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3 Running Back Prospects Who Won The NFL Combine

Earlier this week, I posted the results of my running back regression tree analysis on what NFL Combine measurements and drills, and in which combinations, matter for early career success. I also took those results and identified a handful of current NFL players who fit the athletic profile for success and could be on the verge of a breakout.

We finally have all the measurables for the 2016, so it’s time to run this year’s prospects through our Combine success model and see who fit the profile for NFL success.

The data set includes running backs who participated in the Combine from 2000-2013.1 Remember, success in this analysis is focused on paying off somewhat quickly: At least one top-12 PPR year a player’s first three seasons.

First, let’s revisit the Combine regression tree for running back prospects:


Running back prospects who run a sub-4.5 40-yard dash, are at least 70 inches tall (5-10), and have a 124 inch or greater broad jump have the highest predicted success rate of roughly 78 percent. Next, are those without a 124-inch broad jump, but have even more speed – a sub-4.4 forty. Lastly, there is still a decent chance for success (27 percent) for slower backs (4.5+ forty) if they are agile, and have a three cone time under 6.8 seconds.

The Prototypes

Name School Height Weight Forty Broad 3Cone Vertical
Daniel Lasco California 72 209 4.46 135 7.22 39
Tyler Ervin San Jose State 70 192 4.41 130 NA 40.5

Tyler Ervin and Daniel Lasco were the only running backs to hit all the marks to make it into the 78 percent success node. Neither Ervin nor Lasco were particularly loved by scouts coming into the NFL Combine,2 sitting at 14th and 21st in our most recent RotoViz Scouting Index. But, their elite performances should have NFL teams standing and taking notice.

Not only do both have the physical profile of previously successful NFL backs, they were also accomplished collegiate receivers: Ervin had 45 receptions for 334 yards in his final season, while Lasco had 33 catches for 356 yards two years ago, before an injury-marred 2015. I’ve found that receiving yards is one of the most significant production-based metrics for NFL success, and as the NFL continues its march inexorably towards a throw-only league, running backs with proven pass-catching skills are going to be even more valuable. 

Ervin didn’t participate in the three cone, and Lasco’s time of 7.22 seconds puts him in the 13th percentile. I’d be more concerned if either hadn’t shown receiving ability in college. Plus, we’ve seen running backs with great speed and burst have success despite average-to-poor three cone times, like Adrian Peterson (7.09, Pro Day), DeMarco Murray (7.28) and Marshawn Lynch (7.05).

Ervin is on the lighter side at 192 pounds, but our regression tree model seems to care more about speed than weight, within reason.3

The Speedster

Name School Height Weight Forty Broad  3Cone Vertical
Keith Marshall Georgia 71 219 4.31 NA NA 30.5

Keith Marshall posted the third fastest 40-yard dash time for a running back in the past 10 years, blazing down the track in only 4.31 seconds. Speed isn’t everything for a running back, but it looks to be the most important Combine drill for predicting success.

Since Marshall had the requisite height of 71 inches, his forty time alone places him in the 57 percent success leaf with the dynamic Jamaal Charles.

That said, there are lots of question marks surrounding Marshall. The speedsters most productive collegiate season was four years ago, and he had only 378 yards from scrimmage last year in 11 games. Marshall didn’t participate in the broad jump or three cone drills, and his vertical jump was only in the sixth percentile.

The Agile (Or Lack Thereof)

Wendall Smallwood of West Virginia (6.83 seconds), Shad Thorton of North Carolina State (6.85) and receiving-stud Kenneth Dixon (6.97) all breached the 7-second mark on the three cone drill.

But there wasn’t a single prospect with a sub-6.8 three cone time, disqualifying all from the 27 percent success rate leaf claimed by agile successes like Le’Veon Bell and Doug Martin.

The Big Names

A couple of the big-name prospects hit two-out-of-three measures – Ezekiel Elliott missing on broad (118 inches) and Derrick Henry a little slower than the forty threshold (4.54 seconds). This doesn’t mean that these backs won’t be successful. Much of running back success reflects opportunity, and neither Elliott nor Henry did anything at the Combine to hurt his draft stock.

  1. We only go to 2013 to make sure that each player had the opportunity to play three years in the NFL.  (back)
  2. Okay, Ervin was getting a little love.  (back)
  3. Although, I’m not saying you should treat Dri Archer and his 4.26 forty on a level playing field with backs 30 pounds heavier.  (back)

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