2017 NFL Draft Player Profiles: San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey

From now until the 2017 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.

#19 Donnel Pumphrey / RB / San Diego State 5’8 180 lbs

The Good:

– Tremendous burst and acceleration to line of scrimmage
– Has a good feel for navigating through running lanes
– Able to change direction with ease
– Always a threat to score
– Lateral cuts are almost impossible to defend
– Smart runner with great vision
– Bounces off more tackles than you would expect
– Not afraid to block in pass protection

The Bad:

– Size presents many durability concerns
– Will get caught from behind in a foot race
– Easy to stuff running up the middle
– Size hinders momentum, not able to push pile forward
– Raw receiver that could use some more polish


– 2016: 349 carries, 2133 yards, 6.1 ypc, 17 TDs
– All time leading rusher in NCAA Division I history with 6405 yards
– Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year in both 2016 and 2015
– 99 receptions for 1039 yards and 5 TDs in 4 seasons at San Diego State
– 9th all time in FBS History with 62 rushing touchdowns
– Became a father during his senior year of high school

Tape Breakdown:

At 5’8 and 180-pounds, Donnel Pumphrey could draw dangerous comparisons to former Pittsburgh Steelers player Dri Archer. This would not be a fair comparison though, as Pumphrey offers more durability, pass protection and understanding of the running game than Archer ever did. After watching tape on Pumphrey, a fairer comparison would be Philadelphia Eagles running back Darren Sproles. Like Sproles, Pumphrey is undersized for his position but plays with elite burst, vision and agility to create yardage.

I do not think I have to say much about Pumphrey’s ability to change direction because sometimes I struggle to put into words how impressive his agility is. Pumphrey can put his foot in the ground and change direction within an instant, giving new meaning to the term ankle breaker in the world of football.

California’s Cameron Saffle knows all too well about the feeling of having his ankles broken at the hands of Pumphrey. Saffle (#51) has backside duties on this play but his priorities as a defender change after a confrontation with Pumphrey. After Pumphrey plants his foot and cuts outside, Saffle biggest obstacle is no longer catching the San Diego State running back but trying to stay on his feet.

More of the same here against Fresno State, as Pumphrey maneuvers out of harms way and is able to turn in a positive result on the play.

Besides, his lightning quick agility, majority of Pumphrey’s yardage is a result of his vision and ability to navigate his way through running lanes. Watching Pumphrey on film, the running back shows a great understanding of how his blocks are developing and how the defense will react. If the space is provided, Pumphrey can use this to produce a big play, something that he did frequently at San Diego State.

Pumphrey notices Houston linebacker Steven Taylor (#41) creeping into the A gap and then bounces behind his fullback, setting up a foot race down the sideline. Pumphrey’s vision is so impressive that it almost acts like an additional blocker.

The biggest knock on Pumphrey’s future is without a doubt his size. While the NFL has carved out great talent in Sproles, it has also routinely chewed up other small sized running backs. While Pumphrey did break more tackles than I expected on film, which will only help his stock, he was limited to the space provided to him. Powering through a congested line of scrimmage is not Pumphrey’s strong suit. Even running with a full head of steam does not seem enough for Pumphrey to scrap out necessary yardage.

Here is Pumphrey shot out of a cannon with his sight set on crossing the goal line. In full, the run looks like a car crash, with Pumphrey running full speed into a wall, crumbling on impact. The wall in this case is the Fresno State defenders who despite being at a weakness in momentum, win the battle by flattening Pumphrey on impact.

Pumphrey’s NFL success and draft stock comes down to finding the right scheme and fit. The San Diego State product is not going to cause much damage in the trenches, leaving the ways to utilize his skill set as a battle of predictability. An offensive coordinator must balance Pumphrey’s play in a way that will not give away how he intends to use him. While teams like the San Diego Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles have had success doing this with Sproles, the Steelers struggled finding ways to be unpredictable with Archer. For this reason alone, I cannot see the Steelers taking a flyer on a player like Pumphrey. Look for a team to take Pumphrey during the third-fourth rounds in hopes of utilizing him as a change of pace back.

