Scouting Combine Running Backs: Gathering No Moss
There will be 30 running backs at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Get to know them in this three-part feature. Part 2 includes Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Zack Moss.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU (5-8, 209)*: Edwards-Helaire turned a solid sophomore season and a monster junior year with 1,414 rushing yards (6.6 average) and 16 touchdowns and 55 receptions for 453 yards and one more score. He was voted LSU’s MVP and team captain, first-team all-SEC and a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award. His three-year rushing total was 2,103 rushing yards.
Edwards-Helaire, a three-star prospect, was overlooked in recruiting because of his diminutive stature. "I feel like I'm the miniature Swiss Army knife. Whatever you need me to do, I'm there—no matter the situation, in life or in football." He added: "I would go to camps and test off the walls. I would do everything I needed to do, and then someone would write that everything was amazing about me except my stature. They have all these rankings, and I knew ultimately my height was why I wasn't at the top. It was simple as that." He scored four touchdowns in a huge win at Alabama, then engaged in a memorable embrace with his father. For more than a decade, Clyde's stepfather, Shannon Helaire, was the only father Clyde knew, as Edwards served time for a drug-possession charge. "I can't even explain the feeling I had," Edwards-Helaire said. "It took this game, as far as everything that went on, it took this November day, on this Saturday for everything to kind of come into play, for everybody to see everything that I've been through, everything he's been through, everything my family has been through. And it all came down to that day, this moment." In December 2018, Edwards-Helaire and a teammate met an 18-year-old to sell him an electronic device. The 18-year-old tried to rob them but was shot and killed by the other athlete. Hunting is his other passion; he went duck hunting immediately after a game. “We drove to Venice, two-and-a-half-hours. Slept 30 minutes and was right back hunting, and I stayed up the whole day. I was good, but that’s something I’m always ready for especially growing up hunting and what not. It’s just second nature.”
Darrynton Evans, Appalachian State (5-11, 200)*: Evans finished with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. As a sophomore, he replaced injured starter Jalin Moore and led the Sun Belt Conference with 1,187 rushing yards. As a junior, he had 1,480 rushing yards (5.8 average) and 18 touchdowns and 21 receptions for 198 yards and five touchdowns to win Sun Belt Player of the Year. He joined Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey (2015) and East Carolina’s Chris Johnson (2007) as only FBS players this millennium with at least 1,400 rushing yards, five TD receptions and a kickoff return for a score in same year. He was a prolific kickoff returner, with a 25.7-yard career average and a touchdown in each of his three years.
He declared for the NFL on Christmas; he also selected Appalachian State as a two-star recruit on Christmas four years earlier. “Looking at the bigger picture, if I had another great year at App State next year, I’d probably be in the same spot. So why not come out this year?” Evans grew up in Oak Hill, Fla., which is located near Daytona. “I’ve been to a couple of them,” Evans said of the Daytona 500. “It’s definitely different, but it’s a great environment. It’s definitely loud. There are a lot of crazy fans out there.” In his free time, he enjoys solving Rubix Cubes.
JaMycal Hasty, Baylor (5-9, 205): Hasty fell just 2 yards short of 2,000 for his career. As a senior, he rushed for 627 yards, averaged 5.8 yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns – all career highs. Over his final three seasons, he caught 25, 26 and 25 passes.
One play that stood out to then-coach Matt Rhule was his big hit on kickoff coverage against West Virginia. “I don’t know too many people who will go run a 60 or 70-yard touchdown and then go full speed on kickoff and knock somebody’s head off,” Baylor safety JT Woods told the Waco Tribune. “He’s definitely a leader, more than vocally but by example and it stands out in practice, it stands out on the field and in the weight room.” In 2014, he missed most of his senior year in high school with a back injury, and he redshirted in 2015. He graduated with a degree in health, kinesiology and leisure studies in August 2018.
Brian Herrien, Georgia (6-0, 210): In four seasons, Herrien rushed for 1,413 yards and 13 touchdowns. As a senior, he set career highs with 490 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns, 16 receptions and 600 total yards. Even with the limited resume, he skipped the Sugar Bowl to get ready for the NFL.
