How To Draft an NFL Running Back: Part One

Hey everyone, I'm back from break and jet-lag free! This past week, while I was recuperating, I decided to research the success of running backs in the NFL. Earlier in the year, I wrote about how to draft a quarterback and I decided that I should write on a topic more relevant to the Patriots. What do all the successful running backs have in common, and what connects all of the draft busts? The Patriots are in the market for an additional running back and you might be surprised at how on the money they are with their contacts (or you might not be surprised at all). I used a combination of CBS NFL Draft and Pro Football Reference for my statistics and if you ever need draft or stats information, they're two of the best sites available.

For this project, I assembled data on all college running backs with combine or pro day data, and some backs without, since 2005. My hope was to find a common thread amongst the top performers in the NFL and find out ways to weed out the underperformers. I used Pro Football Reference to make a list of every single running back who have made their debut since 2005 and their average yearly production to determine their contributions at the NFL level. The top five running backs who have debuted since 2005 are:

1. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans

2. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

3. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars

4. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers

5. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears

After agreeing with the rankings of 280 running backs, I set forth to analyze the data in order to see what connected these players.

Let's look further after the jump!

In order to find statistics to define these players, I looked at the following combine numbers:

Height, Weight, 40 Yard Dash, 20 Yard Split, 10 Yard Split, Bench Press, Vertical Jump, Broad Jump, 3 Cone Drill, Shuttle Drill

...as well as looked over the following college numbers:

Career Yards, Career Yards/Carry, Final Year Yards, Final Year Yards/Carry

After compiling all the data, I was able to see a running back's history. Unfortunately, just looking at the numbers weren't very helpful. How can the 197 lbs Chris Johnson (impact 10) have the same impact as the 217 lbs Adrian Peterson (impact 10)? How come some players with the same 40 yard dash times have completely different careers? Other than factors outside of their control (injuries, varying levels of quality offensive linemen), there are some qualities that make running backs more likely to have success than others.

I ran regressions (which is statistics for "can Quality Y [NFL success] be determined by Factor X?") in order to see the relationship between NFL success and these different factors. You have to keep in mind that correlation does not imply causation, but you also have to keep in mind that I'm not looking at correlation. I'm looking at the impact Factor X has on NFL success.

Part Two will come later today!

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