The Big 10 has long been known for tough and physical run offenses. LJ Scott, from Michigan State is another in a long list of big physical running backs in the Big 10 conference. The Junior to be has already had two successful seasons for the Spartans. Including impressive showings this past season against Ohio State (236 total yards) and in-state rival Michigan (186 total yards). Both schools were top 20 nationally in rushing yards allowed in 2016.
LJ was a top 100 recruit and the 7th ranked running back prospect in the country by 247.com in the 2015 recruiting class. Choosing Michigan State over the in-state favorite Ohio State, the Hubbard Ohio native was able to contribute right off the bat for the Spartans. Scott lead the team in rushing his first two seasons (699 yards and 994 yards) and a team-high 11 rushing touchdowns as a true freshman for the Big 10 champs.
Strength: LJ plays with a great amount of physicality. The 6’1” 230 pound back is not the type of running back that goes down at first contact. He routinely is able to break arm tackles by defenders. This physicality was on display on the national stage during his true freshman season. The Big 10 championship game was on the line, down by 4 to Iowa with :33 seconds remaining and 3rd and goal from the 2-yard line. LJ receives the carry-out of the I-Formation he is met by two Iowa defenders that he’s able to shed off of him. He is then met at the one-yard line by another two Iowa defenders whom he is able to fight through to stretch the ball across the goal line as an additional Hawkeye is flying into the play to cap off a 22 play drive to clinch the Big 10 Championship for Michigan State. The true freshman carried the ball 14 times on that final drive showcasing his toughness and durability.
LJ also shows a great ability to find open lanes in the run game. He has good vision and the patience to allow his offensive linemen to create holes for him. You don’t see LJ running into the back of his offensive linemen like other young and less patient running backs. During his sophomore year against Ohio State LJ hauls in a screen pass and shows the patience to allow his linemen and tight end to get into the right position to set their blocks. His slight hesitation before going full speed allows his blockers to get into the perfect position, then he’s able to accelerate to full speed and this allows LJ to go 64 yards untouched to the house.
Weakness: LJ hasn’t displayed breakaway speed through his first two seasons. He has enough speed at the college level to break off some big runs but I don’t believe this will translate to the NFL. As seen in the gif above against Ohio State, LJ has enough speed to take the screen pass to the end zone when he has the open field but you won’t mistake him for a guy who uses his speed to get big chunk plays. Those plays will come when he uses his vision to find the open running lane. In another big play against Ohio State during his sophomore season LJ uses his vision to jump cut through the front line and appears to have the open field to take it to the house. About 40 yards down field he is caught from behind by the much faster Ohio State defensive back. The lack of breakaway speed will limit the big play potential by LJ at the next level but this should not affect his ability to be a good NFL running back.
In the NFL LJ could be limited to being a two-down back. Through 26 games in his career LJ has only hauled in 13 receptions. The Michigan State offense does not feature the running back in the passing game very often. When LJ is given the opportunity he appears to be an adequate pass-catcher out of the backfield but due to his college offense we may not get to see his true pass catching ability in college. But my bigger concern that could limit his role in the NFL is his pass blocking ability. LJ shows little effort or interest in pass blocking. On too many occasions you will see LJ barely get his hand on a rushing defender. Or in other cases just wildly whiffing at air with his face to the ground.
Conclusion: Heading into his third season LJ should be the focal point of the Michigan State offense. LJ is sitting in prime position to become a national name this coming season. The Spartans had some troubles at the quarterback position this past season and I don’t expect that to change very much this coming season. With the lack of a passing game I expect LJ to have a successful season in the rushing yard department. The last two seasons he’s averaged 10.4 and 15.3 carries per game I expect that number to reach 20 carries a game in 2017. LJ is a great fit for Michigan State’s old school power run game. His physicality and toughness will have to set the tone for the Spartans for the 2017 season. If LJ is to declare after the 2017 season I would expect him to be the fourth running back off the board in 2018 rookie drafts. I don’t see him being able to compete with the likes of Derrius Guice, Saquon Barkley or Nick Chubb for a top three spot in the running back class and he will have a battle on his hands with Kalen Ballage and Royce Freeman for that fourth spot. If LJ is able to show us the unknown of his pass catching ability in 2017 he can lock down the fourth running back spot.
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