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Cowboys 2015 Draft Targets: Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah

Because there has been such a high correlation in recent years between the top collegians invited to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits and who the Cowboys end up drafting, it's important to know as much as possible about these players. As a service to you, BTB offers a series of detailed scouting reports on these players, compiled from the work of top draft analysts. Today, we look at Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Ameer Abdullah made an immediate impact upon arrival in Lincoln. His freshman year, he played every game as a kick returner, averaging 29.3 yards per return. In 2012, he assumed a much larger role, starting seven games and becoming the first Nebraska running back since 1994 to record 100-plus yards rushing in his first five starts. He finished the year with 1,137 yards rushing, scoring 8 TDs, and earned second-team All-Big 10 laurels.

From that point on, Abdullah has been the 'Husker's lead dog. As a junior, Abdullah ran for 1,690 yards and nine touchdowns while topping 100 yards in eleven of thirteen games--enough to be named team MVP and receive a first-team All-Big Ten nod. Last season, he ran for 1,611 yards (130+ per game), tying the Nebraska single-season record with four 200-yard rushing games. For his efforts, he took home second-Team All-American honors and was named a Doak Walker Award Finalist. Abdullah closed his 'Husker career with 4,588 yards, second in school history behind only 1983 Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier (4,780).

Abdullah is a tough, fearless runner with excellent athleticism and terrific vision. Although undersized, he is a hard runner between the tackles and has the speed and explosion to be dangerous on the edge. In addition, he's a plus ball-catcher and is a natural zone-scheme fit. Perhaps most importantly for the Cowboys, he's an "RKG"; Abdullah was known as a weight-room demon (he was awarded "Lifter of the Year"), and was a two-time team captain and Academic All-American.

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Want to scout like a boss? Let's start by looking at his impressive measurables:

Height Weight Arms Hands 40yd 10yd Bench Vert Broad 3Cone 20ss SPARQ (%)
5' 9" 205 30" 8⅝" 4.60 1.61 24 42½" 130" 6.79 3.95 142.5 (95.6)

And here they are in the form of a spider graph, courtesy of the folks at Mockdraftable.com:

Using SPARQ as our metric, Abdullah is more athletic than 95.6 of the league's other running backs; that's pretty damned impressive. Does his film back this up? Go over to Draft Breakdown, where they have ten videos of his work. From 2014, check him out against Miami (FL), where he went 35-229, and conference rivals Illinois (22-208) and Rutgers (19-225). To be fair, we should all see what happened against a Michigan St. defense that bottled him up (24-45)

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Let's see what our esteemed panel of scouts has to say about Abdullah's game:

Gary Horton (ESPN.com) 3rd-ranked RB; 34th overall:

Competitiveness: Would have an elite grade in this trait if not for fumbling problems. Absolutely love the way this guy plays the game. Leaves it all on the field. Fearless and aggressive running between tackles. Fights for yards after contact. Doesn't back down and willing to mix it up with bigger defenders as a blocker. But as mentioned; puts ball on ground too much. Carries ball high and tight, even covering it with two hands in traffic. However, hands are small and he's simply been unable to keep the ball secure.

Vision/Patience: Unique ability to sense oncoming defenders. Combo of elite instincts and flexibility allow him to contort body to avoid major collisions, while also grinding for extra yards at end of runs. Doesn't miss many creases between tackles. Reads second level better than most. Exploits cutback lanes and makes contain pay when it's too quick to collapse inside. Patient without hesitation. Hides behind and reads blockers. Accelerates as soon as seam opens.

Agility/Acceleration: Water bug type runner that can dart in and out of seams. Violent jump cut. Can make defender miss in hole and bounce outside after starting inside. Can freeze defenders with ability to change speeds when in space. Gets around the corner on outside runs and reaches top-end speed quickly when gets a seam between tackles. Has a second gear and tough to catch from behind.

Power/Balance: Lacks ideal size and not a power-back. Doesn't push pile when doesn't get a seam. But he runs angry and he gains more yards after initial contact than frame indicates. Runs with good forward lean and falls forward at end of runs. Linebackers can stop him in tracks.

Passing Game: Quick enough to separate from man. Catches ball well and can snatch it out of air despite smaller hands. A big-play threat after catch. Can make defenders miss and run away from pursuit. Inconsistent cut blocker that's not strong enough to anchor in pass pro. Did a better job of locating assignment and getting into position as 2014 season progressed.

Intangibles: Hard worker on field and in weight room. History major and good student. Active in community. Kind of player teams want in locker room and in community.

Dane Brugler and  Brandon Thorn (CBSSports.com) 4th -ranked RB; 48th overall:

Strengths: Much tougher than he looks and lowers his pads at the point of attack. Accelerates quickly and runs with his feet on fire, controlling his momentum well to make sharp cuts and elude in the open field. Flexible ankles and runs low to the ground with springs in his calves to make explosive jump-cuts without losing speed. He has active feet and sees the field well to make proper reads and pick through the line of scrimmage without any hesitation and always appears two steps ahead. Quick-thinking runner with natural ballcarrier instincts and an excellent sense of his surroundings to force poor angles with his multiple gears. Reliable hands out of the backfield and gives up his body in pass protection, despite limitations in that area. Abdullah is a first-class person off the field as well with a well-respected, grounded personality and works his tail off in the weight room.

