FanPost

Finding a RB with the skills that the Broncos need

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

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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.

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via broncotalk.net

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.

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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

weight School carries yards ypc rec rec yds ypr
Williams 196 USU 218 1512 6.9 45 697 15.5
Burkhead 214 Nebraska 98 675 6.9 11 92 8.4
Bernard 202 UNC 184 1228 6.7 47 490 10.4
Wood 213 ND 114 742 6.5 5 25 5.0
Lacy 231 Alabama 204 1322 6.5 22 189 8.6
Barner 196 Oregon 279 1767 6.3 20 256 12.8
Franklin 205 UCLA 282 1734 6.1 33 323 9.8
McCalebb 168 Auburn 94 570 6.1 18 132 7.3
Harris 208 Temple 186 1054 5.7 10 90 9.0
L. Murray 223 UCF 198 1106 5.6 27 231 8.6
Ford 210 LSU 71 392 5.5 2 29 14.5
Stacy 216 Vanderbilt 207 1141 5.5 10 205 20.5
Rouse 190 Fresno St 282 1490 5.3 63 435 6.9
Randle 204 Ok St 274 1417 5.2 28 224 8.0
Ball 214 Wisconsin 356 1830 5.1 10 72 7.2
Ellington 199 Clemson 212 1081 5.1 14 232 16.6
Jefferson 213 Nevada 375 1883 5.0 22 170 7.7
Harper 211 BSU 228 1137 5.0 23 163 7.1
Riddick 201 ND 190 917 4.8 36 370 10.3
Taylor 214 Stanford 322 1530 4.8 41 287 7.0
Michael 220 TAM 88 417 4.7 8 48 6.0
Gillislee 208 UF 244 1152 4.7 16 159 9.9
Bell 230 MSU 382 1793 4.7 32 167 5.2
Graham 199 Pitt 222 1042 4.7 36 340 9.4
Lattimore 221 USC 143 662 4.6 26 173 6.7
James, M. 223 Miami 147 621 4.2 30 344 11.5
Jamison 203 Rutgers 255 1075 4.2 28 323 11.5
Ware 228 LSU 94 367 3.9 18 230 12.8
Davis 227 Arkansas 112 337 3.0 11 157 14.3

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

Rushing
weight runs of 10+ runs of 20+ 1st downs 1st Down % long run %
Lacy 231 42 13 70 34% 27%
Barner 196 55 15 94 34% 25%
McCalebb 168 22 6 28 30% 30%
Burkhead 214 18 8 29 30% 27%
Bernard 202 37 9 53 29% 25%
Harris 208 32 10 51 27% 23%
Franklin 205 56 18 77 27% 26%
Riddick 201 21 4 51 27% 13%
Ware 228 8 2 25 27% 11%
Michael 220 8 5 23 26% 15%
Ellington 199 28 9 55 26% 17%
Randle 204 40 8 71 26% 18%
Wood 213 19 8 29 25% 24%
Jefferson 213 46 11 95 25% 15%
L. Murray 223 23 11 50 25% 17%
Rouse 190 38 10 69 24% 17%
Stacy 216 31 8 50 24% 19%
Williams 196 34 21 52 24% 25%
Ball 214 52 13 84 24% 18%
Lattimore 221 17 6 33 23% 16%
Harper 211 33 10 52 23% 19%
Ford 210 11 2 16 23% 18%
James, M. 223 16 1 32 22% 12%
Bell 230 33 13 81 21% 12%
Davis 227 7 1 23 21% 7%
Gillislee 208 32 8 50 20% 16%
Taylor 214 36 7 57 18% 13%
Graham 199 21 8 38 17% 13%
Jamison 203 23 8 40 16% 12%

