Mikel Leshoure: The draft’s best back no one is talking about

There are a couple reasons why Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure’s name hasn’t picked up more traction in draft circles over the past couple weeks.

1. His name kind of just got washed in with a very talented group of early entries this season.

2. Most just assume that it’s Alabama’s Mark Ingram and then everyone else at the running back position.

I will admit that I think Ingram is an NFL-ready back who grades out higher than Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews from a year ago and is ready to contribute at a high level from day one. However, there is another back in this year’s draft who also has the kind of physical skill set to come in and contribute early in his NFL career as well and that’s the aforementioned Mikel Leshoure.

Leshoure is a 6-0, 230-pound prospect who possesses a thick, compact frame, runs behind his pads and exhibits impressive power through contact. However, what makes him so intriguing is his overall body control, balance and short-area quickness for a guy his size. Leshoure has the ability to create for himself inside, set up blocks at the line of scrimmage and quickly accelerate into the open field. Now, much like Ingram, Leshoure isn’t a burner by any stretch.

However, the biggest misconception in the NFL is that 20-plus yard runs are a direct result of straight-line speed at the running back position — which is not true. The biggest reason backs in the NFL are able to break off long runs is mostly due to their ability to slip/break a tackle at or near the line and accelerate quickly into daylight. And that is exactly what Leshoure can offer an NFL offense. He’s a guy who seems to just get stronger and stronger as the game goes on, wearing down opposing front sevens and as the fourth quarter rolls around, no one wants to square up and tackle the guy.

Plus, add in the fact that he’s got a pretty good set of hands on him out of the backfield and can occasionally flair his way down the field, find a soft spot and adjust to the football, giving you more than just a physical presence inside.

So where does he end up?

Looking over the layout of the draft and adding in the fact that there aren’t too many backs in this year’s crop capable of being a 15-20 carry guy for an NFL team, it still wouldn’t surprise me at all for Leshoure to make a run at the back end of the first round if he runs well at this year’s Combine.

Some possible destinations…

New Orleans Saints: Late first round
New England Patriots: Late first round/Early second round
Cincinnati Bengals: Early second round
Washington Redskins: Mid second round

Overall, I see Leshoure coming in and contributing early in his NFL career as that powerful No. 2 back for an NFL offense. He will be able to keep you ahead of the chains, pick his way through the line of scrimmage and offers enough “make you miss ability” to create his fair share of bigger runs as well. However, in year two I think the team that drafts him can expect Leshoure to take over the starting gig. He possesses the frame to take the punishment that comes with being an NFL starter and looks like a guy who can wear down opposing defensive fronts. He isn’t ever going to be overly dynamic in the open field or toward the perimeter, but his blend of power, short-area quickness and balance should allow him to mature into a very solid starting NFL back in a short period of time.

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