Oct 20, 2012; Evanston, IL, USA; Northwestern Wildcats running back Venric Mark (5) runs past Nebraska Cornhuskers safety Daimion Stafford (3) during the first quarter at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NFL Draft: Pre-Season Breakdown – Venric Mark, RB Northwestern


Venric Mark is a scat back that might be the best since Tyrell Sutton was carrying the football in Evanston.  Mark is part of a two-headed monster in the Northwestern Wildcat offense along with their quarterback, Kain Colter.  The two combined for more rushing yards than the team had passing yards, which is something they would like to improve coming into this season.  Mark is a threat as a running back, can make plays out of the backfield as a receiver, and someone who can return kicks as well.  In his breakout junior year, Mark carried the ball 226 times for 1,366 yards, caught 20 passes for 104 yards with a total of 15 touchdowns.  That may not seem like a ton of receptions but the leading pass catcher for Northwestern only had 35.

Mark enters his senior year looking to build on the massive success he had as a junior and expand on it, showing how much of an all-around threat he can be both in college but also as someone who can play in the NFL.  The hope is the Wildcats can be a more consistent passing offense and make more use of him in that capacity, but he is tiny back who is not afraid to run in between the tackles or make moves that take him inside.  Mark has good athleticism, is stronger than he looks, and will hopefully come in with a little more heft.  Going to the NFL, Mark could end up being someone who could contribute as a running back and potentially help in the slot as well as contribute as a returner, especially with punts.  Mark enters this year as a third day pick but if he can show he can be that all-around weapon, he might end up surprising people by sneaking into the second day.

Vitals & Build

Mark is listed at 5’8” 175lbs and is thin, but he shows more strength than one would think.  He is an impressive athlete in space with terrific body control and agility.  Mark has the speed to take plays to the house and while he is not quite as fast as some of the other guys around this size, he is by no means slow.  The big thing for Mark is going to be finding a way to add weight and hopefully he will come into this season closer to 180lbs and be around 185lbs around the time of the draft.  If he can do that, he will make teams feel much better about drafting him.

Running Style

Mark is decisive with the ball in his hands and while he is shifty and can make opponents miss, he attacks the hole when it is there.  In the Wildcats’ offense, they operate almost exclusively out of shotgun or from the pistol and run a zone blocking scheme that stretches the opponent and allows Mark to pick a hole and go.  He is incredibly explosive and will plant his foot in the ground and get to full speed in only a few steps.

Some might assume that Mark looks to bounce everything to the outside, but he seems to use that assumption against opponents and use quickness and jump cuts to make moves to the inside.  Mark is built like an East and West runner but has a North and South mentality.  He is shifty enough that he tends to avoid taking the defense’s best shot and can use his leverage and strength to push forward.  Mark is not the ideal player to do the job, but he is someone the Wildcats will use in short yardage situations up the middle because he is not afraid to go get tough yards, get behind his pads and get the first down when asked.

Mark is not someone who gives up on plays and will try to work out of contact in the backfield and find a way to break free and try to make a positive play.  There have been situations where the defense appears to have Mark wrapped up and he fights his way out to keep trying to pick up yardage.  Nevertheless, he is going to go down for losses in the backfield when defenses can get to him.

Mark shows impressive vision and really anticipates what the defense is going to do, how to use his blockers and set them up, where pressure is coming from and how he can take advantage and make a play.  He tries to stay as straight as he can to get through the defense as fast as possible to be able to break a big run and score, but he will use agility and make opponents miss.  Whether a subtle cut or a more dynamic move, he is able to keep opponents off balance and his height makes it so opponents have to bend down to get him, which he also uses against them.

Route Running & Technique

Mark has more ability than his stats would suggest.  The Wildcat offense is not afraid to be aggressive with Mark and send him down the field and he is able to create separation because of his speed and quickness.  He can work on getting better in and out of routes and this is something that could really separate a player like Mark from a field of guys of similar builds.  Mark has not shown to be afraid of anything, so as a potential slot option, he looks the part of a fearless player going across the middle.

Hands

Mark has shown he can go out and catch the ball and hopefully, he will have more opportunities to do that this year.  He is a nightmare out in space and someone who can track the ball deep down the field, which gives their offense a number of options.

Special Teams

Mark returns kickoffs and punts but he is better at punt returning, which is the more viable of the two in the NFL anyway.  He is so athletic in space but can see lanes well and attack opportunities to gain yardage with the ability to take it all the way.  In only 15 returns last year, Mark took two back for touchdowns.

System Fit

Mark’s first impact will be on special teams as he should be a punt returner the second he is drafted.  After that, he can be a rotational back and potentially contribute as a receiver out of the backfield as well as in the slot.  Mark shows the ability and acumen to do as much as a team asks him to do and has the attitude and mindset where he seems to want the ball as many times as a team will feed it to him.  If all goes according to plan, Mark could be someone who gets 10-15 touches per game as a back, receiver, and returner.

Schedule

Sat, Aug. 31 at Cal
Sat, Sept. 7 vs. Syracuse
Sat, Sept. 14 vs. Western Michigan
Sat, Sept 21 vs. Maine
Sat, Oct. 5 vs. Ohio State
Sat, Oct. 12 at Wisconsin
Sat, Oct. 19 vs. Minnesota
Sat, Oct. 26 at Iowa
Sat, Nov. 2 at Nebraska
Sat, Nov. 16 vs. Michigan
Sat, Nov. 23 vs. Michigan State
Sat, Nov. 30 at Illinois

Notable Games

The opening game on the road against Cal is interesting with Sonny Dykes taking over the Golden Bear program.  First week games on the West Coast are always dangerous and Cal has an extremely talented defensive end in DeAndre Coleman that could give the Wildcats problems.  The game for Northwestern is at home against the Ohio State Buckeyes.  This might be the biggest game for Northwestern in a number of years as they should be headed into that game undefeated if they can avoid getting trapped in Berkeley.  Whether the Wildcats win or lose against the Buckeyes, the next week is a big trap game against Wisconsin.  If they win, they are at risk of being emotionally drained in Camp Randall and if they lose to Ohio State, they are at risk to letting the Buckeyes beat them twice.  Wisconsin is based more in strength and power compared to Northwestern and their defense led by Chris Borland is the top linebacker in the group.

NFL Comparison

He is not the same athlete or quite as talented, but Mark out of all of the players in college football looks the most capable of contributing in all of the ways the Rams plan to use Tavon Austin.  Austin and Mark possess similar builds, although Austin is faster and more explosive.  Both can conceivably contribute as backs, receivers, and as returners at the next level and just give opponents fits with all of the ways they can get the football in their hands and make plays.

Draft Projection

Mark is poised to have another great season and could be a major reason the Wildcats are the second best team in the Big Ten this year.  He can contribute in so many different ways on offense and special teams that he just keeps coming.  Hopefully, Mark has an even more expanded role as a pass catcher in the offense and can be someone who gets close to 2,000 total yards of offense this year.  In addition to continuing to refine his ability as a receiving threat, Mark’s focus should be on continuing to add bulk as he works toward the draft process.  Mark projects as an early third day pick but might end up being someone who ends up going in the second day because of all of the ways he can help a team.

Tags: 2014 Mock Draft 2014 NFL Draft Northwestern Wildcats Football Running Backs Venric Mark