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3 Big Surprises in the 2017 RB Prospect Lab Rankings (Pre-Combine)

The RB Prospect Lab is one of my favorite apps. It’s a draft-agnostic tool that allows you to input age, size, speed, agility, production, and receiving ability to get a scaled projection of future fantasy prospects. You can experiment with the variables to see how they interact, or you can work with real prospects to get a feel for their NFL viability.

I’ve written the RB Prospect Lab Rankings each of the last two seasons.

2015 and 2016 RB Scores

Player Score
Derrick Henry 93
Ezekiel Elliott 92
Todd Gurley 85
Jay Ajayi 82
Tevin Coleman 76
Melvin Gordon 66
David Cobb 66
Jordan Howard 65
David Johnson 63
C.J. Prosise 60
Karlos Williams 58
Kenneth Dixon 57
Tyler Ervin 57
Devontae Booker 55
Javorius Allen 55
Zach Zenner 54
Duke Johnson 49
Jeremy Langford 48
Alex Collins 47
Paul Perkins 47
Daniel Lasco 44
Cameron Artis-Payne 44
Ameer Abdullah 41
Matt Jones 40
T.J. Yeldon 37
Mike Davis 35
Jonathan Williams 32
Kenyan Drake 24
Josh Robinson 17

* I profiled each of these players except Matt Jones. The scores for Coleman and Howard eventually moved higher than in their respective articles due to subsequent workout numbers.

Matthew Freedman’s Terminator didn’t receive many opportunities behind DeMarco Murray, but the next two players on the list ranked No. 1 in the NFL in rushing fantasy points above expectation (ruFPOE) during their rookie seasons. Not just among rookies, but out of every fantasy-relevant RB in the league.

The Lab helped locate steals like Jay Ajayi, Tevin Coleman, Jordan Howard, and David Johnson. The solid score for Melvin Gordon was one of the numerous reasons he was my highest-owned player in 2016.

The Lab also helped us avoid players like Duke Johnson, Jeremy Langford, Ameer Abdullah,1 Matt Jones, and T.J. Yeldon. These players could still emerge, but they’ve hurt dynasty owners in the early going.

The biggest miss was David Cobb, a runner the Lab identified as a value but who finds himself on the fringes of the league.

The Lab isn’t perfect,2 but when you consider how important draft slot is to projecting future fantasy points, the Lab’s results over the past two years have been excellent. Our ability to use evidence-based metrics to find values and locate potential breakouts is something I highlighted in 2014 as part of the argument for Zero RB. The results since that time have been equally encouraging.

The Epic 2017 RB Class

In this exercise, I’ve estimated athletic measures for the 2017 RBs. While I’m certain to be wrong in many instances,3 this activity helps in clarifying what I should look for at the combine. It also allows me to get a feel for the interaction of athletic measurables with production numbers.

We’re not only interested in the Prospect Lab score but also the resulting player comparables. In this exercise, I’ll provide players who are similar in score, size, production, and athleticism. Some players have closer comps than others. The Lab has a more in-depth list of player scores. Ages can be found in the 2017 Rookie Age Database.

1. D’Onta Foreman

Age Weight 40 est. 3-cone est. Att. Yards TDs Recs Lab Score
20.6 249 4.6 7.4 29.4 184.4 1.4 0.6 95

Foreman’s 95 puts him in the range with Darren McFadden (97), Matt Forte (97), and Le’Veon Bell (93) and just below the LaDainian Tomlinson (100) and Steven Jackson (100) tier.

A few reasons for caution:

2. Leonard Fournette

Age Weight 40 est. 3-cone est. Att. Yards TDs Recs Lab Score
21.9 230 4.39 7.2 18.4 120.4 1.1 2.1 80

Fournette has apocryphal 40 times as fast as 4.35, and if he runs anywhere in that range he’ll solidify the Adrian Peterson comparisons. His score here falls just below frequent comps like Peterson (86) and Gurley (84), two players who also took a mild hit in the Lab due to final-year injuries.

If we use Fournette’s current age but 2015 results, he jumps to a 95 and moves ahead of Elliott (92). There appears little question about his talent. Landing spot, ankle issues, and professional receiving numbers are the bigger potential complications.

3. Dalvin Cook (tie)

Age Weight 40 est. 3-cone est. Att. Yards TDs Recs Lab Score
21.3 213 4.45 6.7 22.2 135.8 1.5 2.5 79

Cook is one of numerous players in this class who are mildly underrated by the Lab because it doesn’t capture his early breakout or the full breadth and depth of his production. Nevertheless, the Seminoles star finds himself in excellent company. Recent players with similar size/production/athleticism profiles who scored in the same range include DeAngelo Williams (75), LeSean McCoy (73) and Lamar Miller (77). For a worst-case scenario, we can look to J.J. Arrington (78).

