For the last 3 years the Chargers have come into the offseason with questions at the running back position. Two years ago, it was a much bigger question as future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson moved on to the New York Jets and no one expected Darren Sproles to become a feature back. Then last year the Chargers were outbid by the New Orleans Saints for Darren Sproles' services. This year, Mike Tolbert's future is up in the air and if the Chargers can't re-sign him and don't see a useful replacement in free agency, then there's a possibility that they'll use the draft to add depth. Or, possibly the Chargers could add depth behind Tolbert or the free agent acquisition much like they tried to do last year when the drafted Jordan Todman, who was claimed by the Minnesota Vikings midseason.
A quick and dirty way to take a look at the talent at RB is to use the Speed Score stat. This is a stat developed by former Football Outsiders' writer and current Grantland.com contributor Bill Barnwell and he explains its purpose in this Washington Post article. The combine ends up producing a blinding amount of numbers coming from all sorts of drills, so it's fun to think that some of those numbers have some predictive power. So, let's go down that path and take a look at the speed scores for this year's crop. As a rule of thumb remember: 100 Speed Score (okay), 110 Speed Score (good), 120 Speed Score (great). Check out the results after the jump.
|Prospect||College||Weight||40 time||Speed Score|
|Edwin Baker||Michigan St.||204||4.53||97|
|Vick Ballard||Mississippi St.||219||4.65||94|
|Lennon Creer||Lousiana Tech||219||4.71||89|
|Cyrus Gray||Texas A&M||206||4.47||103|
|Dan Herron||Ohio St.||213||4.66||90|
|Ronnie Hillman||San Diego St.||200||4.45||102|
|Doug Martin||Boise St.||223||4.55||104|
|Alfred Morris||Florida Atlantic||219||4.67||92|
|Darrell Scott||South Florida||231||4.73||92|
|Robert Turbin||Utah St.||222||4.5||108|
|David Wilson||Virginia Tech||206||4.49||101|
No one came out and absolutely wowed. On a whole these are much less impressive scores than last year. Borderline 1st round draft prospect Lamar Miller was the only player who topped 110, whereas at the 2011 combine 6 players did including guys like DeMarco Murray, Roy Helu and Brandon Saine who impressed to varying degrees last season. Last year's champ Mario Fannin signed on with the Denver Broncos after (inexplicably to me and some of the experts) went undrafted. He suffered a season ending knee injury in training camp. 2010 champ Ben Tate suffered a similar fate that year. I'm sure Lamar Miller doesn't want to hear about a Speed Score curse.
Anyway, the idea here is to try to find some value, besides any superstitious concerns about Miller, he's likely to go high in the draft. The Chargers don't have the luxury to draft a RB that high. So, who else here seems interesting? David Wilson's score is not too shabby, but he's another high pick. I'm a fan of Doug Martin in a platoon role in the NFL, especially on 3rd downs, but he's also a top 5 RB and could be gone before the Chargers' 3rd round selection comes along. Bernard Pierce was substituted out often in passing situations, so he's not a good compliment for Ryan Mathews, but he should be there in the 3rd round, if the Chargers wanted to use that pick on a RB.
That leaves us with 5 remaining RBs that scored 100 or better.
- Terrance Ganaway is quite raw and is not much help in the passing game, but will be available probably until the 5th round or later.
- Cyrus Gray added some weight for the combine, so it's nice to see him run well. His concerns center around how powerful he can be and if he can hold up in pass pro against bigger players. He's also likely to around until the 5th round or later.
- Davin Meggett has NFL bloodlines and some of you will remember his father Dave. He has questions about his durability and burst, but dropping some pounds and running well opens some eyes. He's ticketed for the 6th or 7th rounds.
- Robert Turbin has the highest speed score of the remaining backs and also comes with the stigma of playing against a lower level of competition. One thing going for him is that he appears to be the best of this bunch in the passing game. He's been injury prone though and he's not the great runner. 5th round is a possibility for him.
- Ronnie Hillman is a very familiar name in San Diego. His status as a potential 5th round pick is disappointing considering that he left the Aztecs early to pursue his profession career. He's got a number of things to work on, but his lateral agility and vision are not in question. He's trying to bulk up presumably to break some more tackles and to hold up in pass pro. Running well with that extra weight is a good sign.
Overall, I don't really see any of these 5 backs being able to step in and be the primary backup to Mathews right away. Perhaps Hillman could especially if the team likes what he can do in pass protection and on special teams. None of these five are adept kick returns so that hurts their value. The best options may still be free agency or Tolbert unless you want to use a 2nd or 3rd round pick on a Running Back. That being said, any of those final 5 would be interesting late round pick ups.
RB Speed Scores are generated, and researched, by Football Outsiders.