Which Running Back Prospects Were Most Efficient in 2019?
Last year's rookie running back class showed us a few things.
One, it reminded us that there can be some impactful rookie running backs each and every season.
Three, situation and opportunity matter a lot. Two of the four backs on that shortlist actually rated out as the least efficient combine-invited running backs of the 2018 season when compared to their teammates. Sanders and Singletary, though, had good success rates themselves and played on efficient rushing offenses.
But what about players whose overall stats may look poor on teams that weren't quite as successful at running the ball? What about them?
They're fresh. They deserve some love.
So, then, which running backs invited to the NFL Combine were the most efficient -- compared to their teammates -- in 2019?
While we at numberFire generate success rates at the NFL level based on whether or not a play increases expected scoring according to our Net Expected Points metric, we can't replicate that expected-points approach at the NCAA level.
Instead, I've combined collegiate play-by-play data and applied the FootballOutsiders' success rate methodology to determine success rates, based on necessary yardage to gain a first down on each carry that a running back saw.
However, rather than relying solely on individual success rates, which can be heavily influenced by team success, situation, and overall offensive philosophy, I have also derived the success rate of the teammates of each combine-invited running back in order to find levels of separation from teammates. This should help level the playing field and shed light on which backs were efficient within their own situations.
There's way more that goes into analyzing running back prospects, but here's the data dump of each running back's offensive line rank via FootballOutsiders, individual rushing success rate, teammate rushing success rate, and the differential between those two.
|Rusher||Team||Rush O Rank||Success Rate||Teammate Success Rate||Differential|
|Eno Benjamin||Arizona State||86||38.4%||28.8%||9.6%|
|Tony Jones Jr.||Notre Dame||62||42.3%||35.7%||6.7%|
|AJ Dillon||Boston College||28||42.9%||36.4%||6.5%|
|Patrick Taylor Jr.||Memphis||104||42.1%||39.0%||3.1%|
|Cam Akers||Florida State||115||38.2%||35.3%||2.9%|
|J.K. Dobbins||Ohio State||8||44.2%||41.4%||2.8%|
|DeeJay Dallas||Miami (FL)||71||37.8%||36.9%||0.9%|
|Rico Dowdle||South Carolina||53||38.9%||38.1%||0.8%|
|Scottie Phillips||Ole Miss||77||35.2%||39.1%||-3.9%|
|LeVante Bellamy||Western Michigan||60||35.0%||39.5%||-4.4%|
|Darrynton Evans||Appalachian State||51||33.2%||42.6%||-9.4%|
|Anthony McFarland Jr.||Maryland||85||30.3%||40.0%||-9.7%|
|Michael Warren II||Cincinnati||33||33.6%||45.9%||-12.3%|
Eno Benjamin from Arizona State Sun Devils tops the chart in terms of success rate differential. ASU ranked a middling 86th in line yards, so his situation wasn't exactly pristine, and that's what we're trying to find out here. His individual rushing success rate of 38.4% ranks him 17th among 29 qualified backs. However, his teammates were dreadful, posting a 28.8% rushing success rate, about four percentage points worse than any other set of teammates in the data set. He ran a 4.57-second 40-yard dash, giving him a subpar size-adjusted speed score, but Benjamin draws a comparison to Duke Johnson, via PlayerProfiler.
Javon Leake is in a similar boat to Benjamin in terms of success rates. He had just 102 carries but scored 8 times and averaged a stellar 7.21 yards per attempt. Maryland's rushing offense wasn't anything amazing, but Leake did well to make the most of his situation and actually averaged 7.89 yards per carry over 145 career carries. Leake posted a 4.62-second 40-yard dash time for a subpar size-adjusted speed score. The main concern with Leake from a production standpoint is just a lack of it: he had 44 offensive touches as a freshman and sophomore combined.
Tony Jones Jr. ranked eighth overall in rushing success rate and -- similar to Leake -- had 139 touches before his final season (which included 159). His disappointing 4.68-second 40-yard dash was second-worst of all backs who ran at the combine.
AJ Dillon out of Boston College Eagles has quite the opposite profile: at least 235 scrimmage plays in all three seasons and 40 total touchdowns. Dillon's team ranked top-30 in offensive line play, and that helps, but he still dominated relative to his teammates. When adjusting his 4.53-second 40-yard dash for his size, his speed score puts him in the 97th percentile of running back prospects. Despite the elite profile, he's listed at +6000 on FanDuel Sportsbook to be the first running back drafted in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Jonathan Taylor is almost the favorite to be the first back off the board at -110. It makes sense. He rated out well in efficiency, and as for the production, yeah, there's no concern there. Taylor averaged 2,058 rushing yards over three seasons and is sixth on the all-time rushing list despite having played just three years. His 4.39-second 40-yard dash puts him in the top percentile of prospects, and JJ Zachariason compares his profile to that of Ezekiel Elliott.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire is +3200 to be the first back taken. The LSU product ran behind the nation's ninth-ranked offensive line. Edwards-Helaire himself ranked second in overall rushing success rate. Edwards-Helaire had just one season at LSU with elite production: 1,867 yards and 17 touchdowns on 270 touches. The athleticism isn't quite on par with the other backs here, but in the right landing spot, he could carve out a steady NFL career, similar to Maurice Jones-Drew.
D'Andre Swift is another big hitter who is actually the favorite to be the first back drafted (-120). Swift, 5'8" and 212 pounds, gathered 3,551 total yards over three years at Georgia. Even with teammate Brian Herrien getting a combine invite and even with Georgia's good offensive line success, Swift exceeded expectations.