Welcome back for part two of this three part series providing a different perspective on the 2019 running back class. There were likely some surprises as far as the first four prospects discussed, but hopefully you read the notes for each prospect to provide some context. As a reminder, or if you didn’t read Running Back Vision 2.0 – Part I, this evaluation system is only looking at the consistency with which a prospect demonstrates a trait on film; there is no evaluation of the quality of these traits. There are many others more qualified than I, to evaluate that aspect of their respective games. With that said, let’s examine the next five prospects in order of ascending vision percentage.
#10 Damien Harris
Unfortunately for Harris, he shared a backfield with one of the more popular top prospects in this class in Josh Jacobs. Harris’ vision was solid just under the average for the class at 62%. However there were times that his patience, or lack thereof, robbed him of opportunities for great gains on the ground. The great thing is that he had the 6th best burst exploiting good vision 63% of the time (T-3rd), and 6th most consistent display of power. When he got in the open field he showed off his 4.57 speed that we saw at the combine. Looking back at his power, he is a good bet in grinding out short yardage situations to find the sticks. Upon contact Harris displayed good recovery and acceleration.
Harris offers a solid skill set as a runner at the next level including some solid traits in the receiving game. The evaluation credited him with receiving 10 of 10 targets on 18 routes run. While he was able to show nice receiving skills when targeted with poor throws, he seemed to frequently lose his footing in transition up field; a concern perhaps as it occurred three times on those 10 receptions. It’s almost as if he tries to do too much after the reception. If that doesn’t concern you for his future in 3rd down work then perhaps his blocking will. Harris only succeeded on 74% of blocking assignments. If I’m a franchise owner on draft day looking for a complete back, then I’m looking for someone with at least an 80% in this area. Sure this is an improvable skill, but if you choose to go in on Harris understand that it will take more time for him to earn these all important reps on 3rd down.
#9 Josh Jacobs
I know, I know. You are probably thinking, “How is Jacobs this low?” This is not an indictment of Jacobs ability as a runner, but rather some considerations for determining if Jacobs will be able to fully translate his college game to the pros. Given the package he offers, Jacobs should be promising at the next level.
Jacobs seems to have solid vision and the efficient cut ability to take advantage of holes immediately as they develop. He pairs his vision well with his explosiveness which came on several observations of efficient footwork including a lot of 2-step cuts in transitions from lateral to north/south movement. He shows some maturity and patience to run behind blockers allowing running lanes to develop.
Jacobs displayed obvious burst on 63% of the snaps where he also demonstrates vision. His acceleration is even evident in the passing game after the catch. There is a lot of concern about the 40 time on his pro day at, or over, 4.6. These test times are not necessarily telling us any truth about a running back’s ability. His film, when reviewed after his 40-time was revealed, didn’t look any slower so perhaps he plays faster than he tests. The burst ability on film, in addition to his receiving and blocking ability makes him a dynamic 3-down back.
This man has power. He can lower his center of gravity to deliver the hit and ensure that he keeps moving forward. He displayed power on 31% of observed carries (second highest in the class). This metric is to be taken with a grain of salt because the opportunity to display power is inconsistent from prospect to prospect.With that said, anyone drafting this player will have no doubts about his ability to run through defenders.
Jacobs should see the field on 3rd down early in his career since he often displayed ability as a receiver. Some things he put on film in the receiving game included high-pointing the ball, a one-handed catch, and consistent active hands. While he showed the ability to run intermediate/deep routes, we should ask the question, “Can he track the ball in the air well?” Jacobs was able to bring in one of two targets that required him to track the ball over his shoulder through the air. The fact that he was targeted in this manner is an indicator that Alabama believed he could handle it, but seeing is believing. Before considering this a plus to his receiving game, we should demand more evidence. One last thing that is encouraging is his ability to adjust to an imperfectly thrown ball. The only concern from the sample observed is his awareness in the scramble drill. On one observation where the play broke down he just stopped playing, not even trying to make himself an available target for the QB.
His blocking proficiency could use some improvement, but it shouldn’t impact his opportunity for 3rd down work. Of all blocking snaps evaluated, there were only two of 14 reps that were bad. Overall he showed proficiency in identifying and engaging his assignment and even showed willingness to run downfield and block for the QB keeper or Damien Harris when called. Checking in at 79% (7th) in blocking success, we can be confident that this won’t keep him off the field early in his NFL career.
#8 Darrell Henderson
Henderson was quite impressive from an “explosiveness” standpoint with a lot of big plays. But it was primarily against inferior run defenses. The highest ranked run defense he saw in the sample observed was Navy (ranked 91st by rush yards allowed), but still the traits are there.
There have been a number of respectable podcasts mentioning Darrell Henderson lately, and his film certainly confirms some of their excitement. Henderson could legitimately be an underrated prospect given the traits he consistently put on film.
