2014 NFL draft: The Holy Grail of Running Back Scouting

Running back is one of the hardest positions to scout in college football. System and scheme have a large influence in the success of the position in the college ranks and the NFL. Which only makes more time and film work to find the diamond in the rough player all the while knowing you could just as easily be making the job of throwing darts at a board harder than it really is. However, the world of analytics is here, and after learning of a few simple formulas on a blog post by a user named Waldo. I’ve found the holy grail of running back scouting.

Using these formulas below, I’m going to show you a world where one number can be the difference between a Pro Bowler and a Jag.

“Mass = weight/height
Explosive Power = (vert+3.5*broad)*(weight/height)/3000
Speed 10 = 100*(1-(10 Split/(0.0114*(weight/height)+1.1785)))
Speed 40 = 100*(1-(40 time/(0.0397*(weight/height)+3.092)))
Speed Avg = (Speed 10 + Speed 40)/2
Agility = 100*(1-(3 Cone/(0.0573*(weight/height)+4.8403)))
Twitch = Shuttle – 2*10 yd split – (1.60 – 10 yd split)”

These are Waldo’s formulas that I have tweaked and applied to all the running backs who attended the NFL Scouting Combine from 2006-2013. With this data collected and calculated, I added the 2014 NFL draft rookie running backs to see where they fall in the data set to give us a better historical idea of what their success could likely be.

But before I show you the results, here are a few definitions of terms to help your understanding.

Explosive Power Score: Uses the vertical jump and broad jump of a player with their density to determine how powerful their lower body is out of their stance. The higher the number, the more explosive the player is.

Speed 10 Score: Determines whether a player’s 10 yard split is positive or negative compared to the mean determined by mass density.

Speed 40 Score: Determines whether a player’s 40 yard dash is positive or negative compared to the mean determined by mass density.

Speed Average: The average of the Speed 10 and Speed 40 score.

Agility Score: Determines whether a player’s 3-Cone is positive or negative compared to the mean determined by mass density.

Twitch Score: Determines how sudden a player is in by subtracting the short shuttle by the 10 yard split times two with an additional modifier to reward players who are fast. The lower the number, the more quick twitch the player should have on tape.

With that said, here are the results.

Starting with the explosive score, six rookies scored an explosive score of .90 or higher.

RB 1

Those rookies are Andre Williams, Jerick McKinnon, Lache Seastrunk, Tre Mason, Isaiah Crowell and David Fluellen.

RB 2

Only four players in that data set busted for reasons other than injury, which is a 12% bust rate.

To add more layers to this particular set, let’s adjust for agility.

RB 3 agility

The top three backs who have a .9 or higher explosive score with the three highest agility scores in that set are Pro Bowlers or about to be one potentially (Christine Michael).

The closet are David Fluellen, Jerick McKinnon, Tre Mason and Lache Seastrunk. They may never become Pro Bowlers, but should become quality starters to backups according to this data set.

The farthest away are Andre Williams and Isaiah Crowell.

RB 4

They are both in a respectable area, but Andre Williams will be a test case in whether his .98 explosion score can overcome his agility score.

Now let’s leave the .9 explosion area to join the .89-85 explosion area.

RB 5

The true busts start to rear their head, but a few well-known All-Pros are with them.

RB 5 RB 6

In this area, a low 3-Cone increases your chances of not busting. So I adjusted the data set to rank the backs with a .89-85 explosion score with a low 3-Cone and here you go.

RB 7

Surprisingly though, a 3-Cone of 7.08-09 with a .017 or higher speed score gives us three Pro Bowlers in Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Marshawn Lynch.

RB 8

None of the backs in this class are in that area, but it’s something of note if it happens again.

What this says though, is backs like Chris Rycraw, Bishop Sankey, Tyler Gaffney, Lorenzo Taliaferro, James Wilder and George Atkinson are in a sweet to have some success in the NFL. However, backs like Charles Sims, Damian Williams and Jerome Smith though, are in the danger zone.

Next up is the backs in the below .85-8 explosion score area. In this area speed is very important, because of the lack of explosive power.

RB 9

Players like Chris Johnson, DeMarco Murray and C.J. Spiller are Pro Bowlers largely, because of that speed.

RB 10

And there is high bust potential if you don’t have a lot of speed, but smarter backs like Arian Foster have found a way to make it work into a few Pro Bowl seasons.

RB 11

And Eddie Lacy may just be here, because he was not healthy for his Pro Day.

Bad news for Ka’Deem Carey though, as he is surrounded by busts and a running back in Taiwan Jones who is no longer playing that position. Ouch.

RB 12

Next up is the backs with less than .79-75 explosion score. Welcome to the danger zone with a few surprises.

RB 13

In this area, a low 3-Cone is crucial, but even then, you’re walking on egg shells.

RB 14

And backs like James White, Henry Josey, Tim Flanders, Devonta Freeman and Ben Malena are firmly in bad spot.

RB 15

No one back in that range has had a lot of success.

And for the Jeremy Hill and Antonio Andrews fans out there, some bad news as well.

RB 16

Now we’ve reached the last group, which is backs with an explosion score of .75 or lower.

RB 17

Success has been found in this area, but it requires speed with a great 3-Cone.

RB 18

Maybe there is something to this Dri Archer/Darren Sproles comparison? But backs like Kapri Bibbs, Ja’Terian Douglas and De’Anthony Thomas are in the danger zone.

Before we wrap this up, let’s examine quick twitch.

RB 20

One positive I’ve found while exploring the data is a correlation between a Quick Twitch score of 1.03 and a low 3-Cone. That should explain some of the success of Giovani Bernard who is a bit of an outlier.

So what have we learned? The bigger, more athletic and faster backs tend to have more success. Simple? Yes, but what these data sets reveal is success in the NFL can be influenced by the tiniest variance imaginable. A little too slow, too small or too stiff leads to failure.

A simple concept in itself that should make the discovery of these numbers more about telling us something we already know. And this should not take away from film study. Watching tape tells us how developed or good these backs are, and the numbers should be the icing on the cake for why they should be successful. I will continue crunching numbers and looking for more correlations to refine the data, especially at other position. But until then, continue to ponder the possibilities these numbers could reveal.

James Cobern is the lead writer for All Pro Football Source and can be contacted at james_cobern@yahoo.com and follow him on twitter @Jmcobern1