He was an ideal fit for the unique zone blocking scheme run by Chip Kelly in Eugene and has shown many traits that are transferable to potential success in the NFL.
Teams could get hung up on his size and question if he was the beneficiary of simply being the centerpiece of a highly productive spread-option offense, but hw has shown quality traits on a consistent basis.
He is capable of making splash plays out of nothing and possesses the uncanny ability to turn broken plays into positive ones. He is a better runner between the tackles than his frame would suggest, as he uses a quick shuffle to avoid trash or get up and into an open lane.
Once through the line, he can make things happen on his own downfield, and routinely had runs of 20-plus yards at Oregon. He is a consummate threat to score, and has the foot quickness and breakout speed to get the edge and turn up field at the next level.
He is a willing and technical blocker in pass protection but simply doesn't have the bulk or anchor to be successful here early at the next level."
Coming off a 2,043-yard, 26-TD performance as a senior in high school, James redshirted the 2008 season while LeGarrette Blount and Jeremiah Johnson carried the mail for the Ducks. He instantly earned his own stripes in 2009, earning All-Pac-10 honors, as well as the conference's Freshman of the Year award, from league coaches by rushing for 1,546 yards and 14 touchdowns. James one-upped himself as a sophomore, winning the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best running back and several other honors after leading the nation with 1,732 yards and 21 rushing scores. He also caught 17 passes for 208 and three touchdowns.
James continually comes up big in the biggest games, using his low center of gravity, quickness and acceleration to gash defenses for explosive plays. Comparisons to successful smaller backs like Warrick Dunn and Brian Westbrook are natural, and though possibility a bit of a reach, could lead to James being picked much higher than last year's fifth-round "mighty mite" backs, Jacquizz Rodgers and Dion Lewis.
Inside: Size will be a detriment between the tackles at the next level, but don't underestimate his toughness. Prefers to run north-south, though, feeling his way through traffic with quick cuts and nice vision. May be used in zone system, shows patience to wait for blocking on stretch plays, able to find and take advantage of cutback lanes. Gets skinny to find tight creases to rip through when around the goal line or needing to pick up the first down. Can avoid a penetrating lineman, jump-step to find an open lane and accelerate into the second level. Given the ball in crunch time due to his toughness and ball security. Lacks the strength to push the pile or break off NFL linebacker tackles inside.
Outside: Does not try to take every play outside, as you'd expect given his size and speed, but dangerous once on the sideline. Excellent speed and good vision in the open field, capable of breaking off large chunks of yardage, or score, even if safety gets a deep angle. Spins off a low tackle attempts in space and maintain his balance to continue on. Willing to cut inside for extra yards instead of heading to the sideline (but may need to do that more to avoid big hits from NFL defenders).
Breaking Tackles: Generally better in avoiding tackles can breaking them against NFL-caliber talent. Willing to lower his shoulder in space to knock over an opponent and churns legs to drag tacklers when owning a head of steam, but comes down on first contact too often even when it is a glancing blow or lunging arm tackle. Flashes the ability to break a tackle in the backfield and reverse field for a big gain, but he will lose yardage a times and it's much tougher to accomplish that against NFL defenses.
Blocking: Does not shy away from contact in pass protection, and is a fairly effective cut blocker with good awareness of where the pressure is coming from. Offers help to tackles on the edge on designed rollouts. Lack of size will make it difficult for him to stand up to NFL linebackers (who will anticipate his cut blocks), though he will give nice effort when holding up blitzers coming up the middle. Flares out into the flat on most third downs.
Receiving: Not used extensively out of the backfield, but has flashes playmaking ability in the flat. Looks capable of adjusting to poor throws with heat coming his direction. Has speed to be a threat on wheel routes, though NFL defensive backs will win jump balls. Can sidestep the first man and accelerate, but is usually brought down quickly by strong arm tackles.
Intangibles: Quiet player who prefers to lead by example. Suspended for 2010 season opener after pleading guilty to misdemeanor harassment charge (four other charges were dropped) due to altercation with his girlfriend; sentenced to 10 days in jail (received electronic bracelet instead) and two years probation. Says he's learned and matured more from that incident than anything else in his life."
- Looked more solidly built in 2011 compared to years past. Coaches say he added about 20-pounds to his 5-9 frame and looked more stable/compact because of it.
- Exhibits impressive fluidity and foot quickness when asked to pick this way through the line of scrimmage inside.
- Showcases the balance/lateral agility to quickly side step defenders, hit the cut back lane and accelerate quickly into the open field.
- Possesses a good feel for defenders around him, displaying natural vision inside and finding lanes quickly to get into daylight.
- Makes himself small inside when asked to finish his run. Will slither his way for additional yards with a low pad level both inside and out.
- Demonstrates a wide running base where he keeps his knees bent and is quickly able to change directions and reach top end speed.
- Looks natural catching the football out of the backfield as well. Extends his arms, feels the screen game and balances himself quickly after the catch.
- Exhibits the balance/fluidity to make defenders miss in the open field even at top end speed and create yards in space.
