The Central Michigan Chippewas made history last year when Eric Fisher was selected #1 overall by the Kansas City Chiefs. That was the first player from the MAC ever to go that high and while Fisher was an outstanding talent, he paved the way for another extremely talented player entering his senior year in running back Zurlon Tipton. The Detroit native had a breakout season last year when he carried the ball 252 times for 1,492 yards and caught 24 passes for 287 yards with 20 total touchdowns.
On Tipton’s worst day, he averaged 4.39 yards per carry and the Chippewas had a 6-1 record when he eclipsed 100 yards rushing including their bowl win. The only times Tipton finished under 100 yards were in games where the deficit was too much to keep giving him the ball. There was never a game or situation where Tipton did not look like one of the best players on the field and he gave the Big Ten opponents they played all they could handle, including playing a big role in the win against Iowa where he touched the ball 19 times for 92 yards and a touchdown.
Tipton is an extremely strong back with great feet and the ability to change directions quickly and keeps opponents off balance with power and agility. One of the questions facing Tipton will be his speed in the open field, but he has shown he can be a playmaker and a terrific workhorse back or part of a one-two punch. He will still have an opportunity to get even better as a senior but there is little reason he is not already a big time name in the realm of college football and should enter the process as a top 75 pick with a chance to secure himself a spot in the top 50 in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Vitals & Build
Tipton is listed at 6’ 221lbs and is extremely impressive physically. Both in terms of his strength and how quickly he can generate power to his explosiveness and agility, Tipton can do just about everything in the backfield. He gets to his top speed in a few steps but there appear to be a legitimate question about fast that top speed is. It is tough to imagine what more Tipton can do to his body, but chances are he will come in even stronger and more impressive physically this season.
Tipton is an extremely balanced runner and really keeps opponents guessing by using all of the tools he has displaying impressive instincts for when and where to use different moves. He shows impressive vision and can see things developing in front of which allows him to plan how he wants to use his moves and attack them. Tipton is also a patient runner that is not afraid to wait for holes to open up, but is quick enough to hit the gas and make the most of them quickly.
He is a power back first and seems to really embrace that fact. While he is taller than average, he does a good job of getting behind his pads and protecting his ribs as well as the football. Tipton will lower his shoulder and put an opponent on their butt and keep on driving his legs with a few players riding on his back for additional yardage. It is extremely difficult to catch Tipton for a tackle for loss and he can wear down a defense both physically and their composure with how he runs the football.
In addition, Tipton is extremely agile and athletic and is able to make quick moves to make opponents miss. He has the ability to jump cut and land in a different running lane with his feet ready to push forward, so he can make a jump cut and explode through a hole from there. Tipton is also able to turn the corner effectively, shift quickly and make opponents miss. He is able to make a move to the outside, plant his foot and hit a hole with tremendous effectiveness. The way he uses his power, there are times when he will get an opponent who is bracing themselves to take a big hit from Tipton and he just slips past them quickly and easily. The times where Tipton really stands out are when he uses quickness to make one man miss and then drops his shoulder into another opponent and drives them into the turf.
Tipton is an extremely physical runner who shows tremendous balance and body control, absorbs contact well and just keeps running. His leg drive is impressive and he does a great job of keeping his shoulders square when he runs between the tackles so that he is in a great position to hit an opponent from a point of strength. While he is not one to dance in the backfield anyway, he understands down and distance football and is a hammer when he needs to be to pick up a first down without messing around and taking big risks.
There will be those who question his long speed as there always tend to be and while he may not be a great candidate to break an 80 yard run, he is the type of guy who will break off a number of 10-20 yard runs and as much as it might frustrate people that he cannot explode and run away from opponents, the fact he is able to make a lot of big runs and keep the chains moving to sustain drives.
Route Running & Technique
The route tree the Chippewas run for their running backs is relatively simple. They use swing routes, some dump offs and some curl type concepts in right in front of the line of scrimmage. Tipton appears capable to do more if they choose to have him run more aggressive routes.
Tipton appears to have pretty good hands but he does not always trust them to catch the ball. There are times where he snatches the ball cleanly out of the air but will also have times where he will let the ball get into his body. There have been a few drops and this is something that he can continue to work on and improve to make himself a better all-around threat in the backfield. Tipton can contribute on third down now, but he could get better and more natural in that capacity.
Tipton shows the ability to be a shutdown blocker in pass protection but he just needs to commit to it. There are times when he will lay an opponent out as they are coming in for pressure, but too many times, blocks he tries to make look far closer than they should. Tipton is easily athletic enough to slide and protect on the edge or fill a hole up the middle. He possesses the strength to absorb or really give opponents a good shot and just needs to embrace it as opposed to blocking like it is a punishment. If he commits to it, Tipton can be an imposing force in the backfield and keep his quarterback unaffected by pass rushers attacking his area.
The only teams that look like they might not be interested in a player like Tipton would be those that are determined to play basketball on grass with a bunch of players who excel in space. Even then, they might want a balanced back that can bring power as well as agility to the position. From a straight power offense to a zone blocking scheme, Tipton has the ability to play in every system and excel. The question is whether or not a team will want him to run as a feature back and workhorse or more likely as part of a rotation.
|Sat, Aug. 31||at Michigan|
|Sat, Sept. 7||vs. New Hampshire|
|Sat, Sept. 14||at UNLV|
|Sat, Sept. 21||vs. Toledo|
|Sat, Sept. 28||at N.C. State|
|Sat, Oct. 5||at Miami (OH)|
|Sat, Oct. 12||at Ohio|
|Sat, Oct. 19||vs. Northern Illinois|
|Wed, Nov. 6||at Ball State|
|Sat, Nov. 16||at Western Michigan|
|Sat, Nov. 23||vs. Massachusetts|
|Fri, Nov. 29||vs. Eastern Michigan|
The opener against Michigan is a huge game for the Chippewas. They get a shot to take it to big brother in the Big House. The Wolverine defense could have their hands full trying to stop Tipton and it could be the game that could make him a household name. Once they get into conference play, two games stand out in October. The first is the game in Athens against the Ohio Bobcats and then when they host Northern Illinois. These two games feature what usually end up being two of the better defenses in the MAC and if Central Michigan is going to win the MAC this year, those will be two difficult matchups, especially against Northern Illinois as that game could be a huge factor in determining who wins the MAC West.
In many ways, Tipton is similar to Steven Ridley of the New England Patriots. While he came into the league in relative anonymity as a third round pick out of LSU, he was outstanding this past season and really gave the Patriots a running back presence they have not had since Corey Dillon was there. Ridley and Tipton are both balanced backs who can use power and quickness to make opponents miss. Tipton is relatively anonymous now, but that might not last much longer.
Zurlon Tipton is the truly balanced, workhorse back that is becoming rarer and rarer in football. He is a horse can just keeps going when he gets the ball. Tipton has a tremendous combination of size, strength, quickness, and vision that allow him to be a terrific back both for Central Michigan and going forward into the NFL. He can work to improve how well he blocks and just becoming natural as a pass catching threat, but the question some may have with him is his long speed. If he somehow gets through this season without becoming a household name, he could announce himself in the postseason process at the Senior Bowl or East-West Shrine Game the way Fisher did last year. Tipton enters this season as a top 75 pick and could move up into the top 50 if he can improve some of the small areas he has to improve.