Coming out of Deland High School, Mike Gillislee was considered a four star recruit and was tabbed as the 236th overall prospect in the country by Rivals.com. He was rated as the seventh best back in the state of Florida and was also rated as the state’s eighth best all-purpose back by the same publication. After receiving offers from Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, Gillislee ultimately chose to become a Gator.
In Gillislee’s freshman year (2009), he accounted for 267 yards on 31 carries and one touchdown. As a sophomore, he appeared in 12 games rushing for 325 yards and 7 touchdowns on 58 carries. He also contributed as a gunner on punt and kickoff coverage. In Gillislee’s junior year, he unfortunately received less carries than he did in in his sophomore year with Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps getting the majority of the workload. While Gillislee had two less carries in his 2011 season compared to 2010, he still managed a 5.9 YPC average, which put him at 328 yards on the year.
With a career 6.3 YPC average and 10 rushing touchdowns Gillislee finally got his opportunity to shine his senior year. Rushing for 1,152 carries and 10 touchdowns on 244 carries, as well as 16 receptions for 159 yards and 1 touchdown, Gillislee’s performance was a critical element to the success of the 11-2 Gators this season. What stood out most about his game was the fact that he had his biggest performances in big games during conference play. The hard fought 146 yards he accumulated on 34 carries against LSU is the game that defines his toughness and willingness to sacrifice for his team.
At 5’11” 207 lbs. Gillislee is not a large back, but I believe he possesses enough size to be an every down back at the next level. At 5’11 he could also stand to add weight to his lower half as he is far from being maxed out.
I believe Gillislee to be underestimated in this area. I see many predicting Gillislee may run in the neighborhood of 4.56 and even 4.6 in the 40. While I don’t believe he’s burner, it would not surprise me if Gillislee is timed in the 4.43-4.49 range as he did run a legit 10.5 100 meters in HS.
Gillislee has very good quickness and has the ability to make defenders miss in tight windows. I believe Gillislee to be one of the quicker backs in 2013 NFL draft class. Once he plants his foot in the ground and decides to accelerate, it isn’t long before he’s up to full speed.
On inside runs I found that Gillislee runs with outstanding patience and is incredibly explosive once he sights a crease in the defensive front. He has the sort of bounce in and out of his cuts that allows him to maximize yardage and get on the edge of tackles. While he’s able to keeps his legs churning once hit up high, I saw on numerous occasions where his legs appeared to go dead on contact once he experienced contact below the waist. While he’s not a huge running back, he is certainly able to run the football between the tackles effectively.
Outside running ability is clearly a strong suit for Gillislee. Though he is more than adequate between the tackles, he is likely going to make his money as an edge rusher at the next level. While I believe he has very good long speed, he’s not going to be the fastest player on the field week in and week out.
With that said he possesses the ability to consistently get around end due to his patience on outside runs and his understanding of pursuit. He understands that getting around end consistently isn’t all about speed, but rather patience and initial burst.
While Gillislee had just 16 catches on the year, he is a natural pass catcher of the football. I would have loved to see him more involved in the passing game, most especially on vertical routes. I’m confident that this is an area in which he will flourish in once his skill set is utilized to capacity at the next level.
Due to his size, I was expecting to see more of a chip/cut guy in pass protection, but through his film I came to realize that he really takes pride in this aspect of his job. Despite his size, Gillislee has routinely stonewalled defenders in pass protection.
It’s very clear he knows his assignments and is more than willing to deliver a blow to much larger defenders. He displays a good base and explodes through his hips without lunging. This is easily the part of his game that shocked me the most.
With Gillislee I see a running back that has a penchant for breaking the big run as a result of his patience and ability to set up and read his blocks. The more I watched him, the more I fell in love with his attacking nature and ability to press the hole. Once defenders commit, his quickness and ability to cut on a dime, combined with his instincts allow him to maximize yardage on inside and outside runs.
With out great vision it is nearly impossible to be a productive running back, especially in the SEC. While the Gators run more of a pro-style offense, Gillislee still had large rushing lanes at times (most especially when the Gators decided to spread things out). There were also times where he made big plays out of nothing.
When rushing lanes were clogged, he created his own rushing lanes by attacking the line of scrimmage. Once he attacked the line of scrimmage, he was able to routinely exploit creases in the defensive front once they commit to him due to his vision.
Once he sights a rushing lane, his quickness and change of direction allowed him to go wherever his eyes took him. Vision like this does not grow on trees. Gillislee’s vision is comparable to former UCF star and Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith.
Carrying/handling vs. fumbling:
Gillislee does not have ball security issues and carries the football high and tight on both inside runs and outside runs. Young running backs have a tendency to carry the ball extremely low when attempting to make a defender miss in the hole, however Gillislee does not have that problem.
One item of concern with his ball carrying is that he carries the football almost exclusively in his right hand. I’m curious if this is something he’ll be able to correct at this stage in his career. With the exception of open field running, I believe it is very important to keep the football in the outside arm; Gillislee repeatedly fails to do so.
Though he’s had a few bumps and bruises along the way, Gillislee hasn’t had any major injuries during his career as a Gator. Once he arrived on Florida’s campus, there were a bevy or running backs ahead of him, which likely kept him fresh throughout his collegiate career. In his senior season he proved he could carry the load and remained injury free as he accumulated more rushing attempts than any running back in the SEC. I wish him continued health through out his playing career at the next level.
I have a ton of respect for Gillislee as he had to bide his time behind a number of talented running backs before getting his opportunity to be a starter for the Gators. According to coaches, he never had a bad attitude while competing for his chance to start and came to practice and worked hard everyday. This mentality allowed him to make the most of his opportunities as they came. He has unwavering confidence, which has allowed him to stay the course and trust in his abilities.
I’ve been waiting for a while to gush over Gillislee and I believe throughout this report I’ve done just that. I love the fact that he has a combination of cutback ability, quickness, vision and long speed wrapped up into one player. Gillislee is one of the more complete running backs in the 2013 draft class as he is capable of staying in to pass protect and he also is a very good receiver out of the backfield.
While I’m a big fan of his game, there are a couple of things I would like to see him improve upon. At 5’11” 207 lbs., he still has room to add more muscle/functional strength to his lower half. To become a better runner between the tackles, he’s going to have to find a way to keep his legs churning and improve upon his balance once hit below the waist. I also would like to see him learn to carry the football in the outside arm going forward.
With that being said, I’m extremely high on Mike Gillislee as I believe he has more than enough tools to be an every down running back at the next level. I know many are high on Giovani Bernard of UNC, but I actually have a higher grade on Gillislee as he is the #1 running back on my board. Bernard will likely be taken higher than Gillislee, but it is my belief that Gillislee is the better player.
With Gillislee’s skill set, I would have no problem taking him in the later portion of round 1. While I would have no problem taking him late in round 1, I don’t see it happening as he will likely be a late 2nd round to 3rd round pick. If he’s taken anywhere after round 3, he’s an absolute steal. While I’m not big on comparisons, Gillislee reminds me of another former SEC running back in Carnell Williams, but with greater lateral agility. Gillislee will likely test in the offseason workout circuit similar to the way Joseph Addai did.