Articles Draft Prep

Running Back Vision (RBV): Part II

Today we take a closer look at the ball carriers coming in 5th – 1st in displaying good vision on film. If you haven’t read the original RBV article, it is an important read for the sake of context. As a reminder these are merely my observations and takeaways from watching their tape. The intent of providing this data is to assist with any tie breakers you need to make between players. Let’s dive right in.

5. John Kelly

Kelly

This guy makes me laugh…. no really he does, but not because of any deficiency in running the ball, and not because he has two first names. He makes me laugh with his stiff arm in the film that I have watched. He straight up BEASTS people with one hand, taking them off their feet. Sure this could be a matter of timing and leverage that just happened to line up in those cases, but he had more entertaining stiff arms than any other prospect I watched. This quality of his game really speaks to his toughness as a runner which shows up in his balance (26%). Kelly made plenty of extra yards in this way.

If vision helps a runner avoid tacklers, balance allows a runner to extend runs after contact, and Kelly’s consistency in displaying balance is encouraging. His high balance rating comes mostly from the amount of opportunities he had to show it off which only comes from contact with defenders. While it is cool to see that he can do this, is he only having to take advantage of his balance because he cannot run away from defenders? His burst metric doesn’t help us decide if he has speed either since it is right around the average of the group. However, John Kelly ran an unofficial 4.5 40-yard dash at Tennessee’s pro day which indicates that he is capable of some top end speed. My only concern here is that it didn’t show up consistently on film.

Looking at John Kelly’s third down capabilities, unfortunately the samples I watched did not have enough blocking snaps to be considered. His receiving prowess on the other hand, was intriguing. He had the 11th most receptions out of 2017 running backs and he was targeted pretty often in the sample and often it was thrown behind him. Even still, Kelly’s ball skills are pretty nice frequently catching these balls thrown behind him and he is fearless going over the middle while exhibiting his toughness in the passing game as well.

John Kelly’s tenacity on the field, if it translates to his overall approach to football, will be a significant asset on any dynasty roster. Right now he is around 15th in ADP which is nice if you are picking right around then. Kelly has potential low-end RB1 upside, but for that to become reality he has to go to a good situation. If he hits though, he will be a solid asset for a long time since he was only the primary runner at Tennessee for a year.

4. Royce Freeman

Freeman

Royce Freeman was a puzzling prospect to watch. He seems to have great overall acceleration, but a sudden change in speed through the hole was hard to see consistently. His vision was awesome though and his film gives a taste of what he will be like behind a good offensive line as Oregon consistently opened holes for him. Watching him run through the hole feels like his speed would appear on a curve as a steep but even incline, but not like a spike. His top ten 40 time (4.54 s) among running backs give us confirmation of the speed we see on film with many of his long runs. It is unfortunate that we only see solid burst from him on 38% of the snaps where he exhibits good vision. One has to wonder if the speed of play at the next level will exploit his seeming lack of burst.

To compliment that speed and vision his film demonstrates an above average balance capability. While possessing decent balance, he didn’t show much wiggle when in the open field. This is a little strange being that Freeman was tied for 3rd among running backs in the short shuttle (4.16 s) and the three-cone (6.90). Burst isn’t the only concern I have for Freeman at the next level. He doesn’t seem like the type to catch many passes having only caught 10 routes in the sample and only 14 total receptions in 2017. Also his blocking was horrendous coming in at a 48% success rate. There were way too many times where he got man-handled by an extra pass rusher. This was quite a surprise with him weighing in at 229 lbs.

What Freeman has to offer is great as a runner, but I truly feel like his upside is capped. What you see is what you get with Freeman assuming he gets a solid line. In the event that he goes to a team with a suspect line, Freeman drops way down my rookie running back rankings.

3. Sony Michel

Michel

Sony Michel is just visually appealing to watch. He’s got speed, agility, shiftiness, burst and many of these traits are supported by his combine performance. Watching him run reminds me a little of LeSean McCoy (after whom he claims to model his game), but perhaps not quite as slippery.  His vision is nice as he is able to set up defenders with is footwork and sharp cuts in the open field. He takes advantage of holes and creases with the highest (tied for 1st) rated burst of the group. His acceleration is really evident when cutting up field or laterally.

His low balance percentage (9%) is due mostly to his ability to evade tacklers (reducing opportunities to display balance), but often when he would take lateral contact he would go down. Michel is pretty consistent in keeping his feet moving even when being tackled by multiple defenders above the waist.

