Well, Trent Richardson is not falling to us at 32. However, there are still some suitable candidates that could fill the void left in our backfield available on Day 2 of the draft next weekend. I came across these scouting reports from the New York Times NFL Blog, The Fifth Down. They are written by Matt Waldman, taken from his annual publication, The Rookie Scouting Portfolio. He's a film junkie and after following his talent evaluations from year to year I can say he's usually pretty accurate with his assessments. RB is probably the hardest position to scout, but let's add some more insight into the mix. Now without further adieu let’s get started:
Doug Martin, Boise State (5-9, 223)
Martin reminds me of Ray Rice in the respect that he’s not abundantly fast once he reaches the second or third level, but his initial burst is top notch. He consistently defeats the angles of defenders as he enters and exits a hole because they misjudge his quickness, which is excellent for a back of his dimensions. Combined with the fact that he’s a strong, downhill runner who isn’t afraid to create a hole by ramming up the backsides of his linemen, he seems to be the product of a mad football scientist who spliced Rice with Frank Gore’s build.
Martin does three things that a lot of N.F.L.-caliber runners can do: 1) Run through arm tackles, 2) Make subtle and sharp cuts 3) Burst out of those cuts and maintain that good acceleration for 15-20 yards. Martin demonstrates very good press and cutback skills, and he understands where the hole should be and how to hit it. He makes quick changes of direction in tight spaces while still getting downhill. His legs generally stay moving after contact in most any situation, and he’s usually giving defenders a ride as he goes for extra yards
Martin protects the ball with the correct arm, and he’ll switch the ball when necessary to maintain good security. He also carries the ball high and tight to his body. Despite these good habits, there are occasional moments where he can carry the ball a little loosely from his body.
Martin catches the football with his hands and uses his hands well as a pass protector to deliver a punch and reload. He flashes some skill at getting good position as a stand-up blocker and funneling a defender away from the quarterback in the pocket. Still, Martin needs to learn how to pass-protect with better technique. He has a tendency to drop his head too early into contact. Although he’s aggressive and delivers a blow with his attempts, he frequently misses or fails to control the defender because he drops his head and tries to use his head and shoulders as the weapon rather than deliver a punch.
As a runner, Martin makes strong decisions in down-and-distance situations, knowing when to attack downhill and aggressively seek contact to get necessary yardage at the first-down marker and when to take chances with a cutback. Martin has a very good pad level and he frequently lowers those pads into contact and bounces off or extends over the top of the contact for extra yardage.
If a team is seeking a breakaway runner, Martin isn’t that player unless he’s playing behind a dominant offensive line where he gets the immediate angle on third level defenders because of strong second-level blocking (think a faster Arian Foster behind the Texans line), but he’s going to have plenty of gains between 15-40 yards. Martin may not be in Trent Richardson’s class, but he’s capable of having statistical production that is as good or better depending on the team that drafts him.
Lamar Miller, Miami (5-10, 212)
Lamar Miller is a potential Pro Bowl back. He’s at the sweet spot in terms of height, weight, speed and acceleration. He runs with patience and balance, and he protects the ball. He understands how to stay close to his blocks until an opening develops, and like Clinton Portis and Edgerrin James before him, he knows how to shorten his steps in traffic until he finds a cutback lane or alternate crease when the primary hole does not open.
He runs with good balance and power between the tackles. He can run through contact, and he has good enough footwork to prevent defenders from getting angles on him. He bends runs with good speed, and he has shown some skill to pick and slide toward creases or press a crease and cut back. He keeps his legs moving after contact, and his pad level is consistently low enough that he bounces off hits and maximizes his output on carries. He knows how to minimize his surface area in the hole and still get downhill fast.
Miller is fast, and his burst is Pro Bowl-caliber; when given a hole, he can accelerate past all three levels of a defense and turn a 10-yard gain into a 40-yard touchdown. There is little doubt that Miller has physical talent, but there are plays in which he seems to go out of bounds too willingly, even when time is not a factor.
Miller catches the ball as well as any back in this class. He snares passes, and he repeatedly demonstrated the ability to use his body control and concentration to help catch a ball. I saw him make an acrobatic catch that was over 25 yards from release point to reception, a play that many college wide receivers cannot make.
