Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features

FowlerJal15.jpg

» 2017 Run Defense by Number of Backs

Our annual look at defensive success against multiple-back formations sees Seattle struggling to stop fullbacks, Indianapolis begging teams to use fullbacks, and Arizona trying to remember what a fullback even is.

24 Apr 2018

BackCAST 2018

by Nathan Forster

Saquon Barkley, who is perhaps the most hyped running back prospect since Reggie Bush, arrives at an interesting point in NFL history. The running back is no longer a "premier" position in the draft -- NFL teams would much rather use a high pick on an offensive tackle, a pass-rusher, or a wide receiver. Proponents of advanced statistics have been at the forefront of this change of thinking, pointing out that running backs often have short careers and are usually easily replaced. Accordingly, any team willing to go against this trend and use a high pick on Barkley should be fairly certain that he is likely to live up to his hype.

Enter BackCAST, which is Football Outsiders' metric for projecting the likelihood of success for running back prospects in the NFL draft. Historically, a college running back with a good size/speed combination, a high average yards per carry, and who represented a large percentage of his college team's running attack is more likely to succeed at the NFL level. BackCAST considers these factors and projects the degree to which the running back will exceed the NFL production of an "average" drafted running back during his first five years in the NFL. For example, a running back with a +50% BackCAST is projected to gain 50 percent more yards than the "average" drafted running back.

In sum, BackCAST includes the following factors:

  • The prospect's weight at the NFL combine.
  • The prospect's forty-yard dash at the NFL combine. If he did not run at the combine, BackCAST uses his pro day time.
  • The prospect's average yards per rush attempt, with an adjustment for running backs who had fewer career carries than an average drafted running back.
  • The prospect's "AOEPS," which measures how much, on average, the prospect's team used him in the running game during his career relative to the usage of an average drafted running back during the same year of eligibility.
  • The prospect's receiving yards per game in his college career.

     

BackCAST also includes "RecIndex," which measures whether the player is likely to be a ground-and-pound two-down back, a player who catches passes out of the backfield more often than he takes handoffs, or something in between. In short, RecIndex measures the likelihood that the player records a disproportionately high or low number of receiving yards versus his rushing yards. The two factors significant in predicting RecIndex are receiving yards per game in college and weight, as smaller players are likely to be receiving backs.

We have run BackCAST for Barkley and all of this year's other top running back prospects. This year, there is a huge gap between the top prospect and the rest of the crop. This draft is also a weak draft for receiving running backs -- with one notable exception.

Would it surprise you to learn that the top prospect and the top receiving back are both Saquon Barkley?

Saquon Barkley, Penn State

BackCAST Score: +181.9%
RecIndex: +0.61

You can believe the hype: Saquon Barkley has a massive BackCAST projection. Barkley has the second-highest projection of any running back in BackCAST's dataset, and he is a relatively close second to Ricky Willliams' best ever +190.1% projection.


Top BackCAST Projections, 1998-2018
Name Year Round Selection BackCAST
Ricky Williams 1999 1 5 190.1%
Saquon Barkley 2018 1 ? 181.9%
T.J. Duckett 2002 1 18 160.0%
Ron Dayne 2000 1 11 154.7%
Leonard Fournette 2017 1 4 145.6%
Dalvin Cook 2017 2 41 141.2%
LaDainian Tomlinson 2001 1 5 136.2%
Darren McFadden 2008 1 4 130.8%
Ronnie Hillman 2012 3 67 128.5%
DeAngelo Williams 2006 1 27 119.1%
Todd Gurley 2015 1 10 118.2%
Ezekiel Elliott 2016 1 4 118.0%
Rudi Johnson 2001 4 100 113.6%
Reggie Bush 2006 1 2 113.4%
Luke Staley 2002 7 214 112.6%

Barkley's historically great projection is primarily driven by his great size/speed combination. Barkley is the heaviest running back in BackCAST's dataset to run a forty-yard dash in 4.40 seconds or less.

Moreover, Barkley is not just a workout warrior. Penn State gave Barkley 42.8 percent of its rushing attempts when he was only a freshman, and gave him more than half of its rushing attempts each year thereafter. Nobody knows a player's talents as well as his coaches, who see the player's performance in practice as well as on game day. Any competent coach (as well as most of the incompetent ones) will try to get supremely talented players the ball. Barkley's coaches gave him the ball a lot, and history shows that Barkley's coaches' vote of confidence is an excellent sign for his potential success.

