Thursday, April 17, 2014

Kangaroo Court: The 2014 Running Backs

You could be looking at tentacle porn right this very second.  If you so wished.  Instead of that, you came here.  The simple fact that you've selectively wandered into this little corner of the internet practically guarantees that you are a classy and sophisticated individual (relatively speaking).  Perhaps you are a connoisseur of the arts.  Most likely, you drink with your pinky pointed outwards.  Your spouse is probably the sort who would decline membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, as she is still a royalist.  I suspect that there's also a good chance that you spend your weekends engaging in dressage and falconry.  That's just how we do things around here, isn't it?

Being such a swell individual, you have probably been exposed to the 'great works' such as the 1973 masterpiece Soylent Green.  Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the post-apocalyptic utopia that is portrayed in this film, other than its brilliant solution as to how we should deal with the rabble, was the oft overlooked real estate system it proposed.  In the future, it was suggested, every apartment came...fully furnished.  The film shows a time when men were men, and women were sofas.  It was a glorious time (for males in the economic top one-percent)!  The objectification of our fellow human beings was achieved to perfection, and probably not terribly different from what I imagine life is like inside Dan Snyder's underground volcano fortress.

In a similar fashion, I suspect we could view disposable meatsacks running backs as a form of Soylent.  They are increasingly becoming less and less valuable, and a commodity that should probably be used up and then quietly disposed of on the side of the road (hopefully before they start beating their fiancee).  Of course, as Charlton Heston might say,"It's people!  Running backs are made out of people!"  This little ethical dilemma is something we probably can, and should, overlook.  We really don't want to have our sleep disturbed by such unpleasant thoughts.  Beat them like a rented mule, and then send them to the glue factory.

When I have looked at the other position groups for the upcoming draft, I have tended to be extremely pessimistic.  I expect most of the draft prospects to do rather poorly, or at least not be exciting enough to aggressively pursue.  With running backs, I strangely lean slightly in the opposite direction...sort of.  I figure most of them are generally perfectly adequate, though still probably somewhat unexceptional.  While people are gradually embracing the idea that teams shouldn't invest 1st round picks in running backs, I'd probably go a step further.  I wouldn't take one before the 3rd round.  Hell, with the way the free agent market has been going in recent years, I would almost say that they aren't worth drafting at all, since they can be picked up on short term deals that pay almost nothing nowadays.  For the most part, I really don't think it matters who your team's running back is, as long as the offensive line is passably competent, and the running back's skills are used correctly.

If a player only has raw power, run him up the middle.  If he only has speed and agility, run him outside the tackles.  Let's not over-think this.  I hate to see teams that appear to be confused about this simple concept, and then whine about how the player isn't meeting their expectations the way the Dolphins have been doing with poor Lamar Miller.  Complaining that Lamar Miller isn't 'more physical' is just offensively stupid.  Lamar Miller has excellent speed (4.34 40-yard dash, with a 0.19 2nd Gear Score), very good agility (0.857 Agility Score), and showed that he can also catch the ball when he was in college.  What he doesn't have is remarkable power (0.071 Kangaroo Score), so wishing that he would behave like a human battering ram is unrealistic.  I like Lamar Miller a lot, but I think I appreciate him for what he is, not what I might wish that he could be.  Asking a player to be something other than what he actually is, strikes me as a bit insane.

I've already mentioned my peculiar views on running backs and their athletic abilities, so I'll just skip ahead a bit here.  The player's Kangaroo Score (our measure of lower body power) and Agility Score (based on their short shuttle and 3-cone times) will be given in the form of how many standard deviations above, or below average, that the player happens to be compared to his peers at the same position.  I'll also include the player's 2nd Gear Score, and Speed Score.  Personally, I have some issues with using the Speed Score, but a fair number of people are familiar with it, so I figured I would toss it in there.  I should also mention that I use the unofficial 40 times, rather than the magically altered official times of the NFL, since I prefer to look at the results in relation to a player's 10-yard split.

This list will continue to be updated, as new data and prospects come to my attention.  I won't list everyone here, but instead will just mention the players that I feel are interesting for one reason or another.

