Today we continue the series about what to look for when scouting individual positions for NFL hopefuls.
In the previous article we took a look at the quarterback position and now we will move on to what to look for when scouting for a potential NFL running back.
It is important to remember that it doesn’t really matter if you are an expert, amateur, or hobbyist, film study is still the best tool at your disposal in order to learn the most about a potential prospect. Also, remember that character background checks and pre-draft workout results are also part of the puzzle that end up helping to complete the scouting report.
Now, let’s take a look at what I like to look for when scouting the running back position.
Fumbling is inexcusable at any level of play, and especially in the NFL when offensive possessions are held at a premium.
In the NFL, each offensive series hopes to result in putting points on the board. So, forfeiting a series because of a fumble will lessen the opportunities a running back will receive.
To me, ball security is one of the simpler traits to scout.
What I like to do is look up a prospects statistics and see how many fumbles they may have. Then I like to look at the game film and see how those turnovers occurred.
Did the RB carry the football high and tight or was he carrying it away from his body? Was he fighting for extra yardage? Was it a clean handoff?
All of these questions could be reasons why the fumble occurred and all should could possibly be fixable with coaching.
A running back’s vision to me is one of the most important aspects to look for in a RB prospect, because if he can’t find where the running lane is, he’s going to have a difficult time in the NFL.
NFL players are bigger, stronger, and faster than they are at the collegiate level. Running lanes close up quickly so a RB has to have the vision to see that running lane open up and then plant their foot in the ground and get up the field quickly before it disappears.
Sometimes being a little bit more patient helps with a players vision. They can push the ball towards the hole where the play is designed to go and then look for a cutback lane on the backside, hopefully catching the defense off guard.
A lot of people would argue that speed is the most important aspect for a running back, but I believe a RB has to be able to see the running lane before he can even think about using his speed.
When watching game film I try to watch the running backs eyes if at all possible and see if they are reading the defense as soon as they take the hand off.
I think this is a trait that either comes naturally to a person or it doesn’t.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of a running back with quickness I think of Barry Sanders. Sure, he had true breakaway speed, but what made him one of the most elusive running backs in NFL history was his quickness.
In the NFL, running backs have to rely more of their quickness than they did at the collegiate level. They simply can’t out run everybody and look to bounce their runs to the outside.
I like to look for running backs that can run between the tackles and use their quickness to make a defender hesitate or miss a tackle.
I look for a RB to have quick feet and good start-stop quickness to be effective no matter where they run the ball.
Personally, I think a lot of evaluators put too much importance on a running backs speed. You’re not going to see a RB take a handoff and run straight up the field in the NFL. That’s why I put more importance on a player’s quickness.
To me, straight-line speed doesn’t really correlate directly to what a running back is asked to do in the NFL. Sure, there are those instances where an offense can get a RB out in space in order to take advantage of his speed, but even that relies mostly on catching the defense offguard.
Plus, if you look at the defensive trends in the NFL today, you will notice that you are seeing more speedy linebackers that can play sideline to sideline. Some of these linebackers have about the same type of speed that the running backs do.
That is why I put more importance on a running backs quickness instead of their speed.
A RBs durability is relatively easy to scout. You can look to see how many games they missed and what type of injuries they may have sustained to miss those games.
On the other hand, I like to take it a step further and take a look at the workload they received at the collegiate level and maybe even go back to see what they did in high school as well.
The running back position is one of the more physically demanding in the entire NFL and their bodies tend to break down quickly. A RB that has already had a heavy workload might not have a very long career due to their skill set diminishing at a quicker rate.
I want a running back that I can depend on when it’s time to suit up.
Not everyone may agree, but I like a running back that runs with strength and power.
The nature of the running back position comes with knowing that the players going to be hit at one point or another. It is a contact sport after all and the RB position might just be the most physical one.
When scouting a RB prospect I like to look for a player that plays with power and strength. I don’t want a running back that has a difficult time breaking a tackle.
Some of the most successful running backs in the league are the ones that are good at picking up yards after contact or can be relied upon to pick up those short yard situations.
It may be just my preference, but I want to running back that is difficult to bring down.
This trait in particular could determine whether or not a running back prospect can play early and often in the NFL.
With the league changing to be more passer friendly, running backs are expected to be capable receivers and pass protectors if they want to be an every down back in the NFL.
College running backs are sometimes difficult to scout in this area because of the popularity of the spread offense, especially when it comes to pass protection. Most of them simply aren’t asked to do it very often and have to be coached up once they are drafted.
Third-down capabilities aren’t a deal breaker by any means, because a lot of teams have gone to a running back rotation, which allows rookie running backs a little bit more time to develop their skill set.
Scouting the running back position is one of the is easier positions to analyze in my opinion, but you have to remember to look at each and every play the prospect is involved in, not just the highlight films.
The position really comes down to whether or not the player can see the hole and explode through that running lane.
One of my favorite running back prospects in the 2016 draft class is Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon.
With the exception of Ezekiel Elliott, Dixon is perhaps the most complete running back in the draft class and has all of the traits mentioned to step in immediately and contribute in the rushing game.