Summary: Stanford has produced a lot of hard-nosed running game players for the NFL with offensive linemen, tight ends, and running backs in recent years. After Christian McCaffrey became a top-10 pick for the Carolina Panthers in the 2017 NFL Draft, Love picked up the reins for the Cardinal offense in 2017 and was a dominant force to carry Stanford in a breakout junior season.
Love flashed as a sophomore backing up McCaffrey, averaging seven yards per carry for 779 yards and three touchdowns. In 2015, Lover averaged 7.6 yards per carry for 226 yards and two scores. Over those two seasons, he caught 23 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown.
In 2017, Love averaged a staggering 8.3 yards per carry for 2,118 yards with 19 touchdowns. He also made six catches for 33 yards. A leg injury slowed Love down late in the year, but he gutted it out and continued to be productive despite the injury. Against good opponents, Love maintained a good yards per attempt despite not having his top speed and explosiveness: Washington -5.5 for 166 yards-, Notre Dame -6.3 for 125 yards-, USC -5.7 for 125 yards-, and TCU -5.6 for 145 yards.
Love was banged up throughout 2018, plus defenses sold out to stop him. As a result, his numbers were down. In 2018, Love averaged 4.6 yards per carry for 665 yards with six touchdowns. He had 18 receptions for 80 yards as well. Love missed the Sun Bowl while recovering from December surgery for a torn ACL.
When Love is healthy, he is a special back who can be a game-changer. Here is how one college director summarized Love after watching him during the fall of 2017, "He has great [speed]. If the other 10 all execute their jobs for a second or two, this guy is gone. He is special. He has great vision, balance, [shiftiness], and more strength to get through tackles than you would think. I graded him late [in Round 1] before he decided to come back [for 2018]."
What really sets Love apart as a runner is his speed. He is an extremely fast back who is a threat to take any carry to the end zone. With his rare acceleration and explosiveness, Love can to get to the secondary in a blur. Once in the open field, he will run away from the defenders, and his speed can take away angles. Love has a great first-step and darts through the hole to get into the second level of the defense. In the open field, Love also is elusive, although not as shifty as McCaffrey. Love is more straight line than McCaffrey was at Stanford.
Love has superb vision to go along with his balance and knee bend. While he has more strength than one would expect, Love isn't a power runner for the NFL and won't just run over tacklers. He does finish his runs well and can pick up some yards after contact. Love has receiving and blocking ability for the NFL, but his receiving could use more development.
The biggest issue for Love is durability. He dealt with injuries the past two seasons and then tore an ACL. On top of getting hurt a lot, Love is undersized for an NFL feature back, which makes it difficult to believe that he will stay healthy as a pro.
For the NFL, Love would be best being paired with a power back who can split the work load, similar to Alvin Kamara in New Orleans. Love can contribute as a receiver, and will be a good runner against nickel defenses when teams have their sub packages in the game with one fewer linebacker and smaller defensive linemen. Love may not have the size and build to be a three-down feature back in the NFL and could really benefit by being paired with a physical bellcow back who will help Love to stay healthy and fresh.
In the 2019 NFL Draft, Love could be a mid- or late-round pick. He may even go undrafted because some teams could flunk him medically. If Love gets back to his 2017 form and is able to stay healthy, he could be a massive steal.
Player Comparison: Javhid Best. Love reminds me of Best (5-10, 199) coming out of California. Both backs were undersized but had tremendous speed with the ability to take any carry the distance. Best had his career cut short by injuries, and that same issue could prevent Love from having a long NFL career.
NFL Matches: Oakland, Miami, Washington, Carolina, Houston, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles Rams
There are a number of teams that could consider taking Love in the 2019 NFL Draft. Oakland needs more talent at running back, and Love could improve the play-making ability of the Raiders' offense.
Miami needs to replace Frank Gore, and Love could form an intriguing tandem with the brittle Kenyan Drake.
Washington could consider Love. The Redskins have Adrian Peterson returning, but with Derrius Guice coming off a serious injury and having character issues, they could consider another back.
Carolina could use some running back depth behind Christian McCaffrey. In the mid-rounds, Love could be an option for the Panthers.
A number of the playoff teams could be a fit for Love. The Texans need to upgrade their running back talent, and Love would be a really good value for Houston if he comes back healthy. Love would be a good scheme fit for Philadelphia. He also would provide nice bang for the buck with one of the Eagles' mid-round picks. Love could be in play for Kansas City, which needs a replacement for Kareem Hunt. The Rams could use a backup for Todd Gurley, and Love would be a nice scheme fit for them.