‘Last Chance U’ alum Rakeem Boyd ready to run the ball in the NFL

Arkansas running back Rakeem Boyd (5) walks along the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Caption
Arkansas running back Rakeem Boyd (5) walks along the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Credit: Phelan M. Ebenhack

Credit: Phelan M. Ebenhack

Rakeem Boyd could have declared for the NFL draft a year ago.

The Arkansas running back was coming off a season that saw him total 1,133 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging over 6.2 yards per carry. The 2019 season actually marked his second consecutive campaign where he averaged over 6 yards an attempt. Everything seemed to be trending up for a tremendous senior season, especially considering he had the option to turn pro.

Of course, very little about 2020 went as planned.

Already dealing with a canceled spring and delayed start to the season, Boyd suffered a bone bruise in the second week of the season. He also played through rotator cuff and labrum injuries during most of the season.

In the end, he finished with only 309 yards and three touchdowns in six games. As a result, Boyd is leaning on his previous work to keep NFL teams interested. In the preseason, draft analysts pegged him as a top-10 running back. He’s hoping NFL executives still feel the same way.

“People know what I can do when healthy,” Boyd said. “Y’all saw fall camp, stuff like that. Not to be cocky or anything, but I was a 1,000-yard back. The year before I almost hit 1,000 yards. I already showed that I had enough film that I could step up to that level. I was ready for that level already.”

Boyd’s career path has been rocky to say the least. Redshirting during his first season of college eligibility at Texas A&M in 2016, Boyd was dismissed because of academic issues. He transferred to Independence Community College in Kansas, where he was profiled extensively on the Netflix docuseries “Last Chance U.” In his one season at Independence, he totaled 1,211 yards and 14 touchdowns.

As “Last Chance U” documented, Boyd was from New Orleans but relocated with his mother and siblings to Houston after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city. Boyd said the hurricane left his family without any money or a car and in a position to start over from scratch. That has motivated his journey since, which is why when he was forced to leave Texas A&M, he immediately went to a workout in Houston, where he trained and cried simultaneously for two hours.

“Since I was little I had football in my head,” Boyd said. “The day I got kicked out of A&M, I had a training session for two hours, three hours. Just crying, thinking I can’t go to this school no more. I can’t do this, that was going through my head, just training for two hours.”

Boyd made it back to the FBS level in 2018 at Arkansas and worked his way into lead back duties. After two successful seasons, he endured a tough one in the strangest of years.

Forced to miss a late November game against LSU because of injury, Boyd found out he was being placed in contact tracing because his roommate contracted COVID-19. Even though Boyd tested negative for the novel coronavirus, Boyd was going to miss more games. Not wanting to sit around and do nothing, he decided to opt out of Arkansas’ final two games of the season.

“I had to miss games, I wasn’t too fond of that,” Boyd said. “That’s when I decided let’s go get ready for the pros. Let’s not waste time laying in bed. Let’s get ready for the pros. I ended up talking to Coach (Sam Pittman) about that. Everyone here -- no bad blood, none of that. We all still have the same connections as we did the year before. Everyone is still on track.”

After he left Arkansas’ campus, he rehabbed and started training for the NFL draft at EXOS in Frisco, Texas. Boyd said he finally feels healthy again.

Boyd was happy with how last week’s Pro Day went, outside of posting 8 feet 2 inches in the broad jump. His 40-yard dash was timed between 4.58 and 4.70 seconds, his vertical jump was 31.5 inches and his three-cone drill was completed in 7.27 seconds.

The Falcons, who figure to work on improving their rushing output under coach Arthur Smith, are in the market for a running back. After a trying senior season, Boyd figures to be mid-to-late-round option for teams in need at the position. Boyd even thought about returning for another season at Arkansas to improve his stock but noted the added “wear and tear” would probably work against him in the long run.

Boyd is looking to put the 2020 season behind him as he focuses on his NFL future. And for those who want to look at his past to gauge his next-level ability, he advises to turn on the tape from his 2019 season.

“There are teams out there who might say this or that, but at the end of the day you can click on the film and watch me run the football for 80 yards or 10 yards and see the difference,” Boyd said. “I’m still the same person I was the year before.”