Projection: Late Day Two – Day Three

Games Watched: vs Fresno State, vs Houston, vs Cal, vs Wyoming, vs Nevada

Previous 2017 NFL Draft Player Profiles
Deshaun WatsonHaason ReddickMarshon LattimoreCorey ClementTim Williams
Jourdan LewisTakkarist McKinleyBrad KaayaNathan PetermanO.J. Howard
Charles HarrisAlvin KamaraTyus BowserDavid NjokuDeMarcus Walker
Chidobe AwuzieDeShone KizerMarlon MackCameron SuttonZach Cunningham
Corey DavisCarl LawsonPatrick MahomesKareem HuntEvan Engram
Derek RiversRyan AndersonJoshua DobbsJordan LeggettSamaje Perine
Corn ElderBucky HodgesJames ConnerCooper KuppStanley Williams
Fred RossJamaal WilliamsGeorge KittleEjuan PriceChris Wormley
Jeremy McNicholsJoe MathisDerek BarnettAmba Etta-TawoGareon Conley
Taco Charlton Elijah McGuireRyan SwitzerTanoh KpassagnonTre’Davious White
Brian HillMatthew Dayes

About the Author

Daniel Valente

Steelers fan from birth, spending majority of my free time looking up statistics. Had the honor of meeting Mike Vanderjagt shortly after his infamous missed field goal in the 2005 Divisional Round. Currently pursuing a Journalism degree. Follow me on Twitter @StatsGuyDaniel

  • Spencer Krick

    Did he return kicks or punts?

    There’s a lot to like with Pumphrey, but his size is concerning.

  • Daniel Valente

    1 kick return last year and 4 kick returns as a freshman. 0 career punt returns.
    Size is very concerning but I believe he added weight for the combine. Electric player but hard to predict if he will transition to NFL smoothly. Could depend on how a offensive coordinator uses him.

  • capehouse

    There’s a little guy I like more than Pumphrey. Tarik Cohen from North Carolina A&T. Incredible cutting ability.

  • T3xassteelers

    I think Aaron Jones out of UTEP is criminally underrated… Think he’d be a phenomenal late round RB.

  • TroymanianDevil

    I take it you live in Texas? ..As do I. I’d love Jones in the late rounds too.

  • LucasY59

    Archer ruined any chance of the Steelers picking Pumphrey (along with Chris Rainey …and some guy named Bell?) they dont know how to use a scat back or have much need to do so (its a case where even though this guy could be a useful additional weapon they have so many other weapons he would actually be useless)

  • LucasY59

    also doesnt seem to be much of a pass catcher so thats another thing that will make the Steelers less interested

    99 receptions for 1039 yards and 5 TDs in 4 seasons isnt bad (and since he carried the ball so much there probably wasnt a lot of opportunities to catch) but still doesnt seem like a strong point in his game and is very important if he was in the Steelers O

  • T3xassteelers

    I do haha. But I’m a Tech fan, so I’m a HUGE Mahomes guy 🙂 I saw Aaron Jones run all over our D (granted everyone does, but he’s a special RB) He had a lot of 200 yard games, he’s a bulldozer with speed

  • Steelers12

    I am a fan but find myself cooling on him

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    Good gawd, you know Haley’s going to want him. He’s got tiny baby hands too.

  • Daniel Valente

    Rainey, Archer and now Pumphrey next in line? Maybe third time’s the charm?

    …..but in all seriousness I think it’s unlikely. Steelers have ventured down that road too many times recently.

  • Chris92021

    I am biased as all get-out because I am a San Diego State alum and have seen nearly all of Donnel Pumphrey’s games. Pumphrey is a good football player. He doesn’t have the elite athleticism of Darren Sproles and likely cannot carry the ball 25 times a game. He isn’t “wow!” fast either but he can definitely move the chains. Unlike Archer who was a fast guy trying to play football and unlike Rainey, a guy who solid athleticism but lacked good instincts, Pumphrey can provide a good change of pace. If he’s available in the 5th round or later, I hope the Steelers take him. Oh, and he is light years better than Fitzgerald Toussaint as far as I am concerned. And Pumphrey can return kicks too.

  • TroymanianDevil

    Cool. Naturally, I’m a UT alum. Mahomes is solid for me though, just not in the 1st round ( for me )

  • T3xassteelers

    Ahhh nice! I’m from round rock. Used to be a UT fan.. but allegiances changed haha.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    Add Steph Logan to your list as well. I don’t know if they’ve ever had a scatback that was any good.

  • Piratte fan 4 life

    Clemson RB Wayne Gallman

  • Darth Blount 47

    Pumphrey was a very good college RB. But for a guy with that kind of college production, I’d expect more people pushing and touting him, and they just aren’t. But, this is a very good top heavy RB class. When you have to compete against Cook, Fournette, McCaffrey, Kamara, Conner, and Foreman… it gets really tough to shine. Even with those numbers.

    He just lifted 225 at the Combine 5 times. That was it. 5.
    Cook did 22. Conner with 20. Foreman 18. Kamara 15. McCaf 10.

    And as weird as it sounds, sometimes all that work in college can come back, long term, to sort of bite you. Tread on the tires, and all. All that said, I think he’ll go somewhere in the middle of the draft. And given his ability to make people look silly, he could really help out a team as that number 2 punch. Maybe a spot like Cincy behind Hill. Or Gurley in LA. or even stay in SD behind Gordon.