INDIANAPOLIS – In the NFL these days, the phrase “Georgia running back” means something.
Todd Gurley, drafted by the Rams in 2015, and Sony Michel, drafted by the Patriots last year, were first-round picks who faced off in Super Bowl LIII. Nick Chubb, a rookie second-rounder last season for the Browns, averaged 5.2 yards per carry in gaining 996 yards.
Elijah Holyfield is not daunted by their success.
“I’ve been living up to a legacy my whole life,” Holyfield said Thursday, during a media session at the NFL Scouting Combine. “So, it’s nothing new.”
Holyfield is one of 11 children, born to six women, of former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield. He said he has no memories of his 56-year-old father’s boxing career: “He was done by the time I could really remember.” He said his father talked to him before the combine about “remaining who I am and doing the things that brought me here.”
At 5-10 and 217 pounds, Holyfield is an intriguing runner, with power, shiftiness, and what he calls a “violent” style, like the Eagles’ Jay Ajayi, who is recovering from knee surgery and is expected to leave in free agency. But the Georgia pedigree that might boost Holyfield’s stock into the second day of the NFL draft could just as easily limit it; Holyfield didn’t play much until Michel and Chubb left. He has just 215 college carries under his belt. Does he need a lot of polishing?
“I’ve been fortunate enough to sit behind some pretty great guys," Holyfield said. "I learned a lot when I was watching them. I feel like I’m advanced as far as my football IQ goes.”
He acknowledged the pass-catching part of his combine performance on Friday might be important to his draft stock, because NFL teams don’t have a lot of film on him as a pass-catcher (seven catches for 63 yards at Georgia). He said that teams tell him, “We’ve seen you catch the ball, but you don’t catch it a lot.”
“Everybody wants to see me catch more,” Holyfield concluded. “I have to go out [Friday] and be smooth with that. I’ve been working on it this whole year coming up into here.”
Why not stay in school another year and give teams more to assess? Well, a couple things.
His backfield mate last season was a really well-regarded runner, Philly’s own D’Andre Swift, a sophomore last season, from St. Joe’s Prep, and there’s more talent coming in. Holyfield couldn’t be sure 2019 would go as well as 2018 did (1,018 yards on just 159 carries, 6.4 yards per carry, seven touchdowns.)
Holyfield, 20, said he also thought about the fact that “running backs have short shelf lives,” and the quicker he gets to the NFL, the longer he can keep that window open.
“I didn’t really want to leave Georgia. That’s not how I wanted to go out," he said. "But, I had to do what’s best for me and put everything else aside.”
Holyfield said he boxed from age 8 to when he turned 14, but football was always his passion. He said he takes pride in his blocking.
Holyfield is one of several running backs who might appeal to the Eagles after the first round, maybe in that second- to third-round range, where they have had their most success in the current era (LeSean MCoy, Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook.)