Running Backs: Here’s the second of a series of articles looking specifically at the NFL combine and the Packers’ drafting tendencies. (read here for the rationale for this series and here for the installment on quarterbacks). This article will use the combine numbers from previous players drafted by GM Ted Thompson as a guide for what running backs are likely to fit into the Packers’ scheme.
Again, this is merely an attempt to make a best guess based on statistics at which players the Packers might be interested in, game tape naturally trumps combine numbers, so take all of this with a grain of salt. But I believe it will make for some interesting discussion. Listed below are two running backs in this year’s draft who I think fit the Packers scheme the best, based on their combine numbers.
Statistics of running backs drafted by the Packers:
What the Packers are looking for: Ted Thompson seems to like his running backs to be about average height and a little bit on the heavier side. I do think that Thompson’s running back ideals have shifted, perhaps with the introduction of a more spread offensive system that the Packers employ. In 2007 Thompson drafted both Jackson and Wynn and in my opinion both were very similar players with similar running styles. But with the emergence of Ryan Grant, Thompson moved away from the Brandon Jackson-like players and instead started drafting Ryan Grant-like players, and as a result James Starks was drafted in the 6th round last year. It should be noted that while Ryan Grant/James Starks is likely to become the every down running backs, Thompson might still be inclined to draft a Brandon Jackson-type player since pass protection is so important with the Packers.
The workout drill where running backs had the lowest relative standard deviation (thus implying were most important) were the 40-yard dash, 3-cone and the shuttle. For the 40-yard dash, a 4.5 is rather mundane, its definitely not a slow time, but its not a really jaw dropping number like Chris Johnson’s 4.24 second 40 yard dash. The 3-cone measures balance, speed and change direction, which are vitally important for running backs, with a 7 second run being considered a good time; again nothing eye-popping like Ray Rice running a 6.66 but still respectable. Finally the shuttle measures lateral quickness, change of direction and flexibility, which would help a running back pick a hole and burst through. Just as with the other drills, a 4.2 is a respectable time but hardly noteworthy. Considering all this it would seem that the Packers like their running backs to be in the top 75% of players, which might be a reason why relatively few running backs have been drafted by Thompson; he probably can’t find the value for running backs during the draft (probably because he puts so little premium on them), hence drafting Starks at the bottom of the draft (where his value, a purported 2nd round draft grade had he been healthy) and picking up Ryan Grant for 6th round pick.
As for specific skills, as a west coast offense, the Packers like their running backs to be able to gain positive yards regardless of the situation or as the Packers like to call it “falling forward” (as opposed to a “feast or famine” running back). The offensive line is more suited to pass protection (that will invariably happen when you protect Aaron Rodgers for a living) and thus running backs usually will have to make their own holes. The Packers however don’t require a running back to be exceptionally fast or exceptionally agile, with no real Dexter McCluster/Darren Sproles type of running back on the roster. Pass catching ability is highly sought after, to the extent that Brandon Jackson was probably kept on the team for that reason and his pass protection ability.
Comparable quarterbacks in the 2011 draft (analysis taken from NFL.com):
Shane Vereen California/5’10”/210 lbs/4.50 40-yard dash/6.95 3-cone/? shuttle:
- Runs hard after contact
- Excellent pass catcher
- Shows potential as a pass protector
- Not very quick
- Does not run with great balance and cannot push the pile
- Some issues with ball security
Darren Evans Virginia Tech/6’0”/227 lbs/4.58 40-yard dash/6.96 3-cone/ ? shuttle:
- Finds the hole quickly
- Will push the pocket and fall forward
- Willing and capable in pass protection
- Does not have the burst to turn the corner
- Lacks top end speed
- Not a pass catching running back
- Some issue with ball security
Conclusion: Shane Vereen is almost a splitting image of Brandon Jackson, with essentially identical height-weight ratios and very similar combine numbers; and just like Jackson he’ll probably be catching a lot of dump off passes and pass protecting which ever team drafts him. Darren Evans on the other hand is more of a Ryan Grant/James Starks type of player who runs hard north and south with out much east-west ability but will gain the tough yards but isn’t a homerun hitter.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.