The San Diego State Aztecs have been home to some pretty talented collegiate running backs. The first name that comes to mind, more than likely, is NFL Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk. The standout running back finished second for the 1992 Heisman trophy award and was tremendous with the Aztecs before putting up outstanding numbers at the professional level.
Following Faulk, Ronnie Hillman was the next standout running back at SDSU. In two years with the Aztecs, Hillman ran for more than 1,500 yards in both seasons while scoring 38 touchdowns. He was an NCAA All-American in 2011 and won a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos.
The most recent dominant Aztec running back was Rashaad Penny, a current rookie in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks. Penny was a talented backup in 2017, running for 1,005 yards and 11 touchdowns in one of college football’s best rushing attacks. Taking over the starting job in 2018, Penny absolutely dominated. He ran for an astronomical 2,248 yards, good for fifth all-time in a single season, and scored 25 total touchdowns. A consensus NCAA All-American, Penny was a first-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2018 NFL draft.
While the Aztecs have had some dominant collegiate running backs, they all pale in comparison to what Donnel Pumphrey did in his four-year career at San Diego State.
As a three-year starter with the Aztecs, Pumphrey ran the ball 1,059 times for 6,405 rushing yards and 62 touchdowns, while catching 99 passes for 1,039 yards and five touchdowns. Not only is he San Diego State’s all-time rushing leader, but he is the FBS career rushing yard leader as well. He holds three of the top ten single-season rushing totals for the Aztecs and is the school’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns scored.
Despite his success at the collegiate level, Pumphrey’s small stature prevented him from being drafted until the Philadelphia Eagles selected him with the 132nd pick in the 2017 NFL draft. After breaking camp with the Eagles as their fourth-string running back, Pumphrey was placed on injured reserve after suffering a torn hamstring in practice that would eventually force him to sit out his entire rookie season.
Unfortunately for Pumphrey, he was waived by the Eagles on September 1 of 2018. The Lions signed him to their practice squad just four days later, but would end up releasing him on September 25, 2018. The Eagles decided to take another shot on the 24-year-old and stashed him back onto their practice squad.
With Corey Clement going down Sunday’s game against the Cowboys, it looked like Pumphrey would finally get his first taste of NFL. Instead of promoting Pumphrey to their active roster, however, the Eagles signed former Louisiana Tech running back Boston Scott off the New Orleans Saints practice squad, adding him to the 53-man roster.
This is obviously an odd situation, as typically when teams have players on their practice squad that fit a need on their 53-man roster, those players are promoted to meet that need. Scott’s addition to the team over Pumphrey shows that the Eagles do not believe in Pumphrey as an NFL player. It is very likely that, once this season ends, he is not signed to a future contract and is released from the Eagles organization as a whole.
For Pumphrey, this could be good news. While being released is something no professional athlete wants, he may find another NFL team that is willing to take a shot on him based on his collegiate track record.
There is also the possibility of Pumphrey returning to the city he once dominated in, and joining the San Diego Fleet.
Immediately after the Eagles signing of Scott, reports began to surface that Pumphrey was interested in returning to San Diego to play for Mike Martz and the Fleet. From a strictly football point of view, signing with the Fleet may be a smart move for Pumphrey. A strong season in the NFL’s version of the G-League may earn him a shot at cracking an NFL roster in 2019. Returning to San Diego, a comfortable environment for him, may also ease him into a role and allow him to get a fresh start. Pumphrey has not played a down of meaningful football since he left San Diego State and this may be his big chance to prove he is still a talented player.
Adding Pumphrey to their roster would only make the Fleet better. He would immediately challenge for the starting job and could compliment Bishop Sankey and Terrell Watson well as a traditional scat back. This could also be a fantastic opportunity for the Fleet to get people to attend their games, as Pumphrey was a fan favorite at San Diego State. A return to a city that viewed him as a star would be good for both Pumphrey and the fans.
If I was a betting man, I would feel pretty confident in putting a big chunk of my chips into Donnel Pumphrey signing with the Fleet and making his return to San Diego.