Cook topped my early rookie board and looks like a surefire star if he can overcome injury and character concerns.

3. Christian McCaffrey (tie)

Age Weight 40 est. 3-cone est. Att. Yards TDs Recs Lab Score
20.6 202 4.45 6.8 23 145.7 1.5 3.4 79

The Lab is concerned with McCaffrey’s size, the same demerit that pushes him down draft boards despite unparalleled production. If McCaffrey runs at the fast end of the range described by Kyle Pollock, he could be a surprise top-10 pick to a team that covets his pass-catching ability. Frequently pigeonholed as a more athletic Danny Woodhead, he’s more likely to wind up with a team like the Chiefs.

3. Samaje Perine (tie)

Age Weight 40 est. 3-cone est. Att. Yards TDs Recs Lab Score
21.3 235 4.45 7.2 19.6 106 1.3 1 79

Perine’s injury-plagued 2016 season probably doesn’t represent his NFL prospects as well as his first two Sooner campaigns. If we use Perine’s freshman numbers and current age, he jumps to an 83, a result which puts him in the Michael Turner (84) category. Since 2000, only Garrett Wolfe has matched Perine’s insane rushing production – 4,800 yards and 48 TDs – in 35 or fewer games.

A year ago, Jon Moore and Matthew Freedman raved about Jordan Howard’s age-adjusted production. Howard’s rookie season is a good reminder that prospects who dominate older peers in college are better-than-average bets to do so again in the NFL. Perine would be my early pick to be this year’s Howard.

6. Joe Mixon

Age Weight 40 est. 3-cone est. Att. Yards TDs Recs Lab Score
20.5 226 4.48 7 15.6 106.2 1.25 3.1 78

Mixon scores in the same range as players like Latavius Murray (84), Turner, D. Murray, and Miller, but he has few players who blend his size, youth, and receiving ability. He’s a borderline first-round talent with extreme character red flags, some of which may be mitigated by positive buzz concerning his interaction with coaches and players at Oklahoma. After Tyreek Hill’s 2016 explosion, you can count on Mixon being drafted as early as an NFL team thinks it can sell it to fans.4

7. Jeremy McNichols

Age Weight 40 est. 3-cone est. Att. Yards TDs Recs Lab Score
21 212 4.54 7 24.2 131.5 2.1 2.8 75

McNichols followed Ajayi at Boise State and posted similarly prolific final-year numbers. He’s facing a labrum surgery and questions about his athleticism. Skeptics will place him in the same group with negative comps like Bishop Sankey (73) and Chris Perry (72), but he’s poised to be criminally underrated in this loaded class.

8. Curtis Samuel

Age Weight 40 est. 3-cone est. Att. Yards TDs Recs Lab Score
20.4 197 4.4 6.7 7.5 59.3 1.15 5.7 63

Samuel’s NFL position isn’t clear,5 but I prefer him as an RB where fans could dream of seeing performances like we saw from James White in the Super Bowl. Giovani Bernard (64) is the closest back to Samuel in terms of score, size, athleticism, and receiving production. Although that may seem like damning with faint praise, Bernard was the 1.03 in 2013 rookie drafts, several spots ahead of Le’Veon Bell.6 Jamaal Charles (65) and Jerome Harrison (62) are two other smaller backs with similar scores.7

9. James Conner

Age Weight 40 est. 3-cone est. Att. Yards TDs Recs Lab Score
21.6 235 4.6 7.2 16.6 84 1.5 1.6 56

Conner overcame a 2015 bout with cancer to put himself right back in the NFL conversation. His TD and reception numbers at 235 pounds pull up his score in the Lab. And 2016 wasn’t his best year. Only 10 RBs have rushed for 1,700 yards and 25 touchdowns in a single season since 2000. As Jordan Hoover points out, Conner did it as a 19-year-old sophomore.

He doesn’t have the four-year production of Cedric Benson (58) but sports some similarities in key metrics. Jamie Harper (61), Tony Hunt (53), and Daniel Thomas (53) illustrate the downside.

10. Corey Clement

Age Weight 40 est. 3-cone est. Att. Yards TDs Recs Lab Score
22.2 221 4.55 7.2 24.2 105.8 1.2 0.9 54

Even with Melvin Gordon breaking records, Clement managed over 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 2014 before a sports hernia surgery and off-field misadventures derailed his progress temporarily. A strong 2016 leaves him with a solid score. but his pedestrian receiving numbers make him a candidate to be overdrafted. His closest comps include Anthony Thomas (55), and Anthony Dixon (52).

