A member of the Wisconsin Badgers’ backfield has been drafted every year since 2011, and that streak will continue in 2017 as the factory in Madison continues to pump out prospects. All eyes this offseason have been on Corey Clement, the next in the line of recent starting running backs following Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon. He looks the part, measuring in at 5-foot-10 and 221 pounds with a chiseled body at the Senior Bowl, where he had a solid if unspectacular week.
As much as Clement has to offer, he might not even be the best Wisconsin running back who declared for the 2017 draft. His teammate Dare Ogunbowale (pronounced DAR-ay oh-goon-bo-WALL-ay) is a much more well-rounded prospect that brings a skillset that can lead to a long NFL career. No one is going to draft Ogunbowale to step in and be a number one running back, but he is the perfect compliment in the backfield who can do a little bit of everything for any team.
Measuring in at 5-foot-10 and 208 pounds at the East-West Shrine Game, Ogunbowale is much more of a quick, finesse runner than his teammate, and he was adept at making defenders miss in space this season. Wisconsin figured out he was extremely effective running draw plays in particular, because he is already known for his work in passing situations.
He doesn’t run over defenders the way Clement does, but he is equally as good at making tacklers miss because of his quick feet and burst. A walk-on at cornerback, Ogunbowale didn’t start playing on offense until 2014, and he has shown steady growth from year-to-year as a runner, all while continuing to stand out as a receiver out of the backfield.
In 2015, when Clement was injured for most of the season, Ogunbowale was the Badgers’ every-down back, and he finished second on his team with 36 catches. His ability to make people miss makes him a threat after the catch, but he’s also a savvy route-runner who knows how to separate at the stem and use his arms to get away with legal contact to his coverage defender. Add soft, reliable hands to the mix, and you have one of the better receiving backs in the draft class.
He can be a dependable third-down back at the next level, able to pick up blitzers in pass protection to give his quarterbacks more time. He’s not elite in this area, but Ogunbowale shows a good understanding of getting where he needs to be in the protection call, keeping his head on a swivel and reading stunting defenders to find where the offensive line will be vulnerable.
He’s not afraid to step up and take on any defender of any size, aggressive in his cut blocks and never giving up on a block. Against Michigan, he took on a blitzing Jabrill Peppers head on and kept him at bay.
Ogunbowale’s impact goes beyond the offense, though. Even as the backup, he was the unquestioned leader of his offense, regularly acting as their public face as the team alternated quarterbacks. He also puts in a lot of work off of the field in his community, and it is difficult to find anyone who has anything negative to say about Ogunbowale the person.
He more than willing to step up and contribute on special teams too. He worked on three phases this season, lining up everywhere on both punt units and playing as both a blocker and returner on the kickoff team. His past experience as a defensive back shows up when he tracks down returners to make the tackle in the open field.
Ogunbowale likely won’t be drafted before Clement, but he offers a lot of value to any team as a number two or three running back. He draws a lot of comparisons to former Wisconsin running back James White, and Clement has a lot more Montee Ball to his game. White isn’t putting up any 100-yard games for New England, but he plays a significant role in their offense, while Ball’s limitations (and off-field issues) led to a quick exit from the league.
That’s not to say that Clement can’t have a bright NFL future, but Ogunbowale has the kind of value that can keep him in the league for a decade, more than worth the investment as a day-three draft pick. Pro Football Focus gave Ogunbowale a higher grade than Clement in 2016, and when it’s all said and done, the team that takes the Wisconsin backup will be very happy with the man and the football player they added to their team.