebody depending on you. I mean, I’ve been going hard since January 2017. I’ll continue to be the same dude.” He cut his body fat in half to get ready for 2019. “Just knowing that he’s depending on me, I’ve just got to go the extra mile. Stuff I wasn’t doing before I’ll do now — just helping out [and being] that dude, a little bit.” He turned to a sports psychologist to get past his fumbling problems in 2018. “I just thought he was extremely courageous because he didn’t have to,” Dr. Eric Goldstein told the Miami Herald. “What’s so helpful with that is whether it’s a DeeJay or a Kevin Love from the Cavaliers talking about his anxiety disorder, when you have athletes coming out and talking about it, and saying I’ve sought help and it’s actually been helpful, I think it starts to destigmatize.”
A.J. Dillon, Boston College (6-0, 250)*: The bruising Dillon rushed for school records of 4,382 yards and 38 touchdowns in three seasons. He topped 1,000 yards each year, including career-high totals of 1,685 rushing yards, 5.3 yards per carry and 14 rushing touchdowns in 2019. He had 21 career receptions.
Dillon’s grandfather, Thom Gatewood, played for Notre Dame and is in the College Football Hall of Fame. "My grandfather has been a great influence on me. Football is his passion but he has always supported me whether I was running track, playing baseball or doing photography. He has also helped me a lot through my recruiting process. I remember after a game my freshman year here when he came into my dorm room. I remembered being hurt and started to feel woe is me. He came in and gave me a really good pep talk. We ended up watching game film and he showed me how to read linebackers, how to read other things and how to do things that I didn't know were part of the game.” The Combine will be a big deal for the big guy in a crowded field of running back prospects. “I think my biggest thing right now is probably my 40 time. I’m going to show people this big boy can actually move and that will be nice.” His nickname is “The Sauce” for his affection for applesauce. He’s an avid photographer. “I got one of those little cameras with the little dial that you had to roll, one of the cheap ones, when I went on vacation with my family when I was 7. I just took pictures and I loved it. Then I saved some money and got a digital camera. And then my freshman year of high school a Nikon was all I wanted for my birthday. By the time my senior year of high school came around, I had my own company with business cards and stuff. I was taking photos for the local newspaper.”
J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State (5-10, 217)*: Dobbins had a remarkable career. In three seasons, he rushed for 4,459 yards and caught 71 passes. He topped 1,000 yards in each season, including 2,003 yards (6.7 average) and 21 touchdowns on the ground and 23 catches for 247 yards and two more scores through the air to finish sixth in the Heisman Trophy race. He finished his career with 5,104 scrimmage yards.
In 2017, Dobbins became only the sixth true freshman to start a season opener for Ohio State and turned in a record-setting performance. Said linebacker Jerome Baker before the 2017 season: “He’s played like he’s been here for a few years. He’s definitely a good guy, he’s fun to be around. But on the field, he’s a monster.” He was a monster in middle school, too. In fact, the varsity coach at La Grange (Texas) High School knew about Dobbins when he was a seventh-grader. Dobbins’ father died of a stroke while in jail; he was only 33. "My dad taught me a lot of things through actions and through words," Dobbins said. "Seeing what he was doing, and the trouble he got in, I didn't want to be like that and he told me he didn't want me to be like that. So that's how I see it. I didn't want to go to there.” His mom was his guiding light. She had J.K. when she was only 18, ending a promising volleyball career, but commuted 100 miles to Houston to earn a degree in accounting. “I said that if you want to pursue this football dream, you have to work at it all the time and it’ll eventually pay off,” Mya Grounds said. “He listens to me. I say stuff and don’t think he’s listening to me, but he is.”
Rico Dowdle, South Carolina (6-0, 215): Dowdle rushed for a career-high 764 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman. As a senior, he rushed for 498 yards (4.7 average) and four touchdowns while adding a career-high 22 catches. In four years in which he played more than 10 games only once due to injuries, he rushed for 2,167 yards (5.1 average) and hauled in 62 passes.
He was not a hot recruit coming out of Asheville, N.C., even though he rushed for 51 touchdowns as a senior quarterback. “Several high school coaches said this might be the best player in the state, and in my opinion he was. It was sort of a running joke for a little while in our state,” A.C. Reynolds coach Shane Laws told The State. “The high school coaches are just sort of all laughing at all these college guys that aren’t doing anything with what may be the best player in the area. These guys are getting paid 50 times what we’re getting paid and they don’t know what they’re doing.”