The post-combine running back success model

Kevin Cole builds a post-combine running back prospect model to find the most relevant collegiate stats for NFL success.

| 9 months ago
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

The post-combine running back success model


Recently, I’ve written a few posts on pre-combine success models for wide receiver and running back prospects, then applying the models to the 2016 draft class. Some consensus top prospects – like Laquon Treadwell, Michael Thomas and Devontae Booker — fared poorly in the analysis, while prospects further down current draft boards found themselves near the top — such as Leonte Carroo and Paul Perkins. The model wasn’t meant to embody definitive rankings, but instead inform you of how comparable the 2016 class prospects are to prior rookies that found early success in the NFL.

Now that the NFL combine has wrapped up, we have athletic measurables to go along with age and production that we used in our pre-combine model. Again, in our post-combine models we used logistic regression to answer a binary question: Will a particular prospect find early NFL success?

You can define success many ways, but I’m choosing to use a top 12 fantasy point season (PPR) for running backs and top 24 season for wide receivers. The model’s dependent variable of early NFL success is whether or not a player had a top season within his first three years in the NFL.

The major takeaway from the updated models was that the statistical significance of combine measurables for predicting success of running backs and wide receivers is vastly divergent. For wider receivers, none of the combine measurables had statistical significance when added to age and production numbers, whereas weight and the 40-yard dash were the most significant variables in the running back model. The wide receiver findings are bolstered by similar conclusions from the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, and fit with the theory that wide receiver talent has more of an influence on production than for running backs, who could be stuck behind a poor offensive line or never given enough opportunity since usually only one running back is on the field. You can look back on the age and production model for 2016’s wide receivers for insight; there isn’t anything new to present for wide receivers post-combine.

We used age, production, and combine measurables to train and test the updated running back model. The model used 330 running back prospects that entered in the NFL from 2000-2013, splitting the data roughly 2-to-1 into training and testing sets.

After plugging more than a dozen different production and combine statistics into the model and slowly taking away, one-by-one the least statistically significant, we were left with four (two combine, two production) that provide the most explanatory and predictive power (listed in order of statistical significance):

1. 40-yard dash

2. Weight

3. Final season rushing yards per game

4. Final season receiving yards per game

As you’d expect, the model favors faster, heavier prospects who had strong rushing and receiving production in their final college season. The 40-yard dash is by far the most influential statistic for predicting NFL success, followed by weight. Presumably skewed by the fact we’re using PPR scoring to measure success, receiving yard per game had a model coefficient nearly three times that of rushing yards per game. In order words, each additional receiving yard raises the prediction score by three times that of each additional rushing yard.

The model’s accuracy rate for correctly predicted early NFL success or failure on the test set was roughly 92 percent, slightly better than using NFL draft position as the independent variable.

Here are the top 10 prediction scores for the entire 2000-2013 data set.

Name College Year Draft Position Weight Forty Rush Yds/Gm Rec Yds/Gm Top12 Predict
Chris Johnson East Carolina 2008 24 197 4.24 109.5 40.6 1 0.74
Matt Forte Tulane 2008 44 217 4.44 177.2 23.5 1 0.61
Rashard Mendenhall Illinois 2008 23 225 4.41 129.3 24.5 1 0.61
DeMarco Murray Oklahoma 2011 71 213 4.37 86.7 42.4 1 0.57
Kevin Jones Virginia Tech 2004 30 227 4.38 126.7 12.4 1 0.56
Michael Turner Northern Illinois 2004 154 237 4.49 137.3 19.2 0 0.54
Adrian Peterson Oklahoma 2007 7 217 4.40 144.6 19.4 1 0.52
Darren McFadden Arkansas 2008 4 211 4.33 140.8 12.6 1 0.52
Latavius Murray Central Florida 2013 181 223 4.38 100.5 21.0 1 0.49
J.J. Arrington California 2005 44 214 4.40 168.2 10.1 0 0.47

The “Predict” column gives the model score (between 1 and 0) for each prospect indicating the likelihood of a top-12 PPR season in a prospect’s first three years, and the “Top12″ column indicates whether or not the receiver actually had a top-12 PPR year in his first three seasons. Draft position is listed in the table only for reference; it was not part of the model.  

You can see that our post-combine model did a great job predicting the early NFL success, hitting on eight of its top-10 scores.

The two model misses include Michael Turner, who was a top-12 PPR running back multiple times later in his career. It’s very likely that Turner’s lackluster early career had more to do with the fact that he was a fifth round draft pick, and the corresponding absence of opportunity, than any lack of talent.

None of the backs with top-5 predict scores were drafted in the first 20 picks, but they all found early-career success. The model was even able to uncover Latavius Murray, a sixth-round pick who was largely ignored by NFL talent evaluators.

The model also loves actual top-10 draft picks, like Adrian Peterson and Darren McFadden, both of whom tested with incredibly fast 40-yard dash times.

Later this week, we’ll use this model to predict the likelihood of success for the 2016 running back class. Until then, you can peruse this sortable table of the 2000-2013 data set for running back prospects with the relevant variables and prediction scores.

Kevin Cole is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy. You can follow him on Twitter at @Cole_Kev

NameCollegeYearDraft PositionWeightFortyRush Yds/GmRec Yds/GmTop12Predict
Chris JohnsonEast Carolina2008241974.24109.540.610.74
Matt ForteTulane2008442174.44177.223.510.61
Rashard MendenhallIllinois2008232254.41129.324.510.61
DeMarco MurrayOklahoma2011712134.3786.742.410.57
Kevin JonesVirginia Tech2004302274.38126.712.410.56
Michael TurnerNorthern Illinois20041542374.49137.319.200.54
Adrian PetersonOklahoma200772174.4144.619.410.52
Darren McFaddenArkansas200842114.33140.812.610.52
Latavius MurrayCentral Florida20131812234.38100.52110.49
J.J. ArringtonCalifornia2005442144.4168.210.100.47
Jonathan StewartOregon2008132354.46132.511.200.47
Travis PrenticeMiami (OH)2000632254.5150.824.500.47
Ronnie BrownAuburn200522334.4376.126.100.46
Larry JohnsonPenn State2003272284.55160.526.810.45
Ladainian TomlinsonTexas Christian200152214.46196.23.610.45
Ben TateAuburn201002204.34104.88.100.41
Andre BrownNorth Carolina State200902244.375923.800.39
Toby GerhartStanford2010512314.5143.912.100.37
Andre HallSouth Florida200602084.4114.526.800.36
Alex GreenHawaii2011962254.4585.625.900.34
Cedric PeermanVirginia20091852164.3470.417.500.33
Frank MoreauLouisville20001152314.57128.928.500.33
Kevin SmithCentral Florida2008642174.53183.417.300.33
Ryan MathewsFresno State2010122184.45150.710.210.33
Chris HenryArizona2007502304.452.817.900.31
Jalen ParmeleToledo20081762244.47125.913.100.3
Kerwynn WilliamsUtah State20132301954.48116.353.600.3
Musa SmithGeorgia2003772324.45101.88.200.3
Montario HardestyTennessee201002254.49103.523.200.29
Jahvid BestCalifornia2010301994.3496.323.700.28
Cj SpillerClemson201091964.3786.635.910.27
Michael BennettWisconsin2001272074.38152.82.100.27
Anthony ThomasMichigan2001382294.5814121.700.26
Deangelo WilliamsMemphis2006272144.49178.57.110.26
Knile DavisArkansas2013962274.3737.715.700.26
Knowshon MorenoGeorgia2009122174.5107.730.200.26
Marshawn LynchCalifornia2007122154.46104.325.210.26
Ray RiceRutgers2008551994.42154.818.410.26
Tatum BellOklahoma State2004412124.37116.95.500.26
Deuce McallisterMississippi2001232224.4169.717.310.25
Giovani BernardNorth Carolina2013372024.53122.84900.25
Chris PerryMichigan2004262204.55128.828.200.24
Donald BrownConnecticut2009272104.46160.29.600.24
Jerome HarrisonWashington State20061452014.47172.718.700.24
Quinton GantherUtah20062462184.5101.828.500.23
