The Arizona Wildcats made a statement in an upset 42-16 win over No. 5 Oregon on Saturday, but it was junior running back Ka'Deem Carey who benefited the most from the national spotlight.
After a long journey, Carey has finally arrived as a top 2014 NFL draft prospect.
We say long journey because Carey has continued to fly as an under-the-radar prospect despite his 1,929 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns in 13 games as a sophomore.
Carey entered the contest with the Ducks on a similar path. He had rushed for over 100 yards in every game this season (he missed the opener), averaged 5.6 yards per carry and scored a touchdown in every game save two.
Yet it took a special performance against the Ducks for Carey to become a household name.
What a performance it was. Carey got things started early in the winning effort, as ESPN documents:
It didn't take long for Carey to then rightfully take his throne as the Wildcats' all-time leading rusher and touchdown leader as the the team's Twitter account points out:
RT @espn: - 42 Carries - 188 Yards - 4 Touchdowns - Breaking Arizona rushing yards & TD record Not a bad Saturday for Ka'Deem Carey.— Arizona Football (@ArizonaFBall) November 23, 2013
But Carey was not done yet—by the end of the game, he amassed an impressive 206 yards and four scores on 48 carries.
Standing at 5'10" and 196 pounds, it's hard to discredit what Carey brings to the table as a pro prospect. He's a patient runner who reads defenses well and continues to fill out his frame.
At this point, any durability concerns about Carey at the pro level should be wiped away. He's a workhorse, and as respected scout Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network illustrates, he plays "bigger than his size":
I love the way Ka'Deem Carey finishes runs…plays bigger than his size.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) November 23, 2013
The only concerns about Carey at this point are two-fold. On the field, Carey needs more speed if he's going to break major runs at the next level. Off the field, Carey must continue to keep his nose clean thanks to a shaky collegiate career marred by allegations of misbehavior.
In an NFL where the position has been greatly devalued and only continues to take a nosedive (Tampa Bay's former undrafted free agent, Bobby Rainey, going off for 163 yards and two touchdowns in Week 11, anyone?), Carey will have a hard time going exceptionally high.
Will Ka'Deem Carey be the first back off the board in 2014?
That said, Carey is the top back in the class. While not as well-known as names like Lache Seastrunk, Bishop Sankey and De'Anthony Thomas, Carey is a complete package and as pro-ready as they come.
Carey's performance against Oregon only re-affirmed what students of the game have known—Carey is the top back eligible for the 2014 draft and will go as high as the second round as the first back off the board—identical to the story of Cincinnati's Giovani Bernard last year.
Like Bernard, Carey has a role in today's NFL as a heavy contributor. Against Oregon, Carey made sure everyone was aware of his impending rise up draft boards.