Eddie Lacy, NFL-Ready BackWednesday, February 06, 2013
I watched six Alabama games on television this past season and admittedly entered this Evaluation with a positive opinion of Eddie Lacy. One focus for this particular column involved attempting to isolate Lacy's run skills from his offensive line's performance. The Crimson Tide front five was the premier run-blocking unit in 2012 college football. Running backs tend to look an awful lot better with room to run, and Lacy often had the pleasure of being sprung into space running off the backsides of Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker, Barrett Jones, Anthony Steen, and Cyrus Kouandjio.
For review and more intensive study, the first step I took toward that end was choosing games in which Lacy faced competent run defenses. I didn't want to see him tee off on Florida Atlantic, Western Carolina, or Auburn. So I re-watched Lacy against four top-35 NCAA run defenses, including three that finished in the top 20.
The first two aspects of Lacy's running ability and tendencies that stood out were his consistency in finishing runs and absolute refusal to leave yardage on the field. Lacy finished carries with violence and abandon. In an Alabama run scheme that went heavy on stretch-zone plays -- giving its back freedom to select his own hole -- Lacy displayed highly impressive vision and smarts. Lacy excels at reading his blocks and running behind them. An angry but intelligent runner, Lacy rarely if ever picked the wrong lane.
Lacy is listed at 6-foot, 220 on Alabama's website. I wonder if the school portrayed him that small in order to gain a competitive advantage on opposing teams' whiteboards. I'd be shocked if Lacy weighed in any lighter than the 230s at the NFL Combine, and wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he came in at 240-plus. Lacy is a very big back. He doesn't always run like one, though, and I mean that in a positive way.
Lacy consistently won in open-field one-on-one situations in the four games I viewed. I charted him with 16 "wins" compared to just four "losses" when he hit green grass and encountered the initial defender. [Compare this to UNC's Giovani Bernard, whom I charted at 5-of-13 (38.5 percent) one-on-one in the open field.] Lacy forced missed tackles with both power and elusiveness. He is blessed with exceptionally light feet for a big man, and his trademark move is the lateral shake to set up a spin. Lacy made LSU S Eric Reid, Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o, Arkansas LB Alonzo Highsmith, and Notre Dame S Zeke Motta all look genuinely silly on tape. Those four defenders will play on Sundays. Although he lacks the first-step burst of a Bernard or ex-teammate Trent Richardson, Lacy is nimble and moves smoothly laterally to his left or right. He can create space for himself in the running game. Lacy's yards-per-carry average (6.50) was pumped up by great blocking, but independently he is not a blocking-dependent back.
Lacy has a north-south downhill mentality, and runs with relentlessness and competitiveness. I wound up charting 59 carries, and he "fell forward" to finish 52 of them (88.1 percent). Four of the seven instances in which Lacy did not fall forward could be attributed to backfield penetration. Again, he simply refused to leave yards on the field. He is a naturally physical football player. Lacy loves to hit.
Lacy has some work to do in the passing game, but keep in mind he spent just one season as the Crimson Tide feature back and should improve. Although the sample size was small and he regularly made himself available to quarterback A.J. McCarron as a checkdown option, Lacy dropped two balls among ten targets in the four games. He caught seven passes; the final target was uncatchable due to an errant throw by McCarron.
Lacy was more impressive as a pass protector than catcher. I charted ten of his blitz-pickup opportunities, and he decisively "won" eight. Trailing 29-17 with 4:30 left against Texas A&M, it was Lacy's pad-rattling chip block on RE Damontre Moore that allowed McCarron to drop back cleanly and find receiver Kenny Bell in stride for a 54-yard bomb deep down the middle, nearly sparking a comeback win. Against Notre Dame, Lacy's punishing pass block on blitzing Te'o freed up McCarron to hit receiver Christion Jones for a 27-yard strike deep down the right sideline.
On both receptions and runs, Lacy stayed in-bounds whenever possible. Rather than use the sideline as a crutch, Lacy consistently worked back up field for more yards. Lacy has experience running the stretch and inside zone in addition to traditional power runs. Many big, thundering power backs lack passing-game chops and cannot make defenders miss. Lacy has great potential in the former area and already excels in the latter. He is an NFL-ready running back.
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