Is McElroy the real McCoy? RB must erase doubts about size, durability

April 18, 1996|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

The concerns do not bother Texas A&M running back Leeland McElroy. Several NFL scouts had the same doubts about the Detroit Lions' Barry Sanders and the Indianapolis Colts' Marshall Faulk.

"The scouts were always questioning their size and durability," said McElroy, 5 feet 9, 200 pounds. "Now, it's my turn to erase all doubts. I'm confident in my ability, and feel as though I can have an immediate impact with some team."

There are some NFL personnel directors who feel the same way. McElroy is projected to go as high as No. 6 or as low as No. 30 in the first round of the draft Saturday.

The Baltimore Ravens have the Nos. 4 and 26 selections in the first round, and Ozzie Newsome, the team's director of football operations, said he will keep an eye on McElroy if the Ravens select a defensive player with their first pick.

"I don't know if he'll be available then, but he is certainly a game-breaker," said Newsome. "His ability to return kickoffs only adds another dimension to his game."

The college draft is loaded with talented runners such as Nebraska's Lawrence Phillips, UCLA's Karim Abdul-Jabbar, Ohio State's Eddie George, Minnesota's Chris Darkins and Michigan's Tim Biakabutuka, but none possess the game-breaking ability of McElroy, only a junior.

One crack, and poof, he's gone.

"We're talking about a kid with tremendous ability, a guy I think will have a great career in the NFL," said Floyd Reese, general manager of the Houston Oilers. "He's extremely fast."

Not only fast, but he's also a shifty and elusive runner with a good body lean when he runs. That's how he earned the nickname " 'Lectric Leeland." Newsome compares him to the Atlanta Falcons' Eric Metcalf or the Detroit Lions' Glyn Milburn.

"He is electrifying, a home run hitter who can avoid traffic and run to daylight," said Mel Kiper, ESPN's draft analyst. "His instincts as a pure runner are pretty good, although his lack of experience is evident on occasion."

Most NFL teams are not concerned about the inexperience of McElroy, who didn't become a full-time starter until last season. Scouts are worried about his being able to take the constant punishment as a featured back.

Last season, McElroy missed games against SMU and Michigan in the Alamo Bowl, and played sparingly in others because of an ankle he sprained Oct. 7 against Texas Tech.

He gained 1,122 yards on 246 carries (4.6 average) for the season, but his critics expected more from McElroy, who was once the top-rated high school runner in the country and is the latest in the line of top Aggies backs that has included Darren Lewis and Greg Hill.

"It started out as a strain, and I kept playing on it," said McElroy. "It got to the point where I could no longer sprint on it. Believe me, if I could have played, I would have."

One NFL scout said McElroy should have returned for his senior year to increase his value in the 1997 draft.

Reese said some of the criticism of McElroy was unfair.

"This was the first time he was put in position to be the man at Texas A&M, where they have a great tradition at running back," said Reese. "Scouts are supposed to find the negatives, but sometimes it becomes a part of their personality. Injuries are part of the game, and I don't think his is a concern."

McElroy said: "I already had a redshirt year, and I'm just three credits short of getting my degree. I saw no reason to return for another season. I still think it was the best decision I could have made."

McElroy said he received a lot of input from his family, especially because he is the youngest of 12 children. His father, Lee Sr., is a retired postal worker and his mother, Maud, is a tax consultant.

McElroy doesn't smoke or drink carbonated beverages, much less alcohol. He goes to bed early and is extremely polite.

He also has received a clean bill of health for his ankle. During the scouting combine in Indianapolis several months ago, he got standing ovation from scouts and coaches by running the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds. One scout had him in 4.2 with a hand-held watch.

"Oh, man, that was something I couldn't describe," said McElroy. "I was one of the few running backs that chose to run, and it just felt good to run like that in front of the scouts."

Did McElroy erase all doubts about his ankle?

"I think that will have to be done on the field, just like Barry Sanders and Marshall Faulk and other guys they thought were too small."

Pub Date: 4/18/96

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