Is Lynn Bowden Jr. the next NFL unicorn? | Laundress Report


Fearful of losing access or losing her job to someone, Lynn Bowden Jr. stops naming the gym he uses to stay in shape during the biggest off-season of his life. Preparing for the NFL draft is difficult enough. Doing so during a pandemic is enough to turn a stressful situation into hopelessness.

Fortunately for him, the people of Youngstown, Ohio take care of their own. And for their generosity and their will to look away, he gives back his discretion.

So, every day and every night, the former Kentucky star quietly slips into the technically closed gym, the one he won’t name.

Bowden cannot reschedule the professional day that had to be canceled. I cannot ignore the exercises he chose not to participate in the NFL combination, even though he would like to reverse this decision, given everything that has happened since. I cannot work with a trainer to prepare his body for the next level. Unable to go back in time and heal the persistent right hock tendon – the reason he kept away from the February event in the first place.

All he can do is all it takes to make sure he’s ready.

It is now up to the NFL to decide what to do with the most curious and versatile prospect in the 2020 draft field – where he will fit into a pro attack.

Last fall, Bowden started the season as Kentucky’s # 1 wide receiver after a second year in breakout groups. He finished as a starting quarterback for the team, racking up over 1,400 yards on the ground in just eight starts. In his last two games alone, he ran for a total of 517 yards.

“If I had started the quarterback season, I would probably have ended up trying to win the Heisman,” said Bowden.

He returned puns. Kicks returned. Caught pass. Ran for touchdowns. Thrown touchdowns. And although each player apparently on the field and each fan of the stands knew he was going to carry the ball in almost every game, Bowden still led Kentucky 6-2 as a starter.

“He could have played for us in defense and started,” said Kentucky co-offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. “It would have taken a few weeks, but he is the kind of athlete he is. I haven’t said that to anyone and I’ve been a coach for 34 years. “

Mark Humphrey / Associated Press

At a time when Taysom Hill is defining what a multi-position star looks like for the New Orleans Saints – which has an impact on quarterback play and special teams – Bowden has told NFL teams that he will play n anywhere.

He has heard comparisons with Hill in recent months. “Some people say it,” he says. “But I’m just a different breed. Just more athletic, I guess. “

In a class littered with large receivers endowed with size, speed and characteristics, this is its advantage. And while he is waiting at home, he knows he is offering something that no other player in this project can offer.

“Versatility,” says Bowden. “No one else in the draft has that. Statistics don’t lie. You’ll just have to come back to the movie to see what kind of ball player I am.

“It really is the only hope. “

The offense had crawled for barely 100 yards in total, and the first two quarters (Terry Wilson and Sawyer Smith) came out with injuries. It was late September, and Kentucky was minutes away from losing its third game in a row, down 24-0 against South Carolina.

Bowden had pleaded his case with the Wildcats’ coaches to let him play the quarterback throughout the game. Now that the game was decided, he made a final push.

“Might as well let me go back,” he told them.

That’s when everything changed. Or for Bowden, when he returned to what he was used to.

At Warren G. Harding High School in Warren, Ohio, that was what he was. A wild quarter. A Creator. “If he has the ball, he’s going to make a difference,” said Harding head coach Steve Arnold. “I’m talking about kickoff returns, kickoff returns, quarterback assists, sweeps.

“Shoot, you call him, he can do it.” “

However, it was unknown whether this type of offense could work in the SEC – until he finally spoke up for the end of this South Carolina game and guided the offense on a five-game touchdown game. and 84 yards.

The Kentucky coaches had already started to design a series of packages involving Bowden in the quarterback – ways to get the ball in his hands. After seeing what happened against South Carolina, they began to realize that they had to participate in the plan.

Gran didn’t sleep that night. And as the team entered week off, it replayed Bowden’s behavior over and over. The more he thought about it, the more comfortable he felt with the idea of ​​moving Bowden to the watchkeeping position permanently.

“We went to see him and we said to ourselves” Lynn, unfortunately we can’t get you the ball “,” said Darin Hinshaw, the other Kentucky co-offensive coordinator who is also the quarterback coach -back. “So the best way to get the ball is to catch it every time.” “

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - NOVEMBER 16: Lynn Bowden Jr. # 1 of the Kentucky Wildcats comes out of the pocket against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium on November 16, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon / Getty Images)

Frederick Breedon / Getty Images

Bowden didn’t need to convince. Although he knew the movement would likely eliminate its representatives as a broad receiver and therefore have a potential impact on his status in the NFL, he did not hesitate.

“It was the best choice for us,” said Bowden. “I knew I had a chance to go out after the year, but I’m a team player. They trusted me and I was going to do whatever I had to do to win. “

The offense did not need to be reviewed. Bowden was a viable threat to throw. But there was no secret in what the Wildcats planned to do with him. Add many subtle changes and concepts to the trainings and let Bowden work.

Bowden’s first start two weeks later struggled early as Kentucky lagged 13-0 against Arkansas. But as he settled into his new role, shaking his nerves, production flowed.

Bowden finished with 196 rushing yards, 78 passing yards and three touchdowns in Kentucky’s 24-20 victory from behind.

“I’m 34 years old in this thing, and I’ve never seen one like this,” says Gran. “He is special. That’s all I can say. It is absolutely special. “

The epitome of his season and skills is found in his latest college training – a masterpiece of 18 games, eight minutes and 10 seconds that resulted in a winning touchdown pass.

“I’m on the phone with him as they mark the basket to go up six,” said Hinshaw. “And he said to me:‘ Coach, put the ball in my hands. Let me wear it at all times. Just put the game on my shoulders. We win.’ “

At 30-30 against Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl, Bowden took over. Of the 18 games on record, 12 of them were Bowden assists and three of them were Bowden assists.

