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Scouting The 2013 NFL Draft: Ranking the Running Backs

Using the Speed Score, an advanced statistic, how do the running backs in the 2013 NFL Draft stack up?

Joe Robbins

When it comes to the NFL Combine, the 40-yard dash is the main event. As with the 100m dash in the Olympics, everyone wants to see who the fastest player available is. Millions of dollars have been earned and lost by a good or poor time, respectively. Certain teams like the Oakland Raiders have based their drafting philosophies off of speedsters. However, such philosophies generally fail, as the 40-yard dash is a poor predictor of future performance.

Introducing, the Speed Score.

The Speed Score is not a new measurement. In fact, here is a description of it provided by Football Outsiders:

Fully introduced in Pro Football Prospectus 2008 by Bill Barnwell, a system for projecting the success of college running backs entering the NFL. Combines a player's weight with his 40-yard dash time from the NFL scouting combine, thus accounting for the fact that a larger back is more likely to be a good NFL player than a small back with the same speed. Speed Scores generally range from 80 to 120, with 100 as the average. Formula is (weight*200) / (40-time^4).

All 40-yard dashes are not created equal. If a 170lb scatback runs a 4.3 40, that's difficult to compare it to the 4.7 the 245lb bulldozer ran. You can't weigh a 40-time too heavily, either positively or negatively, without putting it in context. That's where the Speed Score comes in. As the block quote above says, it is generally ranked from 80 to 120, with 100 being the average. There's a high correlation between a higher score and a successful NFL career, although of course there are numerous other factors to consider (including work ethic, usage, injuries, etc.). For example, Bo Jackson scored a 149.5. Eric Dickerson scored a 112.2. Barry Sanders scored a 110.6. According to Football Outsiders, there have been only four running backs since 1999 with Speed Scores under 95 to become viable starting backs, including Frank Gore, Brian Westbrook, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Darren Sproles).

It's clear that the New York Jets are going to be looking for a new running back during the 2013 NFL Draft on April 25-27th. In the Rex Ryan Era, the team has drafted a running back every year, including Shonn Greene, Joe McKnight, Bilal Powell, and Terrance Ganaway. This year figures to be the same, as Greene is expected to leave in free agency.

The measurements from the 2013 Combine are in, and we can now calculate the Speed Score of the running backs and project their NFL futures. So without further ado, here are the rankings:

Name Weight 40-Yard Dash Speed Score
Knile Davis 227 4.37 124.49
Mike James 223 4.53 105.91
Christine Michael 220 4.54 103.57
Matthew Tucker 221 4.55 103.13
Le'Veon Bell 230 4.60 102.74
Michael Ford 210 4.50 102.42
D.J. Harper 211 4.52 101.10
Johnathan Franklin 205 4.49 100.88
Zac Stacy 216 4.55 100.79
C.J. Anderson 224 4.60 100.06
Cierre Wood 213 4.56 98.53
Mike Gillislee 208 4.55 97.06
Kerwynn Williams 195 4.48 96.82
Giovani Bernard 202 4.53 95.94
Onterio McCalebb 168 4.34 94.71
Braden Wilson 251 4.81 93.78
Kenjon Barner 196 4.53 93.09
Lonnie Pryor 227 4.70 93.04
Montee Ball 214 4.66 90.76
Zach Line 232 4.77 89.63
Stefphon Jefferson 213 4.68 88.80
Joseph Randle 204 4.63 88.78
Andre Ellington 199 4.61 88.12
Tommy Bohanon 246 4.88 86.75
Montel Harris 208 4.68 86.72
George Winn 218 4.75 85.65
Rex Burkhead 214 4.73 85.51
Jawan Jamison 203 4.68 84.63
Theo Riddick 201 4.68 83.80
Stepfan Taylor 214 4.76 83.37
Zach Boren 238 5.00 76.16
Ray Graham 199 4.80 74.98
Robbie Rouse 190 4.80 71.58