On MAC Media Day, Thomas Rawls was asked about wearing the number 34, which was worn by his predecessor Zurlon Tipton the year before. Rawls stated something to the effect of "well, I heard he's pretty good, so I guess I have a lot to prove."
Rawls' first performance as a Chippewa was certainly an indicator of what Rawls could be. Against the Chattanooga Mocs, Rawls rushed for 121 yards and a TD, grounding and pounding the Mocs defense when Titus Davis left the game with injury. Rawls posted two straight 40 carry, 240+ yard, 2 TD games against Ohio and NIU in the middle of the season, but an injury in Buffalo limited his season after that. However, Rawls only played eight games as he was suspended after a larceny arrest in September, and declared academically ineligible prior to the Bahamas Bowl.
Rawls declared for the NFL Draft at the end of the season after coming off suspension and ran decent 40's for a back at his size at his pro day, running a 4.42 and a 4.5, surely helping his draft stock a little bit.
However, the running backs class is once again sensationally deep, so Rawls, despite being one of the most productive backs in the country, is mired in the deep 20's, according to CBS Sports. With the NFL game changing to favor the passing game, running backs are becoming more and more disposable, so it's likely that Rawls, if drafted, would end up anywhere from the 6th round to undrafted.
Part of the reason for his being ranked so far down is just because of those character issues. By no means is Rawls the only prospect with the same issues, but there are a couple more high-profile prospects from this draft that with insane levels to talent getting very different reactions for their transgressions.
Jameis WInston is the most obvious example of the "red flag" prospect, as his physical skills and smarts are certainly enough to get him drafted first overall, However, there is a list of transgressions a mile long, most famously a Title IX case involving an alleged rape that has now turned into a civil court case. Somehow despite all these legal troubles, Winston is still a top 2 draft prospect.
Dorial Green-Beckham, a wideout for Missouri, was involved in an armed robbery case, arrested twice for marijuana and was rumored to have been involved in a domestic incident, Green-Beckham was dismissed form Mizzou in 2014 and enrolled at Oklahoma, but ultimately never played for them, choosing to go pro instead. In most mock drafts, Green-Beckham, a top-10 talent, goes anywhere from the 17th pick to the 34th pick in mock draft, a pretty small drop for someone with an armed robbery, potential assault, and multiple drug charges.
Perhaps the one prospect that Rawls can most identify with is Michigan's Frank Clark. After multiple run-ins with the law and an arrest on a domestic abuse charge, Clark has plummeted fin mock drafts from a prospective 3rd or 4th round pick to undrafted, even despite being understood to be one of the up-and-coming players at the defensive end in college ball.
Once again, the narrative that talent trumps trouble proves true.
Rawls was the leading rusher for the Chippewas despite only playing eight games in the season, and was one of the nation's most efficient runners when he was on the field, at over 1103 yards and 10 total TD's. His cutback ability and fearlessness in open space makes him a potential sleeper pick in the draft, with one AFC running backs coach saying Rawls "has got what you're looking for."
However, his hands are an issue. He is a limited pass-and-run back, and has a habit of fumbling at inopportune times. It certainly doesn't help that he seems to still be extremely defensive regarding the larceny incident , refusing to talk about it to media, and with such a limited sample size of games, it really does his draft stock no good, even if the numbers and tape that he does have is phenomenal.
The Michigan transfer has the physical measurements and talent to be drafted in the late 3rd round or early 4th round, but it seems more likely that he will not be drafted until the 6th or 7th round, assuming he is drafted at all. The right situation will have to present itself, and Rawls will have to prove himself in private workouts and interviews. Despite being labeled as a "red flag" prospect, Rawls is simply too good of a prospect to be passed up. I believe he will be picked up in the early 7th round, and could stick to a practice roster if he does not get promoted to the active roster.