Like many prospects, deficiencies in pass blocking, can reduce exposure to early snaps. Michel had some struggles in pass blocking in the observed sample, but it seems to be issues related to technique and footwork rather than toughness or strength. However, based on how he says that he loves “the process”, it sounds like he will put in the work to improve in that area.

If he can get anywhere near replicating LeSean McCoy’s game, there will be plenty of fits for him. If he can get a featured role, then he should achieve RB1 status quickly making him a valuable asset to any dynasty roster.

2. Saquon Barkley

Barkley

This is likely a surprise to many of you as Saquon is at the top of everyone else’s running back rankings or dynasty rookie draft rankings, but he is not number one on this list. He has the second best vision of the assessed group, displaying great vision 48%. He was also 3rd best in burst of the group, which correlates with his crazy 4.4 40 time (qualifying as the fourth best all time for size adjusted time). More than half the time there is a hole he would burst through it efficiently. This dude has a nice top gear too with a consistent ability to leave defenders in the dust.

There is no question about his receiving prowess having caught 54 receptions last season, so as far as earning third down work the only question is can he block? And the answer to that is a resounding yes. At 94% success rate he has the best blocking grade of the bunch, guaranteeing his status as a 3-down back.

The only things left to discuss are his balance and creative ability. Like Michel, Barkley’s running style is based more on finesse and elusiveness than strength and power (although he has that capability too) which explains his lower balance percentage. Again this metric is a percentage of snaps where balance was observed on tape after lateral contact. He didn’t take much lateral contact which limited his opportunities to show off his ability, but there was nothing to indicate that his balance would ever be an issue that limits his upside. The greatest thing about Barkley is his top rating in creation which indicates to me that Barkley will be a solid back even in a mediocre situation.

Between his burst, top gear, vision, blocking, hands, and creation. It is easy to see why Barkley is the consensus 1.01 in rookie drafts and discussed as a possible top 5 draft pick. If you are picking 1.01 then don’t over think it just because he is ranked #2 here. From a total package perspective, it doesn’t get better than this.

1. Derrius Guice

Guice

Honestly, I was surprised when I saw that Guice showed better vision in his sample that did Barkley. Guice shows solid patience at the line taking what is presented by his offensive line, but generally doesn’t create much if his offensive line fails him. However, Guice is more of a banger anyway and he does tend to push piles and fall forward when met with contact. Don’t let this tendency to make contact fool you though because Guice is plenty capable of quick cuts and making people miss.

Another thing I didn’t expect was for Guice to show more frequent burst than Barkley, but he was tied for first with Michel in this category. With Guice not being shy of contact I feel for defenders tasked with tackling this man after he bursts through the hole at 4.49 speed and 224 lbs. Barkley is a bigger back, but he evades contact which will probably extend his career beyond that of Guice.

Since he is not avoiding contact he gets more opportunities to display his ability to balance. If his 19% rate of observed balance translates to the NFL he will be gaining many yards after contact. Although he is able to extend these plays with his balance, the total upside is capped because he seems to recover speed more slowly than others after lateral contact.

We should see Derrius hit the field early provided he isn’t drafted behind an established running back. He didn’t show much in the receiving game with only 18 receptions in 2017, but his blocking was stellar at an 88% success rate. Being able to keep the passer safe on third down should earn him extra snaps and opportunities early. Circling back to receiving, he does show some good technique with his hands and great transition from the reception to running forward. The one concern is that he sometimes leaves his feet for no reason when catching the ball. He will have to work on this part of his game to complete his 3rd down skill set.

If I am at 1.01 in a rookie draft I would highly consider exploring what I could get in a trade down to 1.02. Theoretically, it shouldn’t be a ton of value you there, but you could potentially get more than what you should from a trade down, just based on the hype of Barkley. Guice isn’t much of a downgrade, if at all, per my observations. Guice is a tough runner that should be able to generate plenty of RB1 level fantasy points over the course of his career. I can’t wait to see how the top 3 of this class pan out in Guice, Barkley, and Michel.

I can’t wait to EnVision what this information could mean once we know their destinations. Once the draft is complete we will revisit this data and speculate what it could mean.

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A computer systems instructor with a passion for the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles, and fantasy football (especially DFS and dynasty). Trying to crack the tough DFS nut utilizing my computer skills to tailor my research. Meshing my passion and work ethic to provide readers a different perspective on fantasy football analysis.

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