Chris WellsOhio State2009312354.52119.74.700.22
Jamaal CharlesTexas2008732004.38124.515.310.22
Justin FargasUSC2003962194.3559.68.400.22
Josh ScobeyKansas State20021852184.42114.84.700.22
William GreenBoston College2002162214.6155.92600.22
Jordan TodmanConnecticut20111832034.4141.27.800.21
Ryan MoatsLouisiana Tech2005772104.46147.89.700.2
Lamont JordanMaryland2001492344.5783.626.100.19
Lamar MillerMiami (FL)2012972124.41067.110.19
Mikel LeshoureIllinois2011572274.56130.515.100.19
Robert TurbinUtah State20121062224.5116.713.200.19
Eric SheltonLouisville2005542464.5378.22.900.18
Eric SheltonLouisville2005542464.5378.22.900.18
Jamie HarperClemson20111302334.5358.525.200.18
Jamal LewisTennessee200052404.5881.619.300.18
Trung CanidateArizona2000311934.41133.521.100.18
Andrew PinnockSouth Carolina20032292654.6246.98.800.17
Jerious NorwoodMississippi State2006792104.4103.38.700.17
Ronnie HillmanSan Diego State2012672004.45131.620.800.17
Brandon JacobsSouthern Illinois20051102674.5611.35.300.16
Deshaun FosterUCLA2002342224.57138.616.100.16
Garrett WolfeNorthern Illinois2007931864.4148.319.200.16
Joseph AddaiLSU2006302144.470.113.810.16
Onterrio SmithOregon20031052204.48114.17.800.16
Brian CalhounWisconsin2006742014.57125.843.900.15
Johnathan FranklinUCLA20131252054.49123.923.100.15
Kevan BarlowPittsburgh2001802354.5695.712.200.15
Lamichael JamesOregon2012611944.45150.417.500.15
Allen BradfordUSC20111872424.5366.26.200.14
Alex HaynesCentral Florida200502234.5194.913.700.14
Antonio PittmanOhio State20071072074.494.89.800.14
Ricky WilliamsTexas Tech200201904.476656.100.14
Bernard PierceTemple2012842184.49123.44.300.13
Doug MartinBoise State2012312234.5599.919.610.13
Johnny WhiteNorth Carolina20111332094.5803200.13
Mike GoodsonTexas A&M20091112084.4640.638.600.13
Tashard ChoiceGeorgia Tech20081222154.48114.98.900.13
Brandon SaineOhio State201102204.425.91500.12
Cyrus GrayTexas A&M20121822064.479521.700.12
Chris PolkWashington201202154.57114.525.500.12
Jr RedmondArizona State2000762164.48106.79.100.12
Peyton HillisArkansas20082272404.6426.741.310.12
Rock CartwrightKansas State20022572374.4726.59.800.12
Rudi JohnsonAuburn20011002274.57130.65.800.12
Vernand MorencyOklahoma State2005732124.511349.200.12
Earnest GrahamFlorida200302254.583.57.200.11
Eddie LacyAlabama2013612314.5894.413.510.11
Mike JamesMiami (FL)20131892234.5351.828.700.11
Chester TaylorToledo20022072134.581302200.1
Daniel ThomasKansas State2011622304.63121.913.200.1
Deshawn WynnFlorida20072282324.4749.94.100.1
Felix JonesArkansas2008222074.4489.413.500.1
Julius JonesNotre Dame2004432144.47105.74.400.1
Quentin GriffinOklahoma20031081954.48134.618.900.1
Shane VereenCalifornia2011562104.4997.217.400.1
Travis MinorFlorida State2001851974.4476.927.800.1
Anthony AllenGeorgia Tech20112252284.56101.26.800.09
David WilsonVirginia Tech2012322064.49122.19.200.09
Kolby SmithLouisville20071482204.566.316.700.09
Steve SlatonWest Virginia2008891974.4580.826.910.09
Anthony DixonMississippi State20101732334.67126.511.200.08
Brian LeonardRutgers2007522264.5232.522.600.08
Bilal PowellLouisville20111262074.51117.113.200.08
Chris OgbonnayaTexas20092112204.5728.741.500.08
Darius WalkerNotre Dame200702064.5597.530.100.08
Dwayne WrightFresno State20071112284.66121.818.400.08
Isaiah PeadCincinnati2012501974.4796.824.500.08
Joe McknightUSC20101121984.484.512.200.08
Larry NedSan Diego State20021972194.62140.812.500.08
