Articles Draft Prep

Running Back Vision: Part III

Wrapping up this series with the third and final installment of RBV 2.0 we will close it out with the last five prospects. Since we have already looked some of the top prospects being considered, who could possibly have shown more consistent vision on tape? Please make sure you are sitting down for this as the last prospect (the most consistent vision) may shock you. Let’s dig right into the prospect with the 5th best vision.

#5 Elijah Holyfield

Holyfield will surely be a victim of a disappointing combine performance with a 4.79 40-yard dash (and an estimated 1.78 10-yd split). This is interesting considering he tallied the 3rd highest percentage of snaps showing burst. The disparity between the combine performance and the short area explosiveness on film begs the question of whether or not Holyfield was working through something like a mild injury? Apparently, this is just his speed since he was unable to improve the time at Georgia’s pro day. While this is somewhat discouraging, this could simply be an issue of test speed vs game speed. Holyfield demonstrated burst on 61% of the reps where he demonstrated good vision.

Considering some of the nifty movement in small areas and agility that he has shown this should be encouraging especially behind a good line. The film evidence shows he can accelerate quickly when cutting. When watching him there were noted demonstrations of his patience allowing his line to develop holes or pressing the line of scrimmage to force defenders to commit inside, thus opening the outside lane.

When Holyfield does enter traffic in the trenches, the energy with which he runs is somewhat similar to Chris Carson. He fights for tough yards and has demonstrated an ability to get dirty yards inside. This is encouraging to see in prospects because so many young guys bounce outside too early at the next level. He was able to flash good feet in the sample observed.

Those poor times in the 40-yard dash and lack of data on the 3-cone due to non-participation could effect the way some people evaluate Holyfield so we must look at the skill that get him 3rd-down exposure. Unfortunately, he didn’t receive many targets (3 targets on 13 routes) nor did he block much (11 times). While the concern for his receiving skill set is confirmed by his career college stats (total 7 receptions), his blocking appeared to be strong at 91% (2nd most consistent in the class). Assuming he can continue blocking at this proficiency at the next level, it could earn him some early 3rd down exposure.

#4 Alex Barnes

I’m not sure what it is, but Barnes’ build reminds me of Ryan Mathews (6′, 226 lbs for Barnes to 6′, 218 lbs for Mathews). While his speed isn’t quite on the level of Mathews (4.56 to 4.45) the running style feels really similar: running with quickness making people miss with subtle footwork. Add to that package great power (Barnes is a standout in this class) and some receiving skills and I think we have a great prospect.

His vision is very evident in his patience and he chops his feet to throttle down while waiting for a running lane. The chop of his steps allow him to burst up field as soon as the hole opens up. Barnes’ vision is further demonstrated in how he sets up defenders in the open field using his next level jab step to slip past defenders. You can see his patience and technique as he waits for running lanes to open while chopping his steps at just the right pace. His chop steps are effective in allowing him to explode, exploiting developing holes at the line.

As mentioned prior, his consistency in displaying power is what stands out. Often times in addition to juking defenders with subtle moves, he will setup defenders just to run them over. He accomplishes this by getting consistently good pad level, and as a result hardly ever loses an head-on encounters. While watching his games my brain constantly asked the question, “Why on earth are people trying to tackle Barnes up high?” This is not a comp at all, but I remember thinking the same thing when the Jags tried to tackle Derrick Henry on that 90+ yard TD run last season. Even when defenders managed to grasp his waist he drags them for a 2-3 yards! Amazing!

Okay, I’ll stop gushing over his displays of power and move on to his receiving game. Barnes’ receiving game is somewhat of a mixed bag, where there were some bad throws involved in the sampled targets. The good thing is that he still made plays on balls thrown low or behind him showing a level of receiving skills that can set a prospect apart from the crop. He showed evidence of being able to track a ball over his shoulder on a wheel route, making a one-handed catch to boot! When he catches the ball he seems to transition well up field consistently regardless of ball placement.

If Alex Barnes can be anything like a healthy and more durable Ryan Mathews (stop snickering, he was healthy a few times in his career), then this guy could be one of the surprises of this class long term.

