NFL Draft Scouting Report: Chris Polk, RB, Washington

Chris Polk“Polk was one of the fastest rising overall prospects throughout the 2011 college football season, and for good reason.  While he isn’t very flashy, he does everything well and is an exceptional runner.  He possesses intangibles that you see in great running backs and understands how to maximize that with his physical stature.  He played behind a very mediocre offensive line his entire career and, despite having strong quarterback play to ease some of the pressure, remained incredibly productive amassing over 4,000 yards in three years finishing 2nd all-time in Huskies history.

Polk is a 25-carry back in the NFL and it will be his instinctive running and feel for the game that make him special.  It wouldn’t be surprising for a team to call his name toward the back end of the first round in April as more and more teams get an up close look at the workhorse back.”

PLAYER COMPARISON
Ryan Mathews, Chargers
PROJ. DRAFT POSITION
High 2nd
INJURY HISTORY
Shoulder injury caused him to sit out frosh season   
Had meniscus surgury before ’11 season   

CAREER ACOLADES
First team All Pac 12 in ’12   
Doak Walker Award semifinalist in ’12

KEY STATS
Career: 4,049 yards 799 carries 26 TDs   
Had 1,488 rush yds 332 rec yds 16 total TDs in ’11

  
Background/Character
Polk has been one of the most productive backs in the country throughout his career rushing for at least 1,000 yards in each of the past three seasons and consecutive 1,400+ yard seasons in his last two.  His production is more impressive considering he ran behind an average (at best) offensive line his entire career.  Polk is a character guy who works hard off the field and is recognized by his teammates and coaches as one of the toughest players on the roster.  Coaches have talked about his willingness to improve and his hard work being attributed to his consistent production on the field.

He had an injury early in his career that he bounced back from as well as knee surgery before the ’11 season that he worked through relatively quickly, making himself available to play the entire season. What coaches love is his attitude to doing whatever it takes to win games.  He was utilized in many different ways in college and Polk worked hard at becoming an all-around proficient player.  He is a 3-down back who wants the ball in big situations and is capable of carrying the load.

Athleticism
Polk is a good athlete who has prototypical size and build for the position.  At just under six feet and close to 220 pounds Polk has ideal bulk for a full time running back in the NFL.  He has a thick lower half with strong legs that enable him to make sudden cuts and move his weight around easily and a well built upper body as well.  He has excellent coordination and has adequate start and stop ability, particularly when running between the tackles.

He has good lateral agility and can consistently make the first guy miss but he isn’t too flashy in the open field and is more of a straight line downhill runner than a slasher.  He plays with good pad level, which is something that he’s worked on throughout his career, and dips his shoulder upon contact and displays very good footwork and balance to break tackles.  Overall, he shows above average flexibility and understands how tosink his hips shift his weight when running with or without the football.

Running-Ability
At first glance, Polk looks like a classic north-south runner but he has some wiggle to his game.  He has above average top end speed and has some home run ability once he breaks through the second level but he was also inconsistent in turning the corner in college and will likely have the same inconsistencies in the NFL.  Polk shows good acceleration into and through the hole and can initially run away from 2nd and 3rd level defenders but it takes him a while to reach full speed and has an average second gear. He displays good footwork when running inside and outside and is quick enough in close spaces to run through small creases of daylight.

He is not an overly explosive athlete who threatens the defense sideline to sideline but he has ideal short area burst that allows him to attack the 2nd level consistently and strength to run through arm tackles.  If you don’t wrap up, Polk can bounce off tacklers and will fight for the extra yard.  He runs with a healthy forward lean and falls forward when tackles.  If needed, Polk is an adequate short yardage back who has enough strength to move the pile.

Chris PolkRunning-Style
This is Polk’s biggest strength as he displays superb vision and instincts as a runner.  Polk runs hard everytime he carries the ball will look for contact to set the tone, but he shows excellent patience when setting up blocks and waiting for the play to develop.  Between the tackles Polk takes efficient angles to the hold which sets up his next cut.  He can get skinny and pick and prod through gaps patiently, and consistently finds cutback lanes. More than a handful of times, I have watched Polk set up blocks in front of him and retreating to peripheral creases if those close on him.

He has enough speed to attack the edge but he usually relies on his blockers to set up the outside to get upfield.  He has a great sense of when to turn on the speed and when to slow it down to maximize his gains.  He isn’t very creative in the open field and turns into much more of a downhill runner once he gets to the 3rd level.  He isn’t overly elusive but can make one or two strong cuts to cut off pursuit angles.  Polk is reliable with the ball in his hands and does not let the ball hit the ground.

Non-Running
Polk is one of the more versatile backs in the 2012 draft and does everything well.  He isn’t flashy or an overly dynamic player but he do a lot of different things on the football field.  With that said, it is apparent that Polk understands all facets of the game.  Washington has lined Polk up all over the field.  Aside from his tailback spot, he has been split out wide, in the slot, and at fullback in short yardage situations.

In 2011, he really became the complete back Washington thought he could be as he became one of their biggest threats in the pass game.  He is a good route runner who ran a variety of patterns, short to intermediate and sometimes downfield.  He is still learning the nuances of route running but shows flashes of savvy (head/shoulder fakes, identifying “soft spots”).  He shows some plucking ability and is generally a “hands” catcher.  He can adjust to the poorly thrown ball and catch over the shoulder balls.  This is an area in which he could really emerge with more coaching.

Summary
Polk was one of the fastest rising overall prospects throughout the 2011 college football season, and for good reason.  While he isn’t very flashy, he does everything well and is an exceptional runner.  He possesses intangibles that you see in great running backs and understands how to maximize that with his physical stature.  He played behind a very mediocre offensive line his entire career and, despite having strong quarterback play to ease some of the pressure, remained incredibly productive amassing over 4,000 yards in three years finishing 2nd all-time in Huskies history.  Durability was never an issue despite carrying for a school career record 799 times and was probably very wise to come out now in case his workload began to wear him down. 

Even though he has a ton of playing experience despite playing for only 3 full years, Polk has lived under the radar for a few reasons.  In today’s game, the runningback-by-comittee approach has become the norm and guys like Polk who fall right in the middle of slasher and grinder are overlooked if they aren’t dominant in any one area.  Polk is not an overly elusive runner and he lacks the wiggle to consistently make defenders miss in the open field.  His nature is to run through people than run around them but he isn’t a true power back.  He has very good pass catching ability for a running back but he won’t be mistaken for Matt Forte or Lesean McCoy as he doesn’t possess the same type of explosiveness.  Still, Polk is a 25-carry back in the NFL and it will be his instinctive running and feel for the game that make him special.  It wouldn’t be surprising for a team to call his name toward the back end of the first round in April as more and more teams get an up close look at the workhorse back.

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