The Las Vegas Raiders selected dual offensive threat Lynn Bowden, Jr. with the 80th pick in April's 2020 NFL draft, despite the fact that Bowden had to skip all running drills at the 2020 NFL Draft Combine in February due to a hamstring strain. Scouts had to rely on his film to make their decision. And what film it was.
Few players in this year's NFL draft class are as versatile as Bowden, who began his junior season with Kentucky last fall as the Wildcats top receiver. He ended the year as Kentucky's starting quarterback, racking up a whopping 1,468 rushing yards and a 6-2 record in eight starts. In his last two games alone, he rushed for 517 yards, and also led the Wildcats in receiving yards with 350. His efforts earned him first-team Associated Press all-purpose recognition, as well as the Paul Hornung Award as the nation's top all-purpose player. And if you ask Bowden, he might have won the Heisman, too, if he had started the season at quarterback.
At Warren G. Harding High School in Warren, Ohio, just north of Youngstown, and at Kentucky, Bowden did everything a player can do for a football team. He caught passes, ran for touchdowns, threw touchdowns and returned kicks and punts.
"He could have played defensive back for us and started," Kentucky co-offensive coordinator Eddie Gran told BleacherReport. "That's the kind of athlete he is. I haven't said that about anybody, and I've coached for 34 years."
Bowden wanted to work out at every position at the combine, just to show how versatile he really is, but his body of work speaks for itself.
"My football IQ level was probably through the roof because I get to play every position," Bowden says. "I've probably played every position on the field and throughout all my life. And I just know different things, different schemes and the stuff that they teach me, I really soak up and use it."
Bowden is a quick study indeed, as he didn't play receiver until he got to college. But as a freshman, he caught 17 passes for 201 yards and was named to the SEC all-freshman team. As a sophomore, he led the Wildcats with 67 receptions, 745 receiving yards and 5 touchdown catches. Bowden says he wasn't even really comfortable as a receiver until four games into that sophomore season. "I was pretty raw," he says. "As I was learning, everything started to slow down for me. I learned how to be patient. I learned how to just let things come to me and not try to make the big play right then and there."
Then, in his first game at quarterback, he threw for 78 yards, had one touchdown and no interceptions, and ran for 196 yards and two touchdowns to lift Kentucky over Arkansas. And after that, he only got better.
Though Bowden grew up admiring Michael Vick when he was quarterback for the Falcons and De'Anthony Thomas as a combo running back and wide receiver at the University of Oregon, he now compares himself more to San Francisco 49ers wide receiver and occasional wildcat-offense quarterback Deebo Samuel. Still, others compare Bowden to Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who in 2019, set a record for rushing yards in a season by a quarterback and also led the league with 36 touchdown passes.
For their part, Raiders GM Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden have a plan for Bowden, but the plan involves a good bit of freelancing. "Lynn Bowden, we announced as a running back," Mayock said over conference call following the end of the third round of the draft. "Ultimately, he'll probably be what we call a 'Joker,' which I love in Jon's offense. Somebody that's able to do multiple jobs. But day one, he's going to come in and be a running back."
Bowden says it doesn't matter what position he plays, and that he'd play tight end if the circumstances warranted it. He just wants the chance to make something happen.
"My mindset is I'm coming to take someone's job," Bowden told ESPN. "And my first year there, not three years down the line."
STACK sat down with Bowden, who was training at EXOS in Pensacola, Florida, to prepare for the NFL combine. Here is a transcript of that interview, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.
STACK: What are some of your earliest memories of playing football and where did those take place?
LYNN BOWDEN JR: Some of my earliest memories playing football are on the Northside of Youngstown, Ohio, in my grandma's side yard. The house is still there today. That's where I grew up. I just remember getting slammed by my cousins. They're more like brothers, and we call each other brothers, but they're really my first cousins. I was always the youngest out there playing with them. They made me as tough as can be.
What did you like about football as a kid?
I liked winning. I was always a winner, never a loser. I hate to lose. Growing up, especially in Little League, I won all eight years of playing in the championship. I think I lost two games in all eight years. I just love to win.
Was there any one person who made a big impact on you and shaped you as a young athlete?
The person who had the most impact on me is my uncle. He put me in organized sports when I was five years old. He made me running back. And he always told me never give up and always keep focused on your dream. And I never looked back after that.
You also played basketball growing up. What was your game like?
When I played basketball growing up, I really wasn't that good until around the sixth or seventh grade. I was a pass-first guy and sometimes the coaches would get on me because I had a good three-point shot. And I'd go right past people because I had a fast first step. But I was always past first and shoot later. If you ask people back home, they'll probably tell you I'm better in basketball than football, which is hard to believe. I'm a multi-talented athlete. I can play any sport there is on the planet.
When did you start getting serious about training for football and get in the weight room?
Well, I really can't even throw an age out there because this is my first time ever in my life training. Even though I went through weight lifting and stuff like that for college, I never had a training session until I got down here at EXOS. So everything is really kind of new to me.
What athletes did you admire growing up?
The athletes I grew up admiring were Michael Vick, when he played for the Falcons and De'Anthony Thomas when he went to Oregon. I was a real big Oregon guy. At the time, I was playing quarterback and running back, so I was looking up to Marcus Mariota and Thomas when they were on teams together. I wanted to be just like them.
What do you think made you a great quarterback?
What made me a great quarterback is that I was always patient and I know how to go about talking to people about what they're doing and how to hold them accountable. I like to look at myself as a leader, and as a leader, you want to be able to take that leadership role on the team.
Where does your confidence come from?
