San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey ended an historic college career in the Las Vegas Bowl. After a great four-year run, is a long stint in the NFL in his future?
A prolific collegiate career came to an end this past Saturday, as star running back Donnel Pumphrey played his final game at San Diego State in a 34-10 win over Houston in the Las Vegas Bowl. In the victory, he also happened to make history.
On the opening day of the 2016-17 college football postseason, Pumphrey broke the FBS career rushing record that was held by former Wisconsin star Ron Dayne, finishing the day with 115 yards to give him 6,405 for his career. Dayne’s run with the Badgers saw him total 6,397 yards on the ground.
While the NCAA did not start counting postseason totals toward the record books until 2002, essentially not acknowledging Dayne’s 728 rushing yards in four bowl games because his career spanned from 1996-99, one should not take anything away from what Pumphrey has been able to do in Mountain West competition. Simply put, he’s been a lot of fun to watch on the gridiron over the last four seasons.
On his way to the FBS record, the Aztec made a habit of flying by defenders across all three levels of the defense. For his career, Pumphrey added over 1,000 yards and five scores to his record 6,405 rushing yards and 62 scores as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Those prolific numbers give credence to the fact that Pumphrey was an elite collegiate tailback throughout his tenure with the Aztecs. So can he extend his playing career onto the next level?
The Las Vegas native does not have great size, as he’s listed at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds. But there have been plenty of perceived undersized players that have had solid careers at the next level. With the 2016 season officially over for him, Pumphrey has shifted gears and started to prepare for a possible career in the NFL.
Because scouting and drafting are not exact sciences, there are differing opinions on where Pumphrey may end up.
“He’s a great athlete with speed, quickness and body control,” former Chicago Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel told Campus Insiders. “He’s listed as being 5-foot-9 and 180, but I think he is smaller—other players tower over him. But he’s tough and competitive with great production at the college level. Unfortunately, that probably won’t carry over to the NFL level.
“In today’s game, players that size don’t stick around long. He may have to be a situational player in the right system, like a third-down back type of player. While he doesn’t do much after contact, what helps is he is a very willing blocker. Teams will hope he can be a good returner, but they will be guessing because there is not much of a history of return work at San Diego State. He will probably be a late-round selection. I wish he had more size, because his tape is impressive.”
Like a lot of individuals looking to play professionally, all it takes is the right team with the right system to offer a chance.
While he has been compared to former Aztec stars Ronnie Hillman and Marshall Faulk because of his smaller stature, Humphrey actually more closely resembles a slot receiver. Can his body take on the weekly punishment that comes with playing on Sundays? That’s the biggest concern Gabriel cited in his assessment.
Wherever he is selected—late fourth round or somewhere in the fifth seems like a logical destination considering the early draft chatter—there is no denying that Pumphrey has the elusiveness, explosiveness and breakaway speed to make an impact at the next level should he land in the right situation. He also brings an underrated physicality to the position, and is not afraid to run inside. Ultimately, it comes down to that weekly grind on a smaller frame.
Pumphrey may be a tough player for scouts to project, but they know he’s an intriguing prospect. And he could end up being a nice change-up-pace back who’s adept as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. He could be a steal for a team that isn’t able to land a Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette or Christian McCaffrey—the three backs at the top of most teams’ draft boards.
No matter what happens to Pumphrey moving forward, he’s been an absolute joy to watch as he chased—and ultimately made—history.