Summary: During Urban Meyer's run at Ohio State, the Buckeyes were a factory for NFL talent, producing one excellent draft class after another. Perhaps there was no position that they were more dominant on the field at as running back. The Buckeyes' rushing attack carried them to roll over the Big Ten during Meyer's tenure via a string of talented running backs. Thus, it says a lot about J.K. Dobbins when he became a starter in his very first game of college football. Once Dobbins earned that opportunity, he never looked back as was Ohio State's feature back over the past two seasons despite more experienced backs already on the roster.
After Ezekiel Elliott moved on to the NFL, Mike Weber was supposed to be the next star running back at Ohio State. But an injury slowed Weber down to start the 2017 season and Dobbins beat out the other backs for the starting job for Week 1. The Buckeyes turned to Dobbins, and the freshman dominated the competition immediately. He averaged 7.2 yards per carry in 2017 for 1,403 yards with seven touchdowns. He also had 22 receptions for 135 yards and a touchdown. In 2018, Dobbins averaged 4.6 yards per carry for 1,053 yards with 10 touchdowns. While being the starter, Dobbins split the carries with Weber and others to keep the backs fresh and healthy. Dobbins also recorded 26 receptions for 263 yards as a sophomore.
Dobbins has been the workhorse for the Ohio State backfield in 2019, taking on a heavy work load. Entering the college playoff, the junior has averaged 6.5 yards per carry for 1,829 yards with 20 touchdowns. He has 17 receptions for 200 yards and two touchdowns as well. To close out an undefeated regular season, Ohio State leaned on Dobbins heavily, as he had 33 carries versus Wisconsin, 31 attempts a week earlier versus Michigan, and a whopping 36 carries the game before that against Penn State. Dobbins had fumbles against Penn State and Michigan, but showed a lot of toughness to take on that amount of carries against three tough opponents.
There is no doubt Dobbins has the ability to be a NFL running back with a skill set to be in contention as a three-down starter early in his pro career. The first trait that generates a lot of talk about Dobbins is his acceleration, as he has a quick first step to hit the hole and a second gear to burst to the second level of the defense. In the open field, Dobbins can rip off yards in chunks and is a threat to turn ordinary carries into big gains.
Aside from his quickness, Dobbins is a natural runner with instincts. He has excellent vision and anticipation to follow his line before bursting downhill after quickly anticipating where a hole is about to open. On top of his feel for running with the ball, Dobbins has a compact build that provides him with some power to run through tackles and pick up yards after contact. He has plus balance to maintain his feet after getting hit by defenders, and he uses his stature to run through would-be tacklers. Dobbins has some moves, quick feet, and elusiveness in the open field. His strength and build make him a quality short-yardage runner as well.
One trait that really will get evaluators excited is Dobbins' ability as a receiver. He is very dangerous at running wheel routes, as he is fluid in space and has shown tremendous hands to make some difficult catches downfield. He makes some pretty hands catches with good technique not to use his body. Dobbins is a dangerous route-runner out of the backfield who provides mismatches in coverage against front-seven defenders. For the passing-driven NFL, Dobbins is an excellent fit to contribute to an aerial offense, and that leads to him having three-down-starter potential.
Like all college backs, Dobbins will need work in blitz pickup for the NFL. He is a quick back who has plus acceleration, but he is not a pure burner with devastating speed like a Chris Johnson or a Todd Gurley. Watching Dobbins, he reminded me of Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, and I think Dobbins could become a good three-down starter in the NFL.
Player Comparison: Devonta Freeman. Dobbins reminds me of a taller and slightly bigger version of Freeman. Freeman was a second-day pick coming out of Florida State, and Dobbins could go on Day 2 in the 2020 NFL Draft.