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Metrics Scouting: Small Running Backs

Over the last few months, I’ve been working on a way to more efficiently scout future NFL players using workout numbers and college production. I know I don’t have nearly enough time to scout every running back prospect who declares, but Microsoft Excel has no such time restraints. The below rankings list is based on my last 2 months of work fine tuning this method for smaller running backs.  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 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 players go from potential starters to role players.

The Physical Grade is average of the players Speed Score, Explosion Score, weight adjusted Agility Score, and Strength Score. They are weighted in this order: speed, agility, explosion, and strength. The Production Grade is the average of a players grade for yards/game, touchdowns/game, and receptions/game, with the receptions/game number worth less than the other two. These grades are compared to the numbers for historical elite small running backs. The final grade is the average of the Physical/Production grades, with the Physical weighted more than the Production.

The system can be fooled, no question about it. If a player doesn’t perform a drill at the combine or their pro day, I have no choice but to assume average numbers. This is the reason players like C.J. Spiller and Jamaal Charles aren’t ranked higher. Poor production in their final year is another blind spot of this system, and the reason for Maurice Jones-Drew’s low ranking. You also can’t take players prior to 2000 on this list very seriously, as combine data before that point is sketchy, at best. Marshall Faulk, Barry Sanders, and Brian Westbrook are ranked, but all of them have 2+ drills missing.

You could argue that Demarco Murray and Darren McFadden don’t belong here, as I set a rough weight limit of being under 215 pounds to be included. Murray’s listed NFL weight is now 215 and McFadden’s is 218. They’ll be on my ‘big’ running backs list as well.

Every change I’ve done has been to increase the correlation of my rankings to weighted-Career Approximate Value. The r-squared of my rankings to wCAV is 0.3537. The players NFL draft position r-squared to wCAV is 0.3406. Since I don’t know how NFL teams ranked these running backs, where they were drafted is a crude way of approximating that. It could easily be argued that wCAV isn’t a good way to determine how talented a player was, and I agree. If a player never gets an opportunity, how can we judge how talented they are? This system thinks that Bobby Rainey is a top 20 talent, but how is he going to get a chance being stuck behind Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce? I promise I’m not crazy, guys.

I encourage you to hit me up on twitter or the comments section and let me know what you think. I’m open to any and all ideas that will help me improve what I do. Without further ado, my small running back rankings dating back to 2000:

