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Lynn Bowden is not a WR, RB, or PR, he’s whatever you need right now

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Bowen’s poetic journey from a do-it-all “athlete” to potentially being the Raiders next star

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 31 Belk Bowl - Virginia Tech v Kentucky Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“Told my momma I was born to do this and that one day I’m gone make it and everything gone be alright.” - Lynn Bowden, Jr, aka @h.huncho_1, making his first post on Instragram.

January 24, 2015.

“I’m excited as hell. I’ve been wanting to coach you from the first time I met you ... alright man, we’re gonna turn the pick in and you’re gonna be a Las Vegas Raider. Congratulations, Lynn.” - Jon Gruden, Las Vegas Raiders head coach.

April 24, 2020.

So just what the heck happened in the five years in between?

First

Lynn Bowden Jr was born on October 14, 1997. He shares a birthday with Jared Goff, Stephen A. Smith, and Usher. And E.E. Cummings.

“To be nobody but

yourself in a world

which is doing its best day and night to make you like

everybody else means to fight the hardest battle

which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”

I imagine many coaches over the years have attempted to make Bowden like everybody else, or at least they were trying to figure out how Bowden could be like the running back, the receiver, the quarterback, the defensive back, or even the punter that they had always dreamed of. That’s because Bowden is one of the most unique and versatile football players — who was gifted enough to play at a high level — that the country has seen in the last couple of decades, at least.

But it’s clear by now that you can’t put Bowden in a box.

A year before his first Instagram post, Bowden got nationally recognized by high school football geeks for one of the most unbelievable touchdown plays you’ll ever see:

By my count, he outwits at least 15 would-be tacklers. He was the punter on that play and he was a high school sophomore. He was also Liberty High School’s quarterback at the time and he passed for 761 yards and 13 touchdowns with 1,782 rushing yards that season. And, you know, he punted and a lot more.

“I was scared to take a safety,” Bowden told Banner Society’s Alex Kirshner this year. “I just ran. I’m a hard guy to tackle.”

As a junior, Bowden’s family moved and he transferred to Warren G Harding High School. He became even more dominant as their quarterback and as WKBN27 in Youngstown, OH notes, Bowden is the only high school football player they’ve given honors to in all four years and he twice won Ohio Player of the Year. That’s how dominant he was as an Ohio high school football player. He was undeniably so much better than other players his age.

It’s enough to make you some sort of high school football geek.

As a senior, Bowden rushed for 2,277 yards and threw for 1,366, scoring 58 total touchdowns. He instantly became a legend at a school that previously housed Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham and NCAA legend Maurice Clarett. Bowden’s head coach Steven Arnold said that the school had a new “number one” now.

“I think people, when they think off Harding football, will put [Clarett] at No. 1 and [Manningham] at No. 2 but I think after this season, [Bowden] has surpassed them,” Arnold said. “My reason for saying that is that [Bowden] has the ball in his hands every down and he can hurt whether he is running or throwing.”

There has not been much clamoring to see more of Bowden as a quarterback or a thrower. He is now 5’11 (unsure of his height at the time) and that’s not the deterrent it once was because of Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray, but we all know what we see in the film, which is an incredibly difficult runner to stop.

That doesn’t mean that like Wilson, he can’t change how a position is viewed or scouted. In fact, Bowden may be in the middle of creating a position all his own. It’s just that his legacy may be possible more because of Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel than Wilson or Murray.

That also didn’t stop Bowden from being a Division I quarterback anyway.

A four-star recruit by Rivals, ranked 197th nationally and 17th among those with the dreaded “Athlete” tag (I don’t know if others call this dreaded, but as nice as it sounds to be an “athlete” these players often end up being nothing much at all at the next levels. The top-ranked athlete of Bowden’s class was Deommodore Lenoir, who went to Oregon and is now a cornerback who may or may not have an NFL future.) with at least 13 offers to consider.

He could have gone to plenty of the top programs in the country, including a late offer from Ohio State that he turned down, but he made a rather unusual choice for any of those football geeks out there, first committing then de-committing from Indiana before going to Kentucky to play for Mark Stoops. Part of that is likely related to something that his former coach Arnold mentioned in that article linked above:

Bowden’s performance at the helm of the Raiders’ football team has also led to attention from quite a few collegiate programs, like Michigan State and Kentucky. He currently holds 13 FBS offers, with Nebraska being the latest to make an offer. Wide receivers coach Keith Williams visited Bowden personally at his home in Ohio Sunday evening to make the offer, but has not reached out to Arnold yet.

“They offered [Bowden] Sunday night but I still have not spoken with any member of Nebraska’s coaching staff,” Arnold said. “I’m a bit disappointed that they haven’t reached out to talk to me about [Bowden] yet.”