- Is patient in pass protection. Is a tough kid, who takes proper angles and is balanced dropping his pad level and chopping down blitzing defenders on contact.
- Has experience/production on special teams as a punt return man.
- Exhibits solid top end speed for his size, looks like a mid/high 4.4 guy once he gets into daylight.
- Has been one of the most productive backs in the country over the past three seasons.
- Is a tough kid who can play through pain at a high level.
What I don't like…
- Despite his additional weight added this off-season, he's still an undersized running back who has had some trouble keeping himself healthy and durability is a concern.
- Doesn't look like a traditional I-formation type back at the next level. Runs mostly from the read option and looks limited in where he can contribute inside at the next level.
- Doesn't exhibit the type of power to create yards through contact between the tackles as an NFL back.
- Has a tendency to chop his feet and bounce off his blockers trying to consistently create the big play. Doesn't do a great job dropping his pad level and simply taking what the defense gives him if nothing is there.
- Is an easy guy to get to the ground once you wrap on him.
- Was suspended the first game of the season in 2010 and there are some character concerns.
Impression: A quick footed, fluid scat back who doesn't break many tackles, but has the ability to make NFL defender miss and accelerate quickly toward daylight. Will be limited inside, but as a 3rd down/special teams type option I think he can be a better NFL runner than Falcons 5th round pick Jacquizz Rodgers because of his ability to make defenders miss consistently."
Outside Running: His speed is his biggest asset. Oregon’s spread offense allows for James to find the corner quickly. In the NFL he will have to rely on speed and vision to get outside. Teams will focus on funneling James to the inside.
Hands: James wasn’t used in the passing game very much in Oregon. He does flash the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. In open space, there isn’t a better RB in this draft. Teams will most likely look to exploit his dynamic ability in open space by getting him the ball out of the backfield.
Blocking/Durability: James is an effort blocker. He doesn’t appear to have great instincts in picking up blitzes which will result in less playing time in the NFL. His durability at the next level is a major concern and could cost him a round in the 2012 NFL Draft. He has a significant injury history throughout his collegiate career.
Bottom Line: James is a dynamic threat that is capable of making the big play every time he touches the football. Teams that can find ways to get James in open space will have a field day with the talented runner. He won’t be an everydown back in the NFL which should keep him the round 3 to 4 range.
Draft Projection: James could find a role in the NFL but I don’t see anyone drafting him before round 3 of April’s draft."
James considered entering the 2010 NFL Draft but wisely returned for what will likely be his last season of college football. As a sophomore, James won the Doak Walker Award after rushing for 1,731 yards and 21 touchdowns. He ran for more than 200 yards in three different games last season, including a 257-yard game against Stanford.
Games Viewed: (All 2010) Auburn, Oregon State, Stanford, USC, Washington
Bold Statement: If Knile Davis is out for the season, James and Cyrus Gray will battle to be the second running back selected next season.
• Is more of a straight forward runner than many think. Combined with his agility and it's easy to see why James is so regarded.
• James is a weapon when he breaks the ball to the outside. Has a special combination of speed and vision and is almost a threat to break a big play.
• Not all that good at breaking tackles because of his size and lack of playing strength. Is more an avoidance runner who has to shy away from tackles.
• Shows a lot of wiggle and agility to get away from defenders.
• Technically sound carrying the ball, so he doesn't have many issues with fumbles.
• Hasn't really been utilized all that well as a pass catcher. Shows some skills as a pass catcher and is obviously talented after the catch.
• Mostly an effort blocker in the passing game. From a technical standpoint, he's a work in progress. Has trouble unless he knows exactly where his assignment is coming from.
• Suspended the first game of the 2010 season after pleading guilty to physical harassment against an ex-girlfriend."
Combines gamebreaking speed with natural RB instincts; has excellent vision and balance, can change direction in a heartbeat and has a real burst when he finds a crease;
Has 34 career pass receptions and is scary-dangerous with the ball in his hands in open space, but has only average hands and doesn’t run very good routes; also not much of a pass blocker; has a character red flag after being suspended for the first game of the 2010 season for a domestic violence charge."
Changes direction very quickly... Does a good job keeping his legs going forward, doesn't dance too much... Great vision, would be a good fit in a zone blocking scheme... Program pedigree for putting running backs into the NFL (Onterrio Smith, Maurice Morris, Jonathan Stewart, Jermiah Johnson, LeGarrette Blount)...
Led the nation in rushing in 2010... Has had six 200-yard games over the past two years... Ran for over 5,000 yards in only three years at Oregon... Surprisingly good runner between the tackles, gets a lot of yards up the middle.
Negatives -- Frail build, might not be an every down back in the NFL... Better at making people miss than shedding tacklers, defenders have been able to drag him to the ground... Inexperienced pass blocker, struggles with blitz pickup and can get bull rushed into the quarterback... Hasn't been asked to run a lot of routes of the backfield...
Inconsistent hands, drops some easy balls... Minor character concerns after being suspended for the first game of the 2010 season for a domestic violence charge during the offseason... Dislocated his right elbow in an October game against California... Was taken out of Oregon's last regular season game in 2011 due to a left elbow injury."