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Crabbs | WVU RB Crawford needs to round out skills

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Scouting Notes

Crabbs | WVU RB Crawford needs to round out skills

Justin Crawford entered the 2016 as a secondary piece in the Mountaineers backfield but quickly established himself as quality runner with the needed quicks and agility to force a lot of missed tackles on the second level. Crawford’s ability to break a steep cut with suddenness makes him a very legitimate big play runner if he’s given a crease to work with.

But Crawford’s running skills are not fully fleshed out and as a result he’s going a number of questions entering his final season of eligibility. The good news for Crawford? He’s going to be given every opportunity to showcase himself as the primary returning back in the backfield. And with the presence of incoming QB Will Grier; Big 12 defenses will have to respect the passing game and give him the opportunity to find creases.

Here’s how Crawford can win and provide the Mountaineers with explosive plays.

It would be inaccurate to call Crawford soft. He doesn’t have a great deal of leg drive but he does play off of contact well, as you can see here. This is a nice, active free arm to stave off a high tackle attempt against Oklahoma and continue to work up the field for a chunk gain. But a free arm isn’t the only way Crawford can play around and through defenders.

Here, Crawford showcases foot quickness, balance and orientation skills to calibrate off of the spin and continue to work his way up the field. Also note how sudden Crawford’s initial cut through the hole is; leaving a defender grasping at air. It’s a nice encapsulation of where Crawford is effective now.

When Crawford is given the opportunity to slip through the point of attack quickly, he’s capable of seeing pursuit develop in front of his face cleanly and string together a number of cuts to pinball through traffic. This type of runner can make defenders look silly and his quickness, long speed and foot quickness all combine to make him a total nightmare in a college spread offense.

But there are a few looming issues with Crawford’s game that are impossible to turn the other way on. One of those issues? His ball security is a massive problem. Fumbles prevented Crawford from progressing into an every down role in 2016 and threaten his ability to take the next step as both a college player and pro prospect during his senior season.

This one against Oklahoma is a good example to trying to do too much and not protecting the ball. Oklahoma blitzed out to an early 21-0 lead before the Mountaineers were finally able to pieces together a drive. That drive ended with the above fumble, which effectively sucked any remaining energy out of Milan Puskar Stadium. Crawford’s nose for playing off of contact can get the best of him at times, as it did above (and below).

Another red zone carry fumbled after contact. This is an issue that will turn off NFL scouts and decision makers if it isn’t worked out. Crawford is not a versatile enough player for teams to target with another year of these fumbles on his film resume. Look for him to shift his mentality in traffic at times; he’ll need to in order to keep him as the lead back at West Virginia and he’ll need them to solidify draft standing.

Another red flag? In short yardage situations he’s guilty of showing some “tunnel vision” and missing cuts. Here, against Oklahoma State, Crawford has the opportunity to cut right at the line of scrimmage and break out to the pylon to challenge for a score. Instead he tries to force himself through the predetermined gap for marginal gain and putting the team in a vital third down situation along the goal line.

Crawford is a fun player and clearly has next level abilities. But he’s also a flawed prospect that needs more seasoning and experience to show growth as a player. If the game slows down and he effectively protects the football this year, he’ll be a potential draft investment worth monitoring.

Kyle Crabbs

Kyle Crabbs is the founder/Director of Scouting of NDT Scouting Services, a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and the lead NFL Draft analyst for the FanRag Sports Network.

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