Fifth Round: 164th Pick
During his first three years at the University of Florida, Mike Gillislee carried the football just 145 times.
He had to sit on the depth chart behind former Gators' running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, who both spent time on NFL rosters last season. Gillislee waited patiently and knew his time was coming.
That time came during his senior year when he rushed for more than 1,100 yards and picked up 10 touchdowns in leading the Gators to a surprising 11-2 record and Sugar Bowl berth.
Now Gillislee sets his sights on the NFL. How much did he help himself in just one season as a lead back at Florida?
Let's take a closer look.
Good combination of size, strength and speed
- 3-down back
- High motor, runs hard
- Decisive runner with good vision
- Doesn't possess game-breaking speed
- Spins too much after first contact
- Isn't a power back or speed back, lacks definitive trait
Gillislee is a well-rounded athlete who has good size (5'11" 208 pounds) and strength for the running back position. He has a good frame and runs well behind his pads between the tackles.
He's fluid in space and shows above-average burst out of his cuts and is a physical back who shows an appreciation for pass protection in his blocking abilities. He also possesses the upper-body strength to lower his shoulder and put a blitzer on their back.
Gillislee played in a pro style, power-running system under offensive coordinator Brent Pease at the University of Florida. That helped Gillislee understand how to find lanes with pulling linemen and how to anticipate lanes opening into the second level.
He displayed an excellent ability blocking in pass protection and was a reliable receiver out of the backfield.
The Gators were creative in their offensive packages with pre-snap motions and unbalanced groupings. They moved tight ends, halfbacks and fullbacks around as they often ran out of the Diamond Formation.
Gillislee patiently waited for three years to become 'the guy' after being a top-10 ranked high school running back recruit out of nearby DeLand, Fla.
It takes great character to accept a role and bide your time the way that Gillislee showed during the first three years of his career. His practice habits never wavered and was seen as a leader among his peers.
He's definitely a quiet guy," quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "He keeps to himself. When he has something to say, it's important, so you're going to listen when he starts to talk. He doesn't like talking to the media, but he's a guy we kind of rally around him. [source]
From Center Jon Harrison:
"He just kept working and giving it his all every day, day in, day out, practice, weight room, whatever it takes, and that's what we respect so much about him." [source]
Gillislee possesses great vision when running between the tackles. He's a decisive runner who is a 'one cut' guy that finds where he's going and plants his foot and gets upfield quickly. The power-running system that Florida used fit Gillislee well in that it gave him a chance to show his abilities to read and react to blocks and find running lanes.
Gillislee isn't a burner in the speed department, but does show the awareness to consistently pick up yardage.
On 244 carries last season, Gillislee lost just 35 yards-lost on 'negative runs'. Meanwhile, Eddie Lacy, who's considered one of the top running backs in this class, had 38 yards-lost on just 204 carries. Trent Richardson, the former Alabama running back and 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist, had 61 yards-lost on 283 carries during his fantastic 2011 season.
These statistics are not to compare players, but do show the vision and decisiveness that Gillislee runs with on every play.
Gillislee has made a name for himself with his ability and willingness to take on blitzers and excel in pass protection. He'll lay a shoulder into a blitzer and put him flat on his back. He'll cut-block, chip and get out as an outlet receiver for his quarterback.
He shows soft hands out on the edge and does a good job of getting into space when coming out of the backfield. Gillislee also up screens well in the passing game and is a threat with the ball in his hands.
He didn't catch a lot of passes (16) as a senior, but did show enough ability at those times and down in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl that he's a solid third-down option at the next level.
Running between the tackles
Gillislee runs hard between the tackles and, as already mentioned, doesn't hesitate much or create negative plays in the running game very often.
He's a north-and-south runner who displays a good ability to keep his feet moving through traffic and shows good pad-level once getting to the second level. Gillislee will run a bit upright through the line of scrimmage, but is physical at the point of contact.
He has a tendency to try and spin off after first contact, leaving him susceptible to bigger hits when additional tacklers converge on the play.
He doesn't have exceptional straight-line speed, but when bouncing plays outside, he has above-average change-of-direction agility and enough burst to keep defensive backs honest in their pursuit angles.
Gillislee can 'get skinny' when accelerating through the line of scrimmage, but won't shy away from contact when pursuing the second-level of the defense. He'll lower his shoulder and plow forward more often than trying to bounce plays to the outside.
He possesses enough ability to change direction in order to put moves on defenders when there is space between them, but isn't the type of shifty back to juke defenders in close quarters.
He's more fluid of an athlete when turning upfield than he's given credit for due to his 4.55 40-yard dash that he ran at the combine.
Gillislee doesn't have the frame to be considered a power-back at the NFL level, but he runs hard with proper pad-level at the point of contact and is good enough about keeping his feet driving forward through contact that he won't have any physicality question marks about that part of his game.
He'll run through arm-tackles with his lower-body strength and effort when running inside the box. He's good once he gets past the first wave of defenders in driving and falling forward but can get stood-up at the line of scrimmage by running a bit high through the defensive line.
Gillislee will lower his shoulder and get the first down in short-yardage situations or inside the red zone.
Future role/scheme versatility
It's not as easy as it seems to find quality, three-down running backs coming out of college right now.
It's one of the things that made Doug Martin such a hot prospect coming out of Boise State in the 2011 draft. He could stay on the field on third down and gave his offense a safe, reliable back who understood protections, could catch the ball in space and was willing to throw his body around in the name of pass protection.
Martin became a first-round pick (No. 31) and then Pro Bowler as a rookie for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. Martin also played at Boise State under offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who coached Gillislee last season at Florida after making the move to Gainesville.
Martin and Gillislee aren't the same player, but they do share an ability to stay on the field on third down and that helped set Martin apart and really helped his cause once he got to the NFL.
Gillislee could have that same impact as far as how his skill-sets and abilities translate to the NFL early on in his career.
Most NFL teams are rotating between a couple of backs and Gillislee looks like he could be a great value-pick to fill one of those shoes for someone on day two of the draft.
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