My confidence comes from the inner me. I'm a very confident guy. I think I'm the best at whatever you put in front of me. I don't care who's in front of me. I'm always going to think I'm the best at it.
What were your goals in high school?
The goal I had in high school was to win a state championship. We came close every year, but we never won. The second high school I went to was Warren G. Harding, home of the great Maurice Clarett. I wanted to break all his records and I did, in just two years.
What was the recruiting experience like for you?
The recruiting experience for me was very hectic. I had a lot of schools coming and I went with Kentucky because it was just home. It was a little school but I wanted to make it into the school it is today and I am glad to say I had a part in doing it.
How has your son, Lynn III, changed your life and maybe shifted your perspective on things?
My son changed my life dramatically. I was going down the wrong path, just hanging out and doing things I shouldn't have been doing in high school. I even thought about giving up football just to be out there and live free. Because I knew back then, as a football player, I really didn't have any freedom to do things like go to parties. So I kind of fell in love with that. But when I found out I was having him, my whole drive and way of thinking about life changed. I had to provide for him and I knew I had to go out there and go get it. I'm where I am today because of him.
Looking back at where you were as a freshman and where you are now, how far have you come?
I became a man. I grew a long way. I was a little selfish. I was a little, childish kid coming in as a freshman. I used to Tweet about my problems and not playing early on. I honestly wanted to transfer, but coach sat me down and talked to me and I learned patience. I learned how to be patient and everything worked out for me.
How different is your body now from when you were a freshman?
When I came in my freshman year, my body weight was probably 175. My sophomore year I played at 195, so that was a big difference, and I probably played my junior year at 205 the whole season. I like to eat peanut butter and jelly, but the strength coach was on me. They made sure I did what I needed to do to be able to maintain taking the hits in the SEC.
Was there a point in your career where you felt like everything came together for you on the football field?
It was the fourth game of my sophomore year. I was a pretty a raw receiver. It was only my second year playing the position. And as I was learning, everything started to slow down for me. I learned how to be patient. I learned how to just let things come to me and not try to make the big play right then and there. So the game itself just slow down for me.
Tell us about last season, when you made the move from running back to quarterback.
Last season was kind of crazy for me and for the program as a whole. In the first game, we go out and play Toledo. We win. The second game, we go out and midway through the third quarter, starting quarterback Terry Wilson goes down, and we're hearing from inside that he's probably going to be out for the rest of the season. The third game, we play Florida. Sawyer Smith, our quarterback, is trying to play through a broken wrist. They end up coming back and beating us at home. And it felt like, from that point on, we drastically went down.
During the South Carolina game, there's a couple of minutes left in the fourth quarter, and I tell coach, 'What else we got to lose? Just let me go in for a drive at quarterback.' So we ended up scoring on five plays in 35 seconds when I was at quarterback. Going into the bye week, they gave me the opportunity to lead the team as a quarterback. And I never looked back.
In my first game against Arkansas, I had three total touchdowns, one pass and two rushing. After Terry went down, they never thought we would win four games. We ended up winning six games with me at quarterback. I was 6-2 and I rushed for over a hundred yards every game besides the Georgia game. I ended up being an SEC leader in rushing. And I ended up leading all of the NCAA with 7.9 yards per carry.
Kentucky coach Vince Marrow said you were the smartest player they had a UK. How do you think your football IQ developed throughout the years?
Coach Marrow always talks highly of me, and I always do what he asks me to do. My football IQ level was probably through the roof because I got to play every position. I've probably played every position on the field and throughout all my life. And I just know different things, different schemes and the stuff that they teach me, I really soak up and use it.
Is there anything you have to do on game day to feel like you're ready to go?
I don't care if it's snowing, raining or whatever, I take a lap around the stadium to get my mind right. Then I go to the goal post and breathe. I have this App on my Apple watch and I breathe for a minute and listen to the music in my headphones and then I'm ready. I listen to little sleep lullabies. It's weird, but it relaxes me.
What do you do to escape from football?
My escape from football is playing video games. Fortnite. That and my son and my family at home. I like to spend time with them and watch movies. We are always watching Baby Shark because of my son. That's what he loves.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I'm very vocal. I know how to talk to guys. I'm going to say how I feel and I'm going to listen to how you feel. And we're going to figure it out and correct it and go. Sometimes we might not agree. Sometimes we're going to agree. But I never leave someone without having them know that I care.
When it comes to NFL prospects, people often say the film speaks for itself. What does your film say about you?
If you turned on my film, you'll see I'm a competitor first. I'm a dog at heart and I'm always fighting. Fight to the end.
How much progress would you say you've made since you arrived here at EXOS?
Since I arrived at EXOS, I think I have made a lot of progress. I'm buying in. Like I said, it's my first time ever training in my life. So a lot of things they're doing here are new to me. I'm slowly but surely getting it.
When things get tough or you feel like you might want to give up or quit, what do you think about to keep you going?
When things get rough, I just think about my son. How he going to eat? If I don't take care of him, who will?
You have over 70 tattoos. Are there any tattoos you feel have really special significance to you?
I got one a couple of months ago. It says, 'hate it or love it and the it is me.' I feel like the world is going to either hate me or love me, but I'm still going to be me.
Why do you love football today?
What I love about football is it's me. I get away. It takes all the pain away. It takes all the outside noise away. I just know when I have a football in my hands, I can do no wrong.
If you give one piece of advice to high school athletes, what would it be?
If I gave one piece of advice to athletes in high school, I'd just tell them to take their school work seriously and never give up on anything they want to accomplish.