darrensproles

I hate small RBs. I just don’t think they’re anything special, and not many of them perform like first-round picks.

Of course, Darren Sproles does exist, so not all small RBs inherently suck. Thus, we need some way of sorting the promising small guys, “the next Darren Sproleses,” if you will, from the guys who never do anything more than return kicks.

So here’s the question: What does a mid- to late-round small stud RB actually look like coming out of college? Given that small RBs are often disregarded in the NFL and fantasy drafts alike, an answer to this question could prove valuable.

In thinking about this, I took some advice from Shawn Siegele and ran a PFR screener for all drafted RBs of the last twenty years selected no earlier than Round 3 and weighing no more than 202 and no less than 182 lbs. [If you’re wondering about these parameters, just know that they were chosen with a specific RB from Florida State in mind who weighs 192 lbs. and was drafted in Round 5. Also note that some players were eliminated from the list and others were added, based on their listed weights at NFL Draft Scout.]

This screener provided a list of 38 guys who are on average about 5’10” and 196 lbs. They run the 40-yard dash in about 4.50 and are chosen around the 5th round.

From this larger group, I isolated the best guys, the eight runners with at least one top-30 season. These are the mid- to late-round small stud RBs.

Player

Year

Age

Round

Pick

Ht

Wt

40 Time

Speed Score

Jamaal Charles

2008

22

3

73

71

200

4.38

108.6835

Karim Abdul-Jabbar

1996

22

3

80

70

194

NA

NA

Steve Slaton

2008

22

3

89

69

197

4.45

100.4746

Brian Westbrook

2002

23

3

91

68

200

4.57

91.70546

Derek D. Brown

1993

22

4

109

69

201

NA

NA

Darren Sproles

2005

22

4

130

66

187

4.47

93.68

Jerome Harrison

2006

23

5

145

69

201

4.47

100.7

Ahmad Bradshaw

2007

21

7

250

70

198

4.66

83.98

Avg

NA

22.125

4

120.875

69

197.25

4.5

96.2

Median

NA

22

3.5

100

69

199

4.47

99.69

This cohort seems instructive. Note the size. On average, these guys are getting close to 200 lbs.—and if one uses the playing weights available at RotoWord then the mean weight is slightly more than 200 lbs. In other words, the mid- to late-round small RB who becomes a stud isn’t really that small, even when he enters the league. Note that Sproles is the outlier in this group, more than ten lbs. below the average and median cohort weights. In other words, if you’re looking for the next mid- to late-round small stud RB, the next Darren Sproles, he’s (historically, at least) unlikely to look all that much like Darren Sproles.

Also note the draft position. The subgroup’s median draft pick is 100. Half of the group was drafted in the third round—and this half includes the two most accomplished members. And then a quarter was chosen in the fourth round. All but one was chosen in the middle rounds (3-5). In other words, the mid- to late-round small stud RB has historically been much more mid-round than late-, with a rough correlation existing between fantasy relevance and round selected. While theoretically representing smallish mid- and late-round players, this composite player is basically a 200-lb mid-round selection. In sum, almost all of these guys are mid-round selections who aren’t overly small and historically aren’t likely to be low mid-round picks.

And as for the one low-round small stud RB, that’s Ahmad Bradshaw, who entered the league at 198 lbs. and, according to his RotoWorld profile, now plays at 214. With that information, I guess the truth is this: The late-round small stud RB hasn’t really existed for the last twenty years. In 2013 Daryl Richardson may emerge as the Rams starter, thereby securing his shot to be a top-30 RB, but otherwise the late-round small stud RB is the stuff of legend

Finally, one might see this subgroup’s average speed score and think that this composite player is just a standard small NFL rusher. In some ways that assumption is correct, but in other ways not. Check out this table.

Player

Vert Jump

Broad Jump

Explosion Score

Short Shuttle

3 Cone

Agility Score

Bench Press

Jamaal Charles

30.5

122

152.5

4.22

6.8

11.02

NA

Karim Abdul-Jabbar

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

Steve Slaton

33.5

118

151.5

4.27

6.74

11.01

19

Brian Westbrook

37

118

155

NA

7.09

NA

26

Derek D. Brown

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

Darren Sproles

33

105

138

3.96

6.96

10.92

23

Jerome Harrison

34.5

124

158.5

4.08

6.79

10.87

19

Ahmad Bradshaw

34

112

146

4.09

6.7

10.79

NA

Avg

33.75

116.5

150.25

4.124

6.8466667

10.97067

21.75

Median

33.75

118

151.75

4.09

6.795

10.885

21

 

The leaping ability is nothing special (although it’s not bad for a guy who’s 5’9”)—but check out that agility! This is Shawn Siegele’s dream come true. Every guy with an agility score passes the 11.1 threshold. As a group, they’re below 11.0! These guys may not be fast (although collectively they have a median 4.47 40 time, so they’re not slow), but they are dudes who are definitely quick. And these guys are good on the bench press for their weight. In general, these guys are good, strong athletes.

