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The RB Prospect Lab Picks 3 Sleepers and 4 Busts After an Underwhelming Combine

After the combine concludes, my first stop is the RB Prospect Lab. Now that we have times for many of the top running backs, how does their overall profile project to the NFL?

Like the Freak Score numbers that we looked at yesterday for wide receivers, the Prospect Lab scores are scaled 1 to 100. While Calvin Johnson scored a 100 at the receiver position, Saquon Barkley landed a 100 at RB. Perhaps not surprisingly, few backs have been close to Barkley’s level, but in recent years, players like Ezekiel Elliott (92), Le’Veon Bell (90), and Todd Gurley (85) have posted high scores and gone on to extended stretches at the top of the dynasty rankings. The Lab has also helped us avoid busts like Ameer Abdullah (41) and T.J. Yeldon (38), while locating undervalued sleepers like David Johnson (65).

In the loaded classes of the last two seasons, 12 backs have earned a score of 65 or higher. No backs reach that level this year. But perhaps all is not lost. Several interesting sleepers rose through the ranks after impressive combine performances, and this year’s RB class promises to be very inexpensive in rookie drafts. Distinguishing between superficially similar mid-second round picks could be the key to setting your dynasty team up for extended success.

2019 RB Prospect Lab Scores

NAMEAGEWTFORTYCONEATTSYPGTDSRECSSCORE
Ryquell Armstead22.42204.457.02211101.30.860
Miles Sanders212114.476.8916.9980.71.854
Benny Snell212244.667.0722.21111.21.351
Alex Barnes22.42264.596.9521.311311.751
Trayveon Williams21.42064.517.4420.81351.42.150
Darrell Henderson21.62084.497.1*16.5146.81.71.547
David Montgomery21.82224.637.3*21.4101.31.11.845
Justice Hill21.31984.407.1*15.8930.91.343
Karan Higdon22.52064.497.2*20.41070.90.634
Myles Gaskin22.12054.587.1921.610611.7534
Travis Homer20.62014.487.0712.6760.31.532
Qadree Ollison22.32284.587.5313.9870.80.828
Mike Weber22.52114.497.2*13.2730.41.626
Devin Singletary21.52034.667.3221.8112.31.80.524
Damien Harris22.12164.577.2*1058.40.61.518

* For players who opted out of the three-cone, their time has been estimated based on the reluctance to participate and their overall athletic profile. Runners without forty times have been excluded.

Winners

Ryquell Armstead (60), Miles Sanders (54), Alex Barnes (51)

Three of the top four scores come from backs who barely featured in the first edition of the RotoViz Scouting Index. Armstead and Barnes are especially deep sleepers who didn’t rate a position in the top 15. Strong combine performances may change all that.

While most of the big name runners posted athletic numbers that position them as backups at best,1 Armstead, Sanders, and Barnes flashed the athleticism that could help them win spots in NFL committees. All posted strong agility times, with Barnes and Sanders going sub-7.0 in the three-cone. Barnes jumped 38.5 inches at 226 pounds. Armstead and Sanders both hit the tape below the 4.5 threshold in the forty, with Armstead’s 4.45 coming at 220 pounds.

The production numbers are a little more sobering, especially in context. While Armstead managed a solid sophomore season in 2016, this trio largely relied on final season production.2 This lack of early production is a big red flag, although Sanders was notably playing behind Barkley at Penn State.

Losers

Trayveon Williams (50), David Montgomery (45), Devin Singletary (24), and Damien Harris (18)

Smaller backs like Williams and Singletary need to be plus athletes to succeed in the NFL, and these two collegiate dynamos simply are not. Williams posted his gaudy totals in the SEC and still retains a 50 in the Lab. You could draw some parallels to Dalvin Cook, a player who ran a solid, if disappointing forty, and was shockingly bad in the other drills. Williams isn’t quite as big and wasn’t loved in the same way by scouts, so you can expect him to enter the NFL as a role player and not an instant starter like Cook. The agility numbers were perhaps most disappointing for these potential change-of-pace backs. Many smaller backs end up with fantastic comps that belie their projections, but that won’t be the case for Williams and Singletary who posted 11.9 and 11.7 agility scores respectively.

David Montgomery and Damien Harris entered the combine as the two trendiest backs after non-participant Josh Jacobs. Each had questions to answer. Montgomery wanted to further the narrative of a tackle-breaking machine whose paltry per play production was the fault of an overmatched offensive line. After running a 4.63 forty and jumping 28.5 inches, he left as a poor man’s Alex Collins.

Harris needed to show that he lost so many carries to Jacobs and Najee Harris because those players are also elite NFL prospects. Instead, his combination of size (211) and speed (4.57) raises more doubts about a prospect that the Lab hammers for lack of touches. The Prospect Lab scores for committee backs at places like Alabama and Georgia tend to understate their NFL prospects, but Dave Caban explains why this year’s Alabama tandem doesn’t compare to the Nick Chubb/Sony Michel duo in his RSI RB special.3

In Part 2, we’ll look at the specific comps for backs from the 2019 class. Benny Snell (51) and Justice Hill (43) could also fall into the disappointing category, but I’ll explain why there may yet be hope for these backs, at least within the context of rookie draft expectations.

While the scores give us a sense of how a back with these traits has historically transitioned to the NFL, specific RB profiles tend to over- and underperform the scores. Backs with standout characteristics often have better comps than those with solid numbers across the board, and this is especially true of smaller backs who are often overlooked.

  1. Many of these runners now look more like practice squad candidates.  (back)
  2. The Prospect Lab focuses on final year stats.  (back)
  3. To be sure, few analysts are making that direct comparison, but Dave shows why we shouldn’t excuse the surprising lack of production from Jacobs and Harris.  (back)

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