With 19 seconds left and the ball on Virginia Tech’s 13-yard line, Bowden gasped for a time out. The original game name was “Pablo”. However, as Kentucky headed for the line of scrimmage, Bowden improvised.

“He told me he was tired and that I should run a station,” said Josh Ali. “It was completely freestyle. “

With Ali facing a single blanket, Bowden connected with his target on a perfectly pitched pass behind the end zone to secure the Kentucky win.

His 233 yards rushing performance was the culmination of a dazzling junior year: 1,468 yards rushing, 403 yards rushing, 348 yards rushing, 220 yards kick-off, 53 yards and punt and 17 affected.

He was second on the passing and returning punt and first rushing, receiving and kicking.

The idea that a player could take pictures of both the quarterback and special teams in the same NFL game would have been largely unfathomable five years ago. But then again, five years ago, Lamar Jackson’s brilliant style of play probably would have been too chaotic for many NFL teams – and for some, it still is.

Evolution must above all come not from a team or a coach but from a player worthy of innovation.

For Bowden, who has made it clear that he wants as much responsibility on the field as a team is prepared to give him, the hope is that his role will be something completely original.

“Can he go play the quarterback and do things like Lamar is doing right now?” I really believe he can, “said Hinshaw. “I think you can throw it in there.” Obviously, they all have their scouts and coaches who are going to have their own opinion of what the kid is. But I’ll tell you what, someone has a special guy who’s going to end up becoming an elite player in the NFL. ”

As a broad receiver perspective, there is much to like. At 5’11 “and 204 pounds, Bowden may not be the ideal size for the job, but there are few questions about his speed – even though he was unable to run the 40-yard dash because of its hamstrings and canceled workouts.

Its elusiveness and instability, however, are what separate it. This is what made him one of the most intriguing seers in the country as the year approaches. It was also what was most notable in his success as a quarterback.

“Use it in the slot machine all day,” says Matt Miller, the editor of Bleacher Report, who sees Bowden as a potential third-round selection. “He’s great at breaking tackles in space and has the scoring juices from anywhere. “

Others are required to wrestle with the assessment, relying solely on the film from the past two seasons to determine what role it will play.

“I love the player,” said an NFL scout. “But think our coaches wouldn’t know how to use it. “

Bryan Woolston / Associated Press

Last week, Bowden’s son, who is also named Lynn, celebrated his third birthday. While the draft preparation had an impact on the quality time the two have spent together since the end of the season, it hasn’t changed Bowden’s goal.

“It made me go a lot harder than ever,” said Bowden. “The extra pep in my approach. When I had my son, it changed me for the better. I just want to support him for the rest of my life. “

The relationship that Bowden and his son established was not something he had grown up with. As a child, his father was not involved in his life. It wasn’t until high school that he started attending some of the Bowden games.

Although the two have been dating since, Bowden says he hasn’t spoken to his father since September. “The game in Florida,” he says. “This is the last time we really talked. I’m not going to implore anyone to be there. You want to be there, you will be there. “

The absence of a father is not the only piece of Bowden’s childhood that he desperately does not want to pass on to his own son. Bowden saw his first shoot at the age of nine. He saw firsthand how violence, fighting and crime could affect his future and that of those around him. And for a while he was drawn to it. Not because he liked it but because it was all he knew.

“The majority of my family is caught up,” says Bowden. “That’s why I was brought up. This is what they grow up thinking they have to do. No one really knows the fight unless they have lived it and been from here. “

One of the main reasons Bowden chose Kentucky over Penn State, Michigan or one of the dozens of programs that chased him comes back to his hometown. Head coach Mark Stoops, assistant head coach Vince Marrow and defensive back coach Steve Clinkscale all grew up near Youngstown.

There is loyalty to where it comes from, although it can still be associated with some pain. This is why he is still part of his community as he prepares for his next step, albeit in a very different role.

When Arnold has a problem with one of his players at Warren G. Harding High School, he will often ask Bowden to speak to the player on his behalf. Whether it’s football or schoolwork, Bowden still has a huge influence on the school and the region.

“I want to show them that there is a way out for real,” he says. “Just keep making your dream come true, and everything else will come true for you. “

At the age of 13, Bowden got his first tattoo. These are his initials on his back, “L” on the left and “B” on the right. Since then, Bowden estimates that he has covered his body with at least 70 others.

Some have meaning. Life. Dead. Soccer. Youngstown. Family. Friends. Others are there simply as art. But the tattoo Bowden says he likes the most is the one he inked last season, a little one near his hairline that reads “Hate it or love it”.

“One night I was sitting there and decided I wanted to,” he says. ” It’s okay. You’re going to hate me or you’re going to love me. “

Over the past few months, teams have sprinkled Bowden with questions about the position he wants to play. About how it would fit. About the punch he threw before his team’s nearly-kicked bowl game – a moment that could have wiped out the crowning glory of his football career.

“I play with a lot of emotion,” said Bowden of the punch. “And I just gave the teams the truth. “

Bryan Woolston / Associated Press

Very little about him or his journey is orthodox. Some will gravitate toward adding a player with such a large skill set. Others may not recognize the same value.

Without a professional day or a workout to build on, his interviews and films from the past two seasons will ultimately be the deciding factor.

“When [NFL teams] call me, I’m just telling them the truth, “says Gran. His mind is incredible. He is intelligent. He understands play. He is one of the toughest kids I have ever coached. And it has all the capacity to make people miss. He has big hands. All the tools. This is what I tell them. I think if they shoot the film, that’s what they see. ”

It’s not Taysom Hill. It’s not Lamar Jackson. It is something different. Something the league has never seen before. As uncertain as it sounds and sounds, he prefers it that way.

Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KegsnEggs.


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