And how do these small but studly RBs do in college? Amazingly well. As a point of comparison, I’ve attached data for the first-round RB cohort with the same weight range across the same timeframe. Here are the rushing stats.

Player

Gms

Att

Yds

TD

Y/A

A/G

Yds/G

TD/G

TD%

Jamaal Charles

38

533

3328

36

6.24

14.03

87.58

0.947

0.068

Karim Abdul-Jabbar

45

608

3182

17

5.23

13.51

70.71

0.378

0.028

Steve Slaton

35

664

3923

50

5.91

18.97

112.09

1.429

0.075

Brian Westbrook

46

725

4499

54

6.21

15.76

97.80

1.174

0.074

Derek D. Brown

29

458

2699

23

5.89

15.79

93.07

0.793

0.050

Darren Sproles

45

815

4979

45

6.11

18.11

110.64

1.000

0.055

Jerome Harrison

22

482

2800

25

5.81

21.91

127.27

1.136

0.052

Ahmad Bradshaw

33

558

2982

31

5.34

16.91

90.36

0.939

0.056

Avg

36.63

605.38

3549.00

35.13

5.86

16.53

96.90

0.959

0.058

Median

36.5

583

3255

33.5

5.58

15.97

89.18

0.918

0.057

R1 Avg

38.83

514.00

3009.50

27.17

5.86

13.24

77.50

0.700

0.053

R1 Median

41.5

519.5

3075.5

30.5

5.92

12.52

74.11

0.735

0.059

The first-round guys and the mid- and late-round guys have exactly the same rushing average, and that’s with the latter group having over three more carries per game and slightly more TDs per carry. This superior productivity may seem weird, but it actually makes sense that this subgroup would be better than the first-round superstars: Because of their slightly inferior athleticism and disadvantaged draft status, they need to be better football players in order to get playing time in the first place. But, basically, as rushers coming out of college, the mid- and late-round studs have been better than the first-round studs.

Here are the receiving stats:

Player

Gms

Rec

Yds

TD

Y/R

Rec/G

Yds/G

TD/G

TD%

Jamaal Charles

38

49

539

3

11.00

1.29

14.18

0.079

0.061

Karim Abdul-Jabbar

45

40

340

1

8.50

0.89

7.56

0.022

0.025

Steve Slaton

35

65

805

5

12.38

1.86

23.00

0.143

0.077

Brian Westbrook

46

219

2639

30

12.05

4.76

57.37

0.652

0.137

Derek D. Brown

29

28

313

1

11.18

0.97

10.79

0.034

0.036

Darren Sproles

45

66

609

2

9.23

1.47

13.53

0.044

0.030

Jerome Harrison

22

34

275

1

8.09

1.55

12.50

0.045

0.029

Ahmad Bradshaw

33

87

697

5

8.01

2.64

21.12

0.152

0.057

Avg

36.63

73.50

777.13

6.00

10.57

2.01

21.22

0.164

0.082

Median

36.5

57

574

2.5

10.07

1.56

15.73

0.068

0.044

R1 Avg

38.83

84.17

864.33

6.67

10.27

2.17

22.26

0.172

0.079

R1 Median

41.5

80

914.5

8

11.43

1.93

22.04

0.193

0.100

 

Some variance exists between the two groups, but on a similar number of receptions per game they both accumulate similar yardage, and even though Westbrook’s TDs skew the overall total this subgroup still produces a solid number of receiving scores.

Essentially, the mid- and late-round small studs look very similar to the first-round small RBs. They’re not quite as athletically gifted, but they’re similar enough to make one reach this conclusion—they had the talent to warrant first-round selections.

Do you like any particular small 2013 rookie RB drafted after Round 2? If so, ask yourself this question: Does he fit the profile?

Over the last decade, these stud RBs have entered the league at a rate of two per every five years. In other words, in any given year the odds have been far greater than not that a mid- to late-round small stud RB won’t be entering the league. When thinking about sleeper RBs who fit the “small RB” weight range and about whether any given prospect will become the next Darren Sproles, I think that statistic is well worth remembering.

 

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