Running Backs and Draftable Profiles: A Thought Exercise
Ok, so what I’m going to do is look at the top 60 backs according to ADP among RBs on FFCalculator, look at how they fit into the three draftable RB profiles and see if we learn anything. I realize that Frank Gore’s agility score a decade ago doesn’t tell us anything about what he’ll do in 2014, that’s not the point of the exercise. I also realize there is survivor bias in only looking at backs being drafted in 2014, that is also not the point of the exercise. I really believe the three draftable profiles are the foundation of any running back evaluation.
The All Around Backs: Profiles 1 & 2:
Matt Forte, Doug Martin, Ben Tate, Steven Jackson, Lamar Miller, Roy Helu.
Forte is a veritable star, Steven Jackson has had a great career, Doug Martin was unreal as a rookie. It’s probably too early to tell on Tate, Miller, and Helu, though we think there’s reason to hold out hope on all three:
The fantasy relevant takeaway from this would probably be to buy Tate, as he has a clear path to a starting job, though I’m not sure if I actually will.
The Profile 1 Backs:
Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Demarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, Toby Gerhart, Trent Richardson, Darren McFadden, Bernard Pierce, Jeremy Hill, Chris Ivory, Andre Brown, Andre Williams, Knile Davis
This could be me reading into things, but Lynch, Murray, Mathews and McFadden were all backs who had early career struggles at some point and then resurrected their careers the way we all hoped Adam Sandler would.1 So if you wanted some hope for T. Rich or Pierce, there ya go. Less harebrained, Jonathan Bales has a great piece about how important jumping metrics are for RB success (for more on explosion score see here.) This seems to be especially true for Profile 1 backs. Consider Peterson, Lynch, Murray, McFadden, and Andre William are all the Profile 1 backs with Explosion Scores over 160. McFadden has probably been injured too many times and is now a husk of his former self, but the first three guys are the first three profile 1 RBs drafted and McFadden has had some elite seasons. I don’t need to tell you this bodes really well for Williams.
The Undersized Speed Score Stars:
Maurice Jones-Drew, David Wilson.
Both guys came into the league around the middle of the size for a profile two guy but boasted great speed scores and medicore agility scores. MJD’s profile is probably warped by the fact that he’s very short, so at 5’6 206 pounds he’s probably built like a 220 pound back. For Wilson, he flashed some and hopefully he can overcome his neck injury. For what it’s worth, his jumping numbers are totally ridiculous.
Profile 2 Players:
Lesean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Zac Stacy, Gio Bernard, Reggie Bush, Bishop Sankey, Frank Gore, Ray Rice, Knowshon Moreno, DeAngelo Williams, Tre Mason, Donald Brown.
Jumping doesn’t seem to matter too much for this group. McCoy’s explosion score of 136 is by far the lowest of the group; Charles, Gore, Rice, and Moreno all clock in in the low 150s or lower. On the other hand, Bush and D-Will can jump out of the gym. So it seems kind of irrelevant. Its also worth noting all these guys ran a 4.55 or faster. Also, as Shawn has said, when you’re talking about PPR superstars, it’s pretty evident this is the group they’re coming from for the most part; there are 6 players with a 60 catch season in this group.
Oversized Agility Score Stars:
Le’Veon Bell, Rashad Jennings, Joique Bell, Stevan Ridley, Christine Michael
It’s hard to really tell much. The jury is still out on just how good all of these guys are. Ridley is the only player in the group who’s shown he’s incapable of catching a decent number of passes. It’s probably worth noting that Christine Michael is the only player in the group who ran below a 4.59 in the 40, so he’s athletically more similar to the profile 2 guys in a lot of ways. Really, its probably just a reminder that, the Bells and Jennings should be able to catch some passes as long as they’re on the field.
Profile 3 Players:
CJ Spiller, Darren Sproles, Ahmad Bradshaw.
Sproles is a clear profile 3 back with a weight in the 180s. The other two guys are both a few pounds below 200 but debatably have been used as profile 2 guys in the past. Next year it’s possible Gio Bernard is used more as a WR/RB hybrid despite the fact that he’s over 200 pounds. The two profiles bleed into each-other. There’s something to be said for the fact that when you’re looking at young backs who are right around that 195-205 pound range you need to be very alert for team signals: do they view them as a feature back or more of a satellite back? There’s really only Darren Sproles and Danny Woodhead right now as far as players who can maintain fantasy relevance with under 100 runs and a mountain of receptions.
Backs who don’t fit any profile:
Eddie Lacy, Arian Foster, Montee Ball, Alfred Morris, Chris Johnson, Shane Vereen, Pierre Thomas, Danny Woodhead, Khiry Robinson, Terrance West, Devonta Freeman, LeGarrette Blount, Carlos Hyde, Mark Ingram, Shonn Greene, C.J. Anderson:
Vereen and Woodhead are both in the 11.2 range in agility score and are faster than 4.5 40 guys, so they are athletically close to being profile 2 players. Chris Johnson didn’t do the agility drills at the combine or his pro day, so I don’t know if he would have been a profile two player; regardless, it’s clear that a 197 pound player who runs a 4.24 40 is a great prospect, even if he’s so unbelievably rare that he doesn’t fit into any of the established drafting profiles.
Pierre Thomas is a total exception. He’s not very big, he’s slow, and he’s not particularly quick, but the dude just makes plays. Khiry Robinson is the same way.
The rest of the players listed are guys who would be profile 1 backs if they were faster. It may or may not be fair to note that the top 4 backs in this group in ADP include two guys playing with the two best quarterbacks in the game and two guys who’ve played their whole career in a Shanahan-style Zone Blocking System known for making runners look good.
For me the biggest nugget to come out of this exercise is noticing that explosion score seems to matter a lot for profile 1 backs and not-so-much for the other types. I also feel like the data is dragging me kicking and screaming to buying Ben Tate over Terrance West. If Jay Gruden moves the Racial Slurs away from the Shanahan Zone Blocking System® to a system that forces the back to freelance more, there is a very real chance Roy Helu could take the starting job from Morris before too long by virtue of his superior athleticism.