Two analysts analyze how to analyze running backs

Brian Tinsman
August 09, 2018 - 11:15 pm

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

What is the true measure of a running back? Some say the NFL stands for "not for long," and different analysts can argue that a player's career, most recent season, or even most recent practice is the true indicator of future success. 

On 106.7 The Fan, Grant Paulsen was a beat reporter for the Washington Redskins before becoming an on-air, midday host. Craig Hoffman lives and breathes the team and is now going into his second season as The Fan's team insider. It's fair for each to have his opinion, but their Twitter conversation during preseason Game 1 quickly turned philosophical. 

Here's the exchange, which started with a debate over Rob Kelley vs. Samaje Perine:

The running back and linebacker positions were most affected by the NFL's last Collective Bargaining Agreement, which removed meaningful contact from most practices. Teams can still occasionally suit up in pads and bang around during training camp, but the days of two-a-days and Oklahoma Drills are a distant memory.

That makes it hard for coaches, much less reporters and fans, to truly judge what they're seeing. Half of all training camp field time is spent in "walk through," where players are literally walking through choreographed plays without hitting. The other half of training camp field time is mostly split between team stretching, position group drills, situational unit drills, and seven-on-seven drills. While these are designed to help a player get better, they don't really resemble game action.

Even when teams do 11-on-11 drills, players are never tackled to the ground, and the whistle is blown at "wrapped up" contact. Thursday night was the first time that anyone has ever seen Derrius Guice tackled on an NFL field. Perine and Kelley are competing with five other running backs for snaps behind Guice and Chris Thompson, making the pool of opportunity very shallow. 

Even if you are watching them everyday, there isn't much to see, and it's a bit of a skewed perspective without tackling.

Regardless, it's probably better than nothing, to which even Paulsen agreed. The real test comes in Week 1 of the regular season, when running backs are playing against quality starting defenders.

Preseason Game 1 totals: Kapri Bibbs led the team with 48 yards rushing, followed by Perine at 31, Guice at 19, Kelley at six, and Byron Marshall at two yards on the ground.


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