Other programs have contacted Arnold – like Kentucky – which he has appreciated.

“All of the schools after him are staying in touch and doing their due diligence,” Arnold said. “Kentucky is doing a great job of communicating with me, as well as Michigan State and Indiana.”

Arnold goes onto say that Bowden is:

  • Not a character risk whatsoever (he’s been tattoo-laden since high school, but they are only tattoos)
  • Ran a 4.38 40-yard dash when they timed him
  • Gets along great with teachers
  • Has a football IQ that is “off the charts”
  • Reminds him of Jabrill Peppers

And this story:

“We had a 4th and 10 or something and we needed to get a first down, so we called timeout and were trying to figure out what play we should call,” Arnold said. “[Bowden] just looks me in the eye and says, ‘Coach, give me the ball.’ So we called a play for him and he took it 25 yards. He just has this incredible confidence, not cockiness but confidence, in his ability to get things done.”

All these great tangibles and intangibles, but Bowden chose Kentucky over Ohio State, perhaps mainly because the Wildcats seemed like they gave a flick about Bowden the whole time.

The basketball school that gets any top-ranked high school player in the country that it wants, is also the school that accepts any decent football recruits that they can get.

Bowden is one of the best they’ve ever gotten.

“Over the past few years they were averaging 5-7, 7-5 records,” Bowden said. “To me that doesn’t matter because I’m the type of person that can come change that. I know one man can’t win games by himself but I’m confident and I know what I’m capable of and I know what the players they have on the team are already capable of.”

But what was he going there to play?

Scout broke down what to expect from him: “An outstanding athlete who could play several positions in college, including slot and defensive back. He would have to learn the techniques of both positions, but as a baseline, raw athlete, he has great open-field ability, balance and elusiveness.”

There was no question that he was “athlete” as “athletes” get and that was evident from practice one at Kentucky.

Next

Moved to receiver as a true freshman, Bowden caught 17 passes for 210 yards, catching balls from Stephen Johnson, which is a name you may only recognize because it’s “Stephen Johnson.” Bowden also carried it 12 times for 37 yards and returned 37 kicks for 869 yards. Most of his carries came out of the wildcat formation and he was 3-of-4 for 92 yards as a passer, throwing one interception.

As a sophomore, now with Terry Wilson at QB, Bowden’s receiving game hit the next level: 67 catches for 745 yards and five touchdowns.

Again, we can’t compare Bowden’s statistics to that of CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy. He was a high school quarterback and runner (often) who was now playing division I receiver for a team that since 1985 has only seen the top 25 once: a brief stretch during the 2007 campaign. But with Bowden at receiver in 2018, Kentucky had its greatest success in years.

They finished 10-3 and were ranked 12th in the country by season’s end. In a midseason game against Missouri, Bowden caught 13 passes for 166 yards and scored a touchdown on a punt return.

Going into his junior season, Bowden had certainly overcome many obstacles that most of his “athletes” colleagues hadn’t, and even if he wasn’t blowing people away with his stats or playing at a real contender, people knew that something special was happening at Kentucky.

That became more evident when Bowden was asked to literally take over the offense for a 2-3 team.

After injuries to Wilson and backup Sawyer Smith, Bowden was tasked with going back to QB and running a wildcat offense full-time. Literally two games after he had caught seven passes for 129 yards against Mississippi State (Bowden was on pace at the time for 78 receptions and 904 yards, but he didn’t catch another pass all year), Bowden was moved to QB.

Can you imagine?

“Hey, Lynn, come into my office.”

“What is it, coach?”

“You wanna play QB for us?”

“Oh wow. Really? Sure. Who is our best receiver?”

“It’s you!”

Bowden was literally the team’s best receiver and best running back, best kicker returner, best punt returner. And now he was the quarterback. You’re supposed to be able to do those things in high school when you’re the best athlete on the team. You’re not supposed to be able to do that in college against Georgia, Missouri, and Virginia Tech, but Bowden managed quite well.

In his first start, against Arkansas, Bowden went 7-of-11 for 78 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 196 yards and two touchdowns. Two weeks later against Missouri, he had 204 rushing yards and two touchdowns. As a wildcat QB, Bowden ended up rushing for at least 99 yards in all eight of his starts (the 99 came against 10th-ranked Georgia) and he rushed for at least 196 yards in four of those games.

In the final two games of Kentucky’s season — Louisville and then Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl — Bowden carried the ball 56 times for 517 yards and six touchdowns. He put 233 of those on the Hokies hours after throwing a punch at one of their players in warmups.