Weaknesses: Abdullah has a leaner-than-ideal upper and lower body build. Ball security has been an issue. Clearly limited as a blocker and lack of length, size and strength are exposed when attempting to sustain or do much to stop blitzers. Has difficulty recognizing where pressure is coming from and gets uprooted at the point of attack when he squares up with the rusher.

Compares to: Ahmad Bradshaw, Colts -- Coming out of Marshall, Bradshaw was measured at 5-10, 192 pounds and put on close to 20 pounds to become much more of a pile mover as a pro. Both won in college through superb vision, decisiveness, balance, effort and quickness. Abdullah has room on his frame to pack on 5-8 pounds comfortably and develop into a very similarly used player as Bradshaw has been throughout his career.

Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) 6th-ranked RB; 54th overall:

Strengths: Decisive runner with good lower-body drive and a willingness to run behind his pads. Finishes his runs. Has NFL-caliber burst and can hit top speed quickly. Defenses must respect his ability to turn the corner on play-side. Patient runner with plus vision. Willing to seek out cutback lanes. Rarely dances to the line or makes unnecessary lateral moves. Isn't a predictable runner. Lacks blazing top-end speed but plays fast. Highly competitive with a high football IQ. Hasn't dropped a pass in two years and can be a valuable weapon in passing attack. Will make arm tacklers pay and is better in short yardage than most backs his size. Can help immediately as a punt or kick returner. Personal and football character is considered off-the-charts by the scouting community.

Weaknesses: Lacks ideal size that teams look for from a three-down running back. Frame is close to maxed out. Doesn't always go through his pass routes at full speed. Smallish frame causes some issues in pass protection. Tenacity in protection needs to improve. Ball security is a legitimate concern with 13 fumbles over his four years at Nebraska.

Sources Tell Us: "He has the highest overall character grade I've ever given to a prospect, and includes both football character and off-the-field. Aside from (Melvin) Gordon and (Todd) Gurley, I think he's the third best running back in this draft." -- AFC North scout

NFL Comparison: Andre Ellington

Matt Waldman (Rookie Scouting Portfolio) 2nd-ranked RB:

...if there's a back other than Todd Gurley who has a chance to be special it's Abdullah

Abdullah is a mature runner who takes what the defense gives him. Despite his excellent burst, agility, and balance, he rarely hesitates at the point of attack. He hits the hole hard, finishes with strong pad level and leg drive, and he knows how to layer moves judiciously between the tackles or in the open field.

He's the type of runner who patiently uses his blockers to bleed yards from closed creases, but if given an opportunity to create space he can play backyard ball with the best of them. He's a beast to tackle one-on-one in space and he can turn bad situations into bigger gains than the play was designed to achieve.

Abdullah has the skill to make any move in the running back library: spins, dips, lateral cuts, stutters, stiff-arms, jump cuts, stop-starts, and shoulder dips. He uses these moves in combination to do his job at the highest level: press and cut at the line of scrimmage; change his pacing to set up blocks or foil defender angles; get small through holes; and make defenders miss in the open field.

...He's calm, smooth, and controlled with his decisions. Not only does his short-area speed and burst gets him outside at will, he can also set up a block on the perimeter, and bend the corner downhill at a tighter angle better than most backs. This skill to bend down hill at top speed is something Abdullah also does well on cutback runs and short receptions.

His receiving game is top-notch. He plucks the ball with his hands, displays a wide catch radius on both high andlow targets, and has the control not to leave his feet over-adjust to targets because he tracks the ball first with his eyes and then his arms and legs. He also runs some flat and perimeter routes with the proficiency of a budding wideout.

I can say unequivocally that Abdullah is my favorite player in this draft. Because of his size, he might get funneled into a Giovani Bernard career track, but with the right landing spot Abdullah has the all-around skills to prove that if he's not a special runner, he's very close.

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Our panel has Abdullah rated as a second-rounder, but anywhere from the early second (Horton) to the late second (Zierlein). Heck, Waldman likes him so much he might even be a first-rounder in his book. I'm quite happy and confident slotting him as a (high) second rounder on my "little board," where the Cowboys pick at #60. If at first glance, that feels a bit late in the round to have a shot at the former 'Husker, be assured by this: the only pre-draft visit or personal workout he has scheduled thus far with any team is with the Cowboys. So, on the surface, there doesn't seem to be a tremendous amount of competition for him.

And that makes Ol' Rabble happy, since I, like Waldman, think Abdullah is one of the draft's most exciting prospects. Yes, he's undersized and, yes, he has had fumbling problems in the past. But he plays much bigger than his size and his fumblitis tailed off over the course of his college career. And it can be mediated with some technique work. Aside from those issues, he's such a natural, gifted runner that I would be doing the crazed white man's overbite in front of my TV if the Cowboys were to scoop him up with the 60th pick. If they somehow manage to get him at #91? Well, I can't predict what might happen...

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Next up: Baylor QB Bryce Petty