With limited playing time in Georgia’s star-studded backfield, his parents suggested he transfer. “He didn’t want to hear it; He wanted to stay,” his mom told the Augusta Chronicle. “I was like, ‘Are you for real? Are you kidding me?’ I did that because I was telling him he could go and play somewhere else because you’re always going to have backs come in.” He said his best sport was baseball but it got “boring” to him. “I'm way better in baseball than I am in football,” he told the school athletics site. “I hit a ball 400 feet when I was 13. My dad played baseball, he was supposed to go (to a tryout with the Reds) ... but my mom had gotten pregnant with my sister so he just was like, I'm going to take care of my family. Instead, he moved to Atlanta and got a job.” A chance encounter with a young fan made for good social media.
Tony Jones, Notre Dame (5-11, 224)*: Jones became more productive with each season, capped by career highs of 857 yards, 6.0 yards per carry, six rushing touchdowns and 15 catches as a senior. He rushed for 100-plus yards in four of his first six games before suffering injured ribs, and he closed his career with an 84-yard touchdown run vs. Iowa State. His four-year totals were 1,481 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns and 27 catches.
Jones started playing when he was 5 but didn’t see his potential until later. “I doubted myself because I didn’t think I was that good enough until I was like 12.” said Jones Jr. “Then I started doing good and maybe I am kind of good,” he told Bay News 9. He grew tight with his offensive line. “I would say I’m like their little brother,” he told Irish Sports Daily. “I get picked on because I’m short. They make fun of me and they fight with me. It’s a tight bond. They call me ‘Fat back’ and ‘Cheeto head.’ I go at their hair or I make fun of their feet and stuff like that.” With his size, he sees himself as a workhorse. “To be honest, I think I’m more like a volume guy,” he told the Record-Courier. “I need the ball a lot. Well, not a lot, but I need it like three times (within a handful of plays), then I start rolling, then it’s hard to stop me after that.” At athletics-first IMG Academy, he starred in football and baseball. As a senior, he hit .491.
Joshua Kelley, UCLA (5-11, 219): Kelley spent two seasons at UC-Davis before transferring to UCLA. After sitting out the 2017 season to fulfill NCAA transfer obligations, Kelley rushed for 1,243 yards (5.5 average) and 12 touchdowns in 2018 and 1,060 yards (4.6 average) and 12 touchdowns as a senior. That gave him two-year totals of 2,303 rushing yards, 24 rushing touchdowns and 38 catches. In 2018, he rushed for 289 yards against USC, the biggest game in rivalry history.
Davis originally landed at UC-Davis because it was his only scholarship offer. When the coaching staff was fired, Davis bet on himself. He gave up his scholarship for a bigger opportunity. After a couple months of hounding UCLA running backs coach DeShaun Foster to give him a look. “He called me relentlessly for at least two months,” Foster said, “probably the whole spring.” Ultimately, Kelley was allowed to join the team as a walk-on. He got his scholarship in Summer 2018. “It was humbling,” he said at the time, “because I was thinking about where I was a year ago.” Kelley is proof that nice guys don’t always finish last. “When I first got here, (Foster) was like, ‘We’re going to have to find a way to manage your personality because you’ve got to go run through somebody, you’ve got to pass protect. This stuff doesn’t require you to be nice.’” He credits his mom, Jacqueline, for not only driving him to the park for workouts – he doesn’t have a driver’s license – but for serving as defensive back or quarterback. “It wasn’t the best spiral but it for sure worked.”
Javon Leake, Maryland (6-0, 206)*: Leake had only 145 carries and 10 receptions in his career. Most of his production came in 2019 with 736 rushing yards (7.2 average) and eight touchdowns. He’s a dynamic kickoff returner with career marks of 24.5 yards per runback and a school-record three touchdowns. As a senior, he earned the Big Ten’s Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year. “As soon as you see that he gets into space, you know it’s a touchdown,” Terps quarterback Josh Jackson said. “You can just put your arms up because he’s got it.”
He received only 44 offensive touches his first two seasons before getting his chance in 2019. “I learned a lot about myself going through that,” Leake said during the spring. “I knew what type of player I was, I knew I could always bring something to the table. I just needed the opportunity. I waited. I prayed a lot. I just waited for the opportunity and any time I got a chance, I tried to do my best. And it worked out for the best. Everything’s falling into place now.”