     

The weakest aspect of Barkley's projection is his yards per attempt. Barkley averaged 5.73 yards per attempt. That is above average. It is just not stratospherically above average like the rest of his metrics.

To top it off, Barkley is also likely to be effective catching passes out of the backfield.

Barkley's numbers don't nullify all the analytics that caution against using a high first-round pick on a running back. And despite all of these positive indicators, Barkley could still conceivably bust. However, it is hard to imagine a much better prospect at the running back position than Saquon Barkley.

Royce Freeman, Oregon

BackCAST Score: +88.1%
RecIndex: 0.02

In last year's draft, BackCAST had three very good prospects that it rated relatively close together: Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, and Joe Mixon. This year, there is a huge gap between Barkley and BackCAST's second-rated prospect, Royce Freeman.

That said, Freeman is a pretty nice prospect who may be severely underrated as a mid-round pick. Freeman is a good all-around prospect. He received relatively heavy usage at Oregon, he has a good size/speed combination, and he averaged 5.94 yards per rush attempt, even better than Barkley.

Derrius Guice, LSU

BackCAST Score: +86.8%
RecIndex: -0.30

Derrius Guice is probably appropriately rated as a first- to second-round pick. Guice had a relatively heavy workload in college, especially considering that he had to compete with future top-five pick Leonard Fournette for carries. Guice also did a lot with those opportunities that he did receive -- he averaged 6.40 yards per attempt, which is one of the best marks of this running back draft class.

The downside to Guice is that he is unlikely to give his team much in the receiving game. Guice averaged just over 7 receiving yards per game and is a larger than average back, which are both bad signs for his receiving prospects in the NFL.

Rashaad Penny, San Diego State

BackCAST Score: +81.0%
RecIndex: -0.16

Aside from Barkley, Rashaad Penny may be the most intriguing prospect in this year's draft from a BackCAST perspective. Penny averaged a phenomenal adjusted 7.37 yards per attempt, which is the second-highest score in BackCAST's entire database. (Melvin Gordon was No. 1 at 7.8 adjusted yards per attempt.) Penny also has a good size/speed combination -- he is a big back at 222 pounds, but with a 4.46-second forty-yard dash, he has the speed of a running back 20 pounds lighter.

Penny's projection takes a big hit, however, because his workload was comparatively light. In fact, Penny, by far, has the largest disparity between adjusted yards per attempt and college workload in BackCAST's dataset. Until his senior year, Penny was stuck behind other running backs on the depth chart -- most notably, current Philadelphia Eagles running back Donnel Pumphrey.

There is some evidence that San Diego State's coaches may have simply been mistaken about who was the better running back. Every year he played, Penny beat every other running back on the roster in yards per attempt. In particular, Penny averaged over a yard per carry more than Pumphrey as a junior. In fact, if you follow the running back rotation at San Diego State closely, it appears that the coaches gave a lot of weight to running back experience (San Diego State also diverted carries to senior running back Christian Price during Penny's sophomore year). If that is the case, then Penny may be much more talented than his college workload suggests.

In sum, Penny's BackCAST projection is good, and there is significant reason to believe that the one negative aspect of his profile does not reflect his true ability.

Ronald Jones, Southern California

BackCAST Score: +60.0%
RecIndex: -0.09

Ronald Jones had a reasonably heavy workload at USC. As a junior, Jones accounted for 52.0 percent of his team's carries, while the average drafted running back only accounts for 36.5 percent of his team's carries as a junior. Jones was also fairly explosive when he touched the football, averaging more than 6 yards per carry.

Jones is a bit of an odd case, however, because he is a smaller back, but he never was much of receiver out of the backfield in college.

Nick Chubb, Georgia

BackCAST Score: +76.2%
RecIndex: -0.30

Sony Michel, Georgia

BackCAST Score: +16.8%
RecIndex: +0.05

Nick Chubb and Sony Michel shared the same backfield at the University of Georgia, and so it makes sense to consider the two running backs together. Pre-draft prognosticators seem to value Michel over Chubb. BackCAST, however, thinks that Chubb is a far superior prospect, as he outperformed Michel in all of BackCAST's metrics.

Chubb shouldered a much larger share of the workload than Michel, and there is no reason to believe that was due to any unusual circumstance. In fact, the disparity would have been even larger if Chubb had not missed the second half of the 2015 season due to a knee injury. Georgia's coaches, who saw Chubb and Michel in practice every day, clearly preferred Chubb. Michel did not get within 60 carries of Chubb's totals in any year when Chubb was completely healthy. Chubb was also more productive on a per-carry basis.

Chubb is also bigger and faster than Michel. Chubb has a 13-pound weight advantage and had a slightly better forty-yard dash time (4.52 seconds versus 4.54 seconds).

Chubb is likely to be a below-average back in the receiving game, so Michel does have an advantage there, but Michel himself is not much more than average in that category. A smart team would probably avoid Michel in the first round and possibly take a flyer on the guy who actually carried the load for Michel's team.

The following table provides the BackCAST and RecIndex numbers for all of the halfback prospects invited to this year's NFL combine.


BackCAST Projections, 2018 Combine Running Backs
Name School Weight Forty AOEPS Adj Y/A RecYd/G BackCAST RecIndex
Saquon Barkley Penn State 233 4.40 20.3% 5.73 31.4 181.9% 0.61
Royce Freeman Oregon 229 4.54 8.4% 5.94 16.0 88.1% 0.02
Derrius Guice LSU 224 4.49 3.4% 6.42 7.1 86.8% -0.30
Rashaad Penny San Diego State 220 4.46 -11.2% 7.37 9.4 81.0% -0.16
Nick Chubb Georgia 227 4.52 2.4% 6.29 7.7 76.2% -0.30
Ronald Jones Southern California 205 4.48 10.3% 6.12 7.6 60.0% -0.09
Ryan Nall Oregon State 232 4.58 3.0% 5.65 18.8 54.2% 0.10
Jarvion Franklin Western Michigan 225 4.63 11.5% 5.17 12.9 27.5% -0.07
Josh Adams Notre Dame 213 4.71 5.0% 6.57 9.1 21.5% -0.11
Sony Michel Georgia 214 4.54 -4.2% 6.12 13.2 16.8% 0.05
Justin Jackson Northwestern 193 4.52 23.3% 4.76 16.8 15.1% 0.40
Jordan Wilkins Ole Miss 216 4.53 -3.8% 5.85 8.5 7.2% -0.16
Jeffrey Wilson North Texas 210 4.56 -0.3% 5.71 12.9 -3.0% 0.07
Chris Warren Texas 250 4.69 -15.4% 5.47 10.1 -20.4% -0.43
Name School Weight Forty AOEPS Adj Y/A RecYd/G BackCAST RecIndex
Nyheim Hines North Carolina State 198 4.38 -10.1% 5.39 24.6 -20.7% 0.67
Bo Scarbrough Alabama 228 4.52 -13.7% 5.52 4.2 -20.9% -0.45
Kalen Ballage Arizona State 228 4.46 -9.8% 4.53 14.9 -27.8% -0.02
Kerryon Johnson Auburn 213 4.52 -0.2% 4.81 13.3 -29.0% 0.06
Mark Walton Miami
202 4.60 2.9% 5.15 20.1 -38.5% 0.45
Justin Crawford West Virginia 202 4.64 -3.4% 6.03 4.2 -45.2% -0.20
Akrum Wadley Iowa 194 4.54 -4.4% 5.36 19.5 -56.8% 0.50
Demario Richard Arizona State 218 4.70 -0.3% 4.95 14.1 -57.3% 0.05
John Kelly Tennessee 216 4.65 -3.0% 5.01 12.1 -57.4% -0.02
Kamryn Pettway Auburn 235 4.74 -10.3% 5.36 3.6 -58.8% -0.55
Lavon Coleman Washington 223 4.65 -13.9% 5.35 5.5 -72.7% -0.35
Darrel Williams LSU 229 4.72 -16.8% 5.23 10.5 -89.3% -0.21
Kyle Hicks TCU 202 4.63 -9.2% 4.82 19.8 -100.0% 0.43
Roc Thomas Auburn 198 4.56 -17.1% 5.39 11.5 -100.0% 0.13

(Portions of this article originally appeared on ESPN Insider.)

Posted by: Nathan Forster on 24 Apr 2018

38 comments, Last at 28 Apr 2018, 5:29pm by JustAnotherFalconsFan

Comments

1
by jefeweiss :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 1:39pm

I watched a good amount of Penn State's games this year and I can tell you that many teams were selling out to stop Saquon and the Penn State offensive line was not really that good. I'm surprised his YPC was as good as it was.

2
by Bobman :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 3:03pm

The BackCAST index is interesting and I wonder how it relates from player to player. Is Barkley literally twice as good as Freeman at #2? Can we infer that after 5 years Barkley will have 8,000 yards from scrimmage and Freeman just 4,000? Maybe, I guess; neither projection is crazy but may be low for the 2nd best RB in the draft. And Sony Michel, at #10 (if he's still in the league) would have just 707 total yards after five years? Okay, he wouldn't last that long if that was all he produced, so it may not be applicable in that manner. Plus, of course, your surrounding cast and scheme matter a whole bunch.

Maybe in terms of draft value on the charts? Say Barkley is "really worth" just pick #10 at 1,300 points on the Jimmy Johnson chart. (A lot of draft talking heads saying he's the best player are implying he's worth 3,000 pts or more than twice as much.) That 1,300 draft points level implies Freeman is roughly half that or worth pick 29. Hmmm, that seems about right. And Michel would be worth pick 96, 1st pick in the 4th round. Again, this seems more logical than that career production silliness I looked at above. That would slot the #2 through #5 RBs about picks #29, 30, 33, and 36 in this year's draft. Not likely they'd all go in that tight a grouping, but intriguing. It might not correlate directly to NFL success, but in terms of draft value it looks pretty reasonable. Now we just need to see where these backs are picked and revisit things in a few years to see how production stacks up.

4
by ChrisS :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 3:24pm

The article says "a running back with a +50% BackCAST is projected to gain 50 percent more yards than the "average" drafted running back". So if the average of drafted RB's has 1000 career yards then Barkley would be projected at 2800 yds and Freeman at 1900 yards? Not sure if those with a -100% backcast are projected to get 0 yards, but that is the way I interpret -100%. The JJ draft chart always seemed to way overvalue the earliest picks and under value later picks, Chase Stuart did some work on trying use some data to get a draft value chart and it was much less steep and had a much longer tail. http://www.footballperspective.com/draft-value-chart/

20
by nottom :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 10:32am

Yeah, a -100% backcast is essentially predicting he never gets an NFL carry which is certainly the case for many backs each year.

3
by Tundrapaddy :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 3:23pm

I'm curious as to what BackCAST had to say about Adrian Peterson in 2007; he's not on the 'Top 15 all time' list, but was fairly hyped coming into the draft.

5
by Ambientdonkey :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 4:12pm

That top 15 list is nothing for backcast to be proud of.

6
by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 4:33pm

It's not?

That looks like a pretty good list to me (although obviously Dayne and Duckett were outliers) and a minor vindication of the method. Even some of the backs with ordinary careers were extraordinary talents (even Ronnie Hillman looked very good when I watched him play).

8
by Tundrapaddy :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 8:06pm

Dayne is a great example of why you have to review the game tape to put context around a player's numbers.

Honestly, that Wisconsin line he played behind opened holes so big, even I could've averaged 4 yards/carry.

11
by The Ninjalectual :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 3:10am

That's an embarrassing list of top projections for sure.

As a Broncos fan, I could never understand what the point of Ronnie Hillman was, and replacing him was a long time coming. I didn't see him as belonging in the NFL.

12
by Ambientdonkey :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 6:24am

Discounting Saquon 8 of the 14 players on the list are we're average to lousy. That's not very good for the 15 best prospects.

13
by MC2 :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 7:44am

Plus, four of their "successes" (Fournette, Cook, Gurley, and Elliott) have yet to play the 5 years that the formula is designed to project.

