In the same way that the Banana Stand has been using Dominator Rating and Height-adjusted Speed Score to help improve the evaluations for wide receivers, I’ve been using Agility Scores to help develop the evaluation matrix for running backs. A year ago I debuted the Agility Score concept for Pro Football Focus. I explained some of the more recent motivation for the work in a piece illustrating why Le’Veon Bell is massively underrated.
It’s important to note that Agility Score is only one aspect, and not necessarily the most important one, as I explain in developing what I see as the Three Draftable NFL Profiles for RotoViz.
One final note before the rankings themselves: When most pundits give you comparable players, they’re trying to spin the scouting report in the direction that fits with their observations, often by citing an unrealistic upside player or intentionally depressing bust. I have given both positive and negative comps in this piece, and the players listed are very, very close to the prospect in terms of production, size, speed, and agility. I’m sure I’m as biased as the next person, but those biases are met with a wealth of easily verifiable data in these rankings.
These are reality rankings. If you’re looking for a projection of these backs to your fantasy squad, RotoViz just published its set of composite dynasty rankings.
1. Christine Michael
* College numbers represent career statistics.
Character concerns make it a very close call at No. 1, but Michael’s athleticism separates from his classmates to such a degree that the risk is worth the reward (assuming background checks don’t turn up even more discouraging info). Michael’s vertical leap and Agility Score make him a threat to eventually be among the ten best backs in the NFL, perhaps similar to another supposed character risk. He’s comps are incredible.
Projected Value: Second Round Expected Selection: Late Second to Third
2. Zac Stacy
Similar to Stedman Bailey among receivers, RotoViz writers have regaled Stacy with the type of press worthy of a Top 5 pick. It’s justified. Stacy’s Agility Score and collegiate resume put him in the same class as Ray Rice. Matthew Freedman suggests he compares favorably to Arian Foster, while Jon Moore provides a statistical framework that unequivocally shows him as the top back from the SEC.
Projected Value: Second Round Expected Selection: Fifth Round
3. Le’Veon Bell
Bell hasn’t gotten quite as much pub, but he profiles as the rare three-down back. Possessing plus size, scoring ability, and receiving prowess, his ranking on the Agility Index suggests the feet of a much smaller back. He’s probably not a game-changer, but his flexibility would be a great fit for one of the NFL’s better run franchises.
Projected Value: Second Round Expected Selection: Third Round
4. Giovani Bernard
As illustrated by his 4.53 forty and 33.5 inch vertical, Bernard doesn’t possess the type of explosive ability you want in a 202 pound back. Comparisons to Ray Rice are a stretch. He does, however, profile as an excellent space back.
Projected Value: Third Round Expected Selection: Late Second
5. Knile Davis
Update: I originally had Davis’ injury wrong (I have RG3’s recovery open permanently in a mental window that’s sapping processing power). Those of you following the Davis saga know he broke his ankle. I also had Davis too low. It’s a danger in ranking prospects to focus too heavily on the last year on the field and not enough on the comps and overall play. Check out the comps that Matthew, Frank, and I have for Davis and see if you don’t also find him underrated.
Davis had a terrible season in 2012 recovering from a
torn ACL, but his 2010 would have put him in the late first round conversation. RotoViz’s Matthew Freedman loves Davis and makes a compelling case for the Arkansas runner. Adrian Peterson’s recovery gives us an unrealistic timetable for regaining full ability from devastating injuries. Even if you’re not an Eddie Lacy skeptic, I find it hard to believe Lacy’s suspect athleticism makes him a better risk in the late first than Davis would be in the third or fourth. RotoViz also offers up some other impressive non-AS comps.
Projected Value: Fourth Expected Selection: Fourth
6. Kenjon Barner
Barner was generating buzz early in the draft process, but has been the forgotten man of late. He represents a good arbitrage value for those who like either Bernard or Johnathan Franklin. His comps may be the best of the three.
Projected Value: Late Third Expected Selection: Fourth Round
7. Montee Ball
Ball is an intriguing case in that he’s likely to be overvalued by film watchers and undervalued by Speed Score aficionados. Bill Connelly has suggested his 2011 season was one for the ages, and his production is difficult to ignore. Ball probably projects as a very good No. 2 back at the NFL level, but size and flexibility make him a potential starter for a good organization.
Projected Value: Fourth Round Expected Selection: Fourth Round
8. Johnathan Franklin
Franklin put up ridiculous numbers his final season at UCLA but doesn’t quite fit the profile of a three-down back. His college highlights overstate his athleticism, and efficiency numbers are notoriously unreliable in predicting future performance at RB. At 205 pounds, a 4.49 forty, 31-inch vertical, and 11.2 Agility Score make you a niche back in the NFL. Franklin is essentially Isaiah Pead’s identical twin, and in case you didn’t catch the 2012 season, Pead was beaten out by a 6th round rookie. My inexplicably high rating in the RotoViz Dynasty rankings owes to the assumption he’ll be a 2013 starter out of necessity for whoever drafts him. (Plus, I expect the guys I like will be drafted low enough not to have any immediate dynasty value.)
Projected Value: Fourth Round Expected Selection: Late First, Early Second
9. Latavius Murray
10. Eddie Lacy
Did not run at Combine.
Lacy is expected to go off the board as the first or second back taken, perhaps to a team like St. Louis, Pittsburgh, or Green Bay at the tail end of the first round. While Lacy’s efficiency numbers were excellent this season at Alabama, his usage with the Crimson Tide suggests a far inferior player to Trent Richardson and even Mark Ingram. His success rate is a meaningless mirage running behind the Alabama line.
Comps: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mark Ingram
Projected Value: Fourth Round Expected Selection: Late First, Early Second
11. Marcus Lattimore
He’ll either recover fully or he won’t, but his presence on a team probably has hidden opportunity costs in terms of time and resources that could be better spent elsewhere.
Projected Value: Fifth Round
12. Kerwynn Williams
Williams didn’t run as fast or move as quickly at the Combine as one might have hoped, but his production makes him an appealing arbitrage play in lieu of Bernard, Barner, or Franklin.
13. Rex Burkhead
Burkhead is probably the most underrated back in the draft. His college production suggests a player who will be elite in space, in the receiving game, and potentially at the goal line. He’s familiar with zone-read concepts, and his score on the Agility Index is so good that he may not only be a sleeper prospect but a truly elite prospect.
14. Mike Gillislee
Gillislee’s workout numbers fairly well kill his NFL prospects. It’s not that it’s impossible to be a good pro back without elite measurables – Arian Foster’s pro day was a disaster – but it is very unlikely. Most of Gillislee’s comps never got a chance at the pro level and the notable names have demonstrably underperformed their draft slots.
Notable Comps: Mark Ingram, Jacquizz Rodgers
Others Notable Backs
I’m skeptical of non-elite backs like Joseph Randle, Cierre Wood, and Andre Ellington who opt not to do all of the drills (although Ellington was injured during the 40). Stepfan Taylor’s Combine was so much worse than Gillislee’s that he will probably see a Chris Polkian slide out of the draft entirely. George Winn might be an interesting sleeper.
Shawn Siegele has finished in the Top 10 of the NFFC’s Main Event Classic for two consecutive seasons and is one of only a handful of players to own three or more Main Event league titles. He also contributes to Rotoviz and works as the Lead Redraft Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy.