Twenty-nine running backs were taken before N.C. State’s Matt Dayes, the penultimate pick in the NFL draft. Why did the Wolfpack’s first 1,000-yard rusher in 14 years fall to pick No. 252 overall in the seventh round?
NFL Network analysts Lance Zierlein and Bucky Brooks were quick to point out that the pre-draft workouts hurt Dayes’ stock.
Dayes went to the Senior Bowl, the combine and ran at N.C. State’s pro day and apparently did more harm than good.
Dayes, projected to go as early as the fourth round, lasted so long on Saturday’s broadcast of the draft on ESPN that he was picked during a commercial.
His name scrolled across the bottom of the screen and when ESPN came back from break they were ready to talk about pick No. 253 – so-called Mr. Irrelevant – Dayes’ selection got glossed over.
The NFL Network had its own broadcast but also an online studio to supplement its TV coverage.
When Dayes was introduced by a Cleveland fan, wearing a No. 2 Johnny Manziel jersey, Zierlein didn’t need long to surmise Dayes’ long wait.
“I think the reason he fell is he really didn’t work out well,” Zierlein said.
Zierlein specifically mentioned Dayes’ 40-yard dash time at N.C. State’s pro day – 4.66 seconds – which had previously not been made public.
Dayes led the Wolfpack with 1,166 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2016. He had 865 yards and an NCAA-best 12 touchdowns in eight games before a toe injury ended his 2015 season early.
Dayes was particularly outstanding this season in a 24-17 overtime loss at Clemson and a 28-21 win at North Carolina.
His drop didn’t make a ton of sense on the surface. Dayes doesn’t have any of the character issues that sunk some other notable choices, not unless being too nice is considered a flaw.
The way he bounced back from the toe injury in 2016 should have quelled any injury concerns although it’s understandable for teams to be wary of any injury to a running back.
The workouts were symptomatic of a bigger problem for Dayes. At 5-9 and 205 pounds, he’s not the biggest, strongest or the fastest. Zierlein said there wasn’t one trait about Dayes that stands out or is special.
“Size? Average,” Zierlein said. “His speed? Below average. But he’s a good running back. See that’s the thing. He’s a solid running back I just don’t know if there’s anything special enough about him that’s going to differentiate him in the NFL level to keep him from being other than just a guy who fights for a spot on the practice squad.”
The workouts “certainly hurt” Dayes, Brooks said.
“He’s a guy that I thought at the Senior Bowl had some skills to catch the ball out of the backfield,” Brooks said. “He was tough and he ran hard, he played bigger than his size. But when you don’t test well, it kind of changes the view some scouts may have of you and what you can do at the next level.”
The bad news for Dayes? He lost a decent chunk of money (at least $400,000 in signing-bonus money) by falling into the seventh round.
The Browns, at an NFL-worst 1-15 last season, aren’t exactly a model franchise. Owner Jimmy Haslam reportedly drafted Manziel in 2014 after an impromptu pre-draft conversation with a homeless Browns fan. Manziel summarily partied himself out of the NFL in less than two years.
But there is good news. The Browns took nine other players and Dayes was the only running back.
And more good news: Cleveland, with Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson in the fold, offers Dayes a good chance not only to make the 53-man roster but also help. Oft-injured quarterback Robert Griffin III was Cleveland’s third-best runner last season with 190 yards.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio