Welcome back to part 2 of our running back series, where we look at the skills scouts tend to look for in running backs.
Click here if you missed part 1.
Before get back in-motion, just a quick reminder that I didn’t make this stuff up; The skills and abilities we’re going to look at come from the late-great Bill Walsh, Greg Gabriel a former NFL scout with over 30 years of NFL experience, and Scouts Inc., one of the premier scouting authorities in the nation.
If you want to check out their articles on your own, check out Bill Walsh’s How I Evaluate Each Position: Halfback, How I Evaluate Each Position: Fullback, Gabriel’s Scouting Running Backs from the National Football Post, and Scouts Inc. on Running Backs from Espn.com, which discusses the criteria Scouts Inc. uses to grade running backs.
We’re gonna finish up with the rest of our list of skills NFL scouts look for in running backs, and finish-up with some film study.
You wit’ it?
Let’s roll, then.
Explosion. The best running backs, even if they’re not necessarily fast, are able to hit a second gear once they see daylight.
You’ll see the phrase “short area burst” kinda often when an announcer or scout is talking about a running back.
The words Burst and explosion are synonymous. Burst, explosion, whatever you wanna call it, is what gives you the physical tools to hit the hole hard, and quickly.
Route running. Most backs in west coast offenses are asked to get involved in the passing game, and just like receivers, scouts expect ‘backs to run crisp, properly-timed routes, ran at the right depth, and the whole kit’n’kaboodle.
Quickness through the hole. A running back that hits the hole quickly can make it a long day for defenders (trust, me, I know).
The quicker you hit the hole, the less time the defense has to read, react, and get to you.
Footwork. You have to have good feet to be elusive enough to make would-be tacklers miss consistently.
Ball security. You gotta be able to secure the football consistently.
Loose hips. Along with good footwork, loose hips help you get in and out of cuts in a fluid motion, to help you avoid and juke defenders.
‘Backs with stiff hips tend to take longer to get in-and-out of breaks and cuts.
Forward lean. Running with a forward lean helps ‘backs fall-forward to pick up extra yards at the end of their runs, instead of backward, or sideways.
Vision. A scout’s ideal ‘back has the vision to set up their blocks and make the right cuts off those blocks. Vision also helps you identify cutback lanes.
A back that runs with a forward lean and has good vision has the tools to squeeze every yard out of every run.
Body control. Running backs that lack body control tend to have issues hitting the hole quickly, and effectively.
Superior body control gives you the ability to gather your body quick-enough to fit through the small holes in the line you need to fit through.
Instincts. Gabriel calls this “…the sixth sense to find an opening very quickly and get to it.”
Maybe more than any other position, ‘backs get to create. And as Gabriel mentions, “creativeness is tied in with instincts.”
Instincts play a role in pass protection, too. Sometimes you gotta be able to instinctively know which player to pick up in a blitz; you don’t have much time to think.
Pick-and-slide skills. You need great footwork to do this effectively, but the best of the best are able to “pick-and-slide” to find, and sometimes create, running lanes that might not’ve been there a split-second before.
Balance. You have to be able to take hits and stay on your feet. Balance plays a major part in your ability to do so.
As a running back, gettin’ hit all the time comes with the territory.
Change of direction skills. You’ll find that the most elusive running backs have excellent change of direction skills.
Scouts want ‘backs that can change directions quickly, without losing speed.
A Quick Word on Fullbacks
…I’m sure you noticed that I barely mentioned fullbacks. That’s because fullbacks aren’t used that much in the NFL anymore. As Gabriel mentioned in his article, most teams use their “move tight ends” to handle the fullback duties nowadays.
Nonetheless, here’s some of the traits NFL scouts look for in fullbacks: Size, power, body control, pass blocking, instincts, ability to anchor, ability to catch the ball, proper use of hands, ability to find openings in underneath zone to get open for check down passes.
Observing the Skills In-Action/Film Study
Regardless of whether or not 6-1, 217lbs is big enough in your opinion, it’s big enough for the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson, because this guy gives punishment, he doesn’t just take it.
Mr. Peterson has a rare combination of speed, size, quickness, and power.
I don’t think there’s one person that can say with a straight face that Adrian Peterson doesn’t run with the kind of power you want in an NFL running back. Just look at the first play of the video, if you need an idea of what I’m talking about.
The guy is relentless when it comes to being brought down. Unless you’re able to chop him down by his legs, nine times out of ten, you’re not gettin’ this man down on the first hit.
Check out the play at the 1:26 mark in the video. This has to be one of the greatest runs in the history of the NFL. He literally ran past or through 4 or 5 players on that play! Did you see that?
Want another example? Scoot the video forward to the 6:13 mark. Phenomenal.
Want an idea of how quick Adrian Peterson can be? Fast forward to the play at the 2:43 mark. The camera could barely keep up with him as he put that move on Cortland Finnegan in the backfield.
That same play will show you his incredible vision and instincts. That’s what scouts wanna see.
But check it out; after he shook Finnegan, he had the vision to see a cutback lane that took him all the way to the other side of the field. That’s instincts in it’s purest form right there. There’s just no other way to explain it; too much was happening too quickly, to be able to “think” through that sequence. It’s all instincts and vision right there, baby.
Adrian Peterson just might be the most explosive ‘back in the league today. I’ll give you a couple examples. Check out the run at the 2:54 mark. After he put the spin move on the defender, watch how fast he gets to top speed and motors by Jonathan Vilma, and the other defenders that had angles on him.
At the 2:21 mark, his head coach, Leslie Frazier gives him props on how hard he attacks the line of scrimmage. He hits the hole hard, every single play.
Plays like the one at the 5:08 mark show you Adrian’s exceptional balance and body control. Once he breaks the first tackle, he stumbles, gathers his balance quickly, and darts forward to the line of scrimmage.
Nevermind the fact that that first tackle was attempted by two players… at the same time.
Is Adrian Peterson the best ‘back in the league right now? Yes or no? If not, who is? Leave a comment!
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