Rawls tries to make his case for an NFL career

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Indianapolis — Running back Thomas Rawls will spend much of the week explaining why NFL teams should draft him in a couple months.

And for the Flint Northern High standout, talent has never been the issue.

The former Michigan running back who finished his college career at Central Michigan pleaded guilty last September to a misdemeanor charge of attempted larceny. The plea deal spawned from felony theft charges that he stole a purse and credit cards from a woman at Soaring Eagle Casino last April, but Rawls said Thursday that didn't happen.

"Me using credit cards and me stealing a purse, I didn't do it," he said at the NFL combine.

Rawls declined to offer further details to reporters, but said he's being as honest as possible during interviews with teams.

"I learned a lot from it," he said. "Just from being with guys I shouldn't have been with from back home, I learned a lot from it and I moved forward from it, and I'm looking to put it all in the past."

For Rawls, the punishment was a year of probation and 104 hours of community service, but after pleading guilty, he rejoined the Chippewas following a two-game absence. And over the course of 2014, he proved why he thought he was underutilized at Michigan, running for 1,103 yards and 10 touchdowns.

In three years with the Wolverines, Rawls had just 333 rushing yards, and he said his decision to transfer after the 2013 season wasn't due to issues with the coaching staff.

"It was just maybe bad timing and they wanted to play whoever they wanted to play at the time," he said. "That was my reason for leaving, because I felt like my talents were good enough to be out on the field."

And finally in 2014, Rawls had a chance to prove himself on Saturdays.

"This past season I proved to myself that I can put my mind to something and to really thrive on it and to really hold onto it and to really cherish it and to really be a standout player," he said.

But even though Rawls excelled last season, his draft stock remains in question because of the off-field issue and because he has just one impressive year. NFL.com draft analyst Mike Mayock said Rawls is a fourth-round talent, but will likely go later.

"He's just a tough runner," Central Michigan receiver Titus Davis said of Rawls. "I really don't remember him being tackled by the first guy last season. … I know whatever team picks him is going to get a steal with that pick."

Rawls, meanwhile, said he doesn't care where he's picked or if he's drafted at all. He's grateful for the opportunity this week to impress teams and hopes his past doesn't hurt him too much.

"After talking to the teams, I feel really confident because they got a chance to hear it from me and the truth and every detail," he said. "So I don't think it's going to affect it too much, hopefully not with too many teams. But I only need one team to really like me."