2022 NFL Draft: 3 Running Back Standouts Based on Adjusted Production
As soon as the Super Bowl ends, NFL Draft season begins.
The NFL has announced the prospects invited to participate in the NFL Scouting Combine, a list that includes 40 receiver hopefuls.
Which of them had the best 2021 campaign from a production standpoint?
We can look at yards and touchdowns, sure, but why not expected points added (EPA)? We did that for the receivers last week.
For running backs, EPA is a bit trickier, given that the expected EPA on a carry in college football by a running back is -0.01 since 2014 (via CollegeFootballData.com's model).
So I instead took yardage outputs and adjusted them for opponents (based on some internal tweaks from numberFire's algorithm) to see who had the best 2021 season among the running back class.
Here is how the 35 FBS combine-invited backs fared (excluding Pierre Strong, who played at an FCS school, South Dakota State).
|Kenneth Walker III||Michigan State||487.5|
|Breece Hall||Iowa State||477.0|
|Ty Chandler||North Carolina||426.9|
|Rachaad White||Arizona State||276.0|
|Quan White||South Carolina||255.4|
|Jashaun Corbin||Florida State||231.3|
|Isaiah Spiller||Texas A&M||227.2|
|Sincere McCormick||UT San Antonio||225.6|
|Bam Knight||NC State||204.9|
|Jerrion Ealy||Ole Miss||201.9|
|Jaylen Warren||Oklahoma State||201.3|
|Brian Robinson Jr.||Alabama||200.8|
|Kyren Williams||Notre Dame||182.6|
|Max Borghi||Washington State||174.6|
|Snoop Conner||Ole Miss||119.7|
|Ronnie Rivers||Fresno State||104.6|
|Leddie Brown||West Virginia||14.0|
|Kevin Harris||South Carolina||8.4|
|Greg Bell||San Diego State||-38.4|
Some Added Context
Without any context, these numbers mean nothing, so let's dig deeper.
Running back production profiles can be skewed pretty easily, and it's quite possible that these numbers don't even matter. However, they pass the eye test.
Here are the top final season yards over expected outputs from drafted backs since the 2015 NFL Draft: Darrell Henderson (+986.3), Melvin Gordon (+919.3), J.K. Dobbins (+847.4), Tevin Coleman (+794.8), Khalil Herbert (+636.8), Derrick Henry (+624.7), Rashaad Penny (+616.7), Jonathan Taylor (+611.3), Michael Carter (+606.2).
The bottom of the list isn't very impressive, either: Kalen Ballage (-137.6), David Montgomery (-30.3), Matt Jones (-15.5), La'Mical Perine (+24.0), Joshua Kelley (+60.0), Kene Nwangwu (+61.6), Cam Akers (+73.1), and Kenneth Dixon (+80.0).
Here's the list of backs in the top three rounds to clear 400 yards over expected in their final season.
We've got three backs in this class who clear that threshold.
Despite only 19 receptions over three seasons during his tenure at Wake Forest and Michigan State, Kenneth Walker III leads the pack in yardage over expectation this season. Walker's consensus big board rank -- via NFL Mock Draft Database -- is 60th overall (and 3rd among running backs). He'll need to show some added receiving prowess at the NFL level, but the yardage over expectation output is quite promising (more on that later).
Breece Hall of Iowa State is the consensus RB2 in the draft (44th overall), just trailing Isaiah Spiller. The adjusted yardage output profile is much stronger for Hall.
Third on the list is an interesting name. Ty Chandler from North Carolina has a big board rank of 210 with a peak of 153.
The tier of Jerome Ford, Abram Smith, Rachaad White, and Tyler Badie is a quartet worth monitoring in the middle rounds, as well.