There was a point in the preseason when Isaiah Pead was considered a Top-3 running back in a potentially solid group of prospects at the position, and he did all he could to remind us during last month's Senior Bowl. His straight-line speed at the very least competes with that of LaMichael James or Chris Rainey, if it doesn't in fact trounce them, and his fluid drills were further accompanied by a showcased versatility and camaraderie in and out of the huddle. Of course, the Bearcats strived to utilize his talents this season as best as they could, before falling short of the Big East Title by way of a tiebreaker. Scouts claimed that Pead appeared to be slightly stouter than expected at his Pro Day, but considering that 28 of the 32 NFL franchises were represented at this workout, it seems as though they believe his overall game will surely make up for it at the next level.
Position: Running Back
School: University of Cincinnati
Weight: 197 pounds
2011: 237 rushing attempts, 1,259 yards, 5.3 YPC, 12 touchdowns; 39 receptions, 319 yards, 3 touchdowns
Career: 545 rushing attempts, 3,288 yards, 27 touchdowns
Combine Results: 4.47 40 time, 33-inch vertical leap, 116-inch broad jump, 4.32 shuttle, 6.95 three-cone
*2012 Senior Bowl MVP (8 rushing attempts, 36 yards; 2 punt returns, 98 yards
A 400-meter champion in high school, Pead's north-south style of running and threat to burn rubber in the open field may have had people whispering his name in the first place. However, it's his intangibles and well-rounded contributions to the offense that are allowing him to climb draft boards once again. Pead is an willing blocker that will stand up against oncoming defenders in the pocket, or he will lay out to extend to the opposite flow of the pass rush. His fair hands help him secure screen passes in traffic, and he can shake off the linebacker as he executes his route. Whether he is struggling for a few extra yards or has been ripped out of the play, his legs keep churning and he continues to spin, stiff-arm, and fight on every down (and he will eventually be out there on every down). The underlying key to Pead's success is his quick feet, feeling their way through creases and defenders with small side-steps - a danger to cut in either direction - as he finds the room to get into his stride, and then it's off to the races. With all of these traits, he can additionally be a punt returner, if needed, basically placing the ball in his possession roughly 40 times a game.
Many of Pead's shortcomings are swiftly followed by a "yeah, but". He holds the ball too low - yeah, but he rarely fumbled during his collegiate career. He doesn't run over defenders - yeah, but his balance and constant moving of his legs let him brush through one-arm tackles and barrel past the goal line. He lacks elite strength, and he's missing initial burst in the box as he's tripped up on first anticipated contact - yeah, but his determination and natural quickness could prevail when teamed with higher-up coaching. Pead's only major concern is the lengthy amount of time it takes for outside stretch runs or actual changes of direction to develop, considering his ascertainable speed and presented possibilities once he reaches the second level. An injured knee also caused him to miss a couple of contests in 2010, so durability might be a minor issue.
Best Landing Spot:
The AFC North is in dire need of another Big East running back. The Pittsburgh Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall will be recovering from a torn ACL in a contract year, and physical bruiser Isaac Redman is their lone reliable option. Peyton Hillis was a blatant curse for the Cleveland Browns, and the Baltimore Ravens can certainly use a backup for Ray Rice after Ricky Williams frolicked back into the sunset. All points are valid, but none of these teams will be winning the division - the youthful Cincinnati Bengals crave a dynamic rushing attack that will wean them off of Cedric Benson, alleviate the pressure on sophomore quarterback Andy Dalton, and push their offense over the edge...it's a compliment. Yeah, but we're talking about the Bengals
...oh well, why move all your furniture out of Cincinnati?
Especially if there is a streak of selected running backs at some point in the second round, expect Pead to be one of those names being called, but he will definitely be drafted before Day 2 ends.
Chris Johnson is on the field for every offensive snap (albeit by default without another notable option for the Tennessee Titans), can catch the ball out of the backfield, is an underrated runner in between the tackles, has breakway speed but can be slowed before reaching the second level, and has so far had to prove himself throughout his professional career. Whether Pead averages 6.0 or 4.0 yards-per-carry, however, it will have nothing to do with a contract dispute...until he rushes for over 2,000 yards.
Isaiah Pead plays the game with a chip on his shoulder, but the only detectable reason why he would is probably because he isn't gathering the same hype as Trent Richardson or even Lamar Miller. The appropriate situation and opportunity can change that, unless he is detained behind Bungles bars.