Royster lacks big-time prospect skill set

The size, power and production are certainly there for Penn State running back Evan Royster to at least warrant a draftable grade in the 2011 NFL Draft. However, when watching him on tape, I simply can’t figure out how this guy is being considered one of the top running back prospects for next year’s draft. Therefore, today the National Football Post breaks down Royster’s game and projects what kind of pro running back we see him developing into at the next level.

The breakdown

As I mentioned in the intro, Royster does possess a strong lower half and has the kind of power to consistently break tackles inside and create yards after contact. He does a nice job of dropping his pad level and consistently protecting his frame while maintaining his balance through the play. He also showcases an impressive overall feel when asked to pick his way through traffic and does a nice job being patient and setting up blocks.

Overall, he’s a pretty natural runner between the tackles and has the size and power to consistently keep his legs churning through contact.

However, as much as I love his size, balance and patience inside, he just strikes me as a very “blah” athlete who doesn’t have the type of skill set needed to be an every-down type of guy at the next level. He isn’t real explosive initially when pressing the hole and seems to only have one gear to his game.

Now, it would be one thing if Royster lacked a great initial burst or second gear if he had the lateral ability to make defenders miss and side step tackles in tight areas. However, I don’t see him as a real gifted lateral athlete either. Royster is more of a downhill guy who is at his best when asked to decipher information quickly in traffic and then press the hole.

But when forced to break down and make a man miss laterally with his short-area agility, Royster simply doesn’t have the kind of wiggle needed to slip a tackle and accelerate into the open field. He’s also not real shifty or explosive once he recognizes a cutback lane or is asked to quickly work his way against the grain and attack up the field.

When watching him at the college level, his game reminds me a lot of Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte. I think Royster could be effective in the NFL — much like Forte was his first year in the league — when there are creases for him to quickly press inside. Then he can use his physicality and impressive balance/pad level to break tackles and work his way into the second level.

However, much like Forte struggled this past season when he was asked to create more so on his own, I can’t see Royster making NFL-caliber defenders miss behind the line and/or creating a play on his own because of his lack of overall athletic ability.

Nevertheless, when projecting the kind of role Royster can play in the NFL at this stage, I think he’s better suited as a No. 2-type running back who can come into the game at the drop of an eye, run hard between the tackles and help wear down an opposing defense because of his size and physicality. However, if he’s asked to assume the role of being an every-down back for an NFL team, I simply don’t think he offers the kind of athleticism or lateral suddenness needed to be real dynamic with the ball in his hands. Therefore, I don’t think he will ever be a back who could average over 4.0 yards per carry as the lead runner at the next level, as he strikes me more as a guy who would be most effective being that “change-of-pace power back” who makes the most out of his limited five to eight carries per game.

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