Scouting Football Talent – Finding a sudden impact at Running Back

Many might say quarterback is the most important member of any NFL offensive, yet it’s hard to argue that running back might very well be the most glamorous of them all.  As a kid no other position epitomized the game than one that carried the weight of the team on his shoulders. I grew up in an era of Earl Campbell, Franco Harris, Walter Payton and Tony Dorsett; men you road hard into the 4th quarter.  A test of wills between a runner and the defense “hell bent” on stopping him.  The game was played between the tackles and it was a time that truly defined the position.

A transition phase

Running back seems to be going through a transition.  Thirty years ago you might see the backup come in for a handful of plays, but to replace the primary was like taking out your starting QB on third down. There’s more of a reactive utilization in the modern offense than a proactive employment of today’s NFL running back; short yardage, 3rd down, blocking back, big play, speed to the edge.  But make no mistake, without at least one your offense is doomed to mediocrity.  It might now take two or three to do the job of one, but those players better be “dang” good.

Position parameters

Scouting the modern day running back may be more meticulous than at any time in the professional game.  Durability is key and starts with a solid athletic platform.  Here are the parameters of today’s average running back;

  • Height – 5106
  • Weight – 218
  • Arm – 31
  • Hand – 9 1/2
  • Bench – 19 reps
  • 40 yard dash – 4.49
  • VJ – 36”
  • BJ – 10’1”
  • Short Shuttle – 4.33
  • Long Shuttle – 11.53
  • 3-Cone – 7.02

The NFL Combine is where many a running back have enhanced their value.  There are key indicators marking potential success in an NFL running back.  The top running back prospects exceeded peer average (EPA) in 7 of the 7 events; 90% in the 3-Cone, 81% in the 40-yd dash, 80% in the short shuttle, along with the remaining 4 other events will point to a majority of the starters at RB.

Big Backs

A traditional measuring stick (right or wrong) has been 1000 yards.  With 16 games in the regular season and more through the playoffs, 1000 yards isn’t quite as appreciated as it once was.  Still it represents a dimension of consistent production.  As you look at the 2013 prospects keep this in mind.  Between 2001-2010;

172 seasons of 1000+ yards (17.2 per).

  • 118 of 172 (68.6%) 52 RB’s 215lbs or heavier.  27 had multiple 1000 yard campaigns.
  • 45 of 172 (25.5%) 18 RB’s 200-214lbs.  12 had multiple 1000 yard seasons.
  • 10 of 172 (5.8%) 6 RB’s less than 200lbs.  3 had multiples.

Dissecting the draft numbers

Like QB, running back is one position that college football can only produce so many top players.  Two-deep rosters;

  • 1st Rd – 36%
  • 2nd Rd – 14%
  • 3rd Rd – 9%
  • 4th Rd – 10%
  • 5th Rd – 6%
  • 6th Rd – 4%
  • 7th Rd – 7%
  • Free Agency – 14% after Mr. Irrelevant is selected.

One thousand yards is a seasonal measurement of success for a running back, but as with other positions longevity & consistency are a must when selecting a top prospect.  The 56/5 rule can also be applied (56 starts over 5 seasons in the NFL).  Of those running backs drafted between ’94-’03;

  • 1-10 (45.5%)
  • 11-20 (30%)
  • 21-50 (6.7%)
  • 51-80 (6.5%)
  • 81-120 (0%)
  • 121-160 (2.8%)
  • 161-200 (2.6%)
  • 201+ (0%)

So as much as Redskins RB’s & Asst HC Bobby Turner has pumped out the likes of Terrell Davis & Mike Anderson in Denver, and now Alfred Morris in D.C. – that’s not the statistical norm in pro football.

Rookie impact

But whether you select a top prospect in the 1st round or find a hidden gem later in the 6th, the running back position is the most likely of any on the field to have the greatest impact as rookies.  We’ve already mentioned Morris, but look at what Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin has done for the Buccaneers in his first year.  Over a 7 year study (’06-’12) RB’s have on average produced at least 7 rookies that outperformed the average veteran at the position.  That’s #1 over wide receiver by about a 1%  margin.

The first 7 RB’s are usually off the board by the 3rd round (85th), so a team in need will have to set aside an upper echelon pick but is likely to find an early contributor if they stick to the blueprint.

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