#3 Rodney Anderson

Rodney Anderson probably should be talked about more, but he has an injury history including one that ended his 2018 season. This limited the evaluation to his most recent sample in 2017. With that comes a multitude of challenges in ranking him in the context of this class. The good thing is that his most recent injury (season ending knee issue) won’t affect his vision. Unfortunately it may affect his burst, balance, and power. Since there was no combine or pro day activity to help us measure his athleticism, all we have is the tape. Perhaps we can get some answers in April when he plans to have a personal pro day.

His vision is evident in the patience he displays, often willing to ride the back of a lineman waiting for the hole to develop naturally. While he has speed at his disposal, he never seems to hurried to use it. Admittedly his burst was sometimes hard to evaluate because of the steady curve of his acceleration; it’s almost deceptive. His straight line speed does sometimes get him in trouble as he is not able to cut as well as some in this class.

Even when his cutting fails to help him avoid contact we can count on him to power (5th among this crop) through defenders. He consistently lowers his pad level and keeps his feet moving to drive the pile. On occasion he will drag defenders including lineman for a couple of yards. In addition his balance (6th) should assist him in extending plays. This trait was on display often on his bigger runs.

One feat he brings to the table is his receiving skills. Often displaying active hands, he displays the skills of a receiver: adjustments to off target passes, making himself available on the scramble drill, transitions from the catch to running up field very well. Unfortunately, blocking (the other skill that gets young backs on the field early) was below the average success rate in this class. Being that he is coming off injury there is unlikely a lot of time for Anderson to improve skills in this area. Most of his time will be spent recovering any speed he may have lost from the injury last season.

Rodney Anderson is probably sitting right at RB2 capability, but his injury history will likely cap any value he could have in dynasty leagues beyond three years. If available in the late 2nd to early 3rd round, snag him as a late dart throw.

#2 David Montgomery

Montgomery is a well rounded prospect. He displayed the second most consistent vision on the field despite facing the 4th toughest competition in this group of prospects. The film evidence supports the buzz that he one of the better runners in this class. His vision shows some nice traits when he does identify his running lane. He brings some amazing cuts to the table when bouncing outside. If only there were more tape of him running between the tackles, but the offensive line was not great in run blocking for him. As far as the frequency with which he bounced outside, the same could have been said about Dalvin Cook a few years ago, but he turned out solid. It appears Montgomery thrives in space, where he can use his body to setup defenders for bad angles.

Montgomery’s speed to the edge is evident although he only showed burst on 47% of the snaps where he also demonstrated vision. This could be a concern in that he may not consistently exploit open gaps in the line, and the space to work with shrinks considerably at the next level due to field dimensions and player speed. This lack of burst on tape is confirmed by an estimated 1.71 10-yard split time which is second worst among the backs evaluated.

Given the fact that he will have less space to work with, Montgomery did have the second best consistency in contact balance. This trait is often key in getting all the “meat off the bone” and maximizing carries. He did not demonstrate power very often, but that is explainable by his running style where he doesn’t take on direct contact as often. One may even be able to describe him as slippery.

How does he measure up on the 3rd down skill set? Montgomery lined up as a receiver many times showing us that the coaching staff had some level of trust in his skills. Though he showed it a few times, he did not consistently display active hands when targeted, but they were not necessarily body catches either. One thing he needs to clean up is his arm discipline when running routes. Sometimes his arms would flail just before the break in the route which is a key defenders seek to try to make a break on the ball. He did seem to know how to position himself to box out defenders at times.

While there are a few things to be cleaned up in the receiving game, his blocking consistency also needs some work. Montgomery had the 11th ranked consistency in blocking success. When he does successfully engage his assignment, his technique is on point. He must work diligently on his consistency in blocking success to make it at the next level. With a well rounded skill set such as his Montgomery could have low-end RB1 upside, but will he land somewhere with that opportunity? Here’s to crossing our fingers that he ends up somewhere with a need at the position.

