All scouting and evaluation is a crap shoot. It’s very inexact, no matter what teams and draft gurus tell you. One area where I think scouts err the most is at running back, and you don’t have to go back far to find them.
There’s former Ravens and Chiefs running back Priest Holmes, who was a dominant force in the late 90s/early 00s, and today, there’s Houston’s Arian Foster, Carolina’s Mike Tolbert, San Diego’s Danny Woodhead, Seattle’s Fred Jackson and many more. Look back even further and two Hall of Famers, Joe Perry and Marion Motley, were also undrafted.
One team that’s had a lot of success with undrafted running backs is the Saints, who won a Super Bowl with Pierre Thomas as a versatile, hard-running back with great pass-catching ability. Today, though the team is struggling, it’s no fault of Khiry Robinson, another hard-running back who went undrafted.
I’ve already told the story of my fumbling of an opportunity to get Thomas (along with Tolbert) discovered. For the story of a friend who was smarter about an off-the-grid running back, I’ll turn to Justin VanFulpen, who despite being an agent today has a long history of running various successful all-star games. Justin invited Robinson to the last edition of the Texas vs. The Nation game in Allen, Texas, just outside Dallas.
“I remember seeing highlights of him and liked his running style, but all the scouts I talked to to get a buy-in called him a JAG (just a guy).
“He was the last running back to be added, and one reason I even added him was because I needed another Texas running back. I only had one small-time agent calling me about him. Can’t even remember the guy’s name.
“He had good stats and looked the part, and he was very humbled when I invited him, and he accepted right away. He thought it was too good to be true, and he thanked me a ton for the opportunity.
“He was able to go in that week of practice and outshine D.J. Harper from Boise State, Matthew Tucker from TCU and Ronnie Wingo from Arkansas, and be the best running back on the Texas side. Only (Raiders RB) Latavius Murray from UCF has had a better career so far in the NFL.
“Scouts liked the fact that he ran hard, but still didn’t sign him as a (priority free agent). He had to go to the Saints as a tryout guy, then ended up getting a chance to sign.
“I was surprised he didn’t sign as a priority free agent, so I checked in with him a day after the draft and he told me he got a tryout.”
Even though Robinson once shared a backfield with Cam Newton (while at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas), he barely registered with NFL teams while bouncing from Mesabi Range Community College to Blinn to West Texas A&M. But his play at the TVN game sparked something, and years later, he’s part of an NFL backfield.