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Is Melvin Gordon the Next Beast Mode?
image via flickr/ steve schar
image via flickr/ steve schar

Now that the 2015 NFL Draft is done and in the books it’s natural to start to assess how rookies fit on their new teams. A big part of this process is trying to determine if there is some way we can predict how they may perform based on how similar players may have performed. How many times have you heard, “Player X reminds me of a younger Player Y.”? Its human nature, we all do it and psychologists make careers out of trying to describe why we do it. As the basis for this article I chose not to fight against this basic desire to classify things in the world around me, but rather to embrace it and focus it like a laser on this year’s rookie class. I decided to classify this year’s rookie class and find the most similar players based upon the measurables we have access to, namely NFL Combine data and, in some instances, Pro Day data where there were holes in NFL Combine performance data.

Why not look at how a player performed on the field and compare it? There is a very simple answer for that: it just isn’t quantifiable. Say two players gained 1000 yards and 10 touchdowns, one of those players had 10 rushes for 100 yards each while scoring a touchdown on each play. The other ran the ball 500 times for an average of two yards a carry and one touchdown two out of every 100 plays. These players are vastly different but their seasonal statistics say otherwise. Conversely, given the same statistics, maybe each player had identical carries and yards per carry but one played against five top ten teams that season and the other played for cellar dwelling team at a Division III school. In even a third scenario, say both players were similar in nearly every aspect, their school, their yards per carry, and their schedule, but one player played behind three future first-round offensive linemen and the other had an offensive line that couldn’t block a junior varsity squad. Are these players the same? Of course not!

So how can we effectively compare players? Well, I’d argue its equal parts tape watching and looking at physical attributes and measurable athleticism. Since I can’t effectively walk you through how to watch tape, as I believe it to be more of an art than a skill, I can walk you through the data and use that to highlight the most similar players we’ve seen in the past ten years. We can then use this to possibly gain some insight about the future prospects of this rookie class.

I spent an incredible amount of time gathering NFL Combine and Pro Day data on prospects that were invited to the NFL Combine over the past ten years. In some instances this data wasn’t complete as some players were attempting to recover from various injuries they sustained the prior season, such as Todd Gurley this season. Nonetheless, there is still an incredible amount of player data. I used this data to discover some interesting comparisons. Here are a few of the top prospect comparisons as well as a few interesting ones as well:

Melvin Gordon is Most Similar to Marshawn Lynch

Some of these comparisons are going to surprise people. Coming into the NFL Draft you couldn’t mention the name Melvin Gordon without people stating he was a bigger, slightly slower Jamaal Charles. While everyone was comparing Gordon’s running style to Charles’, they completely missed the boat on how strikingly similar Gordon’s NFL Combine performance was to Marshawn Lynch’s. Of the nearly 150 running back performances in my database, Lynch’s performance was the most similar. Here’s how they stack up:

Name Height Weight 40 Time Bench Vertical Broad Shuttle 3 Cone 10 Yard
Melvin Gordon 73 215 4.52 19 35” 126” 4.07 7.04 1.62
Marshawn Lynch 71 215 4.46 20 35.5” 125” 4.58 7.09 1.53

As you can see, other than a shuttle time which is a bit disparate, their NFL Combine performances are extremely similar. Gordon was selected as the 15th overall pick, going to the San Diego Chargers following a 9-7 season, and Lynch was selected as the 12th overall pick, going to the Buffalo Bills following a 7-9 season. In Buffalo, the Bills had just parted ways with Willis McGahee after failing to secure a 1,000 yard rushing while in San Diego the Chargers and Ryan Mathews parted ways under similar circumstances.

So how did it turn out for Lynch in his rookie season? He actually had a very productive season, amassing 1115 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns while adding another 18 receptions for 184 receiving yards on the year. I’m sure the Chargers would be thrilled with a similar performance from their newly acquired bell cow.

Similar Players: Charles Sims (97.9%), George Atkinson (97.1%), DeMarco Murray (96.4%), Ryan Mathews (94.2%)

Mike Davis is Most Similar to Alfred Morris

I highly advocated Mike Davis as an option in the draft to any team looking for help at the running back position. He would have made a very good selection for the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth round but San Francisco took him off the board one pick before the Cowboys got a chance to strike. I promoted Davis as an option even before I learned of his most comparable player, Alfred Morris. For Davis it is an extremely favorable comparison given the level of success and staying power Morris has demonstrated. Here is how the comparison plays out:

Name Height Weight 40 Time Bench Vertical Broad Shuttle 3 Cone 10 Yard
Mike Davis 69 217 4.61 17 34” 120” 4.18 7.00 1.58
Alfred Morris 70 219 4.63 16 35.5” 117” 4.19 7.01 1.60

The comparison is rather striking. In three seasons in the NFL Morris has never once posted a sub-1000 yard rushing season, something current or potential Mike Davis owners have to be quite interested to hear. Morris has also proven to be an incredibly reliable workhorse for Washington, never missing a game and carrying the ball at least 265 times in each of his three seasons. Davis enters a tougher situation than Morris did, as Carlos Hyde just seems more likely to hold the starting running back job than Roy Helu did when Morris arrived. However, both players were drafted to teams that run a West Coast offense and did not have a player on roster that approached anywhere near a 1,000 yards rushing the previous season, albeit for very different reasons.