“I probably shouldn’t say this, but it didn’t bother me that he got into a fight before his bowl game. He’s got to control himself better, but he’s an edgy dude, which is why I like him.” — Southeastern scout for NFC team

Kentucky won their final four games of the season and went 6-2 with Bowden as the leading QB, only losing to Georgia and an underrated Tennessee team.

In other words, he’s good.

Bowden led the NCAA in yards per carry (185 rushes for 1,468 yards, 7.9 YPC, and 13 touchdowns despite not really getting started until Week 6) had to put to bed his dreams of a 1,000-yard season as a receiver. Dreams that were very realistic at the time.

A dream that is not dead for the next level.

Now

As is the case with many draft prospects this year, we unfortunately did not get a complete picture of Lynn Bowden as an athlete. He didn’t do any drills at the combine — he stood halfway between 5’10 and 5’11, 204 pounds, just under 31” arms, 74” wingspan — and chose to put those off until a pro day that would never happen.

If we took players of his size and estimated a 40-yard dash of 4.4, Bowden’s comps would look like this:

  • Josh Boyce, WR, 2013
  • Devin Duvernay, WR, 2020
  • Tevin Coleman, RB, 2015
  • Joe Williams, RB, 2017
  • Antonio Callaway, WR, 2018
  • Darrynton Evans, RB, 2020
  • Johnny Dixon, WR, 2019

A slower 40-yard dash could be Christian Kirk or McCaffrey. Dalvin Cook ran a 4.49. Jarvis Landry ran a 4.65. And as you imagine, most of the players on the list are not McCaffrey, Cook, or even Kirk.

So it goes for NFL players.

Anything faster than 4.38, however, and I don’t have any comps since 2013. If Bowden had run a 4.30 or something, he’s well into some new territory for players of his size and weight. The fastest player between 5’10 and 5’11 and around 200-210 pounds, in the last 15 years, is Reggie Bush.

He ran a 4.37. Jamaal Charles ran a 4.38.

What could Bowden run today? We may never know.

Even in not knowing, the Las Vegas Raiders made Lynn Bowden the 80th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. I would argue that Warren Harding couldn’t quite know what they were getting when he transferred, Kentucky didn’t quite now what they were getting when he declared, and the Raiders don’t quite know what they’re getting when they drafted him.

But they’ve all been confident they were getting a really good football player. Mark Stoops obviously agrees.

“I think he’ll be a great fit,” Stoops said. “The fan base will be energized by him and he’ll feed off that. I think Coach Gruden is a good fit for Lynn because I know [Jon] and I think the way he can relate to Lynn and help him to continue to grow is important. Richie Bisaccia the special teams coordinator and I go way back, and know each other for a long time. Richie is another [coach] that will be a great mentor for him. I think he’ll be a guy Lynn can lean on.”

“It puts a lot of stress on defenses and they did a remarkable job. I know Coach Gruden will have his ways to use [Bowden], but I think that’s the first thing you think of. If they’re going to use him primarily at running back they can put him in motion or line him up at returner. He can do a lot of things and that’s what we had hoped moving into the draft, that Lynn’s versatility would help him and I think it did.”

Having selected wide receiver Henry Ruggs III in the first round (who ran a 4.27, but at 16 pounds lighter than Bowden) and receiver Bryan Edwards just one pick after Bowden at 81st, the Raiders have no pressure to line him wide in the beginning of his career. He was PFF’s highest-rated runner in college football, so why should a team hold him back from running it at the next level? Gruden could install some wildcat concepts for Bowden next season, obviously, but basic running, catching the ball out of the backfield, and special teams value should make him an immediate contributor to the Raiders.

“Been waiting on this moment since the age of 4 Thank you @raiders for making my life long dream come true!! Vegas let’s go!” - h.huncho_1, April 25, 2020.

And as we saw in his previous stops, as needs become apparent to a team, Bowden serves as an instant solution. If not a band-aid, then perhaps as a new bionic arm. Or legs transplanted from a horse.

E.E. Cummings once said: “Whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.”

You can look at Lynn Bowden Jr and think “Percy Harvin.” You can think “Randall Cobb,” as many have already. You can think Christian McCaffrey, Tyreek Hill, Dalvin Cook, or Joe Williams. You can think a lot of things. Then while you’re busy thinking, this punter is avoiding 15 tacklers out of 11 players on his way to a 108-yard touchdown. The Raiders won’t be paying Bowden to think, they’ll be paying him to feel. To be the guy who sees 4th-and-10 and asks the coach to just give him the ball.

“Yo see it’s rare that you find people like us

Cause all ya’ll other (look) out there doing what i’m doing

Or trying to do what im doing, but you can’t

‘Cause I do what I do my way

What about you huh, huh, Come On!!!!” - Usher