Following his stellar high school football career, Andre Ellington, the 172nd ranked prospect in the nation according Rivals.com entered Clemson’s campus in 2008. After red-shirting in 2008, Ellington showed flashes in 2009 as a red-shirt freshman against ACC foes, Boston College, FSU as well as Miami. Ellington would finish the year with 491 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns on 68 carries. He also had an additional 55 yards on 11 receptions.
As a red-shirt sophomore, Ellington was named third team All-ACC after accumulating 686 yards and 10 touchdowns on 118 carries. He also had 109 yards and 1 touchdown on 12 catches. Ellington would tie for 3rd in the ACC in total touchdowns though he played just eight games after sustaining a toe injury against Boston College.
Ellington enjoyed his best season last year earning second team All-ACC honors, rushing for 1178 yards and 11 touchdowns on 223 carries. Ellington also had 109 yards on 22 receptions last season.
Size: At 5’9 190lbs, the diminutive Andre Ellington has a nice compact build with a fairly low center of gravity. With that said, he does lack prototypical size to be considered an every down back at the next level. The Clemson coaching staff has expressed concerns regarding Ellington’s durability as he has shared carries for the better part of his collegiate career.
It appears he’s been able to take on a larger workload this season, but he has routinely struggled with general soreness following games. It is possible that his tendency for getting banged up week in and week out could be directly correlated to his lack of ideal size.
Speed: One of Ellington’s greatest attributes is his speed. It’s evident that he has very good speed as he routinely outruns angles in the secondary. Ellington also takes the edge with ease on outside runs. I fully expect Ellington to run anywhere from 4.39-4.44 in the 40 yard dash for NFL scouts.
Quickness: Ellington is very sudden and possesses outstanding burst. His big plays are often times a byproduct of his above average start and stop ability and change of direction. Ellington’s quickness enables him to freeze defenders in space and accelerate by them. His quickness and long speed work in tandem with one another to make him a true “Homerun Hitter”.
Running Inside: Ellington is more of a shock absorbing back and isn’t going to run over many defenders, especially on inside runs. With that said, I was shocked to find that his legs do not go dead on contact on the interior. Ellington keeps his legs churning as he bounces off of defenders who fail to wrap him up showing supreme balance.
While I love to see RBs get north and south with the football, there are times Ellington fails to let his blocks develop. Rather than pressing the hole, he will occasionally become impatient and run directly into the back of his linemen.
His propensity to run into the back of his blockers on inside runs may have something to do with his exaggerated pad level as he runs so low at times that he also runs with his head down making is basically impossible to consistently sight cutback lanes. Overall, Ellington shows very good balance between the tackles. I believe Ellington’s ability to keep his feet; between the tackles can be attributed to his low center of gravity.
Running Outside: The lack of patience Ellington displays at times on inside runs, he certainly makes up for it on runs designed to get him out on the perimeter. Ellington runs with exceptional pace on outside runs, using his speed judiciously accelerating at the first hint of daylight.
His ability to vary his speed combined with above average lateral agility and initial burst enable him to consistently get around end. What I like most about Ellington as an outside runner is that he’s very decisive and does not spend much time at all with his pads perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. Rarely will you see Ellington strung out of bounds on outside runs.
Receiving: Ellington shows natural hands in the screen game, however he tends to struggle catching the football on crossing patterns. His drops on crossing patterns seem to be due to bad hand positioning when attempting to haul the ball in. Ellington also has difficulty catching the football away from his core.
While he could certainly stand to be more consistent as a pass catcher, he is not featured in the passing game nearly as often as I’d like to see. The sheer fact that there is a small sample size in terms of targets and completions, gives me hope that he will only improve in this area as he prepares for the next level.
Blocking: As a smaller back, Ellington is certainly a willing blocker and has proven that he will put his body on the line to keep his Quarterback upright. He shows solid technique w/ the exception of his tendency to lunge at defenders. He attempts to stalemate his man in the hole, however he simply does not have enough size or strength to be anything more than a chip/cut guy at this point in his career. When he attempts to block straight up, defenders often make quick work of him as he simply doesn’t pose much of a challenge in this area.
Reading Blocks: As I alluded to earlier, Ellington has a great feel for pursuit and setting up his blocks along the perimeter, but he has yet to master this when it comes to interior runs. Instead of pressing the hole on interior runs and forcing defenders to commit to him while remaining patient; he at times buries his head into the back of his lineman which has a negative impact on his ability to maximize yardage.
Vision: Ellington runs with outstanding vision on outside runs as he consistently sites cutback lanes from the outside in, however he has difficulty recognizing creases in the defense from the inside out. One good thing about this is that Ellington does not bounce many plays to the outside, as he is disciplined enough to stick with the design of inside run calls. With that said he does not exercise the necessary patience and vision to consistently recognize cutback lanes on plays that originate from the interior.
Carrying/handling vs. fumbling: I certainly have an appreciation for the way Ellington carries the football. Ellington carries the football high and tight, which certainly helps, considering his frame. Upon watching a couple of Ellington’s fumbles, one thing that stood out to me is that while he’s fundamentally sound as far as his ball-handling is concerned, he still managed to cough up the football.
I’m curious as to whether this can be attributed to hand size, or lack of functional strength. Ellington must also make a concerted effort to protect the football when he feels pursuit coming from the backside. Overall, I have confidence in Ellington’s ability to carry the football without making the “big mistake”.
Injuries: Ellington missed time in 2011 with an ankle injury and he battled turf toe in 2010. While he hasn’t had any major injuries, Ellington has also suffered from what many coaches call “Running Back body”. Running Back body is essentially general soreness associated with the pounding Running Backs take on a weekly basis. Ellington’s body has been slow to respond. His recovery time has been a concern of the Clemson coaching staff which is why they believe it is important to get guys like Roderick McDowell, DJ Howard and Sammy Watkins involved in the run game.
Character: Ellington came to Clemson as a young kid with much to learn. While he had much to learn, he was fortunate to have leaders such as James Davis and CJ Spiller who taught him to become a better student in the classroom and a better student of the game. Ellington is now considered a leader and tone setter for his team. His coaching staff thinks a lot of him, calling him their biggest offseason recruit after he toyed with the idea of entering the 2012 NFL draft. Ellington’s teammates and coaches are ecstatic to have him back.
Overall: Due to Ellington’s outstanding speed, acceleration and better than advertised balance, he will be utilized primarily as an edge rusher at the next level. Ellington is working hard to prove his doubters wrong in terms of his ability to catch the football and I’m willing to bet he will improve his hands significantly.
While Ellington is a student of the game, and he is well aware of his blocking assignments in pass protection, he simply is no match when attempting to stalemate oncoming pass rushers. Ellington is currently a two down player with an outside shot of developing into an every down back. Ellington will be much better served as a change of pace RB that gets anywhere from 10-15 carries a game; especially early in his NFL career.
Ellington’s athleticism at the position will be highly coveted come April. I truly believe he may achieve a David Wilson like grade and could be selected anywhere from late round 1 to mid round 2. Teams like the Bengals, Browns and Redskins could greatly benefit from a player like Ellington.