The best running back in the draft?

BRADENTON, Fla. -- What is turning out to be one of the best stories of this year’s NFL draft almost ended with Terrance West selling clothes.

After a year at a prep school, the running back didn’t have any scholarship offers.

“I went back home to Baltimore and got a job at Jimmy Jazz," West said this week at IMG Academy, where he has been preparing for the scouting combine. “I have a son, Brendan, and I needed to make some money. I started to think I would never get a chance to show the world what I could do. I never had a doubt in my mind that I could play on the next level, but it was looking like I just wasn’t going to get the opportunity."

But West didn’t give up his dream of playing college football. He continued working out on his own and sending tapes and letters to college coaches. At long last, West got the opportunity to walk on at Towson and the rest is history.

West is expected to be taken anytime from the second round on in the May draft. That comes after an improbable, but stellar career at Towson. West won the Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman in the FCS in 2011. He also set FCS records for rushing yards (2,509) and rushing touchdowns (41) in 2013.

“Terrance West is the unknown, and whoever gets him is going to be very fortunate," IMG director of football operations Chris Weinke said. “Here’s a kid that’s faced a lot of adversity in his life and he’s overcome it. All he did in college was produce when they gave him the football. No one really talked about Alfred Morris (of the Washington Redskins) coming out. Here’s a guy that I think has a lot of the same things Alfred did and, in some ways, probably has a little more. He’s more of a receiving threat out of the backfield than Alfred. Terrance West is an explosive guy. He’s just a guy that’s going to find a way to get it done.’’

West knows he’s going to get questions from NFL teams in Indianapolis about the level of competition he played against, and he’s got his answer ready.

“The game doesn’t change," West said. “You get a lot of guys that transferred from bigger schools. The competition is strong. It’s not like I was playing against robots and now I’m going to go play against human beings. It’s no different. The game and the rules don’t change. I’m not worried about the competition."

West might not have the pedigree of someone that went to a bigger school. But he has plenty of confidence.

“I’m a humble guy," West said. “But I feel as though I’m the best back in this draft. People say I went to a small school, but I played against some elite guys. I just feel with my talent and my size, I’m the best back in this draft. I’ve just got to go out there and prove it."

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers seem to be pretty well set at running back with starter Doug Martin and backups Mike James and Bobby Rainey. But last year showed that you never can have enough running backs. If, at some point, West is the top player on Tampa Bay’s board, the Bucs would have to consider drafting him. Whatever team drafts West might be getting one of this year’s biggest sleepers.

“They’d be getting a running back that’s consistent and determined," West said. “No matter what obstacle is thrown in front of him, he’s going to overcome everything. He’s a team player and he’s coachable. He’s well balanced, he’s quick, he’s got great vision, he can catch the ball out of the backfield. I’ve got everything you could ask for, an all-around back."