Despite toying with our heartstrings back in November, I'm ecstatic that Zion Echols is here to stay. After considering his numerous options, the explosive all-purpose back recommitted earlier this month. I say the choice was a no-brainer, and it doesn't take a genius to recognize that Echols has some major talent.
Here are his rankings from the major recruiting services.
Rivals: 3 stars, 52nd at his position, 77th in his state
24/7 Scout: 3 stars, 22nd at his position, 38th in his state
ESPN: No Ranking
Of immediate and obvious note is his top speed. Echols leaves defenders in the dust with silky smooth running, exploiting gaps and opposing momentum like a pro. Something to focus on is his absurd field vision. He's like a master chess player who not only sees every option on the board, but knows which move to make. On to the tape!
- You'll very quickly notice in the first highlight how deadly Echols is on kick returns. After one quick move bumping to the outside, he's off to the races, and there is no question whatsoever about who sets the pace.
- At 0:25 we see a nasty move that gives the outside linebacker jelly-legs. While I can complain and say that it was a bit inefficient and could have been tighter, he more than makes up for it by beating the entire secondary around the edge for the easy sideline touchdown.
- Please be sure to replay the play at 0:38 multiple times to appreciate how quickly the play develops. It makes me think the opposing defense is moving in slow motion. Echols gets the hand off and seems to flow like water right past every level of the defense in literally 2 seconds.
- The play at 0:49 falls apart, and you begin to wonder why it's included in the tape. Then you see Echols brush off a hit from a full speed defensive back and just nod. We'll see more of his toughness throughout the tape.
- What is really impressive about his returning is his complete lack of hesitation. At 1:04, he receives the kick and takes a ridiculously smooth path past every member of the kicking team.
- At 2:04 I'm taken aback by how quickly he crashes through an opening in the line. That sort of decisiveness makes him very hard to take down because a defender will be trying to grab him as he speeds by at top speed.
- He exhibits another nasty bit of footwork at 2:49 with a hesitation step that freezes the corner, giving him an extra 10 yards easy.
- Now let's talk field awareness. Maybe it's the camera angle, but at 4:29 Echols manages to not only make it through the running lane, but also cut hard left immediately after, sending the outside linebacker sailing past. This is not easy. He's a strategic runner, considering his next move and putting it into action every second of the play. His top speed is great, but I believe it's this awareness that makes Echols a veritable beast.
- In short yardage situations Echols isn't afraid to make hard contact. Beginning at 6:08 we see a series of 5 goal line plays. One after the other he punches them in for touchdowns, some easily, some after breaking one to four tackles.
- Overall, Echols is a great back. He has top of the line speed and a very balanced build, but I believe that what gives him the edge is his fantastic field awareness. His utter lack of hesitation and ability to recognize exploitable holes in the defense tells me that he has the potential to make explosive plays with more development at the Division I level. He is a prolific kick returner and has an uncanny eye for bad tackling tracks, catching players of the opposing team on the back of their heels all the time. It should be exciting every time he lines up deep on the return because it's sure to be electric. Welcome Zion and Go Bears!