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Javon Leake looks to bring his big play ability to the NFL

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The All-Big Ten First-Team return man could be a sneaky late pick in the 2020 NFL Draft

Javon Leake, Syracuse, Maryland football Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

Running back Javon Leake joined Maryland football as a part of the 2017 recruiting class, but many did not know his name until he hit the field as a freshman since DeMatha product Anthony McFarland Jr. was the crown jewel of the same class.

Throughout his time in College Park, Leake proved to be more than a complimentary running back, though he became the Terps’ go-to option this past season. He also served as one of the best kickoff return specialists in the country.

This is the third part of a series of breakdowns by the Testudo Times team as part of our 2020 NFL Draft coverage. Check out pieces on running back Anthony McFarland Jr. and defensive back Antoine Brooks Jr. as they get ready for this month’s draft.

The numbers

Height: 6’0
Weight: 215 lbs
40-Yard Dash: 4.65 seconds
Vertical Jump: 34.0 inches
Broad Jump: 125 inches

What a team is getting

The biggest appeal to Leake’s game heading into the NFL is his impact on the return game. In 2019, Leake was named the Rodgers-Dwight Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year and was the All-Big Ten First-Team return man.

In his junior season, Leake racked up 804 yards on 30 kickoff returns — good for an averaged of 26.8 yards per return — and had two touchdowns to tie Torrey Smith’s career program record.

The first of those scores came against Rutgers, where Leake caught the ball on the left side of the field at the goal line, but used his vision and found a lack of coverage down the right sideline.

He was able to kick it into gear, run around the edge protector and proceed to win the foot race to the end zone.

His other kickoff return touchdown in 2019 was a 97-yard score in the second half of the Terps’ homecoming game against Michigan, where his team needed a way to get on the board.

In the backfield, Leake was able to use his vision and game speed to become a second long-rush back for Maryland.

As a junior, Leake rushed 102 times for 736 yards and eight touchdowns. He also led the Big Ten and ranked third in the nation with an average of 7.22 yards per carry.

Maryland and Indiana were in a close matchup this past season, and Leake made his mark in the second quarter with a 60-yard scamper off of an inside rush.

Despite running just a 4.65 40-yard dash, Leake displayed good enough speed in game film to where he was able to rush by defenders on the inside and outside.

His big-play ability was noted early on in his time at Maryland, as Leake scored his first career touchdown on a 61-yard scamper to the outside in his collegiate debut in 2017.

One part of Leake’s game that worries people at the next level is his protection of the football.

Leake ranked second among Big ten running backs with four fumbles lost during the 2019 season — three of which came against Nebraska. Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor recorded five fumbles this past season, but he had 320 rushing attempts while Leake had just 102.

Leake simply had a game to forget against Nebraska. In the 54-7 loss, he lost the ball into the hands of the Cornhuskers three times, including this bounce in the first quarter.

In the first and fourth quarters, Leake lost fumbles due to defenders getting their helmets on the ball and popping it loose, while he also mishandled the ball on a kickoff return in the first half.

This bulk number of fumbles looks bad on paper, but in reality Leake was not a consistently bad ball carrier.

Draft projections

Many comparisons have been thrown towards Leake in the draft process, but one that certainly comes to mind is former Terp and current Detroit Lion Ty Johnson.

Similar to Johnson, Leake enters the NFL as a big-play back with excellent history returning the football. Even though he was not much of a passing factor in College Park, he has the athleticism to make plays at the next level.

Many project Leake to be a late-round pick, and to be used in the league as a return man and a depth addition to any backfield that may need it.

Consensus: Day 3. Round 4-7 or UDFA