#1 Bruce Anderson

Some of you said to yourself “Bruce Who?!?!?” Yes, readers. Bruce Anderson had the most consistent displays of vision among the 14 running backs evaluated for this year’s RBV. There are some caveats to consider. First he played in the FCS against arguably lower quality competition. Sure this could mean he faced a slightly slower paced game there for accentuating simply good vision, but that would be quite the assumption.

Bruce Anderson is a combine snub that I would have loved to see test. Fortunately we can look to his pro day at NDSU. Sure he may have been a beneficiary of lower level competition in the FCS, but the skills he was able to display on tape are really opponent agnostic for the most part. He runs well between the tackles and has the recognition and footwork to be able to get to the outside. His patience is some of the best in this class as he consistently presses the line of scrimmage before considering the bounce to the outside.

If Anderson is able to transition up field at the next level as quickly as observed in this sample, he is one of the most underrated prospects in the draft. His transitions from East-West to North-South often took only two steps. Assuming he can burst with the same level of consistency (best in the class) then he really should be looked at earlier in the NFL draft. His burst and vision often, provide him an advantage in his power.

Anderson did display the solid contact balance (5th) and strength in breaking tackles with stiff arms or persistence. Anderson displayed instances of running tough and falling forward, though he was ranked 8th in putting it on film. His vision and feet allow him to setup defenders in bad tackling posture creating an advantage when making contact.

Call it a hot take if you want to, but this dude is going to see the field early. His consistency in blocking was 4th in the group and he showed so much potential in the receiving game. While only four targets on 15 routes is a small sample size, he looked every bit a receiver when the ball was in the air. He showed active hands on all of his targets and demonstrated the advanced body control of a receiver. Anderson plucked the ball out of the air and adjusted to an underthrown pass to the edge just like an experienced receiver. Apparently, a report from Eric Peterson at the Grand Forks Herald boasts about his pass catching skills including ball tracking ability. He is going to be a problem for unprepared linebackers.

This is one dart throw dynasty players should make. Anderson has all the makings of a well rounded 3-down back. It will be tough to wait until April 25th to see where he lands.

Conclusion

Remember, RBV 2.0 is all about charting the consistency with which a prospect put the traits of vision, burst, balance, power, and blocking on display. While it does not measure quality of those traits, it may provide you another data point to consider in your personal evaluations. How would these prospects be ranked? That is still an on going process, and perhaps a later post. With that said the info-graphics can be a helpful quick reference for potential rookie draft scenarios in the coming weeks and months.

“How do I use this information?” some may ask. Well here is how one could think through the process. Vision is the most important trait in my eyes, hence why these prospect evaluations were revealed in that order. Burst is a close second in that, a lack of burst could reduce the opportunities to take advantage of what a prospect sees at the next level. Since opportunity is king in fantasy, we can follow burst with our evaluation of blocking and receiving prowess. This will be a little more subjective in the receiving element, but we aren’t getting into specific weighting of these traits here. Lastly, we can look at balance and power as these could be determining factors for short yardage and explosive plays.

