17 Comments

  1. Will

    WVU consistently aims to recruit backs that can catch the ball out of the backfield. Smallwood would motion out to slot and catch some balls.

    Didn’t see it as much last year because injuries tore through the entire RB corp. But I bet you see Tevin Bush make a bunch of plays out of the slot this year. Reportedly, Petteway has pretty good hands despite being built like a bowling ball.

    Out of curiousity, what, if any, distinction do you see between McCaffrey and a guy like Joe Mixon who caught a bunch of balls for OU?

    Other thought: Since the Big 12 runs so many plays, I do think most of the coaches (not Charlie Strong obviously. And Bob Stoops will run a guy 30 times if called for) do try to limit the touches their RBs get. Holgo certainly does. That may factor into why we don’t see true RBs run a ton of true WR routes, it’s a way to limit touches for guys who are already carrying or pass block on a ton of plays with little rest during drives.

    • ianaboyd

      Out of curiousity, what, if any, distinction do you see between McCaffrey and a guy like Joe Mixon who caught a bunch of balls for OU?

      Only that McCaffrey is further along in developing his route running, Mixon is exceptional in this regard as well. Also McCaffrey isn’t currently in the process of paying someone off to stop talking about scummy things he did.

      That may factor into why we don’t see true RBs run a ton of true WR routes, it’s a way to limit touches for guys who are already carrying or pass block on a ton of plays with little rest during drives.

      Maybe so, it’s probably more related to how difficult it is to learn two very different positions.

  2. Matt

    Is Devin Duvernay capable of that kind of Tavon Austin role? Seems like he has the raw ability, but can he “excel at reading blocks, pick up blitzes, and run crisp routes”?

    • ianaboyd

      I don’t really know, we haven’t seen much yet from him.

      I think it probably normally goes the other way, in which a RB learns to run routes. Easier to find RBs with WR athleticism than WRs with RB toughness.

  3. Davey OBrien

    What made McCaffrey the threat he was in college and the prospect he is to the NFL is that at Stanford he was a legitimate between the tackles running threat in a running game that was neither subtle nor deceptive.

    He handled 300+ carries in 2015 and had the physical tools and skills to pose a down the field passing threat.

    You find very few backs in college who handle 12-15 carries a week each week of the season and pose a legitimate presence in the passing game. Mixon did at OU, but that is and was truly rare.

    Only two backs in a P5 conference carried 12-15 times a week and caught over 50 balls for the season (Back from CU and the back from UVA.). Wazzu had two backs who caught over 50 balls apiece, but only had ~100 carries apiece for the season.

    It wasn’t just in the B12 as Williams from ATM wasn’t near those numbers nor Gattis at UW.

    Likewise a receiver like Austin might have been a running back in high school and highly effective on the quick screens and reverses, etc… he did not have the legitimate ability to carry 12-15 times a game between the tackles.

    Bigger question is why do we not see backs coming out of high school and college with better pass catching skills? The ball is being thrown more times at these levels than ever, but yet the skills that seemed to be very common twenty years ago seem to be a rarity.

    Why is a back being able to pose a legit threat catching the ball out of the backfield as hard to find as a big man in basketball with legitimate back to the basket skills?

    I think a big part is the way colleges practice today. There is more emphasis on tempo and conditioning in many cases than teaching and developing skills.

    Think about it. A common complaint you hear from the NFL is not only do quarterbacks struggle to read coverages etc…but the same for receivers coming into the NFL. Receivers who have run more plays and caught more passes than any group in the history of college football yet they struggle to run a NFL route tree or recognize NFL coverages.

    • ianaboyd

      he did not have the legitimate ability to carry 12-15 times a game between the tackles.

      I’m not sure about that. He was doing exactly that towards the end of the year, I think he could if other teams insisted on playing dime.

      Think about it. A common complaint you hear from the NFL is not only do quarterbacks struggle to read coverages etc…but the same for receivers coming into the NFL. Receivers who have run more plays and caught more passes than any group in the history of college football yet they struggle to run a NFL route tree or recognize NFL coverages.

      College offenses rely a lot on spacing to do the heavy lifting and go from there. There’s less of a need or emphasis on being able to win matchups with skill and precision because it’s so easy to just get matchups where athletes can win.

    • Cameron

      “Receivers who have run more plays and caught more passes than any group in the history of college football yet they struggle to run a NFL route tree or recognize NFL coverages.”