Tre Mason, RB, Auburn  Ht: 5' 8.4"  Wt: 207
40 Time: 4.45   2nd Gear: 0.08   Speed Score: 105.5   Kangaroo Score: 0.520  Agility Score: 0.854?
I don't have any serious complaints about Mason.  His Kangaroo Score suggests that he has at least moderate lower body power, even if he isn't exceptional here.  For his Agility Score, though, we have to solely rely on his short shuttle result, which is above average, since we are missing his 3-Cone time.  While his 40-time isn't stunning for a small running back, his 10-yard split of 1.53 seconds, does suggest a high degree of quickness.  When you combine all of this with his high level of productivity the last two years, Mason seems to have a perfectly reasonable resume.  While he's been highly productive, he hasn't caught many passes, though I thought he looked rather good when given an opportunity to do so.  Would I take him in the 2nd round, where he is generally projected to be selected?  No, because running backs are about as valuable as a moldy ham sandwich.  Still, I suspect he should do okay, and his high draft status will likely give him many opportunities to get on the field.

Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State  Ht: 5' 11.7" Wt: 230
40 Time: 4.61   2nd Gear: 0.08   Speed Score: 101.8   Kangaroo Score: 0.533  Agility Score: ?
I'm going to ignore his off-the-field issues, since they aren't my primary concern.  While Hyde has been rather productive, it was really only in his senior year where his stats suddenly went through the roof.  Unfortunately, I kind of feel that the teams he played against as a senior, just weren't terribly good.  He seemed to beat up a lot of mediocre programs like Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, etc.  That's not his fault, of course.  The schedule is the schedule, and he did what he should have done.  Still, when I see his measurable traits, it makes me worry about whether he has the athletic ability to perform against a higher level of competition.  I could forgive his poor speed (though his 10-yard split of 1.69 seconds really makes me worry about his quickness), if I he seemed to have exceptional power, but his Kangaroo Score is a bit pedestrian for someone who is promoted as being a power back.  As for his agility, it is hard to say since he didn't do the 3-Cone or short shuttle drills (though I will say that he didn't look terribly stiff to me).  In the end, I kind of suspect that his offensive line did him a lot of favors.  I can't say that he is incapable of succeeding, but I wouldn't want to bet on him.

Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington  Ht: 5' 9.4" Wt:  209
40 Time: 4.49   2nd Gear: 0.04   Speed Score: 102.8   Kangaroo Score: 0.231  Agility Score: 1.582
As his numbers would suggest, he seems to basically be an outside the tackles runner, with at least a  respectable ability to also catch the ball.  He was very productive, and I appreciate the added dimension he brings as a receiver, but I think whether he has great success will hinge somewhat on who selects him.  Players with his sort of average Kangaroo Scores aren't terribly likely to break many tackles, or run over anyone, so I generally think they require a competent offensive line more than some of their more powerful peers.  You generally expect to see smaller running backs exhibiting a higher degree of quickness, and his time of 1.53 seconds fits that expectation.  He struck me as a respectable running back, with the sort of nimbleness his measurables would lead you to expect, but I can't see taking him as highly as he is generally projected to go.

KaDeem Carey, RB, Arizona  Ht: 5' 9.3" Wt: 207
40 Time: 4.69   2nd Gear: -0.11   Speed Score: 85.5   Kangaroo Score: -0.526  Agility Score: -0.491
Carey was undeniably a very productive player.  Unfortunately, his results make it a bit of a mystery as to how he managed to do so well.  According to his measurable traits, he lacks speed, power, and agility, and I don't like to bet against the numbers.  While I can't say that Carey is doomed, I also can't see how anybody could confidently bet on Carey with a high draft pick, when there will be safer prospects out there.  He strikes me as a ridiculously unnecessary gamble, and I don't like to bet on a player being an outlier.  Honestly, I don't think he looks as bad as his number might suggest, but if you consistently make picks based on gut reactions or your lying eyes, you will most likely end up getting burned in the long run.

Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU   Ht: 6' 0.5"  Wt:: 233
40 Time: 4.59   2nd Gear: 0.01   Speed Score: 104.9   Kangaroo Score: -0.195  Agility Score: ?
Yes, Hill was very productive in his final year in college, but I don't trust him at all.  When you consider his weak measurables, along with the fact that he was running behind a fairly talented 271# fullback (J.C. Copeland), I begin to suspect that Hill might be product of his environment.  His game-to-game stats also seem to show a trend of beating up on the weak, and struggling against the better teams.

Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State  Ht: 5' 8"  Wt: 208
40 Time: 4.51   2nd Gear: 0.06   Speed Score: 99.5   Kangaroo Score: -0.817  Agility Score: -0.157
Nope.  Nope.  Nope.  Not interested.  I really don't get the appeal of Freeman at all.

Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia   Ht: 6'   Wt: 214
40 Time: 4.46   2nd Gear: 0.07   Speed Score: 108.16   Kangaroo Score: 0.781  Agility Score: -0.412
For someone with a relatively low Agility Score, I'm surprised at how productive Sims has been as a receiving option.  Because of his above average Kangaroo Score, I think he could stand up reasonably well as a main carry running back.  He really strikes me as a very weird prospect.  That he excelled as a receiver, while being only moderately productive as a runner, is sort of the opposite of what the computer would have expected, given his athletic profile.  I wouldn't necessarily predict stardom for Sims, but I wouldn't be surprised if he became an adequate and versatile running back.  I see people projecting him to be taken in the 3rd round, and that is a little bit higher than I would consider selecting him, since there are other prospects I prefer over him.  He really strikes me as one of the more confusing running back prospects.

Lache "Loch Ness" Seastrunk, RB, Baylor   Ht: 5' 9"  Wt: 201
40 Time: 4.46   2nd Gear: 0.10   Speed Score: 101.59   Kangaroo Score: 0.976  Agility Score: 0.220
More than anything else, I am really impressed by his name.  That is going to be a tough selling point for his rivals to match.  I should probably note that Seastrunk improved his 40 time to a 4.37 at his pro day.  This would change his Speed Score to 110.23, and his 2nd Gear Score to 0.18.  Obviously, these improved results should be treated with some wariness, though I wouldn't completely dismiss them in this case.  Overall, Seastrunk has been a reasonably productive player, for a guy who has never had more than a paltry 158 carries in a season, though he's never been much of a receiving threat.  For a small running back, he also seems to have surprisingly respectable power.  I thought he was actually one of the more interesting running backs to watch, but without any demonstrated ability as a receiver (I'm not saying that he can't catch the ball, just that he hasn't so far), I probably wouldn't consider him before the 4th round.  Compared to a lot of the other running back prospects, I though he showed more suddenness/explosiveness, which also probably relates to his Kangaroo Score.  I wouldn't be surprised if he turns turns out to be one of the better RB prospects in this draft.

Andre Williams, RB, Boston College  Ht: 5' 11.3" Wt: 230
40 Time: 4.50   2nd Gear: 0.08   Speed Score: 112.17   Kangaroo Score: 1.931  Agility Score: 0.137
Based on his very high Kangaroo Score, but just moderate results relating to his speed and agility, he would appear to primarily be an inside the tackles battering ram.  He didn't strike me as terribly flashy, but every team should have at least one guy like this, who can consistently pound the ball for a short gain.  I suspect he should do okay on almost any team, since I think these sorts of power backs tend to be less dependent on their offensive line, though a good line would obviously still help.  For what he is, I like him a fair bit, and would love to see him paired up with someone like Zac Stacy.  Still, I probably wouldn't take him unless he fell to the 4th round, which is tiny bit later than some people seem to be projecting that he will go.

Jerick McKinnon, RB, Georgia Southern  Ht: 5' 9"  Wt: 209
40 Time: 4.37   2nd Gear: 0.15   Speed Score: 113.57   Kangaroo Score: 1.222  Agility Score: 0.985
Do you remember last year's hype over converting QB Denard Robinson to the running back position?  Well, as an all around athlete, McKinnon crushes Robinson.  While Robinson had blazing speed, he didn't have the sort of power or agility to be a serious running back threat, but McKinnon does.  Perhaps my favorite measurable trait of McKinnon's is his excellent 10-yard split of just 1.52 seconds, which suggests rather extreme quickness.  It doesn't do a player much good, being able to run forty yards quickly, if people are going to catch you in the first ten yards.  I'm sure people will fret about the level of competition McKinnon faced, but if he ends up being available in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft, I wouldn't worry about this too much.  I don't see a problem with rolling the dice on athletic freaks in the latter half of the draft.  If he was available in the 4th or 5th round, I would definitely be interested in selecting him, though I am somewhat concerned with the rumors that teams are considering converting him into a defensive back.

Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford  Ht: 5' 11"  Wt: 220
40 Time: 4.49   2nd Gear: 0.02   Speed Score:  114.24   Kangaroo Score: 0.415  Agility Score: 0.901
There's not much to criticize about Gaffney, when it comes to his athletic ability.  He seems to have respectable speed for a guy his size, reasonable power, and significantly above average agility.  He was also quite productive in his time at Stanford, though he didn't do much as a receiver.  Overall, he seems like an acceptable prospect for someone who is generally projected to go in the 4th or 5th round.  Still, I can't say that he blew me away, when I watched him play, but I guess he had his moments.  Something about Gaffney just never clicked with me, though I can't quite put my finger on it.  The main drawback to Gaffney seems to be his age.  I'm not sure how thrilled I would be about drafting a 24 year old running back.  Still, he seems like a reasonable player to abuse for a couple years, and then discard.

Rajion Neal, RB, Tennessee  Ht: 5' 11"  Wt: 220
40 Time: 4.57   2nd Gear: 0.06   Speed Score:  100.87   Kangaroo Score: 0.796  Agility Score: -0.642
I'm still waiting to see official pro day results for Neal, but this is where things stand now, based on the rumors.  I'll get around to exploring him at some later time.

Stephen Houston. RB, Indiana  Ht: 6' 0.75"  Wt: 225
40 Time: 4.52   2nd Gear: 0.06   Speed Score:  109.73   Kangaroo Score: 2.105  Agility Score: 0.135
CBS is currently projecting that Houston will go undrafted, which is frustrating, but somewhat understandable.  In terms of pure athletic ability, Houston is pretty impressive.  Unfortunately, there is a catch.  He has never rushed for more than 802 yards in a season, though a fair bit of this has to do with not getting a lot of carries.  Some games, he seems to just take over, and perform like a monster.  Other games, he seems to get tackled a little too easily for someone that the numbers would suggest should have excellent power.  He did show some ability catching the ball, so, he also has some versatility.  Overall, I rather like Houston as a late round or UDFA prospect, though I do wonder if there is some hidden reason for his lack of high level productivity.

Lorenzo Taliaferro, RB, Coastal Carolina  Ht: 6'  Wt: 229
40 Time: 4.54   2nd Gear: 0.03   Speed Score:  107.8   Kangaroo Score: 0.495  Agility Score: 0.527
While Taliaferro was extremely productive at Coastal Carolina, he was obviously playing against a fairly low level of competition.  While his measurable traits are reasonably respectable, there is nothing truly shocking about them.  I would say that this sort of mirrors what I saw of Taliaferro when I watched him play.  For a player of his size, his Kangaroo Score only suggests moderate potential as a power back.  My own worthless and subjective opinion of Taliaferro, is that he looked fairly wretched.  I would ignore Taliaferro as a draft prospect.

Damien Williams, RB, Oklahoma  Ht: 5' 11" Wt: 222
40 Time: 4.43   2nd Gear: 0.11   Speed Score: 115.28   Kangaroo Score: 0.662  Agility Score: -0.744
Well, he seems to have some speed, and at least a reasonable amount of power.  It's his Agility Score that is weighing him down in the eyes of the computer.  The problem here is that there is a significant difference between how he performed in the short shuttle, where he did fine (a result of 0.177), and his results from the 3-cone drill (-1.666 standard deviations below average).  Normally there is enough of a correlation between how a player does in these drills, that such extremely divergent results don't occur very often.  Based on what I have seen of him, I would tend to want to throw out his poor 3-cone time, as just a flukish anomaly.  If he was likely to be a high draft pick, throwing out data would bother me, but he isn't.  He struck me as a moderately talented player, who is probably worth a look as an UDFA, though I would probably never draft him.  He was supposedly kicked off the Oklahoma team for failing multiple drug tests, but if you're not doing drugs while you are in college you are probably missing the point of the entire experience.

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