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On Sunday, former Western Kentucky running back Bobby Rainey was waived by the Ravens; the Browns subsequently claimed him off waivers. With Montario Hardesty placed on IR and 3rd stringer Brandon Jackson cut, there is opportunity for an outside running back to come in and impress. Rainey was a favorite of mine last year, and I scoffed at people taking Bernard Pierce in rookie drafts due to the former Hilltoppers’ presence (that worked out well for me!). The reason is this: in my running back model, Rainey grades out as a top 25 small running back of all time.

If you’ve been keeping up with Matthew Freedman’s work with nQBDR, then you’re not surprised by this. Rainey’s 87.4 nQBDR is very good, as is his grade of 94.5 in my model. A score above suggests NFL starting ability. From my original piece on this model:

Like any scouting method, this is not perfect; some players are far too high, and some are far too low. While reading this, I recommend you don’t think of this in black and white terms. For example, just because Player X is rated higher than Player Y doesn’t mean that Player Y isn’t as good as Player X. The grades the computer comes up with merely suggest that a player has NFL talent, not guarantee it. Somewhere around the low-80s is where player go from potential starters to role players.

The model grades players as compared to the elite at their position. A number grade, like Rainey’s 94.5, means he is 94.5% of an amalgamation of the elite small running backs, based on college production and combine measurables. Since I wrote my first piece on metric scouting the small running backs, the threshold has changed from 80 to 85. Above the 85 grade threshold, there are plenty of players who did not pan out. Below the 85 grade threshold, there are only 2 players who did go on to become successful starting NFL running backs: Frank Gore and Maurice Jones-Drew. Gore was coming off his 2nd torn ACL and had a disastrous pro day. In a system that evaluates players based on production and measurables, Gore was doomed from the start. The model is fooled by Maurice Jones-Drew’s poor 2nd year, where his raw and rate statistics dropped (he did score over 100 on the physical measurables side). This method is not foolproof, but it does work.

One important caveat: this does not take draft position into account. Rainey is a long shot to be fantasy relevant due to his undrafted free agent status, but in dynasty I prefer to bank on talent.

Rainey is clearly athletic. Although he lacks long speed, that doesn’t seem to bother people touting Giovani Bernard as the #1 dynasty running back. Rainey’s agility is otherworldly. For reference, a 187 pound Darren Sproles posted an Agility Score of 10.92 in 2005, so yeah, Rainey’s timed agility is impressive. Listed below are the best-case scenario comps for Rainey:

Player Grade Ht Wt 40YD Agility Explosion Strength
Bobby Rainey 94.5 67″ 205 4.51 10.74 155.5 104.25
Player Grade Ht Wt 40YD Agility Explosion Strength
Giovani Bernard 94.59 68″ 202 4.53 11.03 155.5 100.25
Ahmad Bradshaw 89.54 70″ 198 4.55 10.79 146 DNP
Kendall Hunter 88.7 67″ 199 4.46 10.95 157 102.5

I’ve changed my tune on Giovani Bernard. Although I wish he was a bit faster and more agile, he compares very well to Brian Westbrook (94.75 grade). Ahmad Bradshaw was a solid fantasy RB2 in a pseudo-committee in New York. Despite other’s thoughts, KHunt is still my favorite running back of the future in San Francisco. Bernard is the only one of the backs to be drafted higher than the 4th round. Bradshaw was practically undrafted; he was taken by the New York Giants with pick 250 of the 255-pick 2007 NFL Draft.

All 3 comps are smaller backs lacking gamebreaking speed, but sporting very impressive strength and agility profiles. Take Giovani Bernard and upgrade his agility from ‘good’ to ‘astounding’ and you get Bobby Rainey. If you’ve paid attention to any of Shawn Siegele’s excellent pieces on running backs using the Agility Score, then you know the Agility Score correlates to fantasy production in the passing game. Clipped from that article:

…runners with good Agility Scores tend to thrive in space and in the passing game. The passing game production takes on a special important with the proliferation of PPR leagues, and is doubly helpful in dynasty leagues since runners who catch a lot of passes tend to have more gradual decline phases.

Since 2000, Rainey has the 16th best weight-adjusted Agility Score (basically a Speed Score for agility), right behind New England Patriot Stevan Ridley. (The top 10 includes Roy Helu, Christine Michael, Le’Veon Bell, and Doug Martin, in that order). He was a significant part of the passing game his final 2 years at Western Kentucky, catching 63 passes over that period. Guess what Browns offensive coordinator Norval Turner loves? Pass catching running backs. In his 9 year Chargers career, LaDainian Tomlinson caught at least 50 passes in 8 seasons; in 2 of those seasons he caught 79 and 100 (!) passes. The only season Tomlinson didn’t catch 50 passes? His age 30, and final, season with the Chargers. Turner is the ultimate fantasy friendly running backs coach (Ryan Mathews aside), as he simutaneously feeds them the rock, while also peppering them with targets in the passing game.

You can see Rainey’s workhorse potential when compared to Giovani Bernard in college:

Player ATT/G RY/G TD/G YPC HltOpps HltYds/Att
Bobby Rainey 30.8 141.3 1.1 4.6 145 4.1
Giovani Bernard 18.4 122.8 1.2 6.7 84 3.05

Rainey was ridden hard in college, to the tune of 369 total carries his senior year. Their TD/G numbers are similar, and Rainey has a slight edge in Highlight Yards/Attempt. From Football Study Hall, Highlight Yards are “The portion of a carry credited to the runner instead of the line (no yards on a 0-5 yard gain, half-credit for 5-10 yards, all credit 10+).” Divide the total number of Highlight Yards by the number of Highlight Opportunities, and you get Highlight yards per attempt. Obviously, there’s a huge discrepancy in their yards per carry numbers. On that, I have to say that YPC is not statistically significant when attempting to predict NFL success (college yards per game is more highly correlated to NFL YPC than college YPC).

There’s probably a strength of schedule argument against comparing these numbers, but it’s not like the ACC is full of Alabama-esque defenses. The Hilltoppers were also terrible, ranking 93rd out of 120 schools in sports-reference.com’s SRS. Western Kentucky’s passing offense averaged 14 completions per game, and the starting quarterback finished with a 55.4% completion percentage, 6.7 yards per attempt, and 10 touchdowns versus 12 interceptions. Rainey was the only option on an offense that ran 45 times per game. Coming ahead of Bernard in the most statistically significant number is great news, the lead in HltYds/Att is just gravy. At worst, Rainey and Bernard are similar talents; at best, Rainey is a quicker version of Bernard with upside as a workhorse back in the NFL.

Not everything is positive, however. Rotoworld currently lists Rainey as 3rd on the depth chart, behind Chris “Silent G” Ogbonnaya. While Silent G’s physical  profile isn’t terrible, his season high for rushing yards in college is 369, and he’s only rushed for 420 yards in 29 NFL games. Cleveland coaches seem to like him as a player, and he’s caught 23 and 24 passes the last 2 years and averaged 4.4 yards per carry his career. Rainey isn’t going to come into a new offense and beat out Silent G; he’s gonig to require an injury to gain playing time. There’s also his advanced age to consider: he’s already 25 in the 2nd year of his career. In 2 years he’ll be 27, squarely facing running back doom.

Despite the cons, there are significant pros. There’s upside for a top 25 small running back of all time, a Brian Westbrook or DeAngelo Williams level talent. Trent Richardson hasn’t show the ability to stay healthy yet, and Silent G has already hit his ceiling as an NFL role player. The cons are that you pick up a player in a deeper league… and cut him if he doesn’t pan out. Rainey is a can’t lose prospect, similar to Latavius Murray. In a dynasty league with a deep bench (22+ spots), roster him and hope for the best. In redraft, monitor the situation closely. If Ogbonnaya gets injured or underperforms, Rainey might have an opportunity to show off his talent.

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