Today we’re going to touch-on the things NFL scouts tend to look for when they’re scouting the top college running backs.

It’s a two-part series, and you can get to part two below:

The Top College Running Backs – What NFL Scouts Are Looking For – Part 2

The skills and abilities we’re going to look at come from some extremely credible sources; a 3-time Super Bowl Champion

Nine-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro Running back Walter Payton (ICON Sports)

head coach, a gentleman with nearly 30 years of scouting experience at the NFL level, and one of the nation’s premier scouting authorities.

I’m speaking of the late-great Bill Walsh, Greg Gabriel from the National Football Post, and Scouts Inc.

Let’s go.

Related: Workout for Running Backs

Size. It’s tough to point out a particular ideal size for the running back position, because it varies a lot from player to player.
Especially at the halfback position.

Greg Gabriel’s take on size:

While there may be ideal size requirements for linemen, that is not the case with backs. The coordinator and the scheme a team runs has a lot to say on the size of the running backs a team looks at. There have been Hall of Fame backs like Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas who have all been under 5-10, and in the case of Sanders and Thomas weighed less than 200 pounds. Then there are guys like Adrian Peterson or Marcus Allen who are 6-1 to 6-2 and weigh 215 to 225 pounds. So they come in all shapes and sizes — talent is what counts.

(Yeah, I know, that was a long quote.  But you got the point, though, right?)

When it comes to ideal size for the halfback position, Coach Walsh said simply, “Large enough to take punishment.”

His ideal fullback stood 6-1, and weighed 245.

Related: Strength Training Fundamentals Every Player Should Know – Part One

Power.  Speaking from experience as a defensive player, a back that consistently runs with power will start to wear down the defense.

A big part of running with power is to never let your legs stop moving, even after contact.

Scouts love to see a running back that consistently keeps their wheels turnin’ after contact.

If you wanna be an effective in-between the tackles kind of back, running with power isn’t optional.


Quickness. There’s a lot of top-notch running backs that don’t have top-notch speed, but quickness is a necessity, especially at halfback.

Related: What Everybody Ought to Know About Improving Football Speed


Backs with short-area quickness tend to be better at making defenders miss with just one cut.

To say it frankly, you’ll be hard pressed to find a running back that can consistently make defenders miss who isn’t quick.

Speed. Quickness is more important, but there’s nothing like a running back that can turn on the burners once they see daylight and can flat-out out run the defenders chasing them.

The faster you are, the more of a threat you are to take the ball to the house on any play.

Related: 40 Yard Dash Training

Gabriel on the importance of running backs having both:

Florida’s Mike Gillislee is destined to be one of the first running backs selected in the 2013 NFL Draft. (ICON Sports)

The quick back might get a 25-yard gain but the back with both quickness and speed can take it the distance.

Ability to make tacklers miss. If you’re in a one-on-one matchup against a defender in the open field, you gotta be able to make that guy miss.

Ability to pick up blitzes/block. A lot of blocking is just wanting to do it.  If you can’t pick up a blitz and block a blitzing defender, you become a liability to your team.

Gabriel on the effect blocking ability has on draft stock:

When scouting, if a scout sees a back who is an outstanding blocker in college then that back will have extra value.

Cutback ability. Scouts want to see sharp and quick cutbacks.

Hands. With all of the West Coast offenses out there, running backs are needed to be able to catch the ball more and more.  Scouts want to see you be able to make easy and tough catches coming out of the backfield.

Durability/stamina. Obviously, running backs get hit on just about every play, so they have to be durable.

As a running back, you’re hardly ever going to be 100% healthy, so you gotta be able to play hurt.  You’re no good to the team on the sidelines.

Related: Bounce Back Faster! 5 Essentials of Athletic Injury Management

Coach Walsh on durability and stamina:

There are obvious talents necessary to play the position, but perhaps the most overlooked is durability and stamina. This player must be nearly as effective in the fourth quarter as he was in the first.

Coach Walsh went on to say that in his opinion, the most important aspect of playing the position is durability, as “without which the other talents become of diminished value.”

Makes sense.

I gotta run, but click below to check out part two:

The Top College Running Backs – What NFL Scouts Are Looking For – Part 2


You should follow me on Twitter!   @alvingrier

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Web References:

Bill Walsh’s How I Evaluate Each Position: Halfback (via

How I Evaluate Each Position: Fullback (via

Scouting Running Backs (via National Football Post)

Scouts Inc. on Running Backs (via

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