Monday, April 6, 2015

Kangaroo Court: The 2015 Running Backs

Well, just like last year, we are again forced to discuss my least favorite topic, the running back prospects.  Now I'll admit, this year's crop of soylent is probably a bit above average, but I'm still not sure how much I really care.  Just give me a decent offensive line, and Charles De Mar as my team's coach, and I'm sure things will work out just fine, regardless of who is carrying the ball.

I'm not really sure if there is anything left to say about running backs..

So, instead, I thought we would discuss the 2003 cinematic masterpiece The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen .  It's a brilliant and often misunderstood little gem, which revolves around some of fiction's most famous and beloved characters.  The story has Twain's Tom Sawyer, Verne's Captain Nemo, Haggard's Allan Quatermain, Wells' invisible man, Stoker's vampire, Wilde's Dorian Gray and Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll, all aligned together to confront a sinister plot by Doyle's Dr. Moriarty.  Let's consider what some of the critics had to say about it. 

This film is odd, loud, unintentionally funny and quite awful. - Richard Roeper

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen just plain reeks. - Stephen Hunter

(The movie) plunges into inexplicable motivations, causes without effects, effects without causes, and general lunacy. - Roger Ebert

Okey-dokey, so perhaps its stunning genius wasn't broadly recognized or appreciated at the time of its release.  Not all of the great works get recognized early in their existence, and sometimes we need a little while to catch up with the minds of greater men and their creations.  It also doesn't help that people seem to think that this movie was intended to be good, which I have some very strong doubts about.  If its mission was intentionally directed towards causing a very different reaction in its audience, which we will argue that it might have achieved, wouldn't we have to reconsider whether the film was a success and a genuine work of art?  Whether it hit its intended target, has to matter as much as whether we actually like what target it chose to aim for, right?

Let's start from the beginning here.  Before its arguably horrible/brilliant celluloid manifestation, there was a comic book of the same name, written by Alan Moore.  Now, while people will say that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, would you say that Alan Moore looks like a genius or a lunatic?

Clearly, this is a man who has got it together.  If his dapper appearance doesn't convince you that he's a brilliant and sophisticated individual, maybe there's something else that will persuade you.  He's English.  Yup, he has a fancy accent, which typically means that he can project an air of intellectual superiority, and make anything he says sound much smarter.  Al-u-minium.  So, when he crafted a story that borrowed some of the most famous characters of deceased writers, and put them all together in one adventure, there must have been some sound reasoning for it, correct?

Well, if we put ourselves into the mind of an artist, what sort of issues do you think might matter to them, that might not matter to an ordinary Joe?  Now, when you look at Alan Moore, does he strike you as someone who can be trusted with children?  No, probably not.  Despite the generally open-minded generosity of the fairer sex, you have to suspect that Moore is likely going to be the end of a genetic line, and so his emotional investment in offspring continuing his legacy is doubtful.  So, if we believe that every man wants to leave something behind for which he will be remembered, what else could he be concerned with other than his work?

Now if a man is highly committed to his daily labor, what might weigh on his soul, and cause him to sleep a bit restlessly?  One of the obvious problems with being a creative individual, is sending your handiwork out into the world, where you have no idea how it will be received.  Unlike a sculptor working in tough and unyielding stone, a man who works with paper and ink, is particularly vulnerable to the unpredictable vagaries of the lunatic masses.  Even worse, for a writer, copyright law only protects his creation for a mere 70 years after his death, at which point it enters the dreaded public domain, and any bumbling fool can meddle with and remix his thoughts.  Basically, every work of genius eventually devolves into Twilight fan fiction, given a long enough period of time.

Oddly, this dreaded meddling and cheapening of an artist's legacy, is very similar to what we see happening in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  Is this just a coincidence?  I have to wonder, was this film actually created to horrify its audience through the banality of unoriginal thought, so as to encourage us to end this very sort of inept fumbling with the works of greater artists, and eliminate the concept of the public domain altogether?  The film certainly makes a strong argument for this case, even if its real message is often misunderstood and concealed in buffoonery.  Perhaps, by being willing to be mistaken for fools, and comically inept, the creators of this movie are striking a bold and powerful blow for artists everywhere.  They are practically serving themselves up as martyrs for a much greater cause, with likely very little reason to think that their true motives will be understood.  The director, Stephen Norrington, would watch his career wither and die after this film's release, and hasn't been allowed to direct or have any significant participation in a single film since this crowning 2003 achievement.  I have to suspect this was all a clear and selfless act of heroism and personal sacrifice, and yet like Peter, we all denied him at least three times before the Academy Awards.

