Who's Bill Connelly? An emerging genius of statistical wizardry who is featured at Football Outsiders and his SB Nation blog, Football Study Hall. Last year, he introduced a new system that attempts to predict the future success of running back prospects. He published this year's numbers today, and suffice to say, it's not high praise for the 2011 NFL Draft RB class.
As he said himself over at FSH:
Today's Varsity Numbers column in eight words: pick a running back in the later rounds.
A look at the numbers and what they suggest for the Rams after the jump.
Some quick notes on the methodology.
The first statistic taken into account is "Highlight Yards per Carry." This is simply a measure of explosiveness. It's not worth it to go into detail here (you can read the link if you're that interested, and you should), but suffice to say, it's a metric that places value on longer runs.
Second is "Adjusted Points over Expected." APOE ties durability and utility to production. So if you're looking for an everydown back, you'll need one with a high APOE. Lower numbers suggest rotational players or oft-injured backs.
Lastly is FO's popular "Speed Score" which ties weight to speed. If a back weighing 240 lbs. and one weighing 200 lbs. run the same 40-yard dash, the 240-pounder will have a notably higher speed score.
So given those three metrics, Connelly either adds a point, subtracts a point or applies no points to each category for running back prospects. The elite prospects according to these three data points end up with a +3, while those who don't quantify well at all are given a -3. +3=good; -3=bad. Got it? Good. Because the numbers for this year's RBs aren't.
At the beginning of today's article, Connelly tabulates the numbers from last year's class across their rookie season performance. In all, it certainly wasn't a bad metric. The only +3 RBs were Jahvid Best and Ryan Mathews, two of the three backs chosen in the first round. A +2 was given to three backs : C.J. Spiller (who also went in the first), Jonathan Dwyer (who I was very high on last year, preferring him to Toby Gerhart) and LaGarrette Blount (who obviously had a very good year). So certainly, it should be thrown out for another year to see how well it holds up against the 2011 class. The pre-draft results aren't inspiring.
Not a single back merited a +3. The only +2 prospects were Alex Green (Hawaii) and Roy Helu, Jr. (Nebraska). Helu reaped the benefit of some HUGE runs at Nebraska this year, and runs very well for his weight. Green was fortunate to feature in a pass-first (and often second and third) system which opened things up for him. Our Los Angeles contingent might well remember him in last year's USC season opener.
Mark Ingram, the whispered option for the Rams in the first round, was assigned a -1, due to his weak speed score. Dion Lewis and Jacquizz Rodgers, often cited as potential speed options to complement Steven Jackson, both received -3s. As Connelly notes, though, those three would have just been 0s if their 2010 numbers weren't factored in. Mikel Leshoure, a name that has popped up often recently for the Rams, was assigned a 0 along with Jordan Todman (smile) and Johnny White (semi-smile).
So what does it all mean? Well, you're not going to get an every down back you should place much confidence in. Which is fine. We have Action Jackson, and (in the sense that other teams won't be able to draft a productive 3-down RB) it won't help out any opponents this year. It does, though, suggest the difficulty in the Rams' search to find a pairmate for Steven. We are just one of many teams who will likely be pilfering smaller backs in the draft. Rounds 3-5 should be full of quality options to pair with bigger backs, and we won't be the only team interested in adding a Lilliputian for contribution (trademark, sucka).