“David Johnson, 2015 RBAMA star.”
Every off-season we, as fantasy owners, have to figure out which running backs we want to own. We need to be asking ourselves the right questions before we blindly start making trades or picking Eddie Lacy 3rd overall. What running backs will help me win the championship this year? Better yet, for dynasty owners, what running backs will help me win the most championships in the coming years? What do they look like? How can I trust them? How can I trade for them without selling my left arm and Dez Bryant? Well, you can’t answer all of those questions with one blanket answer. However, today I will introduce you to a simple assessment that may help you find those future studs at the RB position before they break out.
A couple years ago, I got tired of relying on terrible groupthink perceptions of running backs to guide how I draft and build my teams, so I asked myself an important question. What characteristics do successful NFL running backs need to possess? If I can spot that potential before my league mates do I can either buy low from other owners or draft the right rookies to help build a dynasty. After two years of building a running back athletic measurable assessment (RBAMA, as I call it) I believe I have finally found some actionable data to help find some young running backs to target in drafts and trades.
The assessment is fairly simple. Each player earns a numbered grade based on the total positive and negative attributes they possess. At first glance the numbers, ranges and thresholds will seem arbitrary, but they’re based on various NFL combine and pro day data dating back to 2008.
I will warn you now, this system is by no means perfect. It’s not even really any kind of advanced science. It is meant to analyze players’ physical gifts alone. It has shown to be right in predicting NFL success. It has also shown to be wrong (in Christine Michael’s case, sorry truthers). More than anything this assessment has shown to be helpful to sift through groupthink in individual player perception. Like any other fantasy analysis, take it for what it truly is in isolation, and nothing more.
Criteria used for the RBAMA are as follows:
40-yard Dash: Below 4.60 seconds (+1)
Vertical Leap: 36 inches or more (+1)
Broad Jump: 120 inches or more (+1)
20-yard Shuttle: 4.2 seconds or less (+1)
3-cone Drill: 7.07 seconds or less (+1)
Pounds/Inch Ratio: 2.97 – 3.12 (+0.5)
Size/Speed Ratio [40 Time/(Pounds/Inch Ratio)]: Below 1.50 (+0.5)
Drafted Round: 1st – 5th Round (+0.5)
Top 5 in a Drill at Position: 40-yard/Vert/Broad/20-yard/3-cone (+0.5)
40-yard Dash: Above 4.7 seconds (-1)
Vertical Leap: 34 inches or less (-1)
Broad Jump: 116 inches of less (-1)
20-yard Shuttle: 4.3 seconds or more (-1)
3-cone Drill: 7.17 seconds or more (-1)
Size/Speed Ratio: Above 1.56 (-0.5)
Hand Size: Below 8.75 inches (-0.5)
Drafted Round: Undrafted (-0.5)
Some of the criteria are more self-explanatory than others. Allow me to elaborate. Every NFL team wants to see their future running back excel at all five core drills: 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, 20-yard shuttle, and 3-cone drill. Essentially, if a player scores positive on any of those drills they were at least better than both the mean and median values for that drill over the last eight years of NFL combines and pro-day composite scores at the running back position. If they scored negatively, the reverse is most likely true. The other criteria probably deserve a more in-depth explanation.
Pounds/Inch Ratio is simply a player’s weight divided by their height. Why does this matter? The range in which a player earns a slightly positive score is essentially Adrian Peterson to Le’Veon Bell, plus or minus 3 pounds. If a player lies within that specific range all it really means is that they have a fairly prototypical feature back build to their body. This particular trait should not be one that has the final say as to how one should value a running back. Instead, think of it as a way that you can educate yourself as to a player’s true fit as a feature back or a change-of-pace pass catching runner. For example, last year the knock against David Johnson leading up to the draft and preseason was that he couldn’t run between the tackles, and that he was more of a pass-catcher than a true feature running back. Yes, David Johnson still has his flaws, but one look at his tape from 2015 will tell you that his preseason outlook as agreed upon by way too many analysts and writers was far from accurate.
When you combine pound/inch ratio with their size/speed ratio you really start to see if a player can be a feature back. Yes, many athletes can get ripped and look the part, but can their feet take them where their size wants them to be? This is where you can start to see if a slightly undersized RB can step up and play with the big boys. It is incredibly difficult for running backs that are short or lean to score positively on their pound/inch ratio, but if they can keep their size/speed ratio down despite their disadvantage, then they’re someone to watch. They may not look like they could flatten a safety in open space, but the smaller or leaner running backs who maintain a solid size/speed ratio can obviously use their low center of gravity or sheer force generated by speed to break more tackles than expected.
The last three criteria (hand size, top 5 finish at a drill & round drafted) are self-explanatory and showed to have less (but still substantial) impact on future output. They will be touched on more in various running back articles in the future.
In conclusion, please take RBAMA for what it is. You can easily see what a running back’s strengths and weaknesses are in measurable athletic ability by using it wisely. I use this every season when taking a look at the incoming running back class, making off-season trades, and to get me watching more film on a few RBs with higher scores than I expected. However, I also high recommend combining this with some solid film study and analysis. You need both. If you’re still confused on what a good score is, or how this looks in execution feel free to check out my articles on the 2015 and 2016 RB classes where I break them down extensively using RBAMA. If you have questions or comments follow me on Twitter @FF_TravisM.