While the Broncos currently have 5 RBs (6 if you count Fannin) on the roster, it is widely speculated that Broncos will take a RB in the draft this year. McGahee and Moreno have signifcantly increased injury risks. McGahee is fast approaching the age of steep decline for an NFL RB. Hillman is young an relatively unproven. Hester was brought in as the FB and short yardage back after McGahee went down. He might still have a spot on the 2013 team depending on who we draft at RB. Lance Ball is a below average RB who is only still on the team because he has black-mail pictures of John Fox. So first let's look at what specifically the Broncos need in a RB
We really need to replace what McGahee was able to bring when he was healthy. McGahee is and has always been great an finding small creases, making a few yards (or a few yards more) when there didn't look like there was going to be much out of a run. Moreno showed that he had learned that skill during his brief stint as the feature back after McGahee went down. Hillman didn't have much of a chance to show whether or not he has that skill. Ball does not possess that skill. We will look at the draftable RBs in the hopes of finding one who possesses that skill .
A skill tied closely to the one above is the ability to gain yardage in short yardage and/or red zone situations. McGahee has shown a good feel for this. Hester has also been fairly good at short yardage situations during his NFL career. Generally bigger backs are better at this than smaller backs (duh!) so my guess is that the Broncos will be focusing on the 210+ lbs RBs in this draft. Well look at all of them, but I will focus specifically on the bigger ones.
To play in the same backfield with Peyton Manning a RB needs to be able to pass protect. That is critical. Any back who either does not know how to do so, or who is physically incapable of doing so will no see the field much for the 2013 Broncos. Unfortunately without copous film study on each of these guys, their blitz-pickup ability is hard to quantify. Additionally any back who wants to get playing time next year must be able to catch the ball out of the backfield. We can see how often any of these guys were used as receivers last year by the number of catches (although a better measure would be the receptions/targets).
An overlooked skill for RBs (and a darn hard one to find information on) is ball security. Moreno sat for a large portion of last season ostensibly because he fumbled in the Atlanta game at a critical time with minimal contact. McGahee also had his share of the dropsies last season. A rookie RB who holds onto the rock really well would get more pt than one who had a problem fumbling in college.
So I have collected the information on 30 RBs in the draft. I am only going to show the data from this past season. Why? because I really am not interested in what these guys were able to do two or three years ago. I want to know what they can bring to the Broncos NOW. So we will see how much each of these guys was used during their final season in college, both as runners and as receivers. Guys with breakaway speed are great, but I'm still holding out hope that Hillman will show that next year. So while I will show how many long runs each of these guys had last season, I won't dwell on it. We will see how often and how well each RB was used in the red zone as well as how successful they were there. I will also show what each guy was able to do last year on 3rd and short (1-3) yards. One other thing to keep in mind when trying to compare RB A to RB B is the level of competition as yards are generally easier to gain in the Mountain West than they are in the SEC.
The "normal" game stats
If we are looking for a bigger back who has a good ypc average and can catch the ball well then Lacy and Murray look like the two best. In terms of ball security, Ball and Murray are two of the best to come of of college in a long time. Each had streaks of 400 plus carries without a fumble.
Moving the Chains and hitting the Home run
|weight||runs of 10+||runs of 20+||1st downs||1st Down %||long run %|
Again Lacy looks good here converting a first down on 34% of his carries. Barner was also very good at moving the chains when he touched the ball. McCallebb and Burkhead were both effective with their limited carries. Bernard was no slouch either. I was surprised to see Burkhead with McCallebb and Lacy as the guys who had the greatest % of runs for 10 or more last year. Knile Davis, despite his speed, had the lowest % of long runs of any back in the draft this year. Taylor, Graham and Jamison all had surprisingly low first down percentages. So let's look at who was effective in the red zone. I really don't care how great a runner is if he can't find the end zone. Red zone efficiency is red zone touchdown carries divided by total red zone carries.
Red Zone Stats
|weight||School||RZ carries||RZ yards||RZ ypc||RZ TDs||efficiency|
There is some interesting stuff here. Lattimore had one of the worst ypc yet he had the best effectiveness, finding the end zone on 9 of his 24 RZ carries. Michael was similar with only 1.9 ypc on the RZ but scoring on 4 of his 13 red zone carries. Lacy and the diminutive McCalleb (surprisingly) were both really effective in the RZ. Jefferson and Bell had almost as many red zone carries in 2012 as some guys had overall carries. Despite his size, Ware was really ineffective when handed the rock in the red zone for the Tigers in 2012. His smaller teammate, Ford, had fewer RZ carries but made the most of them.
So what about general short yardage situations not near the goal line. Let's see if any of these guys could have helped the Broncos convert on a few of those short yardage situations where Hillman and Hester failed against the Ravens in the playoffs.
Getting the tough yards on 3rd and short (1-3 yards to gain)
|3rd and short||% of carries||3rd and short||3rd and short|
|weight||carries||3rd and short||1st downs||conversion%|
The column on the right tells us which of these guys were used primarily as their short yardage back. You can see that Ford (75%) and Burkhead (52%) got more than half of the first downs that they gained in 2012 on 3rd and short. Ford actually got 27% of his total carries in these situations while Burkhead got 18% of his carries during them. Lattimore and Graham also had a large chunk of their total rushing first downs coming on 3rd and short. We see here that some of these guys were hardly used at all on 3rd and short - Barner and Harris each had a really small percentage of their total carries coming on 3rd and short. Burkhead, Lacy, Jefferson, Stacy and Lattimore all look to be guys that you would have confidence handing the ball to on 3rd and 1. All 5 of them converted on better than 70% of their 3rd and short carries. Jamison, Rouse, Riddick and Ball were all not very good at converting on 3rd and short in 2012. Theo Riddick rushed for 50 first downs in 2012, but only 5 of those came on 3rd and short carries. I also didn't expect to see Bell as far down this list as he shows up. I did not collect 4th down carry data.
With any of these situational stats we have to keep in mind that some of these are very small sample sizes (fewer than 10 carries) so strange things could happen and really skew the data (like an offensive lineman getting blown up and the RB losing yards - which would not be the fault of the RB).
Securing the Rock - Ball Security
I finally found some fumble data over at teamrankings.com so here is a comparison of all of these backs showing college career carries and fumble rate (fumbles/career touches). Note that Hillman, who we drafted last year had a horrible record of ball security fumbling on 1.65% of his touches. The NFL average last year was 1.05%.
Yet another reason to be leery of Christine Michael. Murray, Bell appear to be the best combination of big powerful runners who protect the rock. Ball and Taylor also look good, particularly when you note how many carries they had relative to Murray, Jamison and Harper. According to Michael Mann over at NFLManiac, most guys do not improve significantly over what the did in college in terms of ball security. Alfred Morris was an exception dramatically improving his fumble rate as an NFL rookie relative to what his did in college (1.71% in college, 1.16% as an NFL rookie). Hillman fumbled worse as an NFL rookie than he did in college (2.15% vs 1.65%). Of the RBs in the NFL who had the worst fumble rates and had fewere than 400 touches, all three were rookies - Hillman, Darryl Richardson and Bryce Brown.
After having see all of this, have you changed your opinion about any of these RBs and their desirability for the Broncos? Sound off in the comments.