Chris Polk said he developed his relentless running style while watching boyhood idol Emmitt Smith grind out extra yards for the Dallas Cowboys.
Now the former University of Washington running back hopes to follow in Smith’s footsteps and ply his trade in the NFL, with the league’s draft set to begin Thursday.
Polk proved to be a workhorse back for the Huskies, carrying the ball a staggering 799 times for 4,049 career yards while playing every game the past three seasons.
At 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, Polk rushed for at least 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons, a feat only duplicated by one other Huskies runner – Napoleon Kaufman, a first-round pick in 1995.
So Polk proved, at least in the college game, that he’s a physical, durable runner who also can be explosive when given the opportunity.
“I just want to earn respect, and make sure my opponent respects me and my coach respects me,” Polk said about his physical running style. “I really pride myself on that concept because there’s no lift that you can possibly do in that weight room to prepare you. It’s an attitude. It comes down to how much heart you have.”
Now Polk has to convince NFL scouts he can have the same type of impact on the bigger, more competitive NFL stage. He got off on the wrong foot at the Senior Bowl in January, showing up overweight and looking slow-footed during practices.
But Polk lost 12 pounds and showed up in shape at the NFL scouting combine a month later, running a 4.57-second 40-yard time.
Two weeks later Polk was even better at his pro day at Washington. He posted a 4.49 electronic 40 time and displayed good hands and nimble feet running routes with former teammate Jake Locker serving as his quarterback.
NFLDraftScout.com ranks Polk as the No. 5 running back in the draft. Only Alabama running back Trent Richardson is projected to go in the first round.
Teams such as Denver, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay and the New York Giants could view Polk as a nice change-of-pace back who can also play on third down because of his natural catching ability.
“Me, personally, I just sees passes as an extended carry,” Polk said. “I’m not going to fumble the ball, and I’m not going to drop any passes. Just come my way and trust in me, and I’ll get the job done.”
Polk finished with 79 catches for 683 yards and four touchdowns during his UW career. In his final Huskies season, Polk rushed for 1,488 yards and 12 touchdowns on 293 carries, averaging 5.1 yards a carry with one fumble.
“I’m versatile,” Polk said. “I can do it all. I can run, block and catch – all of that. It’s just a matter of me executing my technique rather than relying on just the physical abilities, and just staying mentally attuned to my technique and staying fundamentally sound.”
And that relentless running style?
“It just comes from your desire because every time I touch the ball, I’m thinking touchdown,” he said. “It may not make sense, but I love hitting – but I hate being tackled.
“Every time I’m tackled – whether it’s by being put on my back or an ankle tackle – I just get mad. I get down. I just get angry. I just want to keep running and running until I reach that end zone.”
receivers/running backs to consider
First round, 12th pick: Justin Blackmon, 6-1, 207, Oklahoma State
Rob’s rationale: Blackmon isn’t expected to be available, but he’s the one receiver in the 2012 draft worthy of this selection.
Second round, 43rd pick: Rueben Randle, 6-3, 210, LSU
Rob’s rationale: Overshadowed by some of the other receivers in this draft, Randle combines excellent size with surprising ability after the catch.
THird round, 75th pick: Juron Criner, 6-3, 224, Arizona
Rob’s rationale: Criner doesn’t have great speed, but he might just be the draft’s top possession receiver because of his sticky hands and ability to outmuscle defenders.
Fourth round, 106th pick: Robert Turbin, 5-10, 222, Utah State
Rob’s rationale: A powerful back with better speed than most give him credit for. ... Turbin is also among the best pass-blockers of this running back class.
Sixth pick, 181st pick: Dan Herron, 5-10, 213, Ohio State
Rob’s rationale: Not flashy, but “Boom” is a strong downhill runner whose burst to and through the hole could make him a fit in Seattle’s zone-blocking attack.
Seventh round, 225th pick: Brad Smelley, 6-2, 238, Alabama
Rob’s rationale: While not a human sledgehammer in the Mack Strong mold, Smelley is a physical, high-effort blocking fullback with reliable hands.