The Philadelphia Eagles traded up to draft Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. In order to learn more about the new Eagles running back, I reached out to SB Nation's Mountain West Conference site: Mountain West Connection. San Diego State writer Ted McGovern was kind enough to answer my questions about Pumphrey.
1) Can you sum up what his college career was like?
In a word: stellar. Donnel Pumphrey is a special person- an exceptionally gifted athlete and the ultimate underdog. Pumphrey was overlooked by many universities due to his size, despite his Canyon Springs High School records and successes including being named the Gatorade Nevada Player of the Year. His high school coach, Hunkie Cooper, helped Pumphrey receive an offer at San Diego State- a launching pad for great players who may not always fit the standard P5 formula. On the team, Pumphrey was expected to be little more than a backup running back, but from day one he set the goal to beat Marshall Faulk's records. It didn't take long for coaches to note that Pumphrey did not avoid traffic but went in head on, and regularly defied his size and weight by both taking and issuing hits to and from guys who should have been able to flatten him. It was also recognized early on that he was an extraordinarily productive player. If you've ever seen Pumphrey run, he fights on every single play for every single inch, and he blows through stops that should be play enders. By his junior year, every team that opposed SDSU had one core strategy: shut down Pumphrey- as though he was the team. He defied all odds to become the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year, and started his senior season as #74 on the all time most productive NCAA running back list. It was considered blasphemy to even suggest that Donnel Pumphrey could break Ron Dayne's record at season's start, as he needed well over 2000 more yards. He did, and was crowned the MW Offensive POTY again for a second year in a row. Donnel Pumphrey ended his career as the only NCAA player to ever surpass 1000 yards in pass completions AND rush for over 5000 yards. But, then again, he rushed for well over 6000 yards.
2) What are his strengths?
Pumphrey is said to have exceptional eye-foot coordination. He has great field vision and perception. He is known to make 90 degree cutbacks regularly, and he can turn on speed as though he has reserve turbochargers. Pumphrey is also tough as nails- and he has a charisma that cannot be broken. He doesn't avoid hits, and can shake guys off who are over 100 lbs. heavier. His greatest strength, though, is that he has a massive chip on his shoulder. Everybody- and I mean everybody- looks at Pumphrey and says "THERE'S NO WAY that this guy can cut it." By the end of the game opposing coaches leave with their heads spinning, including some who have said he's the best they've seen in college ball. Television announcers are oft quoted as saying they were wrong about Pumphrey and his abilities.
3) What are his weaknesses?
He's the smallest 5'9" 180 pounder you've ever seen. That's because he's actually 5'8 3/4 " and closer to 176 lbs. It's believed that he'll add some weight in the years to come because the climate is different in Philly than Las Vegas and San Diego. But, size has not been a weakness yet- only in perception. Pumphrey is a massive target because of his size, and opposing teams often believed they could shut down the Aztecs offense by simply shutting Pumphrey down. He was regularly double or triple covered. But, this doesn't stop him. Nothing does. In one game last fall against San Jose State, Trevon Bierria viciously targeted Pumphrey- full speed, head to head- and was ejected from the game. Fans thought a temporarily immobilized Pumphrey would be removed on a stretcher. Instead, he got up, shook his head for a minute or two as Bierria was ejected, and coach Ron Caragher gave him a high-five. Pumphrey stayed in the game, lined up, and on the very next play to fans' disbelief he ran the ball 27 yards for a touchdown. That's how Donnel Pumphrey deals with adversity. I don't think NFL teams will hesitate to try and punish him- especially as he produces. But, throughout college, he didn't make the injured list, despite hurt ankles and probably one or two concussed moments. Teams will regularly try to wipe the gridiron with him, and that's nothing new.
4) Are you surprised where he was drafted? Higher or lower than expected? Just right?
No. I think Philly is a great venue for him. When he wins over the Eagles fans, he'll win over the NFL. It's a tough crowd, but Pumphrey will not let them down. He's all heart, a trait big in Philly, and the fans will appreciate that about him as they get to know him. He was drafted exactly where I thought he would be: Round 4. I knew that whoever was lucky enough to draft him would be finding one of the top talents in this year's NCAA draft. If he were bigger he would have been a first or second round draft pick, and that is actually where he belonged. But, for perspective, not only did he not get an invite to the Heisman dinner, but he was also passed over for Doak Walker. The NCAA's most productive running back EVER did not win the Doak Walker. Pumphrey was not phased. He's used to that treatment, and he just keeps on producing.
5) How do you see his NFL career playing out?
I see Pumphrey having a career similar to Marshall Faulk's. I believe once he gains his NFL momentum he'll become a very hot commodity, and I could see teams going to lengths to acquire him. I see a few Super Bowls in his future, many endorsements, a few records broken, and ultimately the Hall of Fame. I don't think he'll stop chasing Marshall Faulk. It's his center, and I believe Faulk is OK with that. He and Faulk have a bond. For perspective, Pumphrey is only a half-inch shorter than Faulk.
6) Anything to know about him off the field?
Pumphrey is a soft-spoken person with a good heart. He is a family man and he has a daughter, and his goal is to be a good role model for her. So far, he's done pretty well. He's deeply respected by the people who have played alongside him- many feeling blessed to be a part of his journey- and I don't see that changing in the NFL.
He's also the third athlete ever at San Diego State University to have his own university- issued commemorative bobble head- the others being Tony Gwynn and Marshall Faulk. Trivial as that may be, he's held in the very highest esteem at San Diego State University, by students, alumni, administrators and fans.