If you look at backs drafted between 1998 and 2013, the Top 10 in career yards (I don't know to limit it to the first five years of their career):

1. LaDainian Tomlinson
2. Frank Gore
3. Edgerrin James
4. Steven Jackson
5. Matt Forte
6. Adrian Peterson
7. Fred Taylor
8. LeSean McCoy
9. Ricky Williams
10. Thomas Jones

Tomlinson and Williams are the only two that make BackCAST's Top 10 for the same time frame.

Even if you look at the next five, you get: Jamal Lewis, Marshawn Lynch, Ahman Green, Clinton Portis, and Chris Johnson. None of those make BackCAST's Top 10, either. I think it's fair to say that BackCAST has slept on a lot of very good backs.

14
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 8:42am

"I think it's fair to say that BackCAST has slept on a lot of very good backs."

Sure. But it's also possible that NFL RB performance (and probably college) may be at least as dependant on line play as it is on actual running back talent. (IE, when you look at expected performance - the error bars that constitute "line play, etc" may be bigger than the actual effect).

What I'm trying to get at is that the projections could be decent - there's just too much noise in the results.

15
by MC2 :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 9:49am

Yes, that's entirely possible. I wonder if anyone has done a study to see whether draft bust/steal rates are significantly higher or lower at some positions than others. Anecdotally, it seems like there are a lot of early round QB busts and a lot of late round RB steals, but I've not really seen much data to back that up.

In any case, I don't think it makes a lot of sense to draft Barkley in the Top 5, or even Top 10, based on his very high BackCAST score, considering that of BackCAST's 10 highest graded players from 1998-2013, only 3* (at most) really lived up to the hype. Of course, if it's really that hard to project RB performance, then teams should probably avoid not just BackCAST darlings, but all RBs, at least in the first round.

*The rest of the Top 20 in career yards were Maurice Jones-Drew, Shaun Alexander, Brian Westbrook, DeAngelo Williams, and Jamaal Charles. So, 3 of BackCAST's Top 10 (Tomlinson, R. Williams, D. Williams) ended up in the real world Top 20.

16
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 10:10am

http://pfref.com/tiny/KLVAZ

Drafted players
1. LaDainian Tomlinson - 7361
2. Chris Johnson - 6888
3. Adrian Peterson - 6752
4. Jamal Lewis - 6669
5. Clinton Portis - 6453
6. Ricky Williams - 6354
7. Edgerrin James - 6172
8. Shaun Alexander - 5937
9. Frank Gore - 5561
10. Ray Rice - 5520

McCoy, Bell, and Forte are 11-13.

The list for undrafted players
http://pfref.com/tiny/PGBBT

1. Arian Foster - 5063
2. Willie Parker - 4989
3. Ryan Grant - 4016
4. Fred Jackson - 3794
5. Priest Holmes - 3657
6. LeGarrette Blount - 3258
7. BenJarvis Green-Ellis - 3158
8. Isaiah Crowell - 3118
9. CJ Anderson - 3051
10. Chris Ivory - 2961

18
by MC2 :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 10:29am

Thanks.

That list is no better for BackCAST. Still only two (Tomlinson, R.Williams) in the Top 10, and D. Williams, who was in the Top 20 for career yards, barely sneaks into the Top 25 for his first 5 years.

22
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 11:03am

The average drafted RB, who actually gets a carry, averages 1254 yards in their first five years, over the draft window in question.

Which is interesting, because that means "busts" like Duckett and Dayne actually met their projection (almost exactly) and Williams blew it away.

Part of this is because the average yardage for a drafted RB is pretty low and the distribution is not normal.

Another way to think of it is that the 1st pick is worth about 50 AV. That's Leroy Hoard. If you want 50 AV in their first 5 years, that Curt Warner. Is Barkley that or more?

24
by ChrisS :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 12:44pm

If BackCast is really projecting off of the 1254 yards you have, then Barkley is not worth a 1st or 2nd or 3rd round pick since that says he will rush for 3500 yards over his first 5 years. Which would put him at 42nd in your PFR query.

25
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 1:23pm

Using guys who are around 3500 yards in their first five seasons, most of them are 30-40 career AV guys (Westbrook was 80).

That's worth around the 18th pick, or earlier.
https://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/indexcc08.html?p=519
http://www.footballperspective.com/creating-a-nfl-draft-value-chart-part...