11. Brian Hill

Age Weight 40 est. 3-cone est. Att. Yards TDs Recs Lab Score
21.2 212 4.57 7.2 24.9 132.9 1.6 0.6 53

The Wyoming star posted back-to-back 1,600-yard seasons and nearly reached 2,000 yards from scrimmage in his final campaign. An elite TD-scorer in 2016, he established himself as a solid receiver earlier in his career. I hope I’m underestimating his athleticism and he goes on to be one of the steals of the draft.

12. Alvin Kamara (tie)

Age Weight 40 est. 3-cone est. Att. Yards TDs Recs Lab Score
21.4 215 4.48 6.9 9.4 54.2 1.2 3.6 52

A mid-sized, dual-threat back without any clear recent comps, Kamara’s receiving production is tantalizing, while his rushing production remains a concern. If current projections hold, he’ll receive a significant bump from draft slot.

12. Kareem Hunt (tie)

Age Weight 40 est. 3-cone est. Att. Yards TDs Recs Lab Score
21.3 208 4.55 7.1 20.2 113.4 0.8 3.2 52

Hunt surprised evaluators by coming in way below his listed weight at the Senior Bowl, but the 41 final-season receptions bolster his score. In covering him for our NFL Prospect Series, Aaron Butler emphasized his impressive age-19 season. In 2014, he crested 1,600 yards, averaged 8.0 per carry, and scored 16 TDs.

With a good combine he’ll look a lot like Charles Sims (49) and Shane Vereen (52). A more pedestrian performance would conjure less athletic comps in this range like Kadeem Carey (50) and Darrin Reaves (50).

14. Donnel Pumphrey

Age Weight 40 est. 3-cone est. Att. Yards TDs Recs Lab Score
22 180 4.4 6.7 24.9 152.4 1.9 1.4 51

Pumphrey doesn’t have the size to be a featured back at the NFL level, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t eventually be a fantasy weapon. The RB Prospect Lab hates small RBs almost as much as Matthew Freedman, so earning a score above 50 is extraordinary. And yet, it still doesn’t tell the whole story. The diminutive San Diego State star finished his career with 7,444 yards from scrimmage, 62 TDs, and 99 receptions. He looks like a more electric version of Garrett Wolfe (53).

15. Jamaal Williams

Age Weight 40 est. 3-cone est. Att. Yards TDs Recs Lab Score
21.7 211 4.57 7.1 23.4 137.5 1.2 0.7 44

Williams possesses gaudy per-game numbers but weighed only 211 at the Senior Bowl, a bit on the light side for a back with only seven 2016 receptions. He did catch 27 as a freshman back in 2012. Williams is one of 4 Undervalued RB Prospects highlighted by Blair Andrews. A big combine performance would evoke Joseph Addai (44).

16. Matt Dayes

Age Weight 40 est. 3-cone est. Att. Yards TDs Recs Lab Score
22.3 207 4.55 6.9 19.2 89.7 0.8 2.5 39

Dayes only posted one season with over 1,000 yards rushing, but he caught 98 career passes. Hopefully, I’m underestimating his athleticism, and he has an NFL future as a committee back. His closest comps include Abdullah (41), Mike Gillislee (39) and Brandon Jackson (36).

17. Marlon Mack

Age Weight 40 est. 3-cone est. Att. Yards TDs Recs Lab Score
20.8 205 4.58 7.1 14.5 98.7 1.4 2.3 37

Mack was one of the most consistent backs in recent memory, with three consecutive seasons between 202 and 226 touches. He’s a younger version of Dayes.

18. Wayne Gallman

Age Weight 40 est. 3-cone est. Att. Yards TDs Recs Lab Score
22.3 210 4.5 6.9 15.5 75.5 1.1 1.3 36

The No. 6 RB in the RotoViz Scouting Index, Gallman sports the largest difference between current perception and Prospect Lab score. Using his much more impressive 2015 stats, Gallman would jump to 54, a number more in line with the scouting report. Recent name backs with similar scores include Yeldon (37), Mike Davis (35), and Jonathan Williams (32).

 

A big thanks to Charles Kleinheksel for helping me chase down some circumstantial evidence on player athleticism and his work with the RotoViz Scouting Index. We’ll have another update after the combine.

  1. Abdullah has missed a lot of time with injury but hasn’t lit the world on fire when healthy.  (back)
  2. It liked Trent Richardson almost as much as the Browns and Colts.  (back)
  3. And perhaps have a tendency to pre-combine optimism.  (back)
  4. And at least one team is likely to think they can sell it pretty early.  (back)
  5. Many, like our Curtis Patrick, prefer him as a WR.  (back)
  6. Bell was our preferred choice.  (back)
  7. Both were more prolific college runners.  (back)

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