      Its not the route tree, but all of the adjustments that go along with them. College receivers are typically told to just run a 12 yard post, for example. In the NFL, a guy might have to break anywhere between 10-14 yards and at different angles on a post route depending on the coverage and leverage of the corner and safety. And guys just in the NFL, I don’t want to say struggle with that, but it takes time to adjust.

      • Davey OBrien

        Struggle is a fair word especially if you are talking about Texans receiver Jaelen Strong. He goes from 140+ catches in two years in college to someone who can’t get open in the NFL.

        You make a great point about NFL receivers needing to be able to read coverages. Again, a skill that doesn’t get developed in the college passing game.

  4. Davey OBrien

    Spacing and tempo no doubt. Very similar to basketball offenses that are built upon placing multiple shooters along the three point line and firing three’s all game and periodically driving the open lane.

    It produces yards and points, but does not develop the skills of the players, but coaches are paid to win games so there is an incentive to take the easier route.

    I don’t remember why Dana moved Austin into the backfield, but his usage in the passing game did drop as the carries continued over the last four games of the season. You just don’t see many offenses in college football that truly ask their backs to catch and run the ball.

    • ianaboyd

      I figure McCaffrey’s future is like that of James White at New England where he might have more receiving yards than rushing yards. I don’t know if he can match Marshall Faulk’s dual-threat versatility, for instance.

      Texas stumbled upon having something like this with Chris Ogbonnaya in 2008. He was recruited and developed initially for WR I think, then he moved to fullback of all spots, finally back to RB. He ended up winning the starting RB job by default in 2008 when there just weren’t other great, reliable options.

      But then once Texas did that and stopped using their TEs as much, all of a sudden they could put five legit WRs on the field that all knew how to run routes for Colt to work with and then things really took off in a hurry. Chris O just needed to be able to run zone credibly when teams were loading up with dime personnel to stop the pass and he could handle that. Also Colt was the leading rusher anyways, if I remember correctly.

      • Davey OBrien

        Reason why Marshall is in the HOF. Very, very rare skill set combined with the durability needed to have the career he did in the NFL.

        Funny how cyclical things are in sport. Years ago back in the mid70’s Tom Landry needed to find a back to replace veteran running backs Calvin Hill and Walt Garrison. They turned to veteran running back Preston Pearson who became incredibly effective when he was lined up in the shotgun formation that Landry brought out of mothballs so to speak.

        Pearson ended up with over 3,000 yards receiving and catching and was an integral part of the Cowboys playoff run to their first Super Bowl games versus Pittsburgh.

        Pats do some different things, but their use of their backs in the short passing game really isn’t the different from what Dallas did with Pearson back in the 70’s.

        Why teams don’t do that in college not sure. Part of what you mentioned about the Texas offense back in 2008 comes from Greg Davis’ roots in the pro-style offense and passing games learned from Jackie Sherrill and Tom Wilson. Not very many teams in the college run similar systems while still a great number of teams in the NFL are influenced by Walsh’s short passing game where the backs are a critical part.

      • Philly Frog

        Also:

        Makes a difference in the pros when football is all you do all the time.

        Coaches may bitch about underdeveloped kids out of college, but the ones who can teach those skills are the ones who are the difference-makers.

  5. Cameron

    So I sort of agree and sort of disagree with your article here.

    Basically, I agree that hybrid running backs are going to be an essential element of NFL offenses in the future.

    And I disagree in thinking that they are going to dominate the running back position in the NFL. Instead, I think more teams are going to end up following the Belichick model of always carrying one receiving running back (e.g., Vereen, White, etc.) in a stable of backs with different talents. In college, Oklahoma probably was the best example of this, trotting out Perine and Mixon respectively depending on the situation.

    Unless you have a Marshall Faulk. Then forget whatever I just said and give the ball to that guy however you can.

    • ianaboyd

      I agree, I think I expressed myself poorly in the article on that front.

      What I think we’ll see is something more along the lines of what the Pats are doing now in having a flex RB who’s more dangerous as a WR and then a traditional RB. It’s nice to have a Legarrete blount for 3rd and 1 rather than asking James White to go get those yards.

      Similarly, if I were a team I’d have another big bruiser for 3rd and 1 or “time to run clock” situations and then use McCaffrey as the main back but look to use him more in the passing game in the way I laid out in the article.

  6. Philly Frog

    Also of note:

    There are a lot of mock drafts with the Eagles picking McCaffrey.

    I don’t follow pro ball all that much, but if this does happen I’d have a reason to watch on Sundays. Just to see whether he’s a color unicorn or not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *