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2016 NFL Draft Prospect: Notre Dame RB C.J. Prosise, the Next David Johnson?

The college football bowl season is almost over, and on Friday, January 1, we will see one of the best games of the postseason: The BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl featuring no. 8 Notre Dame (10-2) and no. 7 Ohio State (11-1). Several strong draft-eligible prospects will be participating in this game, and perhaps the most undervalued of these players is UND redshirt junior C.J. Prosise.

Prosise is listed by UND as a senior, but he’s really a redshirt junior with a year of eligibility left because he didn’t see any action in his first season on campus. So most people assume that he will enter the 2016 NFL Draft — and he probably will, in part because he has started sharing carries as of late with the promising and younger backup Josh Adams — but the possibility exists that Prosise could return to college next year. Right now, Prosise is the no. 7 running back prospect in the 2016 RotoViz Scouting Index. That’s a fair ranking, although I believe that, because of his production, versatility, and size, he has the ability to outproduce most of the higher-ranked running backs in the NFL.

The Production

Prosise enrolled at UND as a wide receiver, redshirted his first year, did almost nothing the next year in his first season of action, and then served as an explosive supplementary receiver as a redshirt sophomore. In fact, Prosise was such an all-around playmaker in 2014 — turning a handoff into a 50-yard touchdown in last year’s bowl game victory over Louisiana State and having a 10-126-1 rushing stat line on the season — that the coaching staff converted him to a running back before the 2015 campaign, and he won the starting job.

Here are the numbers for Prosise’s three collegiate seasons:

Year Class Age Position G Att RuYd RuTD Rec ReYd ReTD
2015 rJR 21 RB 10 157 1029 11 26 308 1
2014 rSO 20 WR 13 10 126 1 29 516 2
2013 rFR 19 WR 13 0 0 0 7 72 0

Prosise has missed a couple of games this year and been limited for a couple of other games with an ankle injury, but even with that impediment he has been a strong producer. Most notable about his production is that he has leveraged his skill as a receiver and is now one of the nation’s best pass-catching running backs. With his ability to serve as a three-down back, Prosise could become a legitimate NFL workhorse despite his having been a college running back for only one season.

The Physical Profile

Here comes the bad pun: The big-bodied Prosise has . . . pro size! Get it?!

UND lists Prosise at 6 feet one-half inch and 220 pounds, so he is an ideal-sized running back. Entering college, he was a three-star recruit, so he might not possess better than average athleticism — but with that size I kind of don’t care all that much about his pre-draft workouts. Lots of average athletes with elite size have become NFL contributors, especially at the running back position.

Unless he totally embarrasses himself at the combine, Prosise is likely athletic enough (given his size) to be a fantasy asset.

The Takeaway

Some people might be hesitant about Prosise because he has played the position for only one year. That’s fair, but that he has been this productive in only his first year as a running back is actually impressive and speaks to his innate ability to play the position. Also, some people might dislike that he is a one-year wonder. That’s also fair, but a number of players with only one year of strong production at the Football Bowl Subdivision level have gone on to have NFL success.

Even if Prosise is not the athlete that they are — and he probably isn’t — the players to whom he is most comparable (given his size, production, receiving ability, and likely draft range) are David Johnson and Javorius Allen. Like Johnson, the UND prospect is a WR-to-RB convert who has adapted remarkably well to his new position, and Prosise, like Allen, is a capable big-bodied runner who really distinguishes himself because of his receiving ability.

I know that I am committing sacrilege in saying this, but even if he is a subpar athlete Prosise still has “Arian Foster production” in his range of NFL outcomes because of his three-down potential and proven ability as a receiver.

Of course, he also could be the 2016 Lorenzo Taliaferro — an intriguing and desirable relatively cheap prospect who is likely never to be more than a backup. And that’s not the worst thing ever, because he’s not Lache Seastrunk.

Doomsday scenario? Antonio Andrews — but I don’t think he’s that bad of an athlete.

In the end, Prosise looks like one of those running backs I love to grab in rookie drafts: Second-round price tag, first-round potential.

———

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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