Mike Davis will need a bit of luck coupled with an excellent preseason performance but if he can approach anything like how he performed in the 2013 season, then Carlos Hyde had better watch his back because lightening could just strike twice.

Similar Players: Joique Bell (97.9%), Montee Ball (96.4%), Ryan Mathews (95.7%), James Starks (94.2%)

Ameer Abdullah is Most Similar to Jordan Todman

The collective, “So What?” said when reading that comparison probably could have registered as a Marshawn Lynch-esque earthquake if everyone said it in unison. Well, not all news is good news and not all comparisons are flattering. In fact, almost all the players who are similar to Abdullah either lost their jobs or are in grave danger of doing so, not exactly a ringing endorsement. Perhaps luckily for Abdullah the comparison to Jordan Todman, while the closest of all the players in the database, doesn’t appear to be as tightly linked as the two previous examples:

Name Height Weight 40 Time Bench Vertical Broad Shuttle 3 Cone 10 Yard
Ameer Abdullah 69 205 4.60 24 42.5” 121” 3.95 6.79 1.60
Jordan Todman 69 203 4.40 25 38” 126” 4.18 7.24 1.55

There are definite similarities, no doubt, but their performances differ enough to give a bit of hope. Abdullah clearly outperformed Todman in the vertical jump, shuttle and three cone, all great measures of explosiveness. He also find himself pre-positioned to accept at least a respectable chunk of the Lions backfield work, a situation Todman has not as blessed to find himself in. On the flip side though, as I mentioned earlier, Abdullah’s most similar players all have had, or continue to have, problems obtaining or holding onto a starting role once they get it, something that Abdullah owners will need to keep in mind as they monitor their investment.

Similar Players: Tre Mason (97.9%), Ryan Williams (97.1%), Bishop Sankey (96.4%), Bernard Scott (95.7%), Kendall Hunter (94.9%)

Devin Smith is Most Similar to Odell Beckham

Wow, right? There isn’t even much more I need to say about this as people are so hungry to get a piece of Odell Beckham that even a comparison to him could see a player’s value shoot up immediately. Well, New York might just be the most exciting place in the NFL come this time next year if Devin Smith is able to be even a faction as exciting and explosive as Beckham. I’m sure many of you are skeptical about comparing anyone to such a unique talent as Beckham but take a look at how the two players stack up:

Name Height Weight 40 Time Bench Vertical Broad Shuttle 3 Cone 10 Yard
Devin Smith 72 196 4.42 10 39” 123” 4.15 6.83 1.56
Odell Beckham 71 198 4.43 7 38.5” 122” 3.94 6.69 1.56

The comparison is obviously quite favorable for Smith with nearly identical 40 yard dash times, exactly matching 10 yard split times and nearly identical vertical and broad jump measurements, great indicators of the speed and explosiveness that made Beckham so dangerous. Smith was able to edge out Beckham in the bench press indicating at least equal, if not marginally superior, strength which could help him in press coverage or contested passes. Where Smith falls a bit short is in the shuttle and 3-cone drills which help gauge cutting and change of direction ability. If the comparison is lost on you maybe you should check out Smith’s own version of the one-handed catch made in a game against Miami in 2012.

Similar Players: Marqise Lee (96.8%) & Marquess Wilson (95.6%)

Phillip Dorsett is Most Similar to Brandin Cooks

Nearly everyone wondered what the Colts were doing when they drafted Phillip Dorsett in the first round given the fact that they have arguably the deepest wide receiving corps in the league. After some quick analysis, pundits put forth the theory that Dorsett was drafted to take over for TY Hilton in the event that he signed elsewhere next season. This theory was supported by these pundit’s beliefs that Dorsett was “nearly identical” to TY Hilton in “nearly every regard”. At first glance this passes the smell test, as both players were only one inch, two pounds and 0.04 seconds apart in their height, weight and 40-yard dash time, respectively. However, after that their measurables just don’t line up and their similarity percentage ends up clocking in at 91.8 percent, which seems high initially, but in reality it points to two players who only roughly share similar attributes. A much better comparison, one that actually makes a bit more sense in an offense now lacking an elite slot receiver with Reggie Wayne’s departure, is Brandin Cooks, the electric second year slot receiver for the New Orleans Saints. Here’s how Dorsett and Cooks compare:

Name Height Weight 40 Time Bench Vertical Broad Shuttle 3 Cone 10 Yard
Phillip Dorsett 69 185 4.33 13 37” 122” 4.11 6.70 1.54
Brandin Cooks 70 189 4.33 16 36” 120” 3.81 6.76 1.53

These guys are very similar in nearly every measurable aspect. Even the shuttle, which is the widest gap between the two players, was tightened up to a 4.03 at Dorsett’s pro day. Both players were drafted towards the end of the first round to teams who rely heavily on the passing game to move the ball. Each found themselves on a team that saw their quarterbacks rank in the top three in terms of passing yards the season before. It’s tough to really project how Dorsett might do given the fact that Cooks has only been in the season one year and during that season he suffered a season-ending injury. However, from what we were able to see of him on the field, the Colts should be crossing their fingers and saying their nightly prayers in the hopes that Dorsett could potentially bring the kind of explosiveness that Cooks was able to bring to New Orleans last season.

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