NFL Draft 2020: J.K. Dobbins ready to answer recent criticism during Ohio State’s pro day

It must have pained J.K. Dobbins to watch his fellow running back prospects go through receiving drills during last week’s NFL combine. 

Dobbs, who was unable to take part in on-field drills (he was still recovering from an ankle injury sustained during Ohio State’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson), was hoping to dispel the notion that he is not a reliable receiver out of the backfield after failing to hang onto two passes in his final game as a Buckeye. Dobbins, who was ranked by CBS Sports as the third best running back prospect in the draft prior to the combine, is looking to show off his versatility during Ohio State’s March 25 pro day. 

“A lot of people are trying to put out the idea that I can’t catch (well),” Dobbins said during a recent interview with CBS Sports HQ. “I think I had 70 catches and I had to 20-plus catches every year during my career at Ohio State. I think that I definitely just have to show them that I can catch.”

Dobbins, the second leader rushing in Ohio State history and the first Buckeyes running back to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season, said that he was asked about his pass-catching ability by NFL teams during the combine. Questions about Dobbins’ catching ability arose after he failed to pull down two receptions during Ohio State’s loss to the Tigers. After dropping a screen pass that would have extended a drive, Dobbins failed to hold onto what would have been a touchdown. The drops contributed to Ohio State settling for a 16-0 lead before eventually falling to the Tigers, 29-23. What has largely been forgotten in the aftermath of that game is the fact that Dobbins, who played despite his ankle injury, led both teams with 174 yards rushing and a touchdown on 18 carries. 

“The first pass that I dropped, the screen pass in the Fiesta Bowl, I honestly knew that that was going to be a touchdown,” Dobbins said. “And so, I took my eyes off the ball too fast and dropped it. That’s my mistake. I can’t do things like that. The second one, I don’t really know if that was a drop. It was counted as a drop.”

Dobbins said that, if Ohio State had asked him to do more in the passing game, he would have happily obliged. But on a team with two receivers (K.J. Hill and Bijimen Victor) that will likely hear their names called in next month’s draft, Dobbins was primarily leaned on to anchor the Buckeyes’ rushing attack. Dobbins certainly didn’t disappoint there, rushing for 714 yards and eight touchdowns during Ohio State’s final four games of the 2019 season. His best performance came against Michigan, as Dobbins rushed for 211 yards and four touchdowns while helping Ohio State defeat their arch rival for an eighth consecutive year. 

While questions about his versatility are out there, there is very little concern about Dobbins’ ability as a running back. While he is regarded as a no frills running back with above average agility, Dobbins’ strength is his power (his still arm might be the best among any running back prospect in this year’s class), balance, and keen ability to find seams in a defense created by his offensive line. Dobbins is also a quick decision maker who, once he turned the corner, turned moderate gains into long touchdown runs. Dobbins will, however, need to prove that he can be as effective getting the ball from under center, as the majority of his carries came out of the shotgun. 

Ironically, Dobbins said that he patterns his game off of the most versatile running back in pro football today. 

“I know I don’t get used like him, but I try to emulate Christian McCaffery,” Dobbins said. “He’s a tough runner. I think we’re built kind of the same. He’s a little taller, but (I) definitely like his game a lot. I try to play like him.”

Dobbins, whose 71 catches at Ohio State are similar to the totals fellow draft prospects Cam Akers, D’Andre Swift and Jonathan Taylor compiled during their college careers, will look to prove during his pro day that he can be counted on to be a versatile player at the next level. 

“Nah,” Dobbins said when asked if the outside criticism bothers him. “It’s what people do. If they don’t really watch me or watch my film, they don’t really know. … If you go watch the film, (you) know that I can catch. But I have to do a better job. If I don’t drop those passes, there’s nothing for people to say. So that’s my fault. I’m glad they’re criticizing me, because that’s making me better.”

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