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Lynn Bowden drafted by Raiders; plan to play him at RB

Lynn Bowden’s impact on the 2019 Wildcats was almost indescribable, and now, he’ll look to make a similar impact for his first NFL team.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Raiders have selected Kentucky Wildcats star Lynn Bowden in Round 3 of the 2020 NFL Draft. Interestingly, the team announced Bowden as a running back, though he’s expected to be a wide receiver.

But according to Ian Rapoport, the Raiders really are playing him at running back.

Bowden, who won the 2019 Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player, was expected to be a full-time receiver and special teams returner in the NFL, though one would hope his new team will find other intuitive ways to get him involved in the offense. After all, Bowden is arguably the most versatile player in the entire 2020 draft class.

Here is a list of Division I FBS players in this century who have managed to record 1,500 kick return yards, 1,000 rushing yards, 1,000 receiving yards and 400 passing yards in their career:

Lynn Bowden.

That’s it.

That’s the whole list.

Lynn Bowden might be one of the most versatile college football players in NCAA history. And the junior quarterback/wide receiver/kick returner/punt returner had a bigger impact on his team than any other player in the country in 2019.

Bowden was the only player in the nation to lead his team in both rushing and receiving yards this season. Kentucky was 2-3 before Bowden, the team’s leading returning wide receiver, stepped into the starting quarterback role. He posted a 6-2 record as quarterback and played the hero in UK’s Belk Bowl win.

He was the team’s best receiver. He became the program’s second-leading single season rusher. He launched himself into UK football lore with his quarterbacking heroics.

For his career, Bowden managed to rack up 4,660 all-purpose yards — good for fifth in school history. He’s one of just 17 players in program history to catch at least 100 passes in a career. He’s one of 30 players in program history to record 1,000 receiving yards in a career. He’s one of 38 players in program history to run for 1,000 yards in a career.

As for his single season accolades, Bowden finished the season second in single-season rushing yards in program history. His 1,468 rushing yards this season fell just 132 yards short of UK’s single-season rushing record set by Moe Williams in 1995.

Bowden surpassed UK legend Benny Snell’s single-season rushing mark just one season after Snell recorded the program’s second-best mark of 1,468 yards.

And not only did Bowden do it as a quarterback, he did it in a shortened window — he had just 99 rushing yards prior to his eight-game run as UK’s starting quarterback. Bowden’s 1,369 rushing yards in eight games were the most by a Wildcat in any eight-game span since Williams’ record-setting season in 1995.

Bowden reached rarified air in about every offensive category you can think of, and that still doesn’t fully describe the weight of his success and versatility in 2019.

Here’s another way to look at it: Bowden played three positions this year — quarterback, wide receiver and return man. UK ran a total of 830 offensive plays from scrimmage this year. The Wildcats also had 40 kick and punt returns, so UK ran 870 plays in which Bowden could be used.

Bowden attempted 74 passes, 185 rushes, caught 30 passes and returned 13 kicks and punts this year. That’s 302 plays in which Bowden was called on this year. That’s 34.7% of all of UK’s passes, rushes, and kick and punt returns.

There’s nothing special about that — it’s not quite as high as Chuba Hubbard’s (the nation’s leader in rushing yards, rushing attempts and plays from scrimmage) usage, which was 36.2% this year under the same circumstances. But it wasn’t until Bowden’s first start at quarterback that his usage jumped.

Focus just on Bowden’s eight-game run as starting quarterback, and that percentage jumps to 52.9%. That’s a whole lot higher than Hubbard’s, despite the fact that Bowden and Hubbard were used in similar ways.

The sheer volume of his usage on offense made Bowden impactful regardless of his success. The fact that Bowden played as well as he did took his legend status at UK to another level.

It’s difficult to compare Bowden’s usage to other quarterbacks, because few teams throw as rarely as UK did this year, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another quarterback that returned punts and kicks this year.

Even so, Oklahoma Sooners star quarterback Jalen Hurts, a Heisman finalist and one of the most well-established dual threat players in the nation, was called on for 57.1% of OU’s offensive plays.

But Hurts had over 100 more passing attempts than he did rushing attempts this year. OU’s offense was far more balanced than UK’s and that kept Hurts from pounding himself into the defense on every play. Bowden didn’t have that luxury. His passing ability, or lack thereof, left UK with no choice but to use his legs as much as possible.

Can you blame them? It worked a charm. And Bowden could’ve immortalized himself on a national scale if he’d played a full season at quarterback.

If Bowden had been UK’s starting quarterback for all 13 games, his numbers project that he’d record 280 rushing attempts (that’d be good for sixth in the nation) and 2,225 rushing yards (that’d be the best in the nation — and sixth on the all-time FBS leaderboard).

Bowden could’ve been impactful at any of the several positions he played at UK if he stuck to just one of them. But if it hadn’t been for his willingness to move to quarterback, UK’s 2019 season would have been a disaster.

Bowden saved the Wildcats this year, and he showed his versatility to NFL teams in the process. We’ve seen players like Bowden have success in the league before.

Taysom Hill has become one of the hottest names in the league this year, as the New Orleans Saints’ backup quarterback has played tight end, running back and wide receiver this year. He’s caught touchdown passes, he’s thrown blocks, hell, he’s even blocked a punt this year. A team looking for its own Taysom Hill — with a far higher ceiling as a receiver or H-back — could bet on Bowden early in this year’s draft.

Hopefully, the Raiders find a way for Bowden to make the biggest impact he possibly can.