Leake’s father, Joel Simpson, is working on earning an associate degree while serving a five-year prison term in New York. Their story was told by the Washington Post: “Simpson isn't Leake's biological father, but he filled that role through the running back's childhood, building what Simpson calls the "best relationship I've ever had with another human being." The two have held onto the bond, despite the distance and the circumstances, but Leake's dad has yet to watch his son play football in person. With an early release date expected in May, next season's opener will likely be the first time he watches his son from the stands.”
Benny LeMay, UNC-Charlotte (5-9, 215): LeMay closed his career with back-to-back seasons of 1,000-plus rushing yards, with 1,243 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior and 1,082 yards and nine touchdowns (plus 19 catches with four touchdowns) as a senior. His four-year total was a school-record 3,232 yards (5.4 average) and 22 touchdowns and 54 receptions. Then, he was voted MVP of the East-West Shrine Bowl with 80 rushing yards and two scores.
An older brother, Uriah LeMay, played receiver at Charlotte and a younger brother, Christian LeMay, is a quarterback at Jacksonville State. All three were high school All-Americans. Uriah and Benny played together at Charlotte. “It’s really cool,” Benny LeMay told the Charlotte Observer as a freshman. “There’s a lot of things we do together that a lot of brothers really can’t have. That kind of bond that we have really makes us better as players, and as people, too. A lot of guys don’t have the bond that we have.” Initially, LeMay wanted to be the next LeBron James. "They mean the world to me," Benny said of his brothers in a story on the school athletics site. "[My dad] is my biggest supporter. At the end of the day I know they have my back. That's one thing I've always made sure I take into account – what my family would think – no matter what I do."
Anthony McFarland Jr., Maryland (5-9, 198)*: McFarland played only two seasons. In 2018, he rushed for 1,034 yards (7.9 average) and four touchdowns. As a redshirt sophomore in 2019, he rushed for 614 yards (5.4 average) and eight touchdowns and added 17 receptions. For his career, he ranks third in school history with 6.7 yards per carry.
A high school All-American, McFarland missed his senior season in high school due to a broken leg and redshirted as a freshman at Maryland. A once-touted prospect, doubts started to swirl. Those were unwarranted. “Before I got hurt, I was looking at Maryland. I wasn’t really sure about them. It wasn’t until I got hurt that I really started to think about staying home. It just came to my mind a lot.”
Zack Moss, Utah (5-10, 222): Moss piled up 4,067 rushing yards, 38 rushing touchdowns and 66 receptions during a superb four-year career. The yardage and touchdown total set school records. “When I came here, my goal was to be the best running back of all time and be one of the best players to ever walk through this university,” the Miami native said before the season. “And now sitting here, having the opportunity to do that, it's something I couldn't pass up on, no matter what. I wanted to solidify that — not just be talked about being one of the best, but be the best. And, obviously, shatter the records and be the most successful team in Utah history.”
As a senior, he produced career-high totals of 1,416 rushing yards, 15 rushing touchdowns and 13.9 yards per catch; his 28 receptions were one off his career high. He was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and earned some All-American honors. He had three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons to cap his career. He missed the final five games of the 2018 season with a knee injury sustained at practice.
Before the 2018 season, the expectations were made clear. “We told him that his practice habits had to be a little bit better,” lineman Jackson Barton said. “He didn’t take offense to that; he’s really taken to heart. We told him, ‘You can be the dude this year. And if you practice like the dude, you’re going to be the dude.’ I’ve seen him taking that mentality, and it’s helped him tremendously. I love blocking for that dude.” He was a candidate for the prestigious Senior CLASS Award. Moss, quarterback Tyler Huntley and receiver Demari Simpkins were teammates at Miami’s Hallandale High School. A snowstorm during a recruiting trip clinched their path to “the other U.” Said Moss: “In the grand scheme of things, the snowmobiling was actually a big thing. It was my first time seeing snow. Having fun in the snow like that the first time, being an 18-year-old kid, will do some things to you. I’m happy that snowmobile trip definitely pushed me a little bit more.” He has NFL genetics. He is a cousin of Santana Moss, an All-American at Miami who had more than 10,000 yards receiving during a 14-year NFL career, and Sinorice Moss, a second-round draft pick out of Miami who spent six years in the NFL.