The running back position has been devalued in year's past by the emergence of undrafted free agents and middle-round draft picks such as Arian Foster, Ray Rice and Fred Jackson. The 2012 NFL draft features a handful of running backs that carry a first-round grade, but how do they look as potential NFL backs?
After spending time watching four games from Chris Polk's 2011 season at Washington, here's our breakdown of his game.
Chris Polk, Running Back, Washington
|Height||Weight||Arms||Hand||40 time||Bench||Vertical||Broad||3 cone|
|5106||215 lbs||31 1/2"||9 3/4"||4.46||DNP||31.5"||9'3"||7.13s|
Having the ability to change direction, or cut on a dime, is key to the running back position.
The quality of the clip isn't great, but you can see the clear balance and agility of Polk as he navigates through traffic and then hit his second gear. The quickness and balance to cross over his feet in picking through traffic is a key for inside runners.
The downside here, and something you'll see mentioned often, is that Polk is running too high. Ideally his pad level would be lower.
Polk has been criticized by evaluators for his lack of burst in the open field. This hasn't been the case in the games I've viewed this season.
As seen here, when Polk finds the seam he can explode through it. There were multiple games and clips this year where, when the offensive line produced a hole, Polk used his burst to fire through the line. With 4.46 speed, Polk isn't a burner, but he has the quickness to take advantage of holes when they present themselves.
Polk has been used at times as a receiver out of the backfield and as a receiver flexed into the slot. One thing I like on this play is that Polk engages the defender as a blocker first. This is something he will be asked to do repeatedly on third down once in the NFL. He enters the league ready to take on defenders and then release to the flats.
In four games I didn't see Polk drop a catch-able pass. He shows soft hands and the patience to look the ball in before turning up field.
Polk's strength between the tackles is one of the best traits in his game. One thing to note here is that Polk is rarely given a big hole to run through. Watch Alabama or Wisconsin play and you see Mack-truck-sized holes for the backs to get through. Not so much at Washington.
Polk makes the most of his chances in the middle, but there are correctable points to his game. Polk needs to fire out lower; he's taking the hand-off standing straight up at times. He also needs to attack the line with a lower pad level and more centered body control. As he runs now, Polk gets vertical too soon and will be susceptible to big hits to his midsection.
This is correctable, though. Part of scouting is taking what a player does poorly and deciding, "can we fix this?" With Polk's pad height, coaches can fix it.
Polk isn't asked to run outside the tackles very often in the Washington offense, but when he does, the results vary.
Polk's strength is not his open field speed or shiftiness. He does show on this clip the ability to separate from defenders when there's room to run on the outside. While his 4.46 speed isn't elite, it's good enough to punish a defense if he's given a lane.
The big issue with scouting Polk out of the Washington offense is that rarely did he have sustained blocks at the line of scrimmage or down field. With poor blocking, Polk was often meeting defenders in the hole.
A key to Polk's game is his strength when running the ball; it's what you first notice when watching Polk's film.
Polk dropped weight to get in better shape for the combine, losing nine pounds and five percent of his body fat in an effort to keep his strength but weigh-in lighter. The key for Polk will be finding a playing weight that fits his bruising style of play. The strength is there when you watch him on film.
Polk shows here that he can run through arm tackles—and against one of the better tackling teams in football during the 2011 season. Again, running lower would benefit Polk as he would have more power to meet defenders with.
Polk flashes when asked to find openings and make a cut. His ability to find a seam makes him an ideal fit for a one-cut offense like the Denver Broncos.
Chris does a very good job locating running lanes, especially when asked to run a stretch play lateral to the offensive line. His vision when running straight ahead is not as developed, but this is largely in part to a lack of blocking from his Husky offensive line.
Polk projects very well here. You see him flashing vision when on the move, so the ability exists. Given better blocking, Polk will excel.
NFL Comparison: Arian Foster, Houston Texans
Arian Foster isn't known for his blinding speed or agility, but he is patient and has excellent vision. Like Polk, Foster is a good receiver and blocker out of the backfield.
Both players were underrated coming out of college. Few scouts recognized Foster's potential—he went undrafted. This time around, Polk's talent will be recognized.
Chris Polk carries a solid late-first-round grade, with the potential to become a top running back and Pro Bowl player. His ability as an inside runner and receiver plus upside as a blocker make him a candidate to be a featured back in a zone or man-blocking offense.