2017 RB Workhorse Scores – A Big Surprise at the Top
Yes, you’re looking at the right image. Wayne Gallman. And yes, this is the same Wayne Gallman who couldn’t get out of the first round of the RotoViz March Madness RB Bracket against a player who’s not even a true running back. I thought it was a calculation error at first. But before I get into explaining how it came to be that Gallman tops a RotoViz prospect list, let me explain what I’m doing here and what we’re looking for in workhorse RBs.
nQBDR and Workhorse Score
In 2013, Matthew Freedman introduced us to the non-QB Dominator Rating (nQBDR). This metric averages a player’s market share of his team’s non-QB rushing yards with his market share of his team’s non-QB rushing touchdowns. It measures how involved a running back is in his team’s total rushing production once QB rushing is removed. That is, when a team hands the ball off to a RB, who’s getting those carries and what are they doing with them?
About a year later he revised this metric to come up with the Workhorse Score, which measures the same thing, but in a more refined and useful way. Workhorse Score ignores games that were decided by more than 28 points (because teams are apt to bring in backups in blowouts). It also ignores games in which a player left early due to injury unless including that game improves the player’s Workhorse Score.
Today I’m continuing Freedman’s work by applying his methods to the 2017 class of RBs. What follows are the final-season Workhorse Scores for the most draftable RBs—that is, RBs who either appear in the RotoViz Scouting Index, or who were invited to the combine.
2016 Workhorse Scores
|Player||School||Qualifying Games||RuAtt||RuYds||RuTDs||Workhorse Score|
|Aaron Jones||Texas-El Paso||8||178||1282||11||84.90|
|Tarik Cohen||North Carolina A&T||7||151||1016||13||83.68|
|Jeremy McNichols||Boise State||11||289||1508||19||83.08|
|Leonard Fournette||Louisiana State||5||100||705||5||82.32|
|Jamaal Williams||Brigham Young||10||234||1375||12||81.87|
|Dalvin Cook||Florida State||9||215||1295||12||71.03|
|Donnel Pumphrey||San Diego State||8||216||1317||9||61.48|
|Marlon Mack||South Florida||11||165||1129||14||59.78|
|Elijah Hood||North Carolina||9||114||669||6||58.40|
|Matt Dayes||North Carolina State||11||221||1015||8||55.37|
|Chris Carson||Oklahoma State||7||67||480||7||54.09|
|Rushel Shell||West Virginia||6||69||324||3||44.44|
|Curtis Samuel||Ohio State||7||52||395||5||43.69|
|T.J. Logan||North Carolina||10||93||519||4||38.81|
|Justin Davis||Southern California||7||82||531||2||37.45|
|Stanley Boom Williams||Kentucky||11||152||1057||6||36.62|
|De'Angelo Henderson||Coastal Carolina||7||150||889||10||32.12|
|Freddie Stevenson||Florida State||4||11||91||4||20.43|
|Tarean Folston||Notre Dame||8||54||223||0||12.83|
|Sam Rogers||Virginia Tech||6||29||106||0||9.15|
The first thing worth noting is that no single RB on the list managed a final-season workhorse score above 90, which is considered an elite score. I’m not sure there is much to be made of this. In a RB class that is purported to be very strong, one might expect more true workhorses. But this list only includes each player’s final seasons, not necessarily their best seasons.1
It’s also worth noting that a low Workhorse Score is not necessarily a major red flag for a highly drafted prospect or for a big RB. But, a high Workhorse Score for a small back or a late-round pick can often be a sign of hidden potential. Therefore we should pay special attention to RBs who may not be expected to go in the early rounds of the NFL draft, or who don’t quite profile as prototypical NFL backs due to their size.
Now, back to Wayne Gallman. He didn’t have a particularly good combine. He wasn’t a prolific pass catcher. And he only accounted for 59 percent of Clemson’s non-QB rushing yards over all games in which he appeared. But he is the perfect example of why the Workhorse Score adjustments are important.