Mewelde MooreTulane20041192094.65101.745.300.08
Omar EasyPenn State20021072444.5317.86.400.08
Ryan GrantNotre Dame200502154.4357.25.710.08
Shonn GreeneIowa2009652274.62142.33.800.08
Correll BuckhalterNebraska20011212264.5368.27.700.07
Heath EvansAuburn2001822464.5621.78.900.07
Kenjon BarnerOregon20131821964.52135.919.700.07
Kendall HunterOklahoma State20111151994.46119.17.800.07
Leonard HenryEast Carolina20022412064.57130.219.100.07
Leon WashingtonFlorida State20061172014.4239.124.300.07
Marcus ThomasTexas-El Paso20081662134.5910624.400.07
Quincy WilsonWest Virginia20042192254.61157.900.07
Sammy MorrisTexas Tech20001562214.6562.442.900.07
Brian AllenStanford20022042094.4681.75.700.06
Delone CarterSyracuse20111192224.5494.83.500.06
Doug ChapmanMarshall2000882154.5657.226.800.06
Darren SprolesKansas State20051301874.47119.820.300.06
Glen CoffeeAlabama2009742094.598.88.400.06
George LayneTexas Christian20011082424.5925.413.700.06
Justin GriffithMississippi State20031212324.5942.818.100.06
Javon RingerMichigan State20091732054.55125.914.600.06
Mike BellArizona200602214.686.517.900.06
Zac StacyVanderbilt20131602164.5587.815.800.06
Brandon JacksonNebraska2007632104.5470.622.400.05
Jehuu CaulcrickMichigan State200802544.6967.12.800.05
Marlon BarnesColorado199902114.4995.32.700.05
Moran NorrisKansas20011152504.6344.73.700.05
Noah HerronNorthwestern20052442004.6115.129.200.05
Ran CarthonFlorida200402154.5149.615.400.05
Ryan TorainArizona State20081392224.6192.216.700.05
Tony FiammettaSyracuse20091282454.58611.500.05
Travis HenryTennessee2001582234.61119.55.910.05
Ahmad BradshawMarshall20072501984.55126.910.800.04
Alvin PearmanVirginia20051272084.6386.433.500.04
Cj AndersonCalifornia201302244.665.813.700.04
Chris RaineyFlorida20121591804.4571.831.800.04
Cory RossNebraska200602014.5873.532.700.04
Damien AndersonNorthwestern200202114.5694.613.400.04
Dantrell SavageOklahoma State200801874.53115.623.500.04
Jarrod BaxterNew Mexico20021362454.782.54.500.04
Jonathan DwyerGeorgia Tech201002294.6499.62.600.04
Jacob HesterLSU2008692264.6178.87.600.04
Kerry CarterStanford200302384.6152.43.600.04
Lorenzo BookerFlorida State2007711914.4647.432.300.04
Mike GillisleeFlorida20131642084.5588.612.200.04
Mark IngramAlabama2011282154.6279.525.600.04
Maurice MorrisOregon2002542084.5395.4900.04
Tyrell SuttonNorthwestern200902114.6898.933.900.04
Wali LundyVirginia20061702144.4852.25.600.04
James DavisClemson20091952184.5557.89.500.03
James JacksonMiami (FL)2001652104.5591.55.100.03
Ladell BettsIowa2002562204.6288.311.400.03
Lousaka PolitePittsburgh200402464.6819.817.100.03
Labrandon ToefieldLSU20031322334.652.84.600.03
Mike GreenHouston20002132534.7883.84.600.03
Naufahu TahiBrigham Young200602544.8545.234.100.03
Shawn BrysonTennessee1999862354.6318.215.200.03
Vick BallardMississippi State20121702194.6591.514.400.03
Armando AllenNotre Dame201101994.5264.217.200.02
Arian FosterTennessee200902264.6851.815.110.02
Alfred MorrisFlorida Atlantic20121732194.6798.811.610.02
Chris BrownColorado2003931954.59153.43.300.02
Christine MichaelTexas A&M2013622204.5437.94.400.02
Cierre WoodNotre Dame201302134.5667.52.300.02
Domanick DavisLSU20031012134.5871.61010.02
Dion LewisPittsburgh20111491934.5688.41800.02
Dexter McclusterMississippi2010361724.5389.94000.02
Evan RoysterPenn State20111772124.657815.500.02
Gartrell JohnsonColorado State20091342194.75113.522.700.02
John ConnerKentucky20101392464.6413.23.800.02
Jarrett PaytonMiami (FL)200402204.6675.810.500.02
Joseph RandleOklahoma State20131512044.6310917.200.02
Jacquizz RodgersOregon State20111451964.5998.723.900.02
Jason WrightNorthwestern200402104.68106.819.300.02
Kevin McdougalColorado State200002064.63116.45.800.02
Keith TostonOklahoma State201002134.6693.720.100.02
Montee BallWisconsin2013582144.66130.75.100.02
Marcus ThomasTexas-El Paso20071663145.1846.62200.02
Ovie MughelliWake Forest20031342554.7324.88.500.02
Rich AlexisWashington200402104.6470.820.400.02
Reuben DroughnsOregon2000812154.66102.813.600.02
Sultan McculloughUSC200302024.4962.65.300.02
Stevan RidleyLSU2011732254.6588.24.700.02
Troy FlemingTennessee20041912304.623.320.200.02
Tauren PooleTennessee201202054.5457.813.700.02
Travis StephensTennessee20021191944.612214.100.02
Zach LineSMU201302324.7798.317.600.02
Avon CobourneWest Virginia200302054.7131.511.200.01
Andre EllingtonClemson20131871994.6183.217.800.01
Anthony ShermanConnecticut20111362424.740.110.600.01
Brandon BoldenMississippi201202224.6646.214.700.01
Cedric CobbsArkansas20041282234.751102.800.01
Chad MortonUSC20001661824.595.16.600.01
Deon AndersonConnecticut20071852434.737.19.200.01
Deandra CobbMichigan State20052011964.4960.70.800.01
Dante HallTexas A&M20001531914.4429.89.800.01
Dan HerronOhio State20121912134.6696.44.900.01
Damon WashingtonColorado State199902004.5364.56.100.01
Edwin BakerMichigan State20122502044.5347.54.300.01
Gilbert HarrisArizona200602354.7325.89.700.01
George WinnCincinnati201302184.75102.69.800.01
Joe BurnsGeorgia200202134.8197.120.800.01
Javarris JamesMiami (FL)201002154.58417.100.01
Jeremiah JohnsonOregon200902094.6292.45.800.01
Jason SnellingVirginia20072442304.7970.225.600.01
Kyle JohnsonSyracuse20021452424.7418.66.200.01
Legarrette BlountOregon201002414.727.34.300.01
Lawrence VickersColorado20061802454.8219.811.700.01
Matt AsiataUtah201102294.7753.51500.01
Madison HedgecockNorth Carolina20052512664.879.82.900.01
Manase TongaBrigham Young201002454.8412.322.600.01
Owen SchmittWest Virginia20081632474.7320.99.300.01
Rex BurkheadNebraska20131902144.7384.411.500.01
Rondell MealeyLSU20002522124.6957.913.400.01
Ryan WilliamsVirginia Tech2011382124.5947.710.900.01
Shyrone StithVirginia Tech20002432044.698.9400.01
Stepfan TaylorStanford20131402144.76109.320.500.01
Thomas ClaytonKansas State200702184.6353.77.500.01
Tony FisherNotre Dame200202264.6642.7-0.400.01
Theo RiddickNotre Dame20131992014.6870.528.500.01
Thomas TapehMinnesota20041622454.843.86.600.01
Verron HaynesGeorgia20021662244.7869.124.200.01
Charles StackhouseMississippi200202524.933015.600
Clarence WilliamsMichigan199902024.7156.88.700
David AllenKansas State200101944.6225.66.100
Deon DyerNorth Carolina20001172604.9921.2500
Henry HynoskiPittsburgh201102575.062.513.400
John ClayWisconsin201102304.83920.800
Jameel CookIllinois20011742264.821.521.800
Jamar MartinOhio State20021292454.897.89.200
Kahlil BellUCLA200902124.7439.76.500
Kenneth DarbyAlabama20072462114.7564.21000
Kregg LumpkinGeorgia200802264.687.32.200
Owen MarecicStanford20111242484.873.55.800
Shaun DraughnNorth Carolina201102134.7353.15.200
Shaud WilliamsAlabama200401934.73105.212.400
Tommy BohanonWake Forest20132152464.880.117.300
Terrelle SmithArizona State200096249510.57.900
Jonas GrayNotre Dame20120223NA71.93.50NA
Trent RichardsonAlabama20123228NA129.2261NA

Comments are closed.