5-7, 170 pounds. "He's too small" to be an NFL running back. Lake Erie College. "The Division II school? Division II guys never make it in the NFL" (that's a lie, just ask Danny Woodhead). Anthony Bilal has beat the odds to become an NFL-worthy prospect, after going nearly unscouted as a high school player. Now, he's working hard to beat the odds yet again. Bilal hopes to make the jump from Division II Lake Erie College to the NFL, and he hopes to do it in at 170 pounds, a body size allegedly "too small" for an NFL running back. Why am I talking about him if he's unlikely to be selected before the 6th or 7th round in 2016? Because sometimes good things come in small packages, and with Bilal, the upside is huge. Here's some film.
Anthony Bilal may be a small player. However, he has done some pretty big things on the field in his college career. Rush for six touchdowns in a single game? Check. Rush for 2041 yards with 29 TDs and 8.2 yards per carry in 2014? Check. Remain humble, give his O-line all the credit for his performance, and remain focused solely on winning? Check. Bilal is a player who cares about one thing. Winning. Bilal's dominant 2014 campaign followed a 2013 season in which he rushed for 1542 yards and 24 TDs on 5.8 yards per carry. His freshman season was slightly more modest, with 855 yards and 8 touchdowns on 6.1 yards per carry. He's also a competent receiver out of the backfield, and can return kicks.
If Bilal was playing for a top tier program and was slightly bigger physically, every scout in the league would be drooling over his potential. Since Bilal plays Division II ball and is only 170 pounds, he's wound up largely overlooked at this point. The scouts will say "he's too small" at 5'7, 170 pounds, but how does he compare to other small running backs? Darren Sproles was too small at 5'6, 190 pounds (albeit bulkier than Bilal), but he's had a decent NFL career. Maurice Jones Drew (fun fact about MJD; in Madden 2006, he's named "Maurice Drew-Jones") was too short at 5'7, but weighed in at 210, so again, slightly bulkier. The better known "little guys" in NFL backfield do outweigh Bilal significantly.
If MJD and Darren Sproles aren't ideal comparisons for Bilal from a size perspective, who is? The best answer to that question is probably Dri Archer, who comes in at 5'8, 173 pounds, almost exactly the same size as Bilal. And in fact, Bilal's best projection is as a poor man's Dri Archer in the NFL. Archer was a 3rd round pick in 2014. Bilal will probably drop a bit in 2016 because of the fact that he played for a Division II school; while Archer was a 3rd rounder, Bilal will likely be selected in the 6th or 7th round at best, and could potentially go undrafted.
That being said, there is an emerging role for small guys such as Anthony Bilal in NFL offenses, and a 7th round pick would be a steal for Anthony Bilal. Yes, he played at a relatively low level of competition in college and will have to adjust in the NFL. No, he'll likely never be an every-down bell-cow type of back in the NFL. However, guys with his combination of speed and talent are tough to come by at any level, and Bilal could emerge as a solid situational player and special teams ace in the NFL. He's not a guy that's likely to score 3 TDs a game at the next level, but he can be utilized from time to time in key situations and give a team a strategic advantage. Bilal absolutely has the talent to stick with a team as a speed back in a committee, and should not be overlooked on draft day. I think he will be a steal late on day 3 of the 2016 draft, and will outplay his draft position if selected by a team that can properly utilize his skillset. Get on the bandwagon now, before the rest of the league jumps onboard!
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