My Rankings

  1. Miles Sanders – Perhaps a lazy comp, but he reminds me of LeSean McCoy with a better appearance ball security. Slippery, burst ability (confirmed by 10-yard split), solid blocker and willingness to press the pocket will facilitate some chunk plays. Receiving skills and ability to line up as a wide receiver will be valuable at the next level. Sanders has a plethora of amazing traits in his game that contribute to his effectiveness, but they are challenging to quantify in this model.
  2. David Montgomery – Great vision and agility will make him a nice addition to almost any team. If only he had some more burst, as he seems to only have a single speed. The lack of speed shouldn’t condemn any prospect especially one clearly trusted in pass protection and splitting out wide at Iowa State. Also consider that Montgomery posted these stellar numbers against the toughest average run defense by rush yard allowed per game in the sample evaluated. Aside from Jacobs, he is probably the most well rounded prospect of the 14 evaluated.
  3. Alex Barnes – His running style and ability to setup defenders with his jab step to either evade them completely or power through them is an underrated combination of capabilities. Add to that his receiving skills with only a little work needed in the consistency of his pass protection, he could easily be one of the most underrated prospects in the draft.
  4. Josh Jacobs – While he didn’t necessarily have the best percentages in each category, what was charted was able to confirm what we see on film: Speed(game speed is better than test speed), power, some of the better receiving skills in the class, and solid blocking. Why is he 4th? He and Harris both benefited greatly from the talent surrounding them. This poses a challenge in that one has to wonder how he would perform with a sub par offensive line.
  5. Bruce Anderson – “What?” may be your reaction to his placement here, but given his evaluation where is was #1 in vision and burst among the crop should have had him at the top, especially when you consider his blocking and receiving ability. The only reason he is down this far is because of his competition. While the skills displayed are competition agnostic, it is hard to know if he would have been as effective. Anderson is the reason that RBV was developed, to identify potential gems like this that we could snag in the later rounds of our rookie drafts.
  6. Devin Singletary – While his burst wasn’t as consistently on tape as other prospects, his 1.53 10-yard split at the combine confirms the flashes we do see on film. His agility and quick moves to evade defenders on film are the reason why we should take combine/pro day test scores with somewhat of a grain of salt. Displaying more consistent balance on film than other prospects is intriguing as a potential pick in the late second or early third round.
  7. Justice Hill – Good vision, good burst. The former is evident on film, where the latter is confirmed by his crazy combine numbers. Hill could be a sneaky prospects as there are some unknowns about him. First, his power wasn’t something consistently displayed on tape, but his bench and vertical numbers suggest that there is more power to his smaller frame than we realize. Second, his receiving acumen is unknown as there wasn’t much evidence on film either, but this neither confirms nor refutes whether or not he can be a good receiving back. Keep your eye on him and his landing spot.
  8. Damien Harris – While Harris had similar observation metrics to those of Jacobs, Jacobs showed more wow plays on tape often stringing together many traits we seek in running backs. Harris was overall solid as a well rounded running back, but there wasn’t much to excite me about his potential as a prospect. Given that Jacobs and Harris had similar metrics, this is also why Jacobs came down a few pegs. They both benefit from a lot of talent around them in Alabama thus running the potential risk that they are completely products of their environment.
  9. Rodney Anderson – Great vision, solid burst, nice balance and power. But that injury history is a struggle to get past. This is very unfortunate, because if Anderson had a clear injury history, he would likely be a top three prospect. If he can stay healthy (feels like a big ask at this point) he could be a dominant force on the field considering his receiving skills. Anderson is totally worth a late dart throw and must be carefully considered. If his NFL draft position is super late then I would expect the community to downgrade him a little, but don’t overreact as you might be able to steal some value here.
  10. Darrell Henderson – Henderson’s explosiveness alone is worth the consideration in the second round. For him it will be all about fit as his blocking success rate was terrible, but he is somewhat able to be dynamic in the receiving game. He feels more like a boom/bust player which is interesting to say about a running back. We will have to see if he can stay this explosive when the field shrinks and the defenders are faster.
  11. Elijah Holyfield – Holyfield decimated his stock at both the combine and the pro day, and the vast difference between those testing scores and the expectations from the initial look at his film, caused a significant downgrade for him. While he shows some quickness and blocking acumen on film, his lack of receiving reps raises a concern as to his viability on third down.
  12. Benny Snell – More of a plodder that gets the tough yards, he will see some usage in the right offense. He could develop to be more dynamic, but testing revealed little insight to that possibility. He will likely end up being a JAG.
  13. Mike Weber – Largely a beneficiary of Ohio State’s offensive line, it was disappointing to see a prospect with his type of speed in testing go to waste with lower end vision. While he brings a little something in the receiving game, a man that can’t see can’t run. Therefore he should be a lower priority for all. Perhaps he is worth a super late dart throw, but until that vision improves he is off my board.
  14. Trayveon Williams – Williams did little to impress in the run game, but he shined a bit more in his 3rd down skill set. Williams blocks with tenacity and is able to show some receiving skills, but this is all he is likely to do at the next level barring an injury to the guy in front of him.

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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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