Frank Gore’s precise role won’t be filled by an unheralded Pac-12 rookie acquired by the Dolphins on Saturday. But his roster spot might be.
This past weekend, the Dolphins added two interesting prospects from that conference who combined for 81 touchdowns during expectation-exceeding college careers.
Barring the addition of a veteran, Myles Gaskin — the seventh-round pick from Washington — will enter the team’s offseason program with a good chance to earn a roster spot at running back. Multiple jobs are now open after the departures of Gore and Senorise Perry to the Bills and Brandon Bolden to the Patriots.
But Gaskin will get competition from California undrafted free agent Patrick Laird and former Chargers running back Kenneth Farrow, who was plucked recently from the defunct Alliance of American Football.
Gaskin, a three-star recruit out of Seattle, ran for 5,323 yards in four years at Washington, on 5.6 per carry, with 57 touchdowns on the ground and five more in the air. Those 62 touchdowns are second all time in the Pac-12 and 16th most in NCAA history.
What’s more, those 5,323 rushing yards are third most all time in the Pac-12 and 13th most in NCAA history.
He’s also 20th in NCAA history in yards from scrimmage (5,788).
But at just 5-9 and 193 pounds, his body took a pounding with 945 rushing attempts, fourth most in Pac-12 history.
Gaskin — who won a Washington high school state championship in the 100 meters — “was extremely productive in college, but you wonder what all those carries have done to his body,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper said.
Despite his small frame, Gaskin has displayed an ability to gain yards after contact, by stretching or “falling forward,” essentially. And he’s a patient runner.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein assessed him this way: “Durable, productive runner who could find the transition from college to pro more challenging due to his lack of size. Gaskin’s quick feet and loose hips offer early elusiveness and success on wide flowing plays, but his overall play is less explosive/elusive than his athletic traits might suggest. He will need to run with better decisiveness and downhill burst to become an effective member of a running back committee, but his ability to play on third downs should help his chances for some early touches.”
At the NFL Combine, Gaskin posted the fifth-best time (among running backs) in the 20-yard shuttle, the fifth-most reps on the bench press and the eighth-best vertical jump. But his 4.58-second 40-yard dash ranked only ninth among NFL backs, a bit lower than preferred for a smallish back.
ESPN assessed him this way: “Gaskin is an undersized scat back with above-average burst to and through the hole and enough initial acceleration to turn the corner as an outside runner. But his top-speed levels off quickly. He’s an effective between-the-tackles runner for his size thanks to his patience and instincts.
“As a receiver, he has the initial burst and agility to separate. In pass protection, he’s willing, but he’s just not big or strong enough to anchor and sustain. He projects as a complementary back with the potential to contribute in the return game in the NFL.”
Gaskin never returned a punt at Washington but returned six kickoffs for 90 yards, a 15.0 average.
“I’m just a hungry dude,” he said Saturday. “I think I’m a patient back. I think I have good hands out the backfield. I think when I see daylight, I think I can separate from a lot of people.”
Laird, the Dolphins’ other rookie Pac-12 running back, overcame considerable odds as a walk-on at Cal. He erupted in 2017, with 191 carries for 1127 yards (a 5.9 average that ranked eighth in the Pac-12), with eight touchdowns on the ground and one more in the air.
Last season, he had 223 carries for 961 yards (a 4.3 average), with five touchdowns before breaking his clavicle in Cal’s bowl game.
Like Gaskin, he’s effective catching the ball out of the backfield. He had 45 catches for 322 yards as a junior, 51 for 288 last season.
He became the first Cal player since Marshawn Lynch to rush for 100 yards in consecutive games against rival Stanford.
The draftnetwork.com said he’s an “economical runner who maximizes what’s available to him. Has great hands working out of the backfield and from the slot; runs a bevy of routes for a running back.” On the flip side, that web site said Laird “has no open-field speed and can be chased down by all 11 defenders. Not particularly effective as a pass protector. Lacks a positive pro projection.”
Though Farrow has the most experience of the three, he hasn’t played in the NFL since 2016, when he averaged 3.2 yards on 60 carries for the Chargers.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins filled their need for a fullback with Auburn’s Chandler Cox. Miami didn’t use one under Adam Gase but will at times in this new offensive system.
“I love the position,” Cox said Saturday. “I know it’s a dying breed but I want to be one of those guys to bring it back because it’s one of those things that teams need a guy that can be physical and do a lot of things and just help the energy of the team. That’s why I love playing it so much.”
At Auburn, Cox ran only 11 times for 18 yards (1.6 per game) with three touchdowns but caught 26 passes for 237 yards (9.1 average) and a touchdown. He also threw two passes as a Wildcat quarterback, completing one on a play that lost three yards.
“In high school, I was a quarterback, too,” he said. “So I had to transition to play fullback at Auburn. I played a little bit of Wildcat quarterback there and I split out to receiver and played some tight end. I did a bunch of different things for them, so that was something that I think is my best trait that I can help the team.”
Draftanalyst.com said Cox is “explosive at the point, keeps his head on a swivel and always looks for someone to hit. Does enough to get a pad on defenders and disrupt their angles of attack. Stays with assignments, sees the blitz and squares into defenders. Effective pass catcher out of the backfield who snatches the ball away from his frame with his hands and turns it upfield to pick up extra yardage.”
On the flip side, that web site that he “possesses average strength as a blocker and gets run over by opponents in pass protection. On the ground too much. Plays to one speed. Average athlete with limited upside but gets the most from his ability. He has the mentality for the next level but must transition to special teams for any chance of a career in the NFL.”
The Dolphins now have six running backs on the roster: Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage (who will compete to start), with Gaskin, Laird, Farrow and Cox competing for roster spots.