We, I think, overly devalue RBs. Unlike say, linemen or QBs, you can find a good RB late in the draft or as an undrafted FA. We take this to mean RBs aren't worth drafting high. But this isn't true. Many RBs are worth their draft slot.

31
by The Ninjalectual :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 3:48pm

Not counting opportunity cost. I agree though, that *good* RBs can be worth top 5 picks.

32
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 5:59pm

Here's the thing about opportunity cost -- everyone's bad at drafting. Even the top pick is on average only a typical starter for a couple of years. Yeah, two HOFers were picked after your guy, but you probably wouldn't have drafted them, either.

35
by MC2 :: Thu, 04/26/2018 - 7:04am

AV is a good tool for comparing players at the same position, but I don't think it does as well comparing players from different positions, because it doesn't account for supply and demand. For example, I don't think a Curt Warner clone would be worth a Top 5 pick (let alone the #1 pick) in the modern NFL. He was a good-but-not-great runner, who contributed almost nothing as a receiver. RBs like that have very little value nowadays. I think for a RB to be worth a Top 5 pick in today's game, he has to either be a HOF-caliber runner, or else a very good runner with excellent receiving skills, like Roger Craig. For what it's worth, Craig had 65 AV in his first 5 years, and 115 for his career.

If Barkley were a lock to be as good as Craig, then yes, he'd be worth a very high pick. But he's not. He's not a lock to even be as good as Warner. Remember, back when Reggie Bush came out, most pundits were even higher on him than they are on Barkley now. Bush ended up with 39 AV in his first five years (72 career). I'd say Barkley has about a 75% chance of being as good as Warner, and about a 25% chance of being as good as Craig. That's just not enough to warrant a Top 5, or even Top 10 pick, as I see it. Is he worth a Top 20 pick? Maybe, depending on the team's needs and who else is available at that point.

36
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 04/26/2018 - 8:33am

If you think he's Bush, he's worth a top-20.

39 AV in 5 years is equivalent to typical pick in the teens.

7
by jose_la :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 4:45pm

I have a few comments/criticisms:

1. Are Chubb and Michel unfairly punished for being part of the same backfield? It's mentioned that Michel was not within 60 carries of Chubb in most years, but in those years Michel still received a significant share of carries and was highly productive, especially in 2017. Michel is an above average prospect himself, so it seems unfair to compare a two-horse backfield to one with a single above-average prospect (Barkley, Guice, etc).

2. Alvin Kamara was a huge miss from this metric last year. To me, yards per attempt isn't just a reflection of a running back's talent, it's a reflection of a team's run game as a whole, and a good back will suffer in a poor run game. Seems that Kamara was a victim of this at Tennessee, and perhaps his backfield mate Kelly is similarly underrated here. In the same vein, San Diego State has an absolutely dominant run game (see 2016 Pumphery), which makes me wonder if Penny is overrated here.

3. I think college receiving production is weighted too heavily here. Quite a few college teams simply don't throw to running backs, and we're seeing backs who had little receiving production in college become productive receivers in the NFL (see Gurley, Fournette, Gordon to name a few).

Love to hear your response!

9
by Nathan Forster :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 9:03pm

1. That may be, but the current evidence does not support the idea of an adjustment for a backfield crowded with good prospects. Historically, backs who come out of the "two great prospects" backfield underperform their BackCAST numbers. Think Reggie Bush/LenDale White and Ronnie Brown/Cadillac Williams.

2. Yeah, Kamara looks to be a huge miss. My best explanation for that is that BackCAST makes the assumption that college coaches at least somewhat efficiently allocate carries to their running back talent. If you go back to the article last year, a lot of the comments expressed doubt that Tennessee's coaches knew what they were doing. Kamara's rookie season certainly suggests that those commenters were right. Kamara may have also simply improved dramatically between college and the NFL. BackCAST could not have predicted either scenario, which is why it is not 100% effective (or close to it).

3. Your observation that receiving production in college is not determinative of NFL receiving production is correct. However, I'm not sure how you reach the conclusion that it is "weighted too heavily." What would you use instead? The only other factor I have found that correlates is running back weight.

17
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 10:12am

Historically, backs who come out of the "two great prospects" backfield underperform their BackCAST numbers. Think Reggie Bush/LenDale White and Ronnie Brown/Cadillac Williams.

