Ka’Deem Carey had a plan.
When the former Arizona Wildcats running back submitted his paperwork to the NFL draft advisory board in December, Carey knew exactly what he was looking for.
“First round, second round, that’s comfortable stuff you can’t pass up,” Carey told the Star then. “Anything after that, I think you have to get your degree.”
When the two-time first-team All-American eventually got his paperwork back, he was listed as a potential second- or third-round pick. He ultimately decided to enter the draft, which begins Thursday, and roll the dice.
If the draft analysts are right, Carey might like a redo.
Carey’s stock seems to have oddly plummeted without playing a single snap.
He wasn’t listed in ESPN.com’s most recent three-round mock draft and didn’t make the cut in Mel Kiper Jr.’s list of the top 100 draft prospects. Fellow ESPN draft guru Todd McShay ranked Carey as the 11th-best running back in the draft, behind players from Towson and Kent State.
Carey also fell out of Bleacher Report’s top 100.
The UA running back did crack CBSsports.com’s top 100 at No. 90. NFL.com’s Mike Mayock said this week he has Carey graded as a fourth-round pick.
One website still high on the former Canyon del Oro High School star is SportsIllustrated.com, which has Carey ranked as the 43rd-best prospect in the draft and the top running back. However, in its latest print edition, SI didn’t have Carey slotted in its two-round mock draft.
So is there a problem with Carey, the owner of 4,239 career rushing yards and 48 rushing touchdowns at the UA, or does this represent a larger issue with running backs in general?
Eight running backs went in the first three rounds in 2011. That number dropped to seven in 2012 and then six last year. ESPN projects five to go in the top three rounds this year.
“I think teams are realizing it’s smarter to spend on two backs what they used to spend on one,” McShay said this week. “There aren’t the big, bruising backs that can do everything like there used to be. Teams are using backs by committee because there is such a short shelf live with these guys. There’s been an average of five running backs taken in the top two rounds the past three years, and I think this year will be fewer.”
To get a feel of why Carey’s stock seems to have fallen after two years of brilliant production, we talked to Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the owner of the Twitter handle @nfldraftscout. Here’s his take on Carey’s chances:
Carey ran a 4.70-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and improved a bit (4.66) at his pro day at Arizona Stadium in March.
Speed seems to be critics’ No. 1 concern.
“You have to see it,” Miller said. “You saw what he ran at the combine, and then you go back and watch his film, and it verifies it. I watched when he was matched up against very good defenders, and he didn’t have the speed to turn the corner and escape. Then, he’s not really big enough to be a between-the-tackles runner at 207 pounds. He’s going to have to be a guy that pounds out yards, but he doesn’t have those big, thick legs.”
Miller continued: “His running style is also not ideal. His chest is up and exposed, which is not what you want.”
Carey has shown that he can flourish in various schemes. As a power back, Carey became one of the best players in Arizona’s history in Rodriguez’s spread offense.
Jon Gruden said this week Carey is tough to evaluate because “the quarterback pulls it out of his chest half the time.”
Miller gave his thoughts of what kind of scheme would be best for Carey.
“If he gets with a team that runs a zone-blocking scheme, he can be really good,” Miller said.
“He reminds me of (Houston Texans running back) Arian Foster. He has patience and vision, but he’s not super-fast. If he’s in a zone scheme, he can pick his hole and do damage. But if he doesn’t end up in the right scheme, you’re gambling on him.”
Somehow, Carey’s success the past two seasons has become a bad thing.
Teams have concerns about Carey’s 743 carries over the past three seasons. The concern, as McShay alluded to, is the short shelf life for running backs. So the question is how many more carries does the former Wildcat have in him?
“It’s something very big for me,” Miller said. “I moved him down because of that. He’s had so many touches. You only have so many. A guy like Carey, he averaged 26 carries a game the last two years (652 carries). That’s incredible. That’s more than most in the NFL. And not only does he have a lot of carries, he looks for contact. He’s going to take hits. He’s not a guy that’s going to make you miss in space.”
Miller, who said he has Carey rated as a fourth-round pick, does like some of his qualities. Even though he doesn’t have him ranked in his top eight backs, he does think Carey is capable of having a successful NFL career.
“Like I said, the vision and patience he has are my two favorite things,” Miller said. “He’s very energetic as a runner. He always keeps his feet moving, and he’s always moving forward. He can absorb the big hits. He’s not afraid of it. There’s no hesitation in his game, which is a big positive.”