Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

21 Sep 2008

Top Small Running Backs

In honor of Darren Sproles, this week's MNF feature takes a look at the top 10 small running backs (maximum 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds) since the AFL-NFL merger. Two of the top three are playing right now.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 21 Sep 2008

8 comments, Last at 23 Sep 2008, 12:52pm by tally


by Drunkmonkey :: Sun, 09/21/2008 - 11:31am

Not much longer til DeAngelo Williams is on this list. He's gonna be everything the Panthers thought D.Foster was going to be and more.

by Wait, what? (not verified) :: Sun, 09/21/2008 - 2:11pm

Well, except that he's listed as over 200 lbs: http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/players/profile?playerId=9613

by Anonymous (not verified) :: Mon, 09/22/2008 - 1:51am

Tony Dorsett just misses out, due to the height limit. His playing weight is listed at 192, at a height of 5-11.

by andrew :: Mon, 09/22/2008 - 10:40am

Darrin Nelson's best game came on Thanksgiving Day in 1987 against the Dallas Cowboys... He was terrific in a 44-38 overtime victory, including the winning touchdown, a play where he dashed through a small hole and was met about ten yards down field by Ron Francis and Two Tall Jones, he ran through both of their arm tackles and broke free for a dash into the end zone. Earlier in the game he had a touchdown run over 50 yards in a memorable shootout... found a recap of the game here...

by Dean (not verified) :: Mon, 09/22/2008 - 10:53am

Brian Westbrook is MUCH better then Charlie Garner ever was. 36 West should be near the top of the list, behind only Joe Morris. Pretty good job overall, though.

by pimp (not verified) :: Mon, 09/22/2008 - 11:20am

Westbrook is 2x better than Garner. He is atleast 1.5x better than Dunn. I don't think any of the other guys were at anytime one of the best rb's in football. Westbrook is considered top 3 right now.

by andrew :: Mon, 09/22/2008 - 4:40pm

I tried to do an analysis of size vs yards...

I ended up taking height (in inches) times weight (in pounds) and comparing that to total yards from scrimmage... the variance for differences in height seemed too small though, so I subtracted 10k them multiplied by three to give me a range close to the ranges of yards. I also then added on punt return yards and kick return yards divided by five (reasoning an average run to be about 4 yds, and average kick return to be about 20). This is just all off the cuff. Didn't come up with any average per year consideration.

anyway, warrick dunn comes out on top no matter how you slice it, he just has that many more yards than the other guys. Doing it this way, charlie garner is 2nd, followed by a big cluster of everyone else except Dave Megget who is way below, with Mike Garrett and Darrin Nelson at the head of that pack. If you throw in kick return yards using the forumula i described, then Bruce Harper comes in just above Charlie Garner, then Dave Meggett, followed by Stump Mitchell and Darrin Nelson.

You can see the numbers in the spreadsheet here (google docs).

I threw a few other backs on there, including one prototypical "big back" (Jim Brown, 6'2", 232#) to see how the numbers would compare.

Backs who just missed the cut such as Walter Peyton (5'10", 200#) and especially James Brooks (5'10", 180#) fared well.

With the over-compensation for inchpounds, Warrick Dunn still comes out on top, though if I didn't it would easily be Walter Peyton.

by tally :: Tue, 09/23/2008 - 12:52pm

Barry Sanders also missed the list by just 3lbs.

And I agree, Westbrook should top this list.