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

RZ
weight School RZ carries RZ yards RZ ypc RZ TDs efficiency
Lattimore 221 the USC 24 51 2.1 9 38%
Lacy 231 Alabama 44 149 3.4 15 34%
McCalebb 168 Auburn 13 62 4.8 4 31%
Michael 220 TAM 26 50 1.9 8 31%
Barner 196 Oregon 55 190 3.5 15 27%
Bernard 202 UNC 33 118 3.6 9 27%
Ford 210 LSU 11 66 6.0 3 27%
Jefferson 213 Nevada 80 262 3.3 21 26%
Ball 214 Wisconsin 69 273 4.0 18 26%
Harris 208 Temple 30 82 2.7 7 23%
Stacy 216 Vanderbilt 36 116 3.2 8 22%
Gillislee 208 UF 36 122 3.4 8 22%
Harper 211 BSU 55 175 3.2 12 22%
Graham 199 Pitt 46 160 3.5 10 22%
Williams 196 USU 42 103 2.5 9 21%
Randle 204 Ok St 60 188 3.1 12 20%
James, M. 223 Miami 26 74 2.8 5 19%
Ellington 199 Clemson 43 163 3.8 8 19%
Rouse 190 Fresno St 46 79 1.7 8 17%
Burkhead 214 Nebraska 18 46 2.6 3 17%
Bell 230 Mich St 72 202 2.8 12 17%
L. Murray 223 UCF 44 151 3.4 7 16%
Taylor 214 Stanford 59 160 2.7 9 15%
Franklin 205 UCLA 47 147 3.1 7 15%
Davis 227 Arkansas 14 37 2.6 2 14%
Riddick 201 ND 44 143 3.3 5 11%
Wood 213 ND 21 45 2.1 2 10%
Jamison 203 Rutgers 27 64 2.4 2 7%
Ware 228 LSU 18 54 3.0 1 6%

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%
Burkhead 214 18 18% 15 83%
Lacy 231 22 11% 17 77%
Jefferson 213 19 5% 14 74%
Stacy 216 15 7% 11 73%
Lattimore 221 21 15% 15 71%
Gillislee 208 16 7% 11 69%
James, M. 223 16 11% 11 69%
Williams 196 12 6% 8 67%
L. Murray 223 12 6% 8 67%
Franklin 205 31 11% 20 65%
Bell 230 31 8% 20 65%
Randle 204 25 9% 16 64%
Ford 210 19 27% 12 63%
Michael 220 8 9% 5 63%
Davis 227 10 9% 6 60%
Graham 199 27 12% 16 59%
Bernard 202 17 9% 10 59%
Barner 196 12 4% 7 58%
Harris 208 7 4% 4 57%
McCalebb 168 9 10% 5 56%
Wood 213 18 16% 10 56%
Taylor 214 18 6% 10 56%
Ellington 199 12 6% 6 50%
Harper 211 16 7% 8 50%
Ware 228 12 13% 6 50%
Jamison 203 19 7% 9 47%
Ball 214 28 8% 12 43%
Rouse 190 28 10% 12 43%
Riddick 201 13 7% 5 38%

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%.

career career
School carries fumble %
L. Murray UCF 453 0.19%
Harper BSU 547 0.33%
Jamison Rutgers 486 0.38%
Ball Wisconsin 924 0.41%
James, M. Miami 304 0.58%
Bell MSU 671 0.67%
Burkhead Nebraska 634 0.72%
Taylor Stanford 843 0.85%
Rouse Fresno St 897 0.89%
Ware LSU 295 0.90%
Lattimore USC 555 0.95%
Gillislee UF 389 0.97%
Graham Pitt 595 1.01%
Randle Ok St 563 1.04%
Harris Temple 972 1.07%
Bernard UNC 423 1.17%
Ellington Clemson 620 1.18%
Williams USU 382 1.35%
Riddick ND 297 1.37%
Stacy Vanderbilt 581 1.44%
Jefferson Nevada 448 1.47%
McCalebb Auburn 406 1.49%
Lacy Alabama 355 1.54%
Wood ND 450 1.59%
Barner Oregon 584 1.89%
Ford LSU 243 1.99%
Franklin UCLA 788 2.25%
Michael TAM 529 2.44%
Davis Arkansas 349 3.15%

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.

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

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