RBs in the 2012 draft - how to evaluate them and the odds of finding another TD

My therapist told me that my obsession with defensive tackles is unhealthy and I need to spend some time seeing another position.

So I've chosen to look at another position of perceived need to the Broncos - RB. I've done the same type of analysis that I did with the DTs - comparing their combine results and their in-game production. In-game production is much easier to quantify with RB's but the problem of the level of the competition still rears its ugly head. So first we'll take a look at the top 20 RBs in this year's draft and then we will look at the past five drafts to see what are the chances of finding a pro-bowl caliber RB in the 4th or later.



The folks over at draftmetrics have done some really nice analysis as to what combine results are meaningful and what are not for each position. They did this by looking at correlation between having a value for given combine test that was above average and being an NFL success (5 or more years as a starter). They looked at data from 1997-2011. Here is what they found.

Learning from the combine

Success rate for players with a combine value that was above average in given test relative to others at the same position.

40 yard Dash 31% 64% 55% 32% 64% 62% 67% 68% 61% 74% 66% 53%
Vertical Jump 50% 83% 59% 50% 69% 68% 59% 54% 61% 47% 62% 42%
Broad Jump 45% 60% 38% 52% 75% 60% 52% 63% 69% 48% 50% 46%
20 Yd Shuttle 31% 60% 59% 72% 67% 42% 59% 57% 63% 63% 63% 47%
3 Cone 38% 40% 40% 47% 36% 48% 52% 40% 67% 50% 50% 47%
Bench NA 50% NA 63% 42% 57% 44% 32% 41% 45% 80% 39%

So to interpret this: the combine result with the greatest correlation to NFL success for a RB is vertical. A RB with a vertical that was above the average for the RBs at the combine had an 84% chance of having a long career. On the flip side of this, bench press was not very predictive of success for DTs. Only 32% of the DTs that had an above average bench press went on to long careers as starters in the NFL. Draftmetrics used 56% as cut off, so 40 time, vertical, broad and 20-yd shuttle were the most telling for RBs. Now, correlation does not imply causation, in other words, you could still be a successful starter at RB in the NFL with a below average or average vertical, but 5 out of 6 RBs who have an average or worse vertical are not successful long-term starters. Another caveat here is that not all players participiate in all drills (as you will see below) so it is hard to know what kind of affect those who abstain would have had on the results.

So here is the first part of the data from the RBs in this draft (some of this data was pulled from pro-days because a player was either injured before or during the combine or not invited to the combine).

weight bench vert broad
Wilson 206 41 132
Richardson, D. 192 16 40.5 135
Smith, M. 207 23 40.5 126
Bolden 222 21 38.0 119
Ganaway 239 22 37.5 119
Hillman 200 17 37.0
Pierce 218 17 36.5 123
Rainey 180 16 36.5 120
Turbin 222 28 36.0 122
Martin 223 28 36.0 120
Miller 212 35.5 120
James 194 15 35.0 123
Meggett 211 23 35.0 118
Herron 213 22 35.0 117
Baker 204 20 35.0 111
Poole 205 24 34.0 118
Pead 197 33.0 116
Ballard 219 23 33.0 115
Gray, C. 206 21 32.5 114
Polk 215 16 31.5 111
Richardson, T. 228 25

Right off you should see that Wilson is a freakish athlete and the Trent Richardson decided not to do much at the combine. Make sure that you are not confusing Darryl Richardson (Abilene Chirstian) with Trent Richardson. D. Richardson and Michael Smith (Utah State) should jump out at you though for their vertical and board jump numbers. I will also point out the Polk and Pead were below average in vertical and broad jump.

