Question the ball security of former Texas Longhorns running back D’Onta Foreman, who has been hard at work preparing for the 2017 NFL Draft, which begins Thursday at 7 p.m. CT on ESPN and the NFL Network.
Question Foreman’s ability to run hard.
Question his capability in pass protection.
He’s been through it all before, and more.
The recruiting snub. The doubters who believed that he wasn’t a prospect on the same level as his twin brother, Armanti. The loss of his young son D’Onta Jr. last fall.
Through it all, the 6’0, 235-pounder has continued to persevere.
He’s continued to prove everyone wrong, leading the FBS in rushing yards per game last season, breaking the 2,000-yard barrier despite missing a game during the regular season and not getting to play in a bowl game, and earning the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back.
The monster 2016 season for Foreman built fully upon his tantalizing 2015 season, which only produced 681 yards and five touchdowns, but came at a clip of 7.17 yards per carry.
To put it bluntly, there were major questions about why Foreman didn’t get the ball more often.
When that changed last fall, Foreman responded with one of the best seasons by a running back in school history, which is no small feat considering that Texas boasts two Heisman winners at the position.
Due to a stress fracture in his foot, Foreman wasn’t able to participate in the NFL Combine other than completing 18 reps on the bench press.
As a result, there was a tremendous amount of pressure on Foreman to perform well at the Texas Pro Day in March. Foreman responded.
Having lost 15 pounds from his junior season in an effort to improve his speed, the big back ran a 4.45 40-yard dash, posted a 33-inch vertical, and a 10-foot broad jump. No player who jumped higher at the NFL Combine than Foreman weighed as much as the former Texas standout.
As it pertains to Foreman’s incredible speed, NFL.com’s Gil Brandt noted in the aftermath of the workout that in the modern era (dating back to 2003), no running back has run faster at 232 pounds or more in Indianapolis than Foreman did in Austin.
Of course, there’s an adjustment for the track at the Texas football facility and because the runs were hand-timed, but even after all of that, Foreman still finished with the highest Player Strength and Athleticism Rating (PSAR) in the 2017 draft class.
Yeah, that means Foreman rated more highly in that measurement than LSU’s Leonard Fournette.
Largely due to Foreman’s relatively poor conditioning while he was at Texas and the perception of him as a big back, the expectations for Foreman’s testing times were relatively subdued given his breakaway speed.
Of the 13 longest runs in school history, Foreman recorded two of them in the 2015 season when he fully demonstrated his upside for the first time. In fact, Foreman’s 93-yard run against Kansas was the third-longest in school history.
And even though the Jayhawks were a horrendous team, the Longhorns have played plenty of poor opponents over the years.
Consider as well the fact that Foreman didn’t get an opportunity to play against the Texas Tech defense. Warren did, and took advantage with a 91-yard touchdown run of his own and 276 total yards, along with three other touchdowns.
Just imagine what Foreman might have been able to do against the Red Raiders given his efforts against the Sooners and Jayhawks that season.
Foreman also has the ability to turn the corner without losing speed, use subtle moves to make defenders miss, and break tackles — he finished fourth in the 2017 draft class with 64 broken tackles in 2016, according to PFF.
As a junior, one of the most important things that Foreman proved was that he could carry a heavy workload, something he hadn’t done throughout his entire football career.
Not in middle school, not in high school, and not in college up until last season.
Following the knee injury to Chris Warren III in the first conference game against Oklahoma State, Foreman had the carry virtually the entire load for Texas.
In the last seven games of the season, Foreman went over 30 carries in every game except Kansas State. Against Kansas, that number was 51, an absurd bludgeoning that couldn’t save Texas from a demoralizing defeat that all but officially ended Charlie Strong’s tenure in Austin.
Remember, he did all that with a broken hand and possibly a stress fracture in his foot in the immediate aftermath of his young son’s terribly unfortunate passing.
D’Onta Foreman is tough, and don’t ever question that.
There are several areas that lower Foreman’s projection from into the second and third rounds. However, there are mitigating factors for those concerns.
The most pressing for Foreman’s NFL future may be the perception of how hard he runs. Here’s Lance Zierlein at NFL.com:
Usually opts for finesse over power despite his size. Needs to become more decisive and aggressive between the tackles. Inconsistent acceleration into contact. Waits to churn feet until after blow has landed.
Since those are issues that are either coachable or likely a result of the fact that he carried the ball so many times last season, there’s reason for optimism. And Foreman is also in better shape, so he should be able to consistently run harder in the NFL without the fatigue that he experienced in college, even if his carries stayed the same.
Ball security is also a massive concern for Foreman after he fumbled the ball seven times last season, losing six. However, he was dealing with that broken hand and only fumbled once in 2015, so there’s cause for optimism there, too.
Foreman also didn’t receive a ton of reps last season in pass protection and his technique in that area has drawn criticism from scouts like Zierlein. Given Foreman’s size and overall off-field attributes, that should be another area where he can improve quickly.
And, finally, he wasn’t used much in the passing game in either of the last two seasons — in 2016 that was largely a result of the veer-and-shoot offense declining to throw passes to the running back. However, Foreman did reportedly catch every pass thrown his direction at the Texas Pro Day.
To sum it all up, Foreman has an elite combination of size and speed that isn’t just unique for the 2017 NFL Draft class — it’s unique across the modern era. Foreman is tough, he’s dealt with adversity, he’s driven to prove that he’s worthy of first-round consideration, and his weaknesses are either explainable or projectable with NFL-level coaching.
D’Onta Foreman has the skill set, the intangibles, and the remaining upside to make him one of the lowest-risk, highest-reward running backs in the draft.
Doubt him at your own peril, NFL general managers.
Passing on him could come back to haunt you. Just ask Oklahoma.