Josh Norris

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Top Big Play Running Backs

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Each week I’ll be looking at a group of draft-eligible NFL prospects under certain parameters. I just don’t currently have the time to watch every prospect, so coming out with a top 10 list would be disingenuous. Instead, this allows me to focus on a few players with the goal of finding where they might impact the game.


2017 clearly shows how much a rookie running back can impact an offense, as did 2016, 2015, etc. etc. Big plays shape games, and running backs contribute with 20-plus yard runs (receptions too, but that’s for another day). Pinpointing which running backs can produce these long gains is important. With that said, seven or eight weeks is a small sample, and long runs are regularly dependent on quality of blocking. Let’s take a look...


Stanford junior RB Bryce Love - 22 carries of 20+ yards (16.3%)


As you can see, Love’s start to the 2017 season is unreal. The Cardinal opened the season without their offense for the past two seasons: Christian McCaffrey. How did they respond? By overloading the line with extra blockers, tight splits and creating blocking advantages upfront. Stanford incorporates a few staples, including multiple pulling linemen to matchup against awaiting defensive backs and quick tosses/toss power to get the ball in Love’s hands immediately.



What stands out most is Love’s patience. He frequently must work behind multiple pulling blockers and he almost always reads their position perfectly veering inside or outside. Of the long runs I watched, Love went untouched on at least half of them.



Good backs pick up the yards blocked for them, and Stanford offers plenty of those, but Love also creates on his own thanks to winning one on one matchups against defensive backs and outrunning pursuers. Love lacks the flash of top backs of late, but man he’s consistent and persistent.


San Diego State senior RB Rashaad Penny - 15 carries of 20+ yards (9.1%)


Penny is all athlete. Putting him out in space, especially against small players, is unfair. He’ll destroy angles and continue to pull away downfield. See hole, hit hole, run. Penny was much more effective against Arizona State than against Stanford. The latter did a great job of halting his initial path and Penny struggled to react accordingly.


Notre Dame junior RB Josh Adams - 10 carries of 20+ yards (11.6%)


Adam’s straight-line speed is the common thread in his long runs. Unlike Love, most (if not all) of Adams’ long runs start from shotgun and from spread situations. His running style is different than the other three backs on the list, as Adams has a leaner and longer style. There might be a Darren McFadden quality to his game. Adam does attack defensive backs with power but also can be caught from behind.


Georgia senior RB Nick Chubb - 10 carries of 20+ yards (9.3%)


Chubb had to create more near the line of scrimmage to accomplish his big plays compared to the others on the list. The design and blocking so far hasn’t allowed gaping lanes for Chubb to work in. He’s likely the best on contact runner of the group, displaying balance while being hit to win outside of the structure of the play. Chubb has fought for his big plays.


Arizona QB Khalil Tate (12) and Ohio State RB J.K. Dobbins (10) both make the list but are not draft-eligible.


Penn State's Saquon Barkley did not make the top four, but that's okay. He actually tops the list of 25-plus yard receptions for running backs (5) with UConn's Arkeel Newsome.



Josh Norris is an NFL Draft Analyst for Rotoworld and contributed to the Rams scouting department during training camp of 2010 and the 2011 NFL Draft. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Josh Norris



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