Here are the rest of the numbers from these guys:

40 10-yd split 3-cone 20-yd sh. 60-yd sh. LA CoD
Rainey 4.45 1.50 6.50 3.93 11.06 0.52 10.43
Martin 4.55 6.79 4.16 11.29 0.39 10.95
James 4.45 1.53 6.88 4.12 0.33 11.00
Herron 4.66 1.50 6.97 4.04 11.60 0.62 11.01
Wilson 4.49 1.50 7.09 4.12 11.59 0.37 11.21
Ballard 4.65 1.55 7.03 4.19 0.46 11.22
Pead 4.47 6.95 4.32 0.15 11.27
Polk 4.57 1.57 7.13 4.21 0.36 11.34
Pierce 4.49 1.50 7.07 4.28 0.21 11.35
Ganaway 4.67 1.58 7.15 4.25 11.65 0.42 11.40
Bolden 4.66 1.59 6.96 4.44 0.22 11.40
Richardson, D. 4.46 1.57 7.07 4.36 0.10 11.43
Meggett 4.53 1.53 7.14 4.32 11.53 0.21 11.46
Turbin 4.50 7.16 4.31 0.19 11.47
Poole 4.54 7.36 4.19 0.35 11.55
Baker 4.53 1.58 7.27 4.31 0.22 11.58
Smith, M. 4.33 1.48
Richardson, T. 4.48 1.56
Miller 4.40 6.94
Gray, C. 4.47 7.17
Hillman 4.45

So a couple of things should jump out at you here: Rainey is really quick, but at 180 he should be (right?). James and Martin as also quick, but James is 30 lbs lighter Martin. So for his size Martin is amazingly quick. I was hoping to see 10-yd splits on all these guys, but was only able to find about 3/4 of the guys. I can tell you that Pierce's 1.50 is very good and M. Smith's 1.48 is amazing - of course, so is his 4.33 40 (both are pro-day results from USU). How in the hell did anyone stop Utah State with Smith and Turbin running the ball? For those who aren't aware

LA is lateral agility --- LA = 40 time - 20 yd shutt time

CoD is change of direction ---- CoD = 20 yd shuttle + 3 cone drill

Miller ran the fastest 40 of the RBs at the combine and wtaching film on him he plays fast as well. Running the best 40 at the combine is usually worth a big jump in draft position (whether merited or not - see Taiwan Jones). Herron showed that he is not very straight-line fast, but he is quick. That also plays out on film.

Ok, so what does this mean? What did each guy do in games in 2011. See below - note the some guys missed games so their totals are lower

2011 carries 2011 ypc 2011 rec 2011 ypr
Smith, M. 114 7.6 16 11.3
James 247 7.3 17 12.3
Ganaway 250 6.2 6 8.7
Ballard 193 6.2 20 9.4
Turbin 249 6.1 17 10.1
Richardson, T. 283 5.9 29 11.7
Wilson 290 5.9 22 5.9
Miller 227 5.6 17 5.0
Hillman 311 5.5 24 11.3
Pierce 273 5.4 3 17.3
Pead 237 5.3 39 8.2
Gray, C. 198 5.3 31 7.7
Meggett 171 5.2 17 8.3
Polk 293 5.1 31 10.7
Herron 133 5.1 8 4.3
Rainey 171 5.0 31 12.3
Martin 263 4.9 28 9.1
Bolden 96 4.9 14 10.5
Richardson, D. 115 4.5 25 8.0
Baker 170 3.9 5 12.0
Poole 187 3.7 21 7.8

So what should jump out at you from these numbers? Well, Hillman had 311 carries and 24 catches. Hillman made the jump to the NFL after two years in college at SDSU, but he had over 600 touches in two seasons. So he is durable. The ypc numbers from Baker and Poole should be enough to cause concern. Baker and Pierce were not used as receivers so it's doubtful that they would fit the PFM offense in Denver next season. Herron and Bolden didn't tote the rock much in 2011. Herron missed 6 games with injury then had three great games before slowing late in the season. Bolden just wasn't given many carries. For all of D. Richardson's great pro-day results his on the field production was fairly pedestrian particularly against D3 competition. Ballard looks like he might be a steal from this, until you look more closely at his performance this year; against ranked opponents he was pedestrian (LSU 10 carries for 38 yds, UGA 8 carries for 23 yds, USC 20 carries for 67 yds, Bama 9 carries 21 yds, Arkansas 13 for 54). He put up big numbers against Memphis, Auburn, UAB, Ole Miss and Wake Forest to get his ypc up.

So you've seen the two sides of the tripod, but the third side is the film. And as anyone knows a tripod needs three legs to stand. So we should turn to the film. Some guys have great combines and are workout warriors, but have no field vision. Some guys run really fast in shorts, but don't play that fast. So if any of these RBs intrigues you, I challenge you to go watch some film on him. Does Herron play as slow as his 40 suggests?