Like Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders?

19
by MC2 :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 10:31am

Or Portis/McGahee/Gore?

21
by Floyd :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 10:59am

No. Thomas was drafted a year before Sanders, so Sanders had a season as the primary back. Same deal with Portis/McGahee/Gore. They were drafted in different years and each was the primary back for at least one season.

The Bush/White and Brown/Williams examples are of backs that shared the load AND entered the draft at the same time. Like Chubb/Michel.

27
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 1:31pm

Sanders' situation was identical to Rashaad Penny's, where his Backcast, which analyzes career performance, would have been depressed because he sat behind Thomas for two years.

37
by mjb :: Thu, 04/26/2018 - 12:28pm

So like Darren McFadden/Felix Jones (and Payton Hillis to boot) at Arkansas. Both MaFadden and Jones were first round picks, both entered the draft the same year, and one was the more 'dominate' back of the two when at Arkansas.

Do I also get bonus points for the SEC to SEC comparison too?

34
by Nathan Forster :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 10:44pm

The point that this misses about Thomas/Sanders is that it assumes that BackCAST would significantly underrate them due to the split backfield. I'm a Lions fan, so I ran an earlier version of BackCAST for Sanders and he looked pretty great for the reasons that: 1) Sanders completely dominated that backfield once Thomas was out of the picture; 2) Sanders had an amazing yards/carry; and 3) Sanders ran a sub 4.40 forty with pretty good size.

I have not run the numbers on Thomas, but I suspect he would grade similarly because he really did not lose too many carries to Sanders while the two played together.

McGahee actually looked really good in BackCAST. Portis wasn't phenomenal but he was still +34%, which isn't that far off from where a second-round pick should be. Gore was a bit of a miss by BackCAST, but he barely overlapped with McGahee and Portis, so you can't really blame the split backfield.

29
by jose_la :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 3:09pm

Appreciate the response!

Regarding #3, have you looked at yards per reception for running backs? I haven't been able to find this data anywhere for ncaa players, but I'm wondering if that might correlate more strongly to NFL production.

One other question, just for the hell of it: what would Lamar Jackson score in backCAST? Assuming he can run a 4.40 at 216 lbs.

30
by jtr :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 3:31pm

I plugged those numbers in to the Speed Score formula, and it puts Jackson in at 115.3, which would place him second among RB's in this class by a tenth of a point.

10
by Dan :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 12:02am

NFLDraftscout has Josh Adams with a 4.51 pro day forty, not a 4.71.

23
by Theo :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 11:33am

Are injuries at all taken into consideration?
To predict a 5 year production I'd think being able to stay healthy should be a big factor, especially because the position is so demanding .

26
by Steve in WI :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 1:26pm

"Proponents of advanced statistics have been at the forefront of this change of thinking, pointing out that running backs often have short careers and are usually easily replaced." This sentence is true, and I have heard others point out that short careers (or at least, short peaks) are part of why running backs shouldn't be drafted high. I have never understood why the length of a RB's career would devalue their draft stock.

When you draft a player in the first round, you can control him for up to the first 5 years of his career at what is a below-market rate if that player turns out to be a star. You can also franchise tag him for up to 3 years (although since the 3rd year tag for a RB would be the average of the top 5 QB salaries, practically speaking no one will ever tag an RB for 3 years). So let's say 7 years (5 from the first contract including the 5th year option plus 2 on the franchise tag). To avoid using the franchise tag after year 5, or to avoid losing the player after year 7, he has to want to sign with you. And if that player is really good, he's going to cost you a ton of money against your cap.

All of that considered, I'm not sure why the prospect of a RB maybe having only a 4-5 year peak and then declining as early as his late 20s is a reason not to draft him high *if* you would otherwise.

28
by Eddo :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 2:37pm

I think you're mostly right, in that it's a weird and minor point to raise, but there is one definite benefit: you can extend a player on your roster for below market value early on.

33
by Sixknots :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 6:09pm

Our old friend Barnwell, over on ESPN, argues that RB is the one position where the first round rookie wage scale gets you no value.

38
by JustAnotherFalc... :: Sat, 04/28/2018 - 5:29pm

I get new Falcon Ito Smith with a SpeedScore of 102. How does he fair in BackCAST?