New running backs: Pope and Boyd

Since we're in desperate need of a couple of new running backs, I took a look at the background of two who might both help the team and avoid pilfering their luggage. A quick trip to the SunnySide is in order.

 

P.J. Pope

PJ Pope, a running back out of Wyoming Ohio, is a two way player who can help the Broncos from early on. A 5’ 9 back whose weight is listed from 205 to 218, Pope has great hands and is an immediate threat as a receiving back as well as a power runner who is best through the tackles. Pope attended Wyoming High School in Wyoming, Ohio, where he excelled in baseball and football. During his senior year, Pope ran for 2,230 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns, enough to help him win the "Southern Ohio Player of the Year" Award.

Pope was often described as a secret weapon at Bowling Green where he studied physical education. His Bowling Green coach had high praise for him.

"P.J. might be our best offensive football player," head coach Gregg Brandon said. "Now, Omar (Jacobs) might be our most valuable, but P.J.’s probably our best overall player because he’s so skilled in his running abilities as well as receiving. When we leave him in the backfield or if we put him in the slot, he’s going to stretch the defense. I like that in a running back."

Pope was a Doak Walker Award candidate in his junior year. Despite a senior campaign that included problems with injuries, Pope went on to be the only player in BGSU history to rush for more than 3,000 yards in a career and accumulate more than 1,000 yards receiving as well. He finished as the school's third all-time leading rusher with 3,116 yards (5.2 per carry) and added 1148 yards receiving.

His predraft analysis said in part, "(A) Three-year starter awarded All-Conference honors as a sophomore and junior. Played in nine games last season posting 125/436/20. Career-best numbers of 178/1,098/15 came as a junior, with pass-catching totals of 50/490/6…Nice-sized ball carrier who is best between the tackles. Displays good vision, finds the running lanes and has a burst. Sets up blocks, is aggressive and strong in his lower body. Solid receiver who makes the reception in stride…Not an elusive back who makes defenders miss. Lacks the speed to get around the corner… A leader by example who has made football a priority, Pope offers potential as a special-teams player/fourth running back in the NFL."

His lack of top and speed (a 4.5 40) and a history of injuries his senior year caused Pope to drop to undrafted free agent status. The Chicago Bears signed Pope as before the 2006 NFL preseason to compensate for the absence of starting running backs Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. The Bears later cut Pope from the team on September 9th, but was shortly re-signed onto the practice squad. He has spent stints with Green bay and another with the Bears in 2007 before being waived on Aug. 29 when the Bears announced that Matt Forte was their back of the future.

Although his history of injury is troubling, Pope is a between the tackles runner who can provide another solid blocker and is a threat at receiving as well as running the ball. We’ll find out quickly if he’s worth the chance the Broncos are taking on him.

Cory Boyd

The Broncos have also moved Cory Boyd to their practice squad. Boyd is a young man with a very troubled past. He was raised in an environment described as ‘toxic’ and has struggled to find his way in the world. Often his own worst enemy, SI.com’s succinct analysis of Boyd was as follows:

"Comes from a tough background and has had off the field problems in the past."

His high school years were productive as far as football. He played defensive back and running back at Orange (N.J.) High School for Coach Randy Daniel, graduating in 2003 Boyd rushed for 1,535 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior, rushed for 1,785 yards and 22 touchdowns during his junior campaign and recorded eight interceptions his junior season while playing safety. He was rated the #12 prospect in the state of New Jersey by Rivals.com and the #21 defensive back in the country by SuperPrep.

He moved to the University of South Carolina and had immediate success, seeing action in all 11 games as a tailback and special teams performer and being named the team's Freshman of the Year. In 2004 he was the team's second leading rusher with 309 yards on 62 carries (5.0 average) with three touchdowns and the team's second leading receiver with 35 catches for 347 yards and one TD and saw duty at both tailback and fullback. He had soft hands and a hard attitude.

Spurrier saw what was and what could be and decided on a tough love approach, suspending Boyd for a year (2005). By all we can see, it worked. In 2006 he led the Gamecocks in rushing with 823 yards in 12 games, starting seven times. Boyd averaged 5.0 yards per carry, scored a team-high eight rushing touchdowns and also was third on the team and led all SEC running backs with 35 receptions for 406 yards and two scores. He ranked fifth in the SEC and 59th in the country in rushing yards per game at 68.6 and was fourth in all-purpose yards, averaging 107.8 per game, but his per game average was hurt when he played against Arkansas despite being ill and did not have any carries. He was named the Ernest A. Brooks Memorial Award winner as the MVP of the Carolina-Clemson game and carried 18 times for 94 yards and two scores in the bowl win over Houston. Boyd was given the offensive Everyday Effort Award following the 2006 spring drills.

In 2007 he truly hit his stride as a hard-nosed runner, a candidate for all-league honors in 2007. Coy entered the fall camp as the number one tailback after leading the squad in rushing in 2006 and was known as a very physical player who can also catch the ball out of the backfield. He was just the fourth player in school history to log 1,000 yards rushing (1,364 entering 2007) and haul in 70 receptions in a career (81 entering 2007Boyd was the only player in school history to reach the 1,000-1,000 plateau. He had 15 career starts and three 100-yard rushing days.

ESPN Draft Tracker said, "While he had some issues following rules and handling coaching early in his career, it should be noted that Boyd had an extremely difficult upbringing and he has matured a great deal since his freshman season in 2003. Boyd projects as a mid-round pick in a very deep draft class but it wouldn't surprise us a bit if he outperforms several running backs selected ahead of him."

He had a good combine, and he did surprise NFL personnel by posting a best of 4.46 in his forty yard dash. The rap on him was in part not having the speed for the NFL, so that shocked a few people. He also put up 225 Lb. 25 times in the bench and had a vertical jump of 33 ½ (some sources list 34.5). It’s here that we get a picture of Cory Boyd the player, the one that might be.

Every report agrees that he is a very physical player. He had some minor bumps and bruises, more than average, perhaps, but no serious injury history. ESPN went on to say,

"Possesses good height and size potential. Runs hard and with good pad-level. Shifty back that shows the ability to plant and quickly change directions to hit the cutback lane. Shows good vision as a runner and will find creases when available. Shows good initial burst to and through the hole. Very good balance and body control. Shows soft hands and an adequate feel for route running as an underneath receiver. Gives a good effort as a blocker and is strong enough to anchor versus blitzing LB's. Comes from a very tough neighborhood in New Jersey and has shown tremendous resiliency in getting to where he is today. Continues to mature as both a player and a person."

His weaknesses? "Top-end speed is adequate but he doesn't show a second-gear in the open field. Gets to and through the hole, but won't be able to consistently bounce runs outside and run away from NFL defenders. He's not overly elusive, either. Still filling into his frame. Must prove capable of adding some bulk (5 to 10 pounds) without losing any burst. While he usually shows good form while running, he has the tendency to get too upright." 

Scout.com added: "The Gamecock running back quietly went about his business amassing a solid senior campaign throughout an up and down South Carolina season in 2007. Totaled 952 yards rushing with 5.0 yards per carry average and 9 touchdowns while relinquishing some repetitions in a running back rotation. Boyd’s best effort came against one of South Carolina’s top rivals, the Tennessee Volunteers, rushing for a season best of 160 yards. Boyd is a hardnosed runner with some questions about top end speed. Displays a nice burst into the hole initially and does make decisive cuts. Never quite had that breakout run this past season with a season long of only 29 yards. At the Combine he did surprise NFL personnel by posting a best of 4.46 in his forty yard dash. A bit of an upright runner at 6 feet 1 inch tall and 213 pounds, Boyd also has soft hands out of the backfield. As a junior he led all SEC running backs in catches, adding 36 more receptions this past season. Steve Spurrier is not known as having an NFL ready system. The proof is in the pudding, but he does ask his teams to pass early and often. So while Boyd was churning out the yards meticulously down the field, he had to understand all the basic concepts of the passing game as both a receiver and blocker."

Boyd was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the seventh round (238th overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft. He had fallen a long way on the issues of character and several minor injuries, and was rehabbing a knee during June and July. But, during the summer his past resurfaced. At the 2008 NFL rookie symposium in July, Boyd was involved in a fist fight with fellow Buccaneers rookie Aqib Talib. Ironically, the symposium is aimed at starting NFL rookies down the right path in life and their professional football careers.

Although Boyd has a history of character issues, Talib isn’t an angel either. He had a history of multiple occasions of marijuana usage while at Kansas and had one positive drug test. Since Jon Gruden has referred to Talib as the ‘future face of the franchise’, the outcome was predictable. Boyd was waived/injured by the Buccaneers on July 26 and subsequently placed on season-ending injured reserve. He was released with an injury settlement on October 17.

The Broncos picked him up for the practice squad. When you lose your entire RB corps before Week 11, you make some hard decisions. In the Broncos case, Boyd is likely one of the best options out there. He’s a powerful back, a solid choice for a one cut system. He’s tough to bring down, usually requiring more than one tackler. He had the strength of character to graduate from SCU’s hotel, restaurant and tourism management program last December.

Boyd was interviewed by Luke Nicholson in preparation for the draft and has this to say:

"Why should an NFL team select you over other running backs in the draft?" "Because I rarely ever get tackled on first contact and I don’t go down without a fight. I play through pain the same way I play without it. Plus I have the hands of a WR."

What does he want to do after his NFL career? Open a youth recreation center to help kids whose backgrounds are similar to his own. These are good reasons to take a flyer on a man who needs you as much as you need him. Perhaps he can turn his life around. It’s not a first, second or third chance. But it might be his last.

Originally posted at MHR

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