Fantasy: The Contrarian – Agility Scores and Breakout RBs

| 5 years ago

Fantasy: The Contrarian – Agility Scores and Breakout RBs

In Part One of this series we looked at the strong correlation between Agility Scores – a RB’s combined time in the short shuttle and 3 cone drill – and Vision Yards. In addition, we determined that explosive lateral agility is a trait that NFL teams often take advantage of in the passing game. Moreover, this is a phenomenon which extends to workhorse backs and 3rd down specialists alike.

Now that the Combine is long gone, it’s time to root for our favorite prospect to land on our hometown team and begin plotting our draft strategy for young backs. Before we look at rookies, however, let’s look at second year players who could be in line for a breakout.

While runners with great lateral agility often excel in accruing Vision Yards, it can take a while for the game to slow down. The numbers suggest that rookies often struggle to gain yards before contact in their first season. This is a list of second year sleepers who may have underperformed their eventual level.

Agility Score YBCo/Att
Roy Helu 10.68 1.79
Kendall Hunter 10.95 1.76
Delone Carter 10.99 1.07
Stevan Ridley 10.99 2.02
Ryan Williams 11.14 NA

Before this analysis, I was only high on one of these players. Knocked by scouts for a series of esoteric shortcomings, Roy Helu put on one of the most impressive overall displays the Combine has seen. When you add in an underrated career at Nebraska, his profile entering the league was almost identical to that of a former great.

College YPC Height Weight 40 Time Speed Score Short Shuttle 3 Cone Agility Score
Roy Helu 5.9 73 219 4.40 116.9 4.01 6.67 10.68
Edgerrin James 5.9 73 216 4.38 117.4 3.88 6.87 10.75

Of course, Helu did not perform like Edge as a rookie, but that was only to be expected considering the vast difference in their draft slots. Helu was not drafted to play right away, and the coaches seemed surprised when he gained over 1000 yards from scrimmage, a number augmented by 49 catches. (His passing game usage fits with my thesis that a RB’s Agility Score is more predictive of their NFL receiving prospects than is their collegiate performance as a receiver.) Helu could easily be a Top 10 RB in 2012, especially now that Washington is in position to select Robert Griffin III.

The rest of the group should all sport very palatable ADPs, and they make decent breakout candidates in a year that lacks exciting 2nd Year Breakout runners. Hunter and Ridley both impressed in limited snaps as rookies. If the 49ers succeed in upgrading their offensive personnel, Hunter could have a lot of value as the passing down back in what might turn out to be a more than an even timeshare with Frank Gore. It has been assumed that Ridley would emerge as the feature back in New England with Shane Vereen handling passing downs, but Ridley’s Agility Score suggests he could be in line for quite a few receptions as well.

Delone Carter did not impress as a rookie, but could emerge as the starter over Donald Brown now that Addai has been released. It may take several years for the Colts to beef up their offensive line, but there are worse late round fliers, especially in dynasty formats. Ryan Williams is the perfect complement to the plodding Chris Wells and should own a decent chunk of early down carries to go with almost all passing down duties. Unfortunately, the brutal recovery from a torn patella tendon could leave him unready for the beginning of 2012.

The Rookies

Over the past three seasons rookie runners have been disappointing fantasy plays, and this group of runners doesn’t compare to the 2008 class by any means. Unless Trent Richardson lands in Cincinnati, I recommend avoiding him and focusing on rookie runners as high upside depth plays instead of fantasy starters. With that in mind, here are a couple potential sleepers.

Agility Score
Chris Rainey 10.43
Doug Martin 10.95
LaMichael James 11.00

You’ll hear Chris Rainey compared to Dexter McCluster, but they don’t have much in common other than their size. McCluster was an unbelievable college back but he turned in a disappointing Combine and that lack of athleticism has limited him at the NFL level. Rainey is beyond video game quick. Roy Helu had the previous best RB Agility Score for the years I’ve been studying. Rainey didn’t just beat it; he absolutely destroyed it. But Rainey struggled to turn that athleticism into yardage at Florida, a fact which bodes very poorly for his pro prospects.

The other two backs could make an immediate impact. Martin is probably competing with Lamar Miller to be the second back taken in this year’s draft. (Unfortunately, Miller didn’t run in the agility drills, as he probably would have posted a sterling time as well.) Martin’s closest NFL comparison based on Combine results and collegiate resume is probably Ray Rice. Although they are different in weight – and weight is a very significant factor – Martin and Rice are eerily similar in all other facets.

Name College YPC Height (in) Weight (lbs) 40 Yard Speed Score Shuttle 3Cone Agility Score
Doug Martin 5.6 69 223 4.55 104.1 4.16 6.79 10.95
Ray Rice 5.4 68 199 4.42 104.3 4.20 6.65 10.85

Although we don’t have numbers for Trent Richardson yet, Martin’s projection is so strong that it wouldn’t surprise if he ends up with the better NFL career. If Martin lands in Cincinnati, he would make a much stronger 4th round fantasy pick than Ingram did a season ago.

I’m mystified at the lack of respect LaMichael James has been getting in the draft guru community. James may end up as a committee back, but committee backs are important in both reality and fantasy. As the NFL continues to transition to a spread-based, passing league, it’s going to be the Darren Sproles-type player who is more important, not the Cedric Benson, run-into-the-line-and-fall-down type. The two closest comparisons for James in terms of size, speed, agility, and collegiate role/production are very promising.

College YPC College TD Height (in) Weight (lbs) 40 Yard Speed Score Shuttle 3Cone Agility Score
Darren Sproles 6.1 45 66 187 4.47 93.7 3.96 6.96 10.92
Kendall Hunter 5.9 37 67 199 4.46 100.6 4.21 6.74 10.95
LaMichael James 6.6 53 68 194 4.45 98.9 4.12 6.88 11.00

James won’t immediately replicate the season Sproles had in 2011, but it’s worth remembering that teams were curiously disinterested in Sproles coming out of college as well. James should end up being the player Kansas City was hoping for when they reached for Dexter McCluster at No. 36 a couple of years ago.

There aren’t any huge red flags among this year’s crop, but Chris Polk, Terrance Gannaway, Bernard Pierce, and Robert Turbin will probably all be labeled as sleepers at some point between now and next season. All of these backs posted 11.3 or worse in the agility drills. Better targets exist for your late round picks.

  • CaptainHuggyFace

    Great article, but Manning is with Denver and Addai was released. Please smack the proofreader in the head.

    Otherwise, stellar job as always by PFF.

    • Shawn Siegele

      Thanks, Captain. As you noted this was originally part of a pre-FA piece that anticipated Addai’s release and Washington getting either Manning or RGIII. We were just showing the oracular nature of the original draft.

      Also, appreciate the kind words.

  • Eric

    Really good article, its going in my draft file!

    • Eric

      How does David Wilson score on this metric?

      • Shawn Siegele

        Wilson posted an 11.21. Most of the guys who excel at accumulating Vision Yards at the NFL level are below 11.1.On the other hand, Wilson’s numbers are better than quite a few of the early down runners. Where Wilson really impressed at the Combine was with his 41 inch vertical, but leaping numbers don’t seem to correlate with NFL success.