Player Information Grades
Player Year College Total Physical Production
Sanders, Barry 1989 Oklahoma St. 120.63 105.17 146.41
Faulk, Marshall 1994 San Diego State 106.23 112.20 96.27
Arrington, J.J. 2005 California 99.25 109.63 81.96
Rice, Ray 2008 Rutgers 99.17 103.06 92.68
Harrison, Jerome 2006 Washington State 97.84 102.32 90.38
Williams, DeAngelo 2006 Memphis 97.61 102.84 88.90
Brown, Donald 2009 Connecticut 96.78 105.65 82.00
Cunningham, Benny 2013 Middle-Tennessee 96.60 100.15 90.69
Murray, DeMarco 2011 Oklahoma 96.29 107.12 78.24
McFadden, Darren 2008 Arkansas 95.62 108.82 73.61
Bush, Reggie 2006 Southern California 95.45 104.90 79.68
Johnson, Chris 2008 East Carolina 95.06 107.05 75.08
Williams, Ricky 2002 Texas Tech 95.01 93.01 98.34
Calhoun, Brian 2006 Wisconsin 94.89 94.47 95.60
Westbrook, Brian 2002 Villanova 94.75 94.20 95.67
James, LaMichael 2012 Oregon 94.60 102.92 80.73
Bernard, Giovani 2013 North Carolina 94.59 98.54 88.00
Rainey, Bobby 2012 Western Kentucky 94.50 103.59 79.34
Taylor, Chester 2002 Toledo 94.43 98.00 88.49
Spiller, C.J. 2010 Clemson 93.10 105.02 73.24
Ringer, Javon 2009 Michigan St. 93.05 98.87 83.34
Moats, Ryan 2005 Louisiana Tech 93.02 101.42 79.00
Bell, Tatum 2004 Oklahoma St. 92.53 107.69 67.27
McCoy, LeSean 2009 Pittsburgh 92.34 99.35 80.66
Hillman, Ronnie 2012 San Diego State 91.71 100.07 77.78
Best, Jahvid 2010 UCLA 91.69 104.89 69.69
Reyes, Walter 2004 Syracuse 91.28 94.62 85.72
Charles, Jamaal 2008 Texas 91.27 103.53 70.83
Hill, Michael 2013 Western Missouri 91.23 101.21 74.58
Todman, Jordan 2011 Connecticut 91.10 102.48 72.12
Williams, Ryan 2011 Virginia Tech 90.97 99.88 76.12
Sheets, Kory 2009 Purdue 90.75 101.27 73.24
Barner, Kenjon 2013 Oregon 90.54 96.67 80.30
Henry, Leonard 2002 East Carolina 90.36 96.24 80.57
Bennett, Michael 2001 Wisconsin 89.88 104.39 65.70
Bradshaw, Ahmad 2007 Marshall 89.54 97.37 76.50
Wolfe, Garrett 2007 Northern Illinois 89.45 93.70 82.37
Miller, Lamar 2012 Miami (FL) 88.74 110.29 52.83
Williams, Kerwynn 2013 Utah St. 88.72 95.52 77.40
Hunter, Kendall 2011 Oklahoma 88.70 101.41 67.52
Gray, Cyrus 2012 Texas A&M 88.31 101.45 66.42
Hall, Andre 2006 Marshall 87.63 99.93 67.12
Wilson, David 2012 Virginia Tech 87.55 106.71 55.61
Thomas, Marcus 2008 Texas-El Paso 87.47 97.44 70.85
Maysonet, Miguel 2013 Stony Brook 87.08 93.81 75.86
Pittman, Antonio 2007 Ohio State 86.91 106.09 54.95
Franklin, Jonathan 2013 UCLA 86.84 98.53 67.36
Moore, DonTrell 2006 New Mexico 86.66 92.85 76.34
Ball, Montee 2013 Wisconsin 86.57 94.88 72.73
Herron, Noah 2005 Northwestern 86.57 93.86 74.42
Alridge, Anthony 2008 Houston 86.48 92.82 75.93
Taua, Vai 2011 Nevada 86.28 94.35 72.83
Pead, Isaiah 2012 Cincinnati 86.27 99.41 64.38
Jones-Drew, Maurice 2006 UCLA 86.15 101.90 59.90
Davis, Anthony 2005 Wisconsin 86.04 94.53 71.90
Vereen, Shane 2011 California 86.04 101.33 60.55
McRae, Kalvin 2008 Ohio 86.00 89.02 80.97
Sproles, Darren 2005 Kansas St. 85.66 94.21 71.41
Herron, Dan 2012 Ohio State 85.37 101.05 59.24
Norwood, Jerious 2006 Mississippi State 85.20 106.55 49.63
Scales, Treavor 2013 Harvard 84.88 99.74 60.10
McNeal, Shawnbrey 2009 Southern Methodist 84.70 100.09 59.04
Burkhead, Rex 2013 Nebraska 84.67 97.94 62.54
Johnson, Ian 2009 Boise St. 84.38 106.25 47.93
Slaton, Steve 2008 West Virginia 84.31 97.52 62.30
Walker, Darius 2007 Notre Dame 84.12 95.92 64.45
Harper, D.J. 2013 Boise St. 84.06 99.01 59.16
Powell, Bilal 2011 Louisville 83.98 98.45 59.88
Boyd, Cory 2008 South Carolina 83.97 101.34 55.01
Randle, Joseph 2013 Oklahoma St. 83.44 94.21 65.48
Whitaker, Deonce 2002 San Jose State 83.36 88.09 75.48
Rodgers, Jacquizz 2011 Oregon State 83.13 88.34 74.44
Jones, Felix 2008 Arkansas 82.99 103.11 49.47
Wright, Jason 2004 Northwestern 82.84 90.48 70.12
Sutton, Tyrell 2009 Northwestern 82.28 92.67 64.96
Rouse, Robbie 2013 Fresno St. 82.20 83.07 80.75
