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2016 NFL Draft Prospect Preview: Devontae Booker, RB, Utah

The 2015 college football bowl season begins on Saturday, December 19, and one of the five games on that slate is the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, which features Brigham Young (9-3) and Utah (9-3) battling in a postseason version of the “Holy War.” Unfortunately, Utah’s best player, redshirt senior running back Devontae Booker, will not be playing in the game (he’s recovering from what seems like a relatively minor knee surgery) — but that doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about him!

For a dude still in college, Booker has gotten a lot of RotoViz coverage already. I extensively covered him in my 2014 Las Vegas Bowl Preview, and then Jon Moore covered him this season, exploring the question of whether Booker is a playground bully or a premium prospect, because . . . you know . . . #age.

The Backstory

Just about a month after he gets drafted — and, per the 2016 RotoViz Scouting Index, Booker will be drafted — he will turn 24. This guy is old. As is the case with all old men, this old man has a story.

As a high school senior with a very productive season in 2009, Booker was a coveted prospect who signed with Washington State in the Pac-10, but then he enrolled at American River College instead (presumably because of grade issues) and sat out the 2010 season. In 2011, as a 19-year-old redshirt freshman, Booker served as the lead back in a committee, and then in 2012 he became his team’s workhorse as a redshirt sophomore, distinguishing himself as one of the most prolific junior college running backs in the nation. After the season, he leveraged his sensational second-year production into a scholarship to play for Utah in the Pac-12 . . .

But then Booker had to sit out the 2013 season in order to complete academic requirements, missing his second season of playing time in four years.

At least for Utah the wait was worth the while. In 2014, as a 22-year-old super redshirt junior, Booker was a first-team All-Pac-12 running back and also — and good for him! — the All-Pac-12 Academic first-team running back. And then this year, returning to school so that he could graduate, Booker had another great campaign, albeit one that finished a few games early because of a season-ending knee injury.

And now he’s just a guy who will enter the 2016 NFL training camp as a 24-year-old rookie with an injury history. And to put Booker’s age in perspective, Alfred Morris, Andre Ellington, and LeGarrette Blount were also 24-year-old rookies. David Johnson and Jeremy Langford are 24-year-old rookies. Being old as a draft prospect isn’t necessarily a death sentence. It just means that a guy will have a shorter NFL life.

The Production

Frankly, Booker’s age doesn’t bother me at all because of this table:

Year School Age Season G Att RuYd RuTD Rec ReYd ReTD Ret TD
2011 ARC 19 rFR 10 100 793 12 10 143 1 1
2012 ARC 20 rSO 11 194 1472 15 9 58 2 2
2014 Utah 22 rrJR 13 292 1512 10 43 306 2 0
2015 Utah 23 rrSR 10 268 1261 11 37 316 0 0
Totals NA NA NA 44 854 5038 48 99 823 5 3
Average NA NA NA 11 213.5 1259.5 12 24.75 205.75 1.25 0.75

Booker was still productive at a relatively young age and as soon as his academic issues allowed him to be.

  • He managed double-digit touchdowns each season of his career.
  • When he was used as a return man in junior college, he displayed big-play ability, returning three kicks for touchdowns.
  • At Utah, he proved himself to be one of the best receiving backs in the country.
  • Across his career, he averaged 19.4 rushes, 2.3 receptions, 114.5 yards rushing, 18.7 yards receiving, and 1.3 all-purpose touchdowns per game. That type of production is almost unrivaled when one looks at 44-game careers.

As a college producer, Booker isn’t crazy elite in a holistic sense — but he is crazy elite as a receiver and just “ordinarily elite” as a runner.

In dynasty leagues, he will have to bomb the combine not to be a first-round pick in rookie drafts.

The Physical Profile

Last year, Booker was listed at five feet, 11 inches, and 203 pounds. Over the spring and summer, he bulked up and Utah listed him at 212 pounds entering the season. At that increased weight, Booker didn’t really show any decline in his abilities, and so I am optimistic about two things:

  1. Booker won’t feel the need to show up underweight to the combine in a misguided attempt to increase his speed by trying to be an athlete he’s not.
  2. Booker will be able to play in the NFL at his current weight.

Booker isn’t big, but he’s big enough. If he were just a little bit bigger, I almost wouldn’t even care about his athleticism. I’d just think, “He’s a big-bodied dude who can play.”

As it is, for a mid-sized back Booker is on the bigger side and might have the potential to put on even more functional weight once he gets to the NFL.

The Takeaway

Again, as long as Booker doesn’t run something like a 4.70-second 40-yard-dash at the combine, he should be a top-100 pick in the NFL Draft and a top-12 pick in dynasty rookie drafts.

His age should keep him from being a top-five selection, because he has limited long-term utility, but he absolutely has the ability to outplay for a couple of seasons some of the players who will be selected before him.

Right now, Booker is one of my pet prospects for the 2016 draft.

Of course, it’s not a surprise that I like the old junior college running back with a knee injury, uncertain athleticism, and a Workhorse Score in the 90s.

———

Matthew Freedman is a football writer for RotoViz, Pro Football Focus Fantasy, Fantasy Insiders, and DraftKings Playbook. He is (not) the inspiration for the character in The League who shares his name. He hosts the various RotoViz podcasts and PFF Radio’s College Daily Slant. He is the creator of the Workhorse Metric. You can follow him on Twitter @MattFtheOracle — but I don’t know why you would.

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