Dan Herron

is Rainey as quick as his combine suggests?

Chris Rainey

Is MIchael Smith any good? He didn't do much until the last two games of the season, but he had one heck of a game against Ohio U. in their bowl game. Watch him drive the 290 lb defensive end backwards with a block about two minutes into the video.

Utah State vs Ohio

Michael Smith

Is Daryl Richardson worth a 6th round pick?

D. Richardson

You be the judge.

Let's shift gears now to some history.

Where have the gems in the past 5 years years been found for late round RBs? The poster child here is Arian Foster who was an UDFA. Those drinking the kool-aid are hoping that Mario Fannin is the next Arian Foster. I did not look at UDCFA from each year since they are much harder to find. Fannin ran a 4.37 40 at the combine and had an above average vertical (37.5). His 20-yd shutt. was below average.

2007 - 25 RB drafted. 7 have gone on to run for more than 1000 yards in the NFL. Only 4 taken that year went on to be starters for two or more years (pick #).

Adrian Peterson (7), Marshawn Lynch (12), LaRon McClain (137) and Ahmad Bradshaw (250). McClain is a FB. Bradshaw was the last RB taken in the draft - 40th pick in the 7th round. His 3217 yards rushing are third behind AP (6752) and Lynch (4542) for RBs taken in 2007. Michael Bush is 4th (2642) and he was taken with pick #100. Bradshaw was rated as a 5-6 round pick prior to the draft. His best combine number was his 20-yd shuttle (4.09) which is quite good.


all 2007 RBs pre-draft

2008 - 27 RBs drafted. 14 ran for more than 1000 yards in the NFL. This was a bumper crop for RBs. 6 have gone on to start for more than two years, but the top 11 RBs drafted in 08 all have more than 1000 career rushing yards. In terms of success from late rounders (pcik #), Choice (122), Torrain (139), Hightower (149) and Forsett (233) have all run for more than 1000 NFL yards. Of the late round picks only Choices' 40 (4.46) and broad jump (123") were above average.





all 2008 RBs

2009 - 22 RBs drafted. 6 have run for >1000 NFL yards. Only 2 have started for 2 or more season, KnoMo and McCoy. In terms of production the only late rounder of note is Bernard Scott (Abilene Christian, like Daryl Richardson). Scott has run for exactly 1000 NFL yards as the backup RB for the Bungals. He was taken in the 6th with the 209th pick. This draft had a lot of busts at RB - KnoMo, Brown, Wells, Glen Coffee.



all 2009 RBs

2010 - only 16 RBs taken (one supplemental - Unga to the Bears for a 7th). Matthews is the only one of them who has broken the 1000 yard mark rushing for his career. The only late rounder who has shown good procution so far is James Starks (pick #193, 6th round). None of the other late rounder have shown much promise despite three of them getting a few carries per game (McKnight, Dixon, Karim).


all 2010 RBs

2011 - 28 RBs drafted. 19 taken after the 3rd. In terms of production, Demarco Murray was the most productive rookie RB last year. He was taken in the 3rd round (pick #71). A trio of 4th rounders were fairly successful; Helu, Hunter and Carter all showed promise as rookies running for 640, 473 and 377 yards respectively. The only other late rounder with notable production was Evan Royster (56 carries, 328 yards) who was taken with pick #177 *6th round). 2 of the top 4 RBs taken last year did not appear in a game (Ryan Williams and Mikel LeShoure both were lost for the season before it started). Helu and Carter both had impressive 20 yd shuttle times as well as above average verticals. Hunter ran a really good 3-cone and had an above average 40.




all 2011 RBs

From recent history it appears that the odds of finding a starting quality RB in the 4th or later are pretty slim. It appears that there about 1-2 starting RBs found in the late rounds each year. With somewhere between 10-20 RBs taken during those rounds, I don't like those odds. I guess we need to define what exactly we want in a drafted RB. If we are looking for a 3rd down back with the ability to pass protect and home run speed, then we might be able to find that in the 4th or later. If we are looking for a stud RB who can carry the rock 15 times per game, pass protect and has home-run speed, then I think we are going to have to use a 3rd or higher to get him.

So you've seen the data. What do you think about drafting a RB this year and where?

This is a Fan-Created Comment on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR

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