Cobourne, Avon 2003 West Virginia 82.15 89.47 69.97
White, Johnny 2011 North Carolina 82.12 98.57 54.72
Addai, Joseph 2006 Lousiana State 81.67 104.82 43.08
Knight, Derrick 2004 Boston College 81.26 90.73 65.47
Moore, Mewelde 2004 Tulane 81.13 94.87 58.24
Smith, Michael 2012 Utah St. 81.11 105.60 40.30
Goodson, Mike 2009 Texas A&M 81.02 102.60 45.06
McKnight, Joe 2010 Southern California 80.86 100.50 48.12
Harris, Montel 2013 Temple 80.79 93.33 59.88
Morris, Maurice 2002 Oregon 80.77 99.26 49.96
Lewis, Dion 2011 Pittsburgh 80.63 92.45 60.93
Pearman, Alvin 2005 Virginia 80.59 95.35 55.99
Thomas, Lew 2002 Vanderbilt 80.57 99.12 49.66
Thompson, Chris 2013 Florida State 80.39 97.05 52.62
Burns, Joe 2002 Georgia Tech 80.19 88.98 65.52
Taylor, Stepfan 2013 Stanford 80.14 87.88 67.25
Jackson, Brandon 2007 Nebraska 80.12 100.71 45.80
Jones, Julius 2004 Notre Dame 80.09 97.63 50.85
Savage, Dantrell 2008 Oklahoma St. 80.06 90.04 63.44
Allen, Brian 2002 Stanford 79.95 103.11 41.34
Rainey, Chris 2012 Florida 79.91 104.66 38.66
Dixon, Andre 2010 Connecticut 79.88 97.39 50.70
Brown, Thomas 2008 Georgia 79.57 98.27 48.41
Minor, Travis 2001 Florida St. 79.56 96.51 51.32
Bernard, Yvenson 2008 Oregon St. 79.27 81.67 75.28
Stephens, Travis 2002 Tennessee 79.18 90.78 59.85
Lundy, Wali 2006 Virginia 78.72 100.70 42.10
Hudson, Ray 2005 Alabama 78.58 93.47 53.75
Coffee, Glen 2009 Alabama 78.48 96.51 48.44
Johnson, Jeremiah 2009 Oregon 78.45 95.71 49.69
Graham, Ray 2013 Pittsburgh 78.30 88.28 61.65
Ross, Cory 2006 Nebraska 77.74 93.80 50.98
Marshall, Darius 2010 Marshall 77.61 87.61 60.95
Williams, Shaud 2004 Alabama 77.38 86.29 62.52
Gillislee, Mike 2013 Florida 77.12 94.85 47.58
Redmon, Tellis 2002 Minnesota 77.12 95.64 46.25
Ellington, Andre 2013 Clemson 76.86 97.88 41.82
Devine, Noel 2011 West Virginia 76.61 95.34 45.39
Gore, Frank 2005 Miami (FL) 76.38 98.06 40.25
Taylor, Ramonce 2006 Texas 76.38 96.00 43.68
Irons, Kenny 2007 Auburn 76.17 101.04 34.72
Whitehead, Terrence 2006 Oregon 76.14 89.37 54.08
Scott, Da’Rel 2011 Maryland 76.00 103.99 29.36
Purify, Bobby 2005 Colorado 75.62 92.93 46.77
Meggett, Davin 2012 Maryland 75.50 99.43 35.61
Flowers, Delvon 2002 Arizona St. 75.49 91.59 48.66
Royster, Evan 2011 Penn State 75.36 95.07 42.52
Combs, Derek 2001 Ohio State 75.20 97.70 37.69
Brown, Chris 2010 Oklahoma 74.84 98.14 36.00
Berry, Damien 2011 Miami (FL) 74.68 99.21 33.78
Russell, Fred 2004 Iowa 74.39 94.04 41.64
Poole, Tauren 2012 Tennessee 74.06 97.37 35.21
Ore, Branden 2008 Virginia Tech 73.76 93.12 41.49
Daniels, P.J. 2006 Georgia Tech 73.76 94.03 39.98
Alexis, Rich 2004 Washington 73.62 89.55 47.07
Allen, Armando 2011 Notre Dame 73.37 96.02 35.62
Riddick, Theo 2013 Notre Dame 73.22 90.57 44.31
Booker, Lorenzo 2007 Florida State 73.18 95.99 35.18
Wood, Cierre 2013 Notre Dame 73.13 100.04 28.27
Johnson, Stafon 2010 Southern California 72.75 96.83 32.61
Washington, Leon 2006 Florida State 72.49 97.63 30.58
Watson, Derek 2002 South Carolina 72.22 93.24 37.18
Jamison, Jawan 2013 Rutgers 71.93 89.98 41.83
McCoo, Eric 2002 Penn State 71.83 98.45 27.46
Whittaker, Foswhitt 2011 Texas 71.12 94.62 31.95
Bell, Kahlil 2009 UCLA 70.28 93.26 31.98
Ford, Michael 2013 Louisiana State 70.15 103.95 13.82
Birmingham, DeCori 2005 Arkansas 70.02 96.10 26.54
Draughn, Shaun 2011 North Carolina 69.58 92.39 31.57
Maddox, Nick 2003 Florida State 69.26 91.32 32.49
Baker, Edwin 2012 Michigan St. 69.25 97.38 22.36
McCalebb, Onterio 2013 Auburn 69.11 90.90 32.79
Hines, Quentin 2013 Akron 66.26 99.65 10.61
Cooper, Graig 2011 Miami (FL) 65.86 99.21 10.28
Homer, Derek 2001 Kentucky 64.88 88.61 25.32
Davis, Josh 2004 Nebraska 64.40 92.70 17.24
James, Brandon 2010 Florida 63.55 92.22 15.78
Powell, Ronnie 2004 Georgia 62.39 89.55 17.12
Allen, David 2001 Kansas St. 60.96 89.57 13.28

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