Miller’s effort as a blocker is not good enough. He will deliver a punch, and he has skill at getting the correct angle to make a block. But he does not sustain the contact and work hard enough to maintain that position. Miller diagnoses blocks effectively, but he has to do better with his cut blocking. He drops his head too early. As a run blocker, he seems more worried about getting hit from behind or hurt in the act of blocking than helping his teammates make plays.
I can see the Portis comparisons because Miller has game-breaking speed, explosive lateral agility and enough downhill power and balance to generate big plays in multiple ways. The difference is that Miller makes running the football look easier than Portis did in college, and I think it might be part of the perception that his effort isn’t always there when in fact, he’s just more graceful than people realize.
Purely on ability, he could start for an N.F.L. team today. The key will be how well he transitions from a college campus to professional life.
David Wilson, Virginia Tech (5-9, 206)
Physically, Wilson might have as much upside as any back in this draft, and from this perspective, he might be the best back to come out of Virginia Tech. Ryan Williams was a conceptually smarter runner with great effort and a strong array of skills, but purely from an athletic perspective Wilson is to Williams what Trent Richardson is to Mark Ingram.
Wilson’s quickness, speed, balance and stop-start agility are among the best in the country, and it makes him a special athlete/runner in the open field. Get him in space and he’s a nightmare to bring down. When he’s disciplined about what he’s doing, he has the pad level, acceleration and technique to be productive as a between-the-tackles, chain-moving runner.
Wilson is a “strong” 205 pounds, and I think he can probably add another 10 pounds to his frame as he matures. He runs through wraps and hits that many backs his size cannot. I have seen him run through wraps of defensive tackles in the backfield or head-on collisions with safeties in the hole.
Wilson combines that strength with a quick first step and excellent stop-start movement to change direction and avoid defenders in tight spaces. He has flexible hips to change direction in short spaces and the power to run through wraps and drag larger defenders extra yards, and the burst to get downfield quickly. His speed around corners is excellent in the same way that Darren McFadden can bend runs at angles with high speed.
Wilson’s great acceleration and willingness to bang into players without a lot of patience is reminiscent of McFadden’s play in college. Wilson has better cutting ability than McFadden, but like McFadden, C.J. Spiller, LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles, Wilson needs to learn to become a better decision maker at the line of scrimmage. He tries to bounce runs to the corner too often, and he’ll even attempt to reverse his field once his initial bounce doesn’t work.
He has to do a better job of protecting the football. He doesn’t always have three points of pressure on the ball, and he twice had games of three fumbles, some because of his intense second effort. Again, this stems from a never-say-die attitude that he has to learn to balance with a more mature style of play. Accepting a shorter gain rather than a big loss or turnover is something Wilson has demonstrated difficulty learning at this stage of his career. Based on the recent success of the players listed above, Wilson has the same style of athleticism to develop into a star at the position
Wilson catches the ball well, and he has potential to develop into a good pass protector because he generally diagnoses the blitzes with good initial footwork before contact. His footwork-punch coordination needs to be refined. He often delivers a punch when his feet are not in good position against the defender he is trying to block, and this can get him into trouble with better edge rushers. However, the potential to develop into a good pass protector is there.
Clearly, his upside is greater than the grades I have given him, and he is a potential feature back if he shores up his weaknesses. I do not know if there is a better pure athlete as a runner in this draft other than Trent Richardson – and Wilson probably has better speed and lateral agility. What he has to learn makes him more of a boom-bust pick, but I believe based on the past history of the backs I mentioned, Wilson will make the transition to a smarter runner that the N.F.L. requires.
My two cents: I really like Doug Martin, he is a beast and a physical specimen, but I don’t like his first round price tag. He’s probably the most NFL ready of the three, and the most complete back at this stage, but Miller and Wilson could potentially offer more upside in certain areas – we just have to wait and see if that potential pans out. More importantly they may offer more value; I will take their cheaper price tag if one of them falls to us in the second round on Day 2. No matter how the chips fall I’d be happy if any of these guys end up sporting the lowercase ny. What do you guys think?