In the last two installments of our series on players in whom the Cowboys have shown interest, we reviewed two late-round receivers, guys who might potentially replace the Sam Hurds and Kevin Ogletrees of the roster. This time around, we’ll be taking a look at another low-round skill position guy, Louisville running back Bilal Powell. Before the 2010 season, few scouts had heard of Powell, but that changed thanks to a breakout senior campaign in which the Cardinals' first year coach, Charlie Strong, elevated Powell to first team and declared him to be the face of the franchise.
In response, Powell piled up 1,405 rushing yards (second in the Big East) on an impressive 6.1 yards per carry, scoring 11 touchdowns. Joe DeCamilis will be happy to hear that Powell also has a productive history on special teams, returning kickoffs and making tackles as a gunner early in his college career.
Powell exhibits an intriguing skill set; he comes in at 5-foot-11 and 207 pounds, but plays much bigger. He has the power and toughness to run between the tackles, but also has the speed to break a big run on the outside, as evidenced by several long touchdown runs last season. His SportsCenter moment came against Cincinnati: on an amazing 85-yard touchdown run, he broke multiple Bearcat tackles at the line of scrimmage before squirting free (see it here, at the 1:30 mark). On the other hand, Powell isn’t a great receiver out of the backfield, and he takes a lot of big hits because of his upright running style.
Powell’s breakout 2010 continued into the offseason. He had a great Senior Bowl week, and was mentioned by a bevy of practice observers as a player who impressed, capping his solid week of practice by being named the South team's starting running back. Then, at Louisville’s pro day, which was heavily populated by NFL running backs coaches, he ran a strong 4.5 forty time and acquitted himself well in position drills.
"The Face," as Powell is known amongst college football wags, has definitely been on scouts’ radar of late. In addition to the Cowboys, he reportedly has visits scheduled with the Falcons, Jets, Patriots, Bengals, Dolphins, and Chiefs.
What has NFL running back coaches slathering over Powell? Find out after the jump…
A taller back with a broader upper body and decent girth through his lower half. Showcases a good first step when asked to press the hole. Has the speed to get to the corner and run off tackle and looks comfortable quickly getting downhill. Displays good patience and exhibits some balance with his footwork once he gets into the open field. However, he isn't real fluid laterally and struggles to break down and make people miss in tight areas. Is more of a linear runner who does a nice job running with a low pad level and does a nice job not exposing too much of his frame. Possesses a strong lower half, pumps his legs through contact and can shrug off defenders and churn out tough yards inside. Exhibits a decent thump as a blocker as well, but doesn't do a good job of using his hands to stick to defenders through the play. Is more of just an initial pop guy who then will quickly fall off the block. Has the body control to catch the football out of the backfield, but isn't shifty enough to consistently make the initial man miss.
Is more impressive in the open field than given credit for. Possesses good straight-line speed for his size, has the vision and patience to cut against the grain and accelerates well out of his breaks. Possesses a strong stiff arm to keep himself clean and set up blocks and use his sneaky speed to create in the open field. However, runs more upright once he gets into the clear and will expose himself to more hits at the second level.
Impression: You almost have to wonder what was wrong with this guy as a junior. He's physical, presses the hole quickly and can be a threat in the open field. Isn't real sudden or shifty in tight areas and is more of a linear runner. But has a good enough size/speed combo to make an NFL roster and contribute in more of a zone-blocking scheme.
The Sporting News (Russ Lande) no ratings available
Powell, who has nice bulk to absorb a pounding, shows a nice burst once in the open field but struggles to find the hole and hit it. Too often, he tends to hesitate and stop his feet while looking for a crease.
His lateral movement is below average, hindering his ability to make would-be tacklers miss. He is at his best in a third-down role as a receiver out of the backfield, allowing him to get out in the open field and use his straight-line speed.
His lack of vision and agility will make him a tough sell to an NFL team. He should get a look at in a rookie minicamp and possibly get signed as a free agent, but he will struggle to make an NFL roster.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki) 13-rated RB; 136th overall
Positives: Quick-footed with one-cut ability. Competitive and runs hard—fights for yardage, spins off contact and is unafraid to lower his shoulder. Knows when to cut against the grain. Shows some long speed and the ability to go the distance. Good hands to catch away from his body. Good stamina. Took advantage of opportunity as a senior and produced.
Negatives: Shows some tightness in his movement. Average burst through the hole and lateral agility. Can run with more consistent pad level. Is not exceptionally powerful or elusive. Was not asked to block very often. Only a one-year producer. Averaged a fumble every 66 touches his final three seasons. Lined up three yards behind the quarterback in a collegiate "pistol" offense and had more time to identify holes than he will at the next level.
Summary: Has overcome adversity to get to where he’s at and was given a new lease on his football life as a senior under [Cardinals coach Charlie] Strong. Decent-sized, upright, one-cut zone runner who will get what is blocked for him and finish runs.
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton) 14th-rated RB; overall unknown (not in top 130)
Competitiveness: Has limited power for a back his size but he runs hard and low. Runs with very good pad level, churns out extra yards at the end of runs while consistently falling forward.
Vision/Patience: Very good vision and run instincts. Feels the crease before it opens and knows how to set up his blocks. Has patience but is decisive. This is his greatest strength as a runner.
Agility/Acceleration: Lateral quickness is good but not elite. Does not show a second gear to bounce runs to the second level. Top-end speed is average to below average. But he excels at sticking his foot in the dirt and accelerating up the field. He's shifty and can stop and start with minimal time wasted.
Power/Balance: Runs with good balance and shows a solid center of gravity. Not an overpowering runner but generally runs low to the ground and fights for extra yards after contact. Adequate-to-good balance. Runs with knees high at times but needs to be more consistent.
Passing Game: Reliable pass catcher. Struggles to adjust to poorly thrown ball but can catch balls thrown within frame. Aggressive in pass pro. Usually makes good initial contact and shows some pop at the point of attack but needs to learn to get feet set and sustain better.
Judging from his aggressive, one-cut, downhill running style, it appears that the Cowboys see Powell as a potential replacement for Marion Barber. Indeed, his game resembles Barber’s off the field: Powell is almost painfully media shy, won't talk on camera and declines interviews that focus on himself.
Coaches and teammates reportedly describe him a reserved, quiet guy who mostly just goes about his business in practice.
The consensus on Powell ranges from pick 136 to approximately 155, placing him pretty squarely in the fifth round. The Cowboys fifth rounder, at # 143, would fall right into the middle of that range. That’s where I’d look for them to take him off the board.
Next up: Mount Union WR Cecil Shorts