Consider this: Gallman was the only Clemson player not named Deshaun Watson to score a rushing TD in a game decided by 28 or fewer points. In non-blowouts, Gallman accounted for nearly 75 percent of Clemson’s non-QB rushing yards. Anthony Amico previously wrote that Gallman’s combine performance would be an important component of his valuation. He did not perform as hoped, but perhaps his dominance within Clemson’s running game can overcome some red flags regarding his athleticism.
Brian Hill is one of the more intriguing prospects in the class. He rushed for more than 1,800 yards and 21 touchdowns in 13 meaningful games this past season. Jordan Hoover noted that Hill was just as much a workhorse as the more highly touted prospects Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey based on his rushing market shares. In fact, Hill’s Workhorse Score is quite a bit higher than either Cook’s or McCaffrey’s.
Nick Frost wrote that Aaron Jones may be the best 2017 draft prospect you’ve never heard of, and Jones’ Workhorse Score backs up his claim. There are question marks surrounding the quality of his teammates and the competition he faced. And NFL teams are not going to just look past his DWI arrest in February of 2016. But Jones’ ability to be the focal point of his offense is undeniable, as he also added over 200 receiving yards to his elite rushing production. His comps are also fairly impressive:
Tarik Cohen is one of two FCS running backs who was invited to the combine. And he is one of the most productive RBs in the draft, amassing more than 5,600 career rushing yards and nearly 1,000 career receiving yards in four years at North Carolina A&T. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in all four seasons, including more than 1,500 yards in the last two and more than 15 touchdowns in the last three. He also caught at least 25 passes for more than 200 receiving yards in each of the last three seasons. At only five-feet-six inches and 175 pounds, his diminutive stature may limit his NFL usefulness. But he was extremely effective as a workhorse all four years of his college career. And he’s exactly the sort of back that the Workhorse Score is really good at finding–small backs from small schools who probably won’t be drafted early in the reality draft but who were uber-productive in college. Plus, his agility and pass-catching ability are worth marveling at:
As a WR who converted to RB, Jeremy McNichols is already drawing comparisons to David Johnson. This is unfair to McNichols, who’s not quite the athlete Johnson is and is unlikely to live up to the comp. On the other hand, McNichols does show some impressive ability as a workhorse in his own right. He rushed for more than 1,700 yards and caught more than 470 receiving yards in 2016—numbers that compare favorably to Johnson’s despite the fact that Johnson faced inferior competition. He also compiled these stats at a much younger age than Johnson. I’m not saying we should perpetuate the Johnson comp (though I know I’m contributing to its staying power right now—sorry), but McNichols may have quite a bit of upside, if he lands in the right spot.
Joe Mixon is often cited as one of the most talented backs in the 2017 class. He’s got NFL size and athleticism, and he was an excellent receiver out of the backfield. But as many RotoViz writers asked in his latest RB Prospect Tournament matchup, if he’s so talented, why was he stuck in a timeshare? He accounted for less than 50 percent of Oklahoma’s non-QB rushing production in 2016, despite sharing a backfield with combine loser Samaje Perine. And this is before we even consider the risks associated with Mixon’s off-field issues. Now, Mixon’s size and likely pedigree make him the sort of back who can potentially overcome a low Workhorse Score, but there are still legitimate question marks about his collegiate production.
As of the latest RotoViz Scouting Index, Alvin Kamara is the fourth-ranked RB on media boards. This is somewhat surprising, as his 4.56 forty at 214 pounds did not quite live up to expectations. He was a very productive pass catcher, though not as good as Mixon. But just considering his mediocre 40 and his lack of workhorse usage, it would seem like a reach if he really is taken as the fourth RB in the upcoming draft.
As I mentioned above, nobody in the 2017 class had a Workhorse Score over 90 in 2016. It’s possible that looking at only a single season underrates the degree to which a back might have dominated his team’s rushing production over his career. A closer look at previous seasons would be informative. That said, there are still some really intriguing names here to keep an eye on.
One area where the Workhorse Score metric is limited is that it does not account for passing game work. I’ll address a way we can measure that in the next installment. Stay tuned.
Subscribe for a constant stream of league-beating articles available only with a Premium Pass.
- I hope to explore earlier career numbers in a later article—still working with that data. (back)