NFL Draft: Scouting Running Back Prospects

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With running back a high priority for the New York Jets this offseason, what things should the scouting department be looking for in potential additions to the backfield? As a former running back, I can offer some insight. While being recruited out of high school, recruiters and coaches would ask me a surplus of questions. While they had the luxury of watching me play in person and on my highlight tape, they already knew the answers; they wanted to see how I would answer them. Would I be completely honest and show character by saying I need to work on X, Y, or Z or would I say I was good the way I was? Nobody is 100% perfect. And everyone has work to do to become a better player to make it on the next level. Here I’m going to fill you in on what to look for while scouting running backs during the evaluation process leading into the NFL Draft. I’m talking both tangible and intangible things. The process itself is pretty much the same; you have to find the player that bests fits your scheme, point blank. Running backs in and of themselves are separated into 3 different categories. Speed backs, Power backs, and Balanced backs.

While looking for a running back in the draft, there are many different things to evaluate. There are things like speed, strength, agility, durability, vision, and patience. Along with style, and the things I just listed, contributions to the pass game, coach-ability/willingness to learn, and potential are invaluable qualities that most scouts look for.

Type of back-  This is important because when you are deciding on a running back, it all depends on what type of scheme you run.

Speed Backs: These are the types of guys like Chris Johnson and Reggie Bush. The kind of guys that let the blocks develop and then they make their moves. They get in the hole and instead of pressing it, they bounce it outside or cut it to the backside of the play to find more daylight. These are the guys that are going to run those sub-4.4 second 40 yard dashes.

Power Backs - These backs are like Marshawn Lynch, LeGarrette Blount, and Jonathan Stewart. They will get the ball, get in the hole, make one cut and go. These guys will lower their shoulder and run you over as opposed to running around you. They go north/south and that is it. Very rarely will they go east/west. We all have seen Marshawn Lynch’s Beast Mode.

Balanced Backs - These guys are Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore. Peterson is the ultimate combination of speed and power. He will run you over, run around you, it doesn’t matter. He is the Boobie Miles of the NFL. Frank Gore used to have a great combination of speed and power but age and injury have slowed him down.

Other things involved in scouting a Running back:

Speed/Quickness/Agility - There is a difference between the three here. Being fast with real speed means you can break off an 80+ yard run. Agility is important for the fast guys more so than the quick guys. The fast guys will use their left right speed (That is clocked by the 3 cone drill) to get around defenders.

Strength/Durability – When I talk about strength I’m not talking about a bench press, although that is important for blocking, I am talking about how the player runs. Having high strength means he can hit you with a forearm shiver or a stiff arm to shed tacklers, or can lower his shoulder. Durability is important as well. How long can you stay healthy? How many good years can you give me? Those are important questions for the scouts to make a decision. 

Vision/Patience - Vision is crucial and something that Shonn Greene doesn’t quite have. From the time you get the ball to the time you get in the hole, you already have to see 3 different situations play out. Personally, I would press the hole and carry forth, bounce it out to an opening on the strong side, or cut it back to the weak side of the field if there was an opening. Of course you can’t always make the right choice, but you have to be able to make the right choice more often than not.This is crucial for a running back. If you have poor vision, you likely wont make it very far in the NFL. Patience is also important because in some plays, you have to wait for blocks to develop and blockers to get there, so knowing when to hesitate and then turn on the jets (Amirite???) is critical.

Finally, the player doing the right things on and off the field is important too. You cant have a diva running back who is supposed to be a workhorse and help in being a leader on the team. Hopefully, I broke down for you what to look for in scouting a running back. Follow all of these tips and you can find a running back. Heck, they can even be undrafted (Arian Foster) or in the 6th round (Alfred Morris). Just because they aren’t first rounders, doesn’t mean they can’t be a franchise back.

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