The devaluation of running backs in the NFL has been happening now for a few years, but this year the phenomenon seems to have reached an apex. After the first round of last year’s NFL Draft came and went without a running back taken, this year’s list of invitees to the draft in New York did not include a running back for the first time ever.
It would be understandable, then, if Arizona State running back Marion Grice were worried about his stock ahead of this weekend’s draft, but he isn’t.
Grice, who came just short of a 1,000 yards as a senior after his season ended prematurely because of a broken leg, remains confident about his NFL future thanks to his versatility and a strong track record with the Sun Devils.
"I feel like I put enough on film in the time before I got injured to show teams what I can do," Grice said. "I’m pretty confident of all my film, all the games I played."
Grice suffered a broken fibula in ASU’s Pac-12 South-clinching win over UCLA in November. The injury didn’t require surgery but did keep him out the rest of the season and forced him to hold his own pro day a month after his ASU teammates.
Grice attended the NFL Scouting Combine, where he only interviewed with teams. There was confusion about the actual nature of the injury, but Grice isn’t worried.
"This is one injury," Grice said. "It’s my first time injured playing football, and a lot of guys have had surgeries already. I didn’t even have surgery. If people want to judge me off that, that’s fine, but whatever team picks me won’t regret it at all."
Grice likely eased concerns at his personal pro day, which drew about a dozen NFL scouts. He didn’t put up any ridiculous numbers, but he looked healthy, agile and strong. He also spent a good deal of time catching passes, which could be his ticket to sustained success in the NFL.
"That helps me a lot," Grice said. "It’s turned into a passing league, so if you can’t catch, it’s going to hurt you."
At ASU, Grice was as effective of a receiver as he was a running back. In 2012 he caught 41 passes for 425 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2013, he caught 50 passes for 438 yards and six touchdowns, including a memorable one-handed mid-air grab against Washington.
That versatility should help distinguish Grice from some of the more one-dimensional running backs in the draft.
The Redskins hosted Grice for a two-day visit. The Patriots worked Grice out locally, and the Texans — Grice’s hometown team — had him in for a workout. Among the teams at his pro day were the Titans, Broncos, Chiefs and 49ers.
A number of those teams have told Grice they’re interested in him as a third-down back. Grice doesn’t scoff at those opportunities, but he’s confident he can be more than that.
"I believe I can be an every-down back, but I don’t make that decision," Grice said. "I’ve just got to continue to keep working."
Grice was on pace to set a new single season touchdowns record last year before getting hurt. The film also shows a running back that can make defenders miss — sometimes five or six of them on one run. Grice can be particularly effective when he gets a few defenders alone in space.
What it won’t show is an elite blocker. Grice knows that’s where he must prove himself most, especially to a team looking for a third-down back.
Grice, who will watch the draft with his family in Houston, said however the draft shakes out, he’s ready to get started at the next level.
"I’m not worried, I’m not stressed, I’m not nervous or anything," Grice said. "I’m very calm about the whole thing. I feel good going into it. I’m just pretty much ready for it to be over with."