Elijah Hood came on to UNC’s campus to great fanfare. He was, by consensus, one of the five best running backs in his class, one of the two best players in the state of North Carolina. He had offers from numerous big-time football schools, including Alabama, whose offer he famously flushed down his toilet, and Notre Dame, where he was originally committed before changing his choice to North Carolina to be closer to home.
Hood’s stock has dropped precipitously since then due to several unfortunate circumstances, but the talented tailback still has a good chance to be drafted and, from there, try to make it in the NFL.
The Charlotte product played as a true freshman in 2014, although he was the clear #2 option behind T.J. Logan at tailback, and split carries almost evenly with Romar Morris. He finished the season third on the team in carries, behind Logan and quarterback Marquise Williams. While his stats were not great (he ran for only 259 yards on 67 carries, a 3.9 yard-per-carry average), his potential was obvious.
Hood’s sophomore season was his breakout year. He established himself as UNC’s primary runner from the get-go, carrying the ball a team-high 12 times for a career-high 138 yards. He looked the part of an NFL running back, punishing defenders with his big frame, breaking weak tackle attempts, and making people miss.
There were questions about his usage, particularly in the red zone. As the year continued, though, Hood became a nigh-unstoppable red-zone weapon, finishing the season 2nd in the ACC in rushing touchdowns with 17. He was more than competent between the 20-yard lines, too; his 6.7 yard-per-carry average was 3rd in the ACC as well.
He was bested in both of those categories by Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, a consensus top-50 pick this year, and additionally in YPC by Georgia Tech’s Marcus Marshall, which shouldn’t really count in terms of NFL Draft Profile given Georgia Tech’s gimmicky offense, so those are extremely good numbers. Hood had particularly excellent games against Illinois, Wake Forest, North Carolina State, and in the Belk Bowl against Baylor. Though Hood was not eligible for the draft, he was already being talked about as a potential 3rd-round pick in the 2017 draft.
Leading up to his junior season, fans expected Hood to be an even bigger focus in the offense as the team transitioned from frequent option runner Marquise Williams to Mitch Trubisky, who wasn’t quite built to take on the rushing load that Williams had. A combination of injuries and T.J. Logan’s own career renaissance kept Heels fans’ dreams from becoming reality, though.
Hood’s season opener against Georgia was stellar, but after that, his production was inconsistent, and he missed several games in the middle of the season with a concussion sustained against Florida State. It was later revealed that he had been playing most of the season with nagging ankle injuries as well. This was consistent with the observation that his explosiveness seemed down from previous years. He nevertheless finished the season 6th in the conference in yards per carry with 5.9 (fifth among tailbacks), and 10th in the conference in rushing touchdowns (8th among tailbacks).
Hood did not play in the Sun Bowl, citing a need to recover from injury, but initially assured fans that he would return for his senior year. After further considering his future, he announced that he intended to enter the 2017 NFL Draft.
Hood is a powerfully built running back, measuring in at five-foot-eleven and 232 pounds. He has the functional strength to match; he was known as an absolute gym rat during his time at UNC, and while his NFL Combine bench press was only above average, reports from the UNC locker room are that he is one of, if not the, best weightlifter(s) on the team. He was reportedly banned from trying to squat more than 635 pounds once he reached that benchmark. He uses this strength to his advantage, barreling over unprepared defenders, especially in the defensive backfield.
Hood combines his strength with uncanny balance for his size. You can see a bit of it in the above clip, but Hood at his best has the ability both to run through tackles and adjust his run to contact in order to maximize yardage. This is important in the NFL; running through everybody is not a path to success. One of the best examples of this is another run from the same game:
Hood also has very good vision, making him scheme-versatile. His bruising running style would seem to lend itself more to man-blocking than zone-blocking schemes, but his experience and success in UNC’s spread offense show that he can be placed in either type of situation and succeed. His experience running from the shotgun and with option and pseudo-option looks are a good fit for today’s NFL, which is primarily a shotgun league. Hood is able to set up his blockers and find a hole to run through.
Hood is also a very good pass protector. In addition to his raw strength, Hood blocks with very good technique and is able to frequently identify the free rusher. Rarely does the quarterback that Hood is protecting get sacked, and almost never is it his fault. Size is of little concern to Hood; here he is stonewalling a defensive end:
Hood is also a decent pass-catcher, though he was not used in this role much at UNC. He is not the fastest running back, but has enough functional speed to succeed at the NFL level, and, unlike other primarily power backs the Draft has seen in recent years, Hood at his best is not a one-track runner. He has the vision and athleticism to make defenders miss in the backfield, though his cuts aren’t as lightning-fast as those of the best in the business.
Hood has been dinged by some as a stiff runner, but see the page image for an example of his body flexibility. His best has not been seen in some time, but the hope is that he can return to it, as he can bring a truly devastating combination of power and elusiveness. If he cannot get all the way back, he is still a useful power back and pass blocker with scheme versatility.
A less productive junior year has dropped Hood’s stock significantly from where it was after his sophomore year, and he is now usually thought of as a mid-Day Three (late 5th- early 7th round) NFL prospect.
- WalterFootball ranks Hood as the draft’s 23rd best running back and projects him to go between the 4th and 6th rounds.
- Pro Football Focus ranks Hood as the draft’s 17th best running back and have an analysis that compares Hood to 2011 third-round pick Stevan Ridley. It is worth noting they do this with more emphasis on his 2015 season than most other outlets.
- CBS Sports ranks Hood as the draft’s 27th best running back and project him to be a 7th-round pick. They note his concerning medical report, though he is far from the only running back in the class with medical concerns.
- Drafttek ranks Hood as the draft’s 25th best running back. After his 2015 season, they believed he was one of the top 120 players in the country, but seem to have cooled way off on him after 2016.
For reference, 2013 was the last time that an NFL draft consisted of more than 20 running backs being drafted (20 were drafted in 2016). 2017’s class is being talked about as an abnormally good class, however, so there is a good chance that mark is eclipsed by April 29th this year, and that Hood is selected along with the rush. It will be a low-round pick, though, and as I said when recapping his Pro Day, Hood has the talent to make it in the NFL, but he will need to work his way up to that position instead of being placed immediately in a position to succeed.