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Running Backs by the Numbers

Football Outsiders has an interesting way to predict running back success.  It turns out if a player can run quickly; very often they succeed in the NFL.  Actually it's a little more complicated than that; they also factor it for the players size.  So a back that can run a 4.5, but is 270 could well rank better than a back that runs a 4.4 but is 180.  Essentially think of it as a force equation where the force a running back can bring is his mass (weight) times his acceleration. 

They quantify in such a way that an average running back is about 98 on this scale, their exact scale is (Weight*200)/(40 yard dash time^4).  [HT to Wonko who cited this earlier]  The other factor that correlates to success is the leap number.  Though running backs are rarely leaping as high as they can it serves as sort of benchmark of overall fitness.  I have included the jump as it combines both running and leaping.  So how did LT rate on this spectrum?  He came in at 120, with a 4.38 40 and 221 pounds; he also had the 41 inch vertical jump.

Name Weight 40 time 40 factor Leap Jump
Brown, Andre  224 4.49 110.2282 37   
Peerman, Cedric  216 4.45 110.165 40   
Johnson, Ian  212 4.46 107.1584      
Williams, Javarris  223 4.52 106.8516 33.5 10'8" 
Wells, Chris  235 4.59 105.8881 33.5 10'8" 
Sheets, Kory  208 4.47 104.1989 37 10'1" 
Brown, Donald  210 4.51 101.518 41.5 10'5" 
Jennings, Rashad  231 4.64 99.67128    10'0" 
Greene, Shonn  227 4.63 98.7943 37 10'1" 
Goodson, Mike  208 4.54 97.91967 39.5 9'10" 
Ogbonnaya, Chris  220 4.61 97.42019 35   
Lucky, Marlon  216 4.59 97.32693      
Moreno, Knowshon  217 4.6 96.93004 35.5   
Davis, James  218 4.61 96.53455      
Coffee, Glen  209 4.58 94.99798 36 10'1" 
Johnson, Jeremiah  209 4.61 92.54918      
Scott, Bernard  200 4.56 92.51254 36 10'5" 
Kimble, Anthony  216 4.66 91.60941 36 10'2" 
Ringer, Javon  205 4.6 91.56986      
Ore, Branden  214 4.67 89.98627 36   
Sutton, Tyrell  211 4.66 89.48882 33   
Johnson, Gartrell  219 4.71 89.0001      
Bell, Kahlil  212 4.68 88.38579        


On this metric, this is an inauspicious group this year; generally the first rounders go out at 111.  That's right, nobody in this cohort even hits 111, and Knowshon Moreno who ran 4.6 scarcely projects as even an ordinary back.  Beanie Wells at least comes out at 105; and if you believe his Ohio State 40; much better.  Of course he also has a reputation of being a poor receiver; that doesn't work so well in Norv Turner's offense that likes everyone to be capable of being a check down receiver.

There are some hidden gems here; Andre Brown and Cedric Peerman.  Why aren't they on many folks radar?  Both have struggled with injuries; Brown with a broken leg and Peerman with a partial tear of a foot ligament.  They didn't rack up the big numbers that make a bust excusable; but both demonstrate skill and speed.  Apparently Peerman also has somewhat small hands which some correlate with fumbles; but that was not an issue in his college career. 

What about Donald Brown?  He comes in at slightly above average 101.5, but he does he have a 41 inch leap to go with it.  To me this says that there isn't a first round back worth taking with the 16th pick.  Either of the Brown's or Peerman would be worth fishing for if they are available with later picks.  The other interesting back is Ian Johnson, projected as low as the 6th round; he comes in at a good 107 based on his official combine; but wowed the crowd with an unofficial 4.34 time.  That equates to a monstrous 119 score; Johnson could be a real steal if we want to take a chance with one of our fourth rounder comp picks.