Michigan State running back L.J. Scott enters his junior season in 2017 after a tremendous sophomore campaign that saw him take the starting job for the Spartans. He carried the ball 184 times, averaged 5.4 yards per carry, and finished the year with 994 yards rushing. Scott also had 10 catches, amassing 147 yards and added a score through the air to push his stat-line to 1141 all-purpose yards and seven total scores.
The numbers are admirable, but the Michigan State offense struggled all year and Scott’s play was better than those numbers show it to be. The Spartans offense didn’t help Scott in 2016; as he didn’t see a lot of volume. But he was productive when he touched the ball. As of this writing, Scott is very much under the radar and a player that will make a lot of noise while he rockets up draft boards.
Scott is listed at 6’1” and 231 pounds, he has great size for the position. He is a bruising runner, tough to bring down and that allows him to be a strong runner between the tackles. However, there is much more to his game and that’s where I’m most intrigued as he enters his junior season.
In all fairness and to be as open as possible, I like Scott as a player more than most and I really like what I see from him as a runner. I see him having plenty of traits that fit very nicely in an NFL offense.
As a scout, the job is to look for physical traits that can translate to the next level of competition in the NFL. That job is easy when watching a player like Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. Barkley has outrageously good lateral quickness and can make a defender miss with ease. Those skills are easy to see and it’s pretty obvious where he can win in the NFL. Scott is not going to get mistaken for Barkley but there’s nothing wrong with that.
In some ways, his evaluation is more difficult, and in other ways much easier. Scott’s style as a runner is much more north and south with very little bouncing the ball out to the perimeter. He runs behind his pads and displays outstanding leg drive and breaks arm tackles easily. He is constantly falling forward at the end of his runs to gain an extra yard or two.
While Scott is not a speedster, he has plenty of juice to make plays and can gain large chunks of yardage when turns the corner or breaks a tackle inside. While he doesn’t have the lateral quickness of other backs in the 2018 or 2019 class, he makes up for that with excellent vision and patience with the ball in his hands.
Scott allows blocks to get set up and doesn’t force the play, and he looks to have a unique feel for the timing of the running game. This allows him to enter and exit a gap or lane at the right time which means he keeps his pace up and he does not have to slow his feet or stop himself. A runner that doesn’t have elite lateral quickness is dead if he stops his feet, and Scott looks to have a great feel in this area of the game.
Another thing that stands out is that he has a bit of a “glide” when he’s out in the open field and on the move. I don’t like to make comparisons, but his running style has a bit of Matt Forte to it, and I only mean that in his stride that looks effortless and he is likely faster than he looks.
Scott is a solid blocker and reliable in pass protection on third downs, and that’s a critical element of his game going forward. He also looks fairly comfortable running routes and he does a nice job of catching the ball naturally. Scott can be dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield but he has had limited opportunity in East Lansing to showcase these skills.
There are things that I’d like to see from Scott during his junior season as a means to solidify my opinion on him as a player. Some of this might be out of his hands if the Spartans get behind early and often and abandon the running game like they did last year, but I want to see him handle more volume as a runner this year.
I also want to see him continue to be reliable in pass protection on third downs, and it would be great for him to get more work as a receiving weapon to show that he can be a productive three-down running back in the NFL. Proving to NFL decision makers that he can stay on the field all the time will be vital to his draft stock, and he definitely has the tools to do it.
Also, his speed is going to get questioned, and he needs to continue to build off of his performance last year. It’s not perfect to look at it as simply as this, but Scott torched Ohio State last year and he did not look like a player that had issues with speed against the elite athletes that the Buckeyes had on defense. It would be great for Scott’s stock if had more of these kinds of performances in 2017.
It shouldn’t shock anyone if Scott has an incredibly productive junior season if he gets the right kind of work load, and he should certainly be a focal point of the Spartans offense. As he enters his junior season, I’m seeing him with plenty of the right kind of traits to enter the NFL and play at a high level, and you might want to jump on now as I think the L.J. Scott band wagon will get crowded as the season goes along.