CFB Player Watch: Lousiville RB Michael Dyer
Every new season of college football brings a new wave of freshmen and emerging superstars. There's so much attention dedicated to finding the "next big thing" that sometimes people forget about the "last big thing." Before Leonard Fournette, Thomas Tyner, or Todd Gurley, there was Michael Dyer.
The Little Rock, Ark. product was a unanimous five-star prospect and rated as the No. 2 prep running back of the 2010 class by Scout.com. Dyer was heavily recruited by Arkansas and its former head coach Bobby Petrino but ultimately chose to sign with Auburn. Expectations were huge for the prized recruit, and he did not disappoint.
Dyer burst onto the scene in a huge way in 2010, racking up enough yards to break Bo Jackson's Auburn freshman rushing record. Dyer's performances helped lead The Tigers all the way to the BCS Championship Game against Oregon, where he rushed for 143 yards, including a memorable 37-yard run late in the fourth quarter to help seal an Auburn victory.
After the team lost star quarterback Cam Newton to the NFL Draft ahead of the next season, Dyer became the focal point of the offense as a sophomore, rushing for 1,242 rushing yards and ten scores on 242 carries. It was enough to earn him First-Team All-SEC honors and cement his status as one of the elite running backs in the country. Dyer seemed destined to become a top NFL prospect eventually. Then it all began to unravel.
Dyer was suspended from Auburn's bowl game at the end of the 2011 season. The reason for the suspension remains unknown, but some speculate that Dyer's entitled attitude, drug use, and tangential involvement in a 2011 armed robbery case involving four of his Auburn teammates may have contributed to the disciplinary action. Dyer requested a transfer and was released from his scholarship in the offseason.
He followed Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State, where his troubles continued. Before he could even play a single game at his new school, Dyer was dismissed from the program after an Arkansas state trooper found a handgun and marijuana in his car during a traffic stop.
Having crashed out of two schools in less than a year, Dyer was at a crossroads. If he continued down this path of reckless behavior, he would have destroyed whatever hopes of a pro career he had left. With his reputation in the gutter, Dyer enrolled at tiny Arkansas Baptist College and spent a year away from the game. He used his time out of the spotlight to gain a more mature and grounded perspective, claiming that he'd learned from his past mistakes. When his year at Arkansas Baptist was over, Dyer plotted a return to major college football and ultimately landed at Louisville.
Dyer's Louisville career started with great promise. He ripped off a 46-yard touchdown run on his second carry of the season. It was a glimmer of the immense talent that made Dyer such a big star in the first place, but rather than marking the start of a great season, and it ended up being the high-water mark of an otherwise frustrating campaign.
Dyer spent the next several weeks mired in a running back committee with teammates Senorise Perry and Dominique Brown before nagging groin injuries ended his season prematurely. Dyer finished 2013 with just 223 rushing yards, a far cry from his glory days at Auburn. On the heels of a year away from the game and an unimpressive comeback season, the former marquee player has become a complete afterthought in college football.
Dyer's career to date has been full of surprises. Now that expectations are low, and attention is minimal, could he surprise us once more by returning to the forefront of the sport? Despite his checkered past, there's no doubt in my mind that he has the talent necessary to do so. Dyer might be one of the most naturally talented running backs in college football. He arrived at Auburn with a nearly NFL-ready blend of speed, quickness, and power. According to national Scout.com college football and recruiting analyst Brandon Huffman, "[Dyer's] strength has always been his ability to run low and stay low, which made him difficult to tackle and bring down. He's physical and does a tremendous job of getting yards after initial contact."
We never saw the full array of Dyer's capabilities in his injury-plagued junior season at Louisville, but there are some indications that the old Dyer might be back in 2014. After recovering from offseason groin surgery, he dominated in Louisville's spring game, rushing for 150 yards and three touchdowns on just 14 carries. It was an impressive display of running ability. If Petrino, now Louisville's head coach, had forgotten about Dyer's talent in the years since trying to recruit him for Arkansas, the spring game offered a strong reminder. Dyer looked like an NFL tailback demonstrating his rare combination of athletic talents.
Dyer will turn 24 years old during the upcoming season, and his circuitous NCAA career has shortened his potential shelf life in the NFL, but he's still a name that warrants mentioning as one of the most talented running backs in college football. He was every bit the freshman sensation that recent breakout stars such as Gurley and Alex Collins have been in the SEC. Although Dyer's time out of the spotlight has diminished the attention and hype, that doesn't mean it has diminished his talent.
"While he's not quite captured at Louisville the same ability or level he showed at Auburn," Huffman said, "we've seen it in flashes and if he can get back towards that level, he could poise himself for a big senior season and a shot at the NFL."
The journey of Michael Dyer has been a strange one, but it may yet have a happy ending.