When you watch players back to back at the same position, it gives you a feel for just how well a player does something. Whether it's their ability to break a tackle, or as simple as not bouncing every run as opposed to the other prospect. I did that this weekend with the running back position. I watched Jay Ajayi, David Cobb, Tevin Coleman, and Mike Davis. I'll compare the latter 2 later on this week. Today I'll compare Ajayi and Cobb side to side. All 4 backs couldn't be any more different. Coleman has a second gear that's unmatched, Ajayi has balance that is arguably the best in his class, while Cobb and Davis are more in the power mold of backs that show off that trait a couple times a game.
Another reason I think it's important to pair the 2 together is to try and help understand each backs draft value. We will talk more about that after we get done going through what Cobb and Ajayi can bring to a team.
"Staying on Schedule"
The difference in an offense between 3rd and 8 and 3rd and 5 can come directly from the running back the play before trying to do too much. From last year and even the 1st game this year, Ajayi has been about as disciplined as you can ask. There has been plenty of opportunities for him to bounce runs, but he ended up cutting upfield and taking what's there. Sometimes the result would be 1 or 2 yards, other times 7 or 8 yards.
Ajayi could easily bounce this and try to beat 25 to the edge. This is a good example of discipline and something I saw a lot of with him.
Cobb is a bit more inconsistent. He will stop his feet behind the line of scrimmage, but unfortauntely doesn't have the burst to run past 2nd level defenders once he does this. The result was a handful of negative runs.
Looking at the above vine, on the 2nd cut, Cobb should just put his head down and take 2 and maybe 3 yards. Instead, he tries to make something more and the result is a loss of 1. Cobb has above average power and runs well when he gets downfield and gets some momentum. That's where you see him breaking his tackles. When he's not staying on schedule, he's nowhere near as efficient or effective as he is capable of being.
Creating on your own
Both running backs faced their fair share of 8 men in the box. Their offenses success would often rely on them creating on their own and picking up yards that aren't blocked for them. Here's a look at each players broken/missed tackles and yards after contact.
Cobb broke a tackle a little over once every 3 touches, and averaged 2.76 yards after contact. That's not bad. Cobb's game is downhill and can surprise you with short area quickness moving forward. Below is a good example of just how much better is when Cobb builds up some momentum.
You see him run through the arm tackle, and then you see him give nice dead leg move before taking off for the touchdown. Cobb won't consistently win his 1-on-1 matchups and make them miss, but has shown he is capable of doing so.
Ajayi on the other hand broke a tackle nearly every other touch and close to half his yards came after contact. This is a good quote to describe Ajayi's running style.
Ajayi's ability to break tackles or make you miss, while maintaing his balance is special, indeed. There are plays where you'll see him break 5 tackles. He just refuses to go down on 1st contact. The play below ends up being about a 65 yard run.
About 2 to 3 times a game Ajayi would have a run where he broke multiple tackles. His "worst" game I watched was the bowl game where he only broke 8 tackles. Ajayi not only has great balance, but knows when to burst past defenders as well. He plays with a tempo to his game and I believe that translates well.
Running with Power
Both backs are good size, Cobb weighed 229 pounds at the Senior Bowl and Boise State lists Ajayi at 216, though I believe he'll be 220. While there are different ways to win in between the tackles, there comes a time in the game where you'll have to put your pads down and pick up 3 hard earned yards with power. Ajayi has functional strength to run through arm tackles, but this is an area where he needs to improve. His pad level is more consistent, but there's not much of him driving his legs and pushing the pile. There are also tendencies where he'll run high and expose himself to big hits.
Cobb is a different story. If Ajayi breaks tackles because of his athleticism and balance, Cobb's low center of gravity, leg drive and will keep him from going down on 1st contact. Cobb will fight for the extra yard and I think his 1st and second step bursts help him generate power in a hurry. He might not be able to sustain the burst throughout the play but the power is apparent.
Who has the best value?
|Multiple Pro Bowl Player, Top 10||8.5 – 9.0|
|Highly Productive Starter, 1st Round||8.0 – 8.4|
|Very Good Starter, Early 2nd Round||7.8 – 7.9|
|Reliable Starter, 2nd Round||7.5 – 7.7|
|Potential Starter in Year 2, 3rd Round||7.0 – 7.4|
|Backup/Spot Starter, 4th Round||6.5 – 6.9|
|Productive Backup, 5th Round||6.0 – 6.4|
|Very Good Backup/STs, 6th Round||5.5 – 5.9|
|Quality Backup/Good STs, 7th Round||5.0 – 5.4|
|Backup/STs/Project Player, 7th Round||4.5 – 4.9|
|Priority Free Agent w/ Limitations||4.0 – 4.4|
Ajayi grades out to a 7.95, or an early 1st round talent. He has great value in the passing game. He knows where to be as a blocker and puts himself in a position to execute. As a receiver he can do damage at the 2nd level and hold on through contact. This is in addition to all the other traits he brings to the table and that's why I think he's the 3rd best back in the class.
Cobb grades out to a 7.02, or a fringe 3rd round talent. The same can't be said for his value in the passing game. This may seem harsh, but he is to pass blocking what Antonio Cromartie brings to tackling. Whether it's him not getting across the formation or completely whiffing. I wouldn't trust him in that situation at all, so that limits his versatility, though he can be a reliable check down option. Cobb also fumbled 4 times in a 6 game stretch and you factor in that he doesn't have the burst to run away from defenders when stops his momentum, and the grade is fair.
@The_KP_Show Cobb is just solid as hell. Ajayi can be special.— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) February 15, 2015
That brings us to their true draft value. Would you rather Ajayi in the 2nd/3rd, or Cobb in the 3rd/4th? Ajayi can be a star for a team that features a zone blocking system. Much has been made of his fumbles, and you can never ignore that, but he also touched the ball quite a bit. It's easy to see him becoming one of the better backs in the league.
Cobb might never become special, or even a guy that you can rely on in your 4 minute offense to end a game. But Cobb can get what's blocked for him, and sprinkle in some power runs that will wow you. Cobb showed at the Senior Bowl that he's a guy that can get the job done. But who presents the better value?