So, yes, unless someone would like to argue to the contrary, that this movie was actually intended to be good, I will just be sitting here awaiting my MacArthur Genius Grant, along with the inevitable lifetime achievement Oscar that this film clearly deserves for its contribution to artists everywhere.

Now, let's move on to this year's crop of scrambling and overrated commodities at the running back position.

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. Last Updated: 4/20/2015

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia  Ht: 6' 0.5"  Wt: 222
40 Time: ?   2nd Gear: ?   Speed Score: ?   Kangaroo Score: ?  Agility Score: ?
Because of his torn ACL, it seems unlikely that we are going to get the sort of data that we prefer to have.  That leaves us in the unpleasant position of having to weigh Gurley based solely off of his statistical production, and our worthless subjective opinion.  So, here we go.  Gurley's eyes seem to gaze directly into your soul.  He has the sort of strong arms, that can hold you tight and make you feel safe and secure.  His feet have ten toes, so that you can play a full round of "this little piggy".  Eh, I'm assuming that's how these things work when scouts try to size things up by eye, right?  Actually, I think Gurley probably is just about the most exciting running back in this draft, which only makes me more disappointed that we don't have measurable data for him.  He appeared to be a fast and powerful runner, who was creative and had a fair amount of ability to escape tackles.  We also like that he has shown some history of being a receiving option.  One nagging concern, is that when Gurley went down with his injury, Nick Chubb (awesome name) appeared to carry the load with hardly a slip in the team's production, or yards per carry.  Despite that, yes, we do think Gurley is probably at least a step ahead of this year's other running back prospects.  The real question for us is, do we care?  Do you really need a top tier running back, so much that you are willing to spend a 1st round pick on one?  This kind of reminds me of a commercial that General Motors used to run for some of their trucks.  Their slogan was "It's not more than you need. It's just more than you're used to".  Just give that statement a moment's thought, and tell me whether you find that message to be as horrific and disturbing as I do.  So, to turn that line around, Gurley will probably offer more than you're used to from your team's running back, but he might also be more than you need.

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin  Ht: 6' 0.5"  Wt: 215
40 Time: 4.52  2nd Gear: 0.10  Speed Score: 103.0   Kangaroo Score: 0.492  Agility Score: 0.652
Gordon's results were all over the map, which potentially makes his Agility and Kangaroo Scores a bit misleading.  His broad jump would have resulted in a score of 0.934, but gets weighed down by his vertical jump.  Still, there are promising signs of power.  Gordon's short shuttle was 1.396 standard deviations above average, but he followed that up with a very average 3-cone drill.  His 2nd Gear Score of 0.10, also suggests that his deep speed is probably a bit better than his 40 time might suggest.  Okay, so he has some impressive athletic ability buried in there, but the real concern is that historically everybody who carries the ball at Wisconsin ends up doing well.  I have to admit though, Gordon struck me as a rather respectable runner, even if we do have some worries about how he was rarely used as a receiving option.  I just have to wonder why anyone would ever draft a running back anywhere near the 1st round.  It's just one of those questionable life decisions, like getting married right out of high school, that I can't understand.  Even if you marry a supermodel (which we'll say is Adrian Peterson in this analogy) don't you think you're going to regret that you didn't sow your wild oats with a bunch of cheap 4th round picks?

Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State  Ht: 5' 11.5"  Wt: 221
40 Time: 4.57  2nd Gear: 0.02  Speed Score: 101.3  Kangaroo Score: 1.105  Agility Score: 0.407
As far as I can tell, Ajayi seems to do almost everything a running back is asked to do fairly well.  For the most part, he struck me as a respectably useful and versatile player.  My only concern with his athleticism had to do his speed, which was just a bit marginal.  Unlike Melvin Gordon, who also had a fairly bland 40 time, Ajayi's 2nd Gear Score suggests a lesser likelihood that his deep speed is being underestimated.  While Ajayi's production was fairly respectable, even if his average yards per carry was somewhat unexceptional,  the teams he faced weren't overly impressive.  Really, I suspect it is primarily his productivity as a receiver that is boosting his value in most people's eyes.  As far as concerns go, well, he has fumbled the ball more than you might like.  He was also arrested for stealing a pair of sweatpants from Walmart, back in 2011.  Okay, that's probably where I draw the line.  He clearly lacks vision, which is supposedly important for a running back.  If you are going to go down for a crime, you have to at least head for the high end electronics.  I don't see him as a particularly exceptional prospect, but he does seem like a reasonably competent and versatile one.

Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska  Ht: 5' 8.5"  Wt: 205
40 Time: 4.61  2nd Gear: 0.00  Speed Score: 88.8  Kangaroo Score: 1.142  Agility Score: 1.655
We're generally not big fans of these pint sized running backs, and we have some doubt about whether Abdullah can ever become a significant blocker, but he does seem to have some interesting tools to work with.  While his 40 time at the combine was a rather disappointing result, we think we have to also take a look at his pro day numbers.  At Nebraska, he seemed to get a much better start to his run, with a 10 yard split of 1.48 seconds, and finished his run with a respectably average result of 4.55 seconds.  Still, that would put his 2nd Gear Score at -0.07, which suggests that he is more quick than fast.  His statistical production was excellent, even though he was clearly the focus of his team's offense, and his surrounding talent probably wasn't exceptional.  In the end though we couldn't help but feel like he bore a bit of a resemblance to David Wilson.  There's just something very boring about watching him play.  Despite his agility, he was less of a receiving threat than we would have expected, though this might have something to do with his small 8.625" hands.  Those tiny mitts might also explain his issues with fumbling the ball.  While we wouldn't want to bet against a guy like this, we can't say he ever made us say 'Wow!'.

Duke Johnson, RB, Miami  Ht: 5' 9"  Wt: 207
40 Time: 4.54  2nd Gear: 0.06  Speed Score: 97.4  Kangaroo Score: -0.209  Agility Score: 0.730
I think it is safe to say that Johnson is not going to be a bruising between the tackle runner, based on his slightly below average Kangaroo Score.  For similar reasons, it would also appear to be unlikely that he will ever amount to very much as a blocker.  Fortunately, the picture for Johnson improves somewhat when we look at his Agility Score.  As an outside the tackles runner, his average timed speed would be a bit of a concern for us, though it seems to be his best option.  Really, his most noticeably above average trait seems to be his ability as a receiver.  Overall, he struck us as a very unimpressive player, and someone who was ridiculously easy to tackle.  If a team is really going to select Johnson in the 2nd or 3rd round, as some have suggested, we would tend to suspect that they will end up feeling a bit disappointed with the returns from this investment

Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana  Ht: 5' 11"  Wt: 206
40 Time: ?  2nd Gear: ?   Speed Score: ?   Kangaroo Score: ?  Agility Score: ?
On a pleasant sunny 70 degree day, with a wide open path ahead of him, and facing an opposing team made up of drunk and limping Quakers, Tevin Coleman can break some pretty long runs.  Outside of those conditions, I don't find him nearly as interesting as his ridiculous yards per carry stats would suggest.  If you farted in his general direction, I suspect it would be enough to knock him down.

David Johnson, RB, Northern Iowa  Ht: 6' 0.5"  Wt: 224
40 Time: 4.50  2nd Gear: 0.08  Speed Score: 109.2  Kangaroo Score: 1.976  Agility Score: 0.501
Despite his very impressive lower body power, he only struck me as a mildly interesting runner.  The peculiar thing with Johnson was that he actually looked  liked a reasonable blocker, and really surprised me with how good he looked as receiver.  It might be insane, but I really had to wonder if he might be an interesting player to turn into a big bodied wide receiver.  Because of the lower level of competition that he faced, and the fact that he will already be turning 24 in December, I can't see taking him before the 4th round.  I wouldn't bet on him becoming a star, but as a number 2 running back with some upside, he could be a worthwhile prospect.

T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama  Ht: 6' 1.25"  Wt: 226
40 Time: 4.61  2nd Gear: 0.02  Speed Score: 100.0  Kangaroo Score: 0.712  Agility Score: -0.213
If we take the results of his pro day seriously, then we would have to consider his reported 4.52 second 40 time.  Either way, his 2nd Gear Score hardly budges at all, and doesn't suggest that his deep speed is much more than just average at best.  When you take that, in combination with his somewhat above average power, and arguably average agility, we'd say he is just a reasonably respectable athlete.  The problem is that we don't trust players from Alabama.  While his statistical production was fairly good, it wasn't anything that separates him from every other running back who floats though Alabama.  He showed no significant contribution as a receiver, and basically split carries with Derrick Henry in 2014, who's average YPC was better than Yeldon's.  While Yeldon had games where we thought he looked like a fairly good prospect, he also had just as many games where he seemed to accomplish very little.  While we wouldn't be amazed if Yeldon has a decent career, we also wouldn't bet against him being enshrined in the museum of former Alabama players who did nothing upon entering the NFL.  Coming from a team like Alabama, we would really require some stronger signs of exceptional ability in order to consider spending draft pick.

David Cobb, RB, Minnesota  Ht: 6' 0.5"  Wt: 222
40 Time: 4.81  2nd Gear: ?  Speed Score: 85.56  Kangaroo Score: 1.479  Agility Score: ?
We have to assume that his 40 time at the combine was some sort of comical error, because he is clearly faster than that.  Either way, he appears to be a perfectly reasonable power back, and though we can't judge his agility, he didn't strike us as a stiff.  While he was rarely thrown to, he didn't look unnatural as a receiver.  The biggest concern with Cobb is probably his unfortunate number of fumbles.  Still, we probably enjoyed watching Cobb more than Jay Ajayi of Ameer Abdullah.  If he was available in the 4th round we'd probably give him some minor consideration.

Zach Zenner, RB, South Dakota St.  Ht: 5' 11.5"  Wt: 223
40 Time: 4.61  2nd Gear: 0.03  Speed Score: 98.7  Kangaroo Score: 1.504  Agility Score: 0.320
Have you ever seen those commercials, where they show a small child who has been crippled or is missing a limb, and the narrator asks for your donation to help these pathetic creatures live a normal life?  Yeah, it's kind of like that with Zach Zenner.  You see, through no fault of his own, he was born with a terrible and career threatening birth defect.  Because of this, he will most likely never get a chance to be an NFL running back, despite having some impressive athletic traits, and being extremely productive in college  He might get to be a fullback though, because the NFL is extremely predictable in how they handle these sorts of players.  With your help, just $0.25 per day, we can get Zenner the tanning bed he so desperately needs.  Think of the children.

Terrell Watson, RB, Azusa Pacific  Ht: 6' 0.5"  Wt: 239
40 Time: 4.55  2nd Gear: 0.02  Speed Score: 110.2  Kangaroo Score: 1.534  Agility Score: -1.819
When the initial reports of Watson's pro day came out, Reilly and I quickly jumped onto the bandwagon.  His speed, for his size, and power, were quite attractive.  There is also something that is undeniably hilarious about watching a guy like this as he pummels his Division II competition.  I also have to admit that I might be getting suckered a bit by his story of dealing with a learning disability, and his pleasant personality.  That really disturbs me, because it might suggest that I haven't completely purged myself of feelings and humanity.  Then the numbers came out for Watson's short shuttle time and 3-cone drill, and we somewhat fell off the bandwagon, just a little bit.  What these numbers said about his agility was a tad bothersome.  Okay, so there probably isn't a lot of Barry Sanders level elusiveness here.  Still, there is a place in the league for guys who just run their opponents over, and are hard to bring down, and Watson might really fit that role quite nicely.  While his level of competition is a valid concern, the cost of acquiring him should more than compensate for this risk.  If people are going to ignore him, I'd probably be willing to swoop in and take him with a late round pick. 

Corey Grant, RB, Auburn  Ht: 5' 8.75"  Wt: 201
40 Time: 4.28  2nd Gear: 0.29  Speed Score: 119.7  Kangaroo Score: 0.036  Agility Score:  0.714
A 40 time of 4.28 seconds is obviously impressive, though we don't tend to get suckered by speed very easily.  A 40 time of 4.28 seconds, with a 2nd Gear Score of 0.29, is something that makes us take a second look.  Oh yes, that could be some very serious speed we are seeing here.  While his Kangaroo Score only suggests fairly average lower body power, when you factor in his above average agility, it's not hard to guess what sort of running back you are dealing with here.  The odd thing is that he doesn't appear to have been used very much at all in his time at Auburn.  In the end, there doesn't seem to be enough information to fully evaluate Grant or opportunities to watch him play, but at the very least you would think he could be used as a kick returner, and perhaps a bit more.

Dreamius Smith, RB, West Virginia  Ht: 5' 10.5"  Wt: 223
40 Time: 4.48  2nd Gear: 0.11  Speed Score: 110.7  Kangaroo Score: 0.815  Agility Score:  1.054
Players with names like Dreamius are sort of our kryptonite.  If names determined a player's draft status, he would be a 1st rounder.  Now, as far as athletic ability goes, Smith should be a fairly ideal prospect.  On paper, he has size, speed, power and agility.  What he doesn't have is much of a proven history on the field.  In 2013, he backed up Charles Sims, an eventual 3rd round pick.  In 2014, Smith backed up Rushell Shell and Wendell Smallwood, despite having a higher yards per carry than either of them.  So, is there something terribly wrong with him that we are unaware of, or did he just get screwed over by the coaches at West Virginia?  I really have no idea.  While we've only been able to see a small sample of his plays so far, he appeared to be quite capable.  Honestly, we thought he looked just as good as at least half of the guys who are projected to be taken in the 2nd or 3rd round.  Still, it currently appears to be somewhat unlikely that he will be drafted at all.  That makes him very interesting to us.  At the very least, we would view him as a high priority UDFA, but wouldn't rule out the possibility of drafting him just based on his athletic potential.

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