Sixth Round: 190th Pick
Rex Burkhead broke out in 2011, only to have injuries rob him of the opportunity to have an even better senior season. Burkhead isn't as fast as typical NFL running back prospects, but there's a lot to like on his film when he's healthy. Could he become the next late-round diamond in the rough in the backfield?
Burkhead is a bruiser who runs with no regard for his or anyone's else health. He has a terrific sense of urgency and initial burst with the ball in his hands. He makes sharp, smart cuts with little loss of momentum. Burkhead in general has great feet and lateral agility, but doesn't dance or hesitate with the ball in his hands. He is an excellent receiver and has a true workhorse mentality.
Burkhead doesn't have an extra gear, and his lateral moves are more subtle than spectacular. His elusiveness may not completely translate to the NFL. Burkhead's barreling-downfield running style also makes him more open to big hits and less able to use his agility and quickness. He's not going to win footraces to the corner or otherwise stretch a defense laterally.
Burkhead has a top-heavy build at 5'10", 214 pounds. His 4.73 40 time is borderline too slow to be an NFL running back, but his film tells an entirely different story than that number. His initial burst and downhill running style press a defense immediately, making Burkhead look nothing like a plodder. Burkhead's 39" vertical, 10'5" broad jump, 6.85 three-cone and 4.09 short shuttle were all among the best at his position at the combine. While he isn't a true ankle-breaker,Burkhead's innate quickness helps him make moves at top speed.
You won't find a running back who plays with more stamina and toughness in this year's class. He was an academic All-American, and his work with a young cancer patient who scored a touchdown in this year's spring game at Nebraska while wearing Burkhead's jersey got nationwide coverage. He will be a coach's and fan's favorite.
Burkhead ran out of the shotgun in Nebraska's classic option running attack. He's a decisive north-south runner.
Seeing and hitting the hole while wasting as little time as possible is Burkhead's style. Since he doesn't spend that much time deliberating behind the line of scrimmage, he's not really a runner who picks and slides or looks for cutback lanes. Burkhead finds the best hole in his limited cone of possibilities and makes the right cut to hit the hole at speed, but don't expect him to be patient and let the run hole develop while he bides his time.
Burkhead is not a consistent blocker, but when he is on, he locates blitzers, moves his feet, and neutralizes his opponent. He is a stout blocker with a good anchor who can stone a rushing linebacker. Burkhead has good hands out of the backfield and he displays outstanding ball skills, even tracking the ball over his shoulder like a wide receiver. He can play on all three downs.
Between the Tackles
Running inside is not a problem for Burkhead. It's what his body and running style were designed to do. He can follow a lead-blocking fullback and make a small adjustment to hit the hole at speed. His initial burst gets him into the hole and the second level very quickly, and Burkheadalmost never looks to break runs outside or dance in the backfield.
While he isn't quite as elusive as his outstanding quickness and explosion numbers indicate,Burkhead can make tacklers miss in the open field. He is not that elusive behind the line of scrimmage because of his urgent running style. Even in the open field, Burkhead rarely completely stops his momentum to put a move on a defender. He does process them on the fly and sets up moves with creativity and great execution, with excellent results. Burkhead gets downfield quickly on well-blocked runs, and he dictates the terms of the tete-a-tete with his opponent.
Burkhead is not a true power back because his size is only average, but his running style maximizes the power element of his game. He runs through arm tackles, bounces off of tacklers and will occasionally run a defender over. You will often see Burkhead drag a tackler for extra yardage, and his will is usually stronger than his opponent's. Burkhead's legs never go dead, and he often requires more than one defender to stop his forward progress.
Scheme Versatility/Future Role
Burkhead could end up functioning in a fullback/running back tweener role like Peyton Hillis, who is a similar but larger back. He does have the skills to be an every-down back, but he is not ideal for zone-blocking running games or offenses that employ a lot of sweeps or stretch plays.
NFL Scouting Combine results courtesy of NFL.com.