Avi already covered some of the basics in Downs' commitment story yesterday, so I'll skip that part. In short, Cal seems to be recruiting Downs specifically as an athlete - not as a third running back. [This, of course, still leaves the door open for Joe Mixon.]
Just committed to play and get my education at Cal , blessed for the opportunity and can't wait to be there #BearRaid14— THE ONE (@DevanteDowns) August 15, 2013
Rivals: 4 star, 23rd ranked running back, 2nd ranked player in Washington
Scout: 3 star, 1st ranked fullback
ESPN: 4 star , 25th ranked athlete, 2nd ranked player in Washington
247sports: 4 star , 6th ranked outside linebacker, 2nd ranked player in Washington
What's interesting here is how all four major recruiting services differ on where they think Downs will play - and more specifically, what he'll play. Athlete. Fullback. Linebacker. Downs even played strong safety for Mountlake Terrace.
As of right now, there seem to be no limits as to what the 6'3", 230 pound Washington native might do in Berkeley, and details are still short in that regard. No matter what he ends up doing though - and there have been whispers of playing both ways - a body "built like a Brink's truck" certainly can't hurt.
GM: I saw Downs at the Oakland NFTC. Hard to believe he was a high schooler. Kid is built like a Brink's truck.— Cal Rivals (@CalRivals) August 16, 2013
So, what can we learn from watching his tape?
- Devante Downs is a freak athlete. No one that's 230 pounds should be running away from the defensive secondary, but that's exactly what happens on the first play of his highlight reel. But it's not just speed that's present in his game - he runs with all the power that you'd expect from a kid that size, too. His legs are always moving, and it makes him near impossible for opponents to bring him down. Needless to say, there's a lot of sense in using Downs in short yardage packages in the future, particularly from the Bone formation. [Note that this is not mutually exclusive with using him on defense.]
- Downs not much of a side to side runner - pretty much all of the runs in this clip are simply him going charging through a hole, and slightly altering his run path, if at all. Good luck stopping him when he's already downhill, though. This is actually what would make him perfect if Cal were to use him as a short yardage back. No dancing; just full steam ahead. That's how Downs runs - and he has a pretty wicked stiff arm to back it up.
- Though there aren't nearly as many clips of him as a linebacker, those same two traits are equally visible - speed, which helps him burst off the line and get to the quarterback, and power, which allows him to utterly destroy anyone in front of him. In this clip, Downs takes on a double team, sheds both blockers, and then makes the tackle. For a loss. Imagine what he might do with actual linemen keeping the opposition off him. With how athletic he is from sideline to sideline and in chasing down quarterbacks, it's pretty easy to see him at the Will/Sam, exploding into offensive players in general.
- Yes, I've heard Downs is currently recovering from an ACL tear. That's fine - he's graduating early, and he'll have a chance to be in a college S&C program earlier that way. After he gets a year of rehab and redshirting [I'm assuming] Downs projects as an impact player, and probably will be, no matter where Cal chooses to use him.