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Devante Mays: The overlooked rookie running back

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The third running back selected by the Packers has not attracted the immediate attention of the first two this offseason, but has an intriguing array of skills.

NCAA Football: Utah State at Air Force Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Being the underdog is nothing new for Devante Mays.

A former junior college player that was lightly recruited before signing with Utah State, Mays didn’t have the college production of fellow rookie running backs Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones. An ankle injury that sidelined Mays’ senior season after just five games and 37 carries didn’t help his cause prior to April’s draft either. Yet, with the Green Bay Packers’ backfield in a relative state of unknown, Mays will have a chance to compete for not only a roster spot but playing time in his first season.

The attention this offseason has been more inclined to go to the Williams-Jones tandem, as they’ve been labeled the new “Thunder and Lightning” with their very distinct playing styles. It’s an intriguing storyline as the two players were roommates at rookie minicamp and developed a friendship in sharing the same agent. If it’s not the two rookies, it’s been the progression of Ty Montgomery to halfback that’s been gaining steam in the media.

But now we shift to Mays, a 5’10, 230-pound back that has been described by NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein as being “built like a truck, with muscular legs and a powerful, broad chest.” Zierlein also listed Mays as one of his five late-round picks likely to exceed expectations in 2017, not only praising him as having the highest ceiling of Green Bay’s new running backs but going so far as to say he would have been picked before the other two if not for health issues as a senior.

The measurables are underrated. A big back that ran a 4.52 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, Mays also had an incredible 40.5” vertical jump and bench pressed 420 pounds. He may not have the shiftiness of an elite back with his relatively low three-cone and 20-yard shuttle times, but the other drills display power and explosion. Mays’ junior stat line also is impressive, rumbling for 966 yards and a 5.9 yard average per carry.

Whether the jersey number 32 is a coincidence or not, this writer couldn’t help but find some similarity between Mays and a former Packer that is now on the staff as a coaching intern: Brandon Jackson. Their height, speed, and vertical explosiveness numbers in the pre-draft process were fairly comparable. While Jackson was a bit quicker and more agile, Mays is 20 pounds heavier coming out of college and it shows with his greater desire to lower the shoulder. However, when comparing tape of Jackson at Nebraska and Mays at Utah State, each seemed to run with a low center of gravity and patience between the tackles, bouncing outside on occasion.

While one could argue that Jackson was too patient and may not have lived up to his second-round billing, he still developed into a reliable change-of-pace runner and third down back. One thing that separated Jackson was his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield on screen plays. While this attribute was evident in college with Jackson catching 33 passes during his final season at Nebraska, Mays only posted two receptions at Utah State. While Green Bay will most likely use Montgomery and Jones as its third down backs this upcoming season with their superb receiving skills, it will be interesting to see if Mays surprises with these skills in camp.

There’s a lot to like in Devante Mays. He has the size, power, and speed to be a significant contributor in the NFL if he can display receiving skills and consistent vision and patience. With the Packers hunting for steady contributors in the backfield, Mays will have every opportunity to showcase what he can do in training camp.

If he does, the seventh-round underdog has a chance to rise to the top.