Henderson’s vision is pretty solid (rated 8th among the crop) as he demonstrates it inside and outside the tackles. It is exciting to see his willingness and aggressiveness in running between the tackles especially when he bursts through the other side of the chaos into the open field. Another great thing about his burst ability is that we can see it consistently paired with his demonstrations of his vision (67% of the time, 5th). The tape of his 40-yard dash at the combine confirmed his film speed with an estimated 1.49 10-yard split. Once in the open field he sets up angles pretty well when he decides to go around (which may be exaggerated on tape by his speed) rather than through people (3rd in displays of power). He does all this while being very mindful and disciplined of ball security.
With every running back prospect there is the question of “how many snaps will they get?” The answer is in their third down capabilities related to blocking and receiving. For Henderson this is a bit of a mixed bag. Starting with the good, he shows active hands, stays alive in scramble situations, and has shown the ability to run deep and intermediate routes. This gives him some additional versatility. Unfortunately, his blocking acumen is sub par being ranked second to last in the evaluated group (60% success rate). Teams will not tolerate their starting quarterback being molested on four of every ten snaps on 3rd down. He will need to improve vastly in this area or all his potential will be relegated to 1st and 2nd down work, and that would be an absolute shame given his speed, vision, and power.
As with most prospects, the right landing spot and coaching staff will determine the difference between a potential RB1 and a perennial RB2-3 career for Henderson. Fix the blocking and improve his feet in cuts and he could be a very dynamic contributor.
#7 Justice Hill
Justice Hill was the fastest back at the 2019 combine with a 4.4 40-yard dash and a 1.48 10-yard split. His explosiveness on film was further confirmed with a 40″ vertical jump. If only he had participated and excelled in the 3-cone it could have alleviated some concerns about his size at 198 lbs. He did demonstrate some strength that was unexpected with 21 reps on the bench; better marks than Snell, Singletary, Montgomery, and Harris who are all bigger. This somewhat confirms the flashes of strength on film when throwing stiff arms.
Hill could be an interesting prospect in offering speed and agility. These traits in combination with his vision could give him low-end RB1 upside. Hill demonstrates vision in the sample by identifying penetrating defenders in the backfield, setting up open field defenders for missed tackles, and hitting hole at the line of scrimmage. Often, young running backs his build and speed will demonstrate impatience in pressing the line of scrimmage or allowing the o-line to create the hole, but not Hill. Hill understands his explosiveness allows him to take advantage of opportunities created by his line. The great thing is Hill is able to quickly recognize and react when a designed or created hole is filled by a second level defender allowing him to bounce outside and use his speed to the edge.
If the combine numbers don’t convince you of his burst ability (graded as 2nd most consistent by this evaluation), then perhaps the fact that he demonstrated burst on 67% (T-1st) of snaps where he demonstrated vision will convince you. This level of consistency is encouraging. Now we can realistically expect less wasted opportunities when the o-line does good work.
Like many of the prospect in this class blocking could be an area keeping him off the field early in his career. Hill had the lowest grade among the group. His size poses a physical challenge in his ability to block which means he will have to improve his technique. This isn’t an impossible task due to his size as many of us have seen players like Darren Sproles block effectively.
Making third down concerns for Hill worse was his limited use in the receiving game. His receiving skills will likely remain a question mark until he lands with his NFL team. In 36 collegiate games Hill only accumulated 49 total receptions for 304 receiving yards. This could be due to the offensive design and quarterback preference. Hopefully, he isn’t Ronald Jones in this way.
Good qualities observed in his receiving game were the fact that there were multiple instances where he kept himself alive for a scrambling passer. This demonstration of awareness would make him an asset to have on the field assuming there is more to his receiving ability than what the existing evidence suggests. If he can get more involved in the receiving game it will be exciting to see what he can do in space.
#6 Devin Singletary
Devin Singletary’s game is pretty nice. Just walking through my notes on his first three snaps observed and there are three instances where he is making quick decisions to make people miss in small spaces. His agility and balance allow him to extend plays often and exploit missed tackles. Often times the missed tackle is created by slick and efficient movements to setup the defender with a poor angle. The craziest thing about these displays of agility is that they contradict his testing in the 3-cone at 7.32! While he does have this ability to make people miss, he pairs that with good instincts knowing when to just take what the defense presents. This is indicative of a maturity and intelligence not seen often in this class.
It is interesting that his burst wasn’t as consistent as his vision, which is crazy considering his 10-yard split time of 1.53. Admittedly, this could highlight a gap in my assessment capabilities since his longer strides to accelerate may have thrown me off. Still this is amazing because longer strides don’t normally lend to agility which he shows on tape in spades.
His blocking ability should help him get on the field quickly with a 90% success rate. On the flip side he only ran 14 routes in the entire sample being targeted six times. While a larger sample of targets is needed, he did demonstrate active hands on 75% of the catch-able targets. If he truly has receiving ability, then the only thing holding him back will be his landing spot.