Using player comparisons and scores from the RB Prospect Lab, we locate the stars, sleepers, red flags, and long shots from the lauded 2018 running back class.
In Part 1, I looked at the potential stars. Several big-name runners were absent, so now we find out whether they fit in the sleeper/undervalued category1 or receive the dreaded red flag label. In the opening salvo I also explained how you can use previous RotoViz research to develop more accurate comps and rankings.
- Use the models. Anthony Amico’s 2018 work includes several new breakthroughs and the RB Prospect Lab scores can be even be tweaked in the app if you believe a tested 40 undersells a player’s true speed.
- Athleticism is a big key at the RB position. RBs with plus speed or agility have better comps.
- Bigger is generally better. Size helps up to a point – this is much of the idea behind the RB Speed Scores – but there appears to be a Goldilocks zone for size. Backs in the 200- to 215-pound range can also have excellent comps if they possess plus speed and agility.2
- Age plays a huge role. RBs who begin their careers at age 21 average 150 PPR points per season compared to only 90 points for those who start at age 22, and breakout age is even more important. While these comps emphasize final season performance, we have several excellent measures of early career production.
Part 2 – The Sleepers
Comps are extremely valuable not only in understanding an individual player’s profile but in finding runners who might be undervalued at different “score” levels in the Lab.3
Royce Freeman 62
Freeman is more undervalued than true sleeper. He does have his enthusiasts — don’t try to trade for him with Russell Clay — but his No. 8 ranking in the RotoViz Scouting Index and No. 11 status by NFL Draft Scout help to illustrate the concerns in some quarters. A top prospect before an injury-plagued 2016 season, scouting whispers suggest a loss of explosiveness. Dave Caban uses RB Breakaway Percentages to dispute this, showing that Freeman’s percentage of explosive runs actually improved.
Freeman’s comps come from the big/quick group, a cohort that has historically included players like Doug Martin and David Johnson. Martin and Johnson caught more passes in their final seasons, but Freeman hauled in 49 passes between 2015 and 2016. Had he been able to declare after his epic sophomore campaign, his closest comp would have been Le’Veon Bell. As was the case for Nick Chubb, a strong combine assuaged some of the athleticism concerns related to injury.4
David Cobb, a trendy scouting pick from 2015 who also possessed good metrics, never made any impact in the NFL and illustrates some of the downside risk.
Justin Jackson 52
Jackson doesn’t make the top-15 RBs in the RSI, which is crazy when you consider his elite agility and four consecutive seasons with at least 1,350 yards from scrimmage. His final age takes him out of consideration for a similar score to LeSean McCoy,5 but remember that breakout age is crucial. Jackson ripped off 22 catches, 11 TDs, and 1,388 yards from scrimmage as a freshman. Jackson’s first-year Workhorse Score (0.69) bested Saquon Barkley’s (0.61) and trailed only two players in the class (one of whom was the aforementioned Freeman).
Based on likely draft position, a more realistic positive outcome might be Ahmad Bradshaw.
Nyheim Hines 48
Hines’ closest comps paint a mildly discouraging picture, although Darren Sproles would obviously be a tremendous outcome. Sproles is one of the main comparisons for Jordan Hoover in his excellent examination of Hines’ journey from receiver to running back.
An elite returner, Hines scored three special teams TDs during his college career. We know about the hidden value of special teams production, and Amico found punt return production to be especially valuable in projecting RBs. The North Carolina State product finished No. 2 in Amico’s adjusted all-purpose yards, second only to Penny and just ahead of Barkley.
When you consider the positive indicators and realize that Hines only had a single year’s experience at the position, it’s not hard to project more traditional production.6 I included the numbers for Jamaal Charles to give a sense of the physical similarities even though Hines isn’t a production match.
- We move into oxymoron territory with the big-name sleeper, but we’re really looking at significantly undervalued runners here. (back)
- This group includes players like Jamaal Charles, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, DeAngelo Williams, and Christian McCaffrey. (back)
- Lighter and older backs have trouble keeping up with their bigger, young compatriots in total score, but certain profiles still transition extremely well to the NFL. (back)
- With his athleticism verified, I voted for Freeman over RotoViz favorite Rashaad Penny in the best matchup from our RB tournament. (back)
- I included McCoy here to show how similar the two players were otherwise. (back)
- Although this was also the argument for touted sleeper turned injury bust C.J. Prosise. (back)