Winning & Offensive Run Efficiency; Football Scouts looking for top Running Backs

Think your team needs a running game to win in the National Football League?  The prognosticators and pundits, along with the “talking heads” on all the Sports Networks (ex-coaches, ex-players and guys who did neither) say you can’t win without one.  I’ve seen it on both ends, being a huge fan of the 1992 Houston Oilers (see Buffalo’s “Comeback”) and as Director of College Football Scouting for the Denver Bronco’s “Back to Back” championships (’97-’98) behind Terrell Davis.

Let’s continue to explore the significance of statistical categories (passing, running, turnovers, penalties) and how they correlate to a team’s projection of winning.  For this exercise – OFFENSIVE RUN EFFICIENCY (ORE).

Recall that Brian Burke (NFL Advanced Stats) uses efficiency measures to assess the “actual” contributions to winning.  He calls it “football’s equivalent to the batting average”.  Though most of us (fans & media) assume running causes winning, it’s actually the other way around.  “Winning causes running”.   And as a component of the overall equation, Offensive Run Efficiency ranks #4 behind Offensive Pass Efficiency, Defensive Pass Efficiency and Defensive Interception Rate.

Again, we’re only into week 4, but 7 of the top 10 rushing teams in the NFL have a combined record of 3-18.  Four of those teams are 0-3; Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Rams, Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts.  The number one team in (ORE)?  Your Minnesota Vikings (1-2).

So what?  As a General Manager , Player Personnel Director, or Football Scout how do I use this to my advantage?  How can this lead me to choosing the right running backs for my team?

Though not THE most important factor in the equation, it still presents a fairly significant coefficient (0.46).  So we need to zero in on the best Running Backs we can sift out of the draft.  Take a look at these numbers that can help guide us to do just that.

Between 2001-2010 there have been 172 – 1000+ yard seasons

  • 118 of 172 (68.6%) were Running Backs >= 215 lbs (4.38 per carry)
  • 52 RB’s made up the 118 seasons, 27 (52%)recording multiples
  • 44 of 172 (25.5%) were Running Backs 200-214 lbs (4.62 per carry)
  • 18 RB’s made up the 44 seasons, 12 (66%) recording multiples
  • 10 of 172 (5.8%) were Running Backs under 200 lbs (4.48 per carry)
  • 6 RB’s made up the 10 seasons, 3 (50%) recording multiples

Studies of “2-Deep Rosters” show the top 3 sources for Running Backs

  • 1st Round – 30%
  • 2nd Round – 20%
  • CFA’s – 14%

Percentage (by pick) of 56 starts in 5 years

  • Picks 1-10 RB’s – 45%
  • Picks 11-20 RB’s – 30%
  • Picks 21-50 RB’s – 6.7%

Percentage of 1st round Running Backs to make the Pro Bowl in first 4 seasons

  • 32.3% (ranks #3 behind DT’s and OG’s)

Average number of Running Backs taken over a 15 year study (by round/pick)

  • 1st round – 3 Running Back’s (#9, #16, #30)
  • 2nd round – 3 Running Back’s (#40, #48, #62)

Relevance of the NFL Scouting Combine to Running Backs

  • 31 Running Back’s with EPA = 4 (’05-’08) 13% starters, 29% 2-Deep, 65% roster and,
  • 69% <= 4.57 (40 yd dash) and exceed peer average in any 3 other events at the Combine

Average career per carry (by round) of NFL Running Backs

  • 1st round – 3.9 yds
  • 2nd round – 3.7 yds

Each of us might surmise our own conclusion from this data, but here’s how I see it.

My chances of finding an RB to start at least 56 games in his first 5 years (rookie contract) are best in the top 20 picks of the first round.  Here I could potentially find two, maybe three candidates to choose from.  There’s a one in three chance of this player going to the Pro Bowl in his first 4 seasons.  He will most likely average for a career close to 4.0 yards per carry.

This player’s best bet is to be over 215 lbs and have run a sub 4.57 in the 40 yard dash.  He should also exceed the average of all other Running Backs invited to the NFL combine in (at a minimum) three of the remaining six drills; short shuttle, long shuttle, 3-cone, vertical jump, broad jump and bench press.

That’s before factoring in any and all of your own weighted “position specifics”, football scout evaluations and final grades.

Will this ensure ultimate success in the “Win” column?  Not necessarily.  But as Burke points, “the best Running Backs really do come from the top picks”.  They’re just not as important as they once were in today’s “pass happy” NFL.

As a General Manager, Personnel Director or Football Scout it’s a great place to start.  Unless you can find a 6th round pick, run a “West Coast” scheme and have Alex Gibbs as your Offensive Line Coach.

Now you’re talkin’.

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