INDIANAPOLIS — Three Big Ten running backs entered the 2017 NFL Combine this week unheralded and under-appreciated, but not unwanted.
Wisconsin third-down back Dare Ogunbowale, Michigan starter De’Veon Smith and Indiana’s Devine Redding all met with reporters on Thursday. The interest was modest, at least compared to LSU power back Leonard Fournette. While none of them will approach Fournette’s first-round draft status or draw the dozens who huddled around his podium, the Big Ten’s unassuming threesome sold themselves as competitive and productive.
Redding has the best statistical resume at 1,122 rushing yards and seven touchdowns last season. Smith was solid at 846 yards and 10 scores for a balanced rushing attack. Ogunbowale was Wisconsin’s change-of-pace back, rushing for 506 yards and gaining 213 as a kick returner.
All three spent time in Indianapolis touting their value to NFL clubs.
“I’ve proven that I think I can run the ball well and do a lot of different things, catch the ball out of the backfield and things like that,” Ogubowale said. “Third down is what I played more than anything this past year; it’s what I did a lot of. I do think I’m very underrated in some other components of my game. Only time will tell for that.”
In addition to his running responsibilities, Ogunbowale was solid as a receiving back. He caught 24 passes for 208 yards and a score last year. He formed a nice tandem last fall with starter Corey Clement — a likely mid-round draft pick.
“What do I want to bring to the table? I’d just say a lot of versatility,” Ogunbowale said. “I’ve done a lot of different things within our offense at Wisconsin. I’d do special teams, obviously. So that’s really been the way I answered that question.”
Smith led Michigan in rushing in 2016. He spent the offseason training at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Like the 5-foot-11, 213-pound Ogunbowale, Smith (5-11, 223) showed versatility in catching 16 passes for 66 yards last year. He entered his media session with a positive attitude.
“That’s exactly the way you’ve got to approach this, otherwise it will eat you up and spit you out,” Smith said. “You’ve got to keep a positive mindset and be thankful that you’re even here.”
In addition to his rushing totals, Redding (5-8, 205) caught 27 passes for 146 yards and two scores. He could follow in the footsteps of former Hoosiers Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard, who were NFL draft picks in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Most draft analysts and several NFL coaches view the running back class as deep, which could hurt or help the trio. While the situation remains competitive, Ogunbowale, Smith and Redding all appreciated the humility displayed by their peers.
“I feel we’re all just here to do better for ourselves and better our lives,” Redding said. “Talking to these guys has been a blast. We joked around. Everybody’s level-headed. Humble. Nobody’s over their head, over the top. Everybody’s pretty cool.”