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ASU's Eno Benjamin Ready To Break Into The NFL Running Back Business

Former Sun Devil figures to be a mid-round pick

Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin runs a drill at the recent NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin runs a drill at the recent NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis.

Eno Benjamin graduated from Arizona State with a degree in sports business, so he probably understands the up-and-down nature of the way the NFL has viewed running backs over the past few years better than most.

Big money was handed out to Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott and the Cardinals' own David Johnson, to mixed results, and now Benjamin – the former Sun Devils' star – enters an NFL draft at a time when guys like Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake face an uncertain free-agent market while the league scouts its newest crop of players.

"More times now you're getting more running backs that are able to share workloads," Benjamin said during an interview at last week's NFL Scouting combine. "You rotate two or three and I feel like they feel like there is no need to pay them. To each their own, that's probably all I can say about that."

Benjamin said he doesn't mind playing in a rotation. But – and on this point, he's clear – "You have to be able to run the ball to win."

The self-confidence Benjamin can get that done as a pro is clear as he talked about his strengths, weaknesses and his final year at Arizona State.

Benjamin emerged in 2018 when he rushed for 1,642 yards and 5.5 per carry, but after a graduation exodus made for a transition to freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels and a green offensive line, his final year at ASU was a much rougher ride.

Benjamin knew it was coming, having conversations with head coach Herm Edwards before the year starter. Defenses had little else to worry about. He still rushed for 1,083 yards (and set career-bests in catches with 42 and receiving yards with 347) but his average per attempt fell to 4.3 and there were times when it looked like the Sun Devils were ignoring their running back.

"I'm glad it happened like that," Benjamin said. "I wouldn't want it to happen the reverse way. Just being able to see things like that. I think I really, truly developed a leadership skill. I mean, it was not more so about me. It was about what can I do to help the team win. So it was getting five carries, 11 carries, 20 yards, 50 yards -- little things such as if I'm going to run this run, I'm going to run it as fast as I can, knowing I'm not going to get the ball so I can open up someone else.

"Little things like that helped me play and really make it more about the team than myself."

It also was the right time to head to the NFL, despite a year of eligibility remaining.

"It's not the season he had last year," Edwards told The Athletic, "but probably a better season because of what he had to deal with."

Benjamin won't be mentioned with the top backs available. That will go, after a fast 40, to Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor, with Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins, Georgia's D'Andre Swift and Utah's Zack Moss in the mix.

Benjamin didn't run particularly fast (4.57 40 time) but he impressed with his vertical jump and three-cone time, events that highlight athleticism. His play at ASU also helps that, proving over and over he can be a physical runner at 5-foot-9 and 207 pounds.

"Benjamin has the makings of being the best value pick at running back in this draft," draft analyst Chris Trapasso wrote.

Wherever he ends up is an unknown. Whether the Cardinals need a running back or not will hinge on the status of either (or both) Drake and Johnson, although Benjamin – a Texas native – smiled at the idea he could remain in Tempe for football practices.

"It'd be awesome to come back," he said. "Coach (Kliff) Kingsbury recruited me at Texas Tech. Kyler (Murray) is kind of from the same area I'm from, when we see each other it's always good vibes. It'd be awesome to go play in that system."

Benjamin isn't picky, though. He knows he's just like any other kid who just got his college diploma.

"Nothing is guaranteed," Benjamin said. "I'm looking for a job right now and that's always going through my head."

Images of Cardinals cheerleader Melody during the 2019 season