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4 Mid- to Late-Round Running Back Prospects Cowboys Should Consider

Jonathan BalesAnalyst IMay 6, 2014

4 Mid- to Late-Round Running Back Prospects Cowboys Should Consider

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys need a running back in this draft. DeMarco Murray will be a free agent in 2015, Joseph Randle isn’t starter-quality, and Lance Dunbar, while explosive, weighs just 188 pounds.

    Even though running back could be a problem for Dallas down the line, the team doesn’t need to address the position early in the draft. That has nothing to do with the Cowboys and everything to do with the nature of running backs.

    Namely, running backs are notoriously difficult to evaluate because they’re so dependent on their teammates for success. NFL teams are horribly inefficient at identifying running back talent, with late-round backs—particularly those from small schoolsoffering way more value than early-round selections.

    With the running back market being more or less random, it doesn’t make much sense to pay up for one. If you can basically get in the fifth round what you could grab in the second, why not just wait?

    There are still some key ways to identify breakout backs—indicators a lot of NFL teams are overlooking. They are:

    • Explosiveness (40-yard dash and broad jump)
    • Weight (more specifically, body-mass index)
    • Pass-catching ability

    The 40-yard dash is the best predictor of success for running backs. For so long, teams have sought speed in wide receivers when they should be seeking it in backs. Note that the broad jump is also a really good proxy for explosiveness, while the short shuttle is the most overrated measurable.

    Do running backs really need to be “quicker than fast”? The numbers don’t suggest so.

    Note that outside of the generic “pass-catching ability,” you won’t find many college stats on here. While college stats are important and underutilized by NFL teams at a lot of positions, they don’t matter for running backs because, again, they’re so dependent on their teammates for production. Actually, the fact that NFL teams have generally emphasized college stats in backs is a major reason that inefficiency exists in the marketplace.

    With those characteristics in mind, let’s take a look at my top four mid- to late-round running back prospects whom Dallas should consider.

Terrance West, Towson

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    Josh Gibney/Associated Press

    Speed: 4.50

    Weight (BMI): 225 pounds (33.2)

    Pass-Catching Ability: Yes

    Projected Round: Third or fourth

    One of the reasons I’m down on Joseph Randle is that, in addition to being light, he’s tall. At 6’0”, 198 pounds, he is very lean. That gives him a BMI of 26.9, which is low for a running back. As I showed at Rotoworld, shorter running backs have the most NFL success—likely due to a low center of gravity and high BMI.

    West is a 5’9”, 225-pound rock. In terms of body mass, you aren’t going to beat the Towson product. And don’t forget that those small-school origins are a big positive.

    One thing I don’t necessarily like about him is that he’s already 23 years old, but due to his position, I don’t think that’s going to hurt him that much. He’s not being vaulted up boards due to college production, so he’s also unlikely to be overvalued due to older age.

Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Speed: 4.37

    Weight (BMI): 209 pounds (30.9)

    Pass-Catching Ability: Unclear

    Projected Round: Fourth through sixth

    Georgia Southern’s Jerick McKinnon isn’t quite as thick as West, but he sure can move. With a 40-yard dash recorded as fast as 4.37, McKinnon isn’t lacking in terms of straight-line speed. Again, that’s highly valuable.

    His 5’9”, 209-pound frame is adequate, and he is also probably going to cost less than West as a true late-round pick.

    The main concern here is running back experience; McKinnon played as a running quarterback at Georgia Southern. That doesn’t concern me in terms of his actual running, but can he catch passes and block for Tony Romo? Still, in terms of pure rushing ability, McKinnon might be the best running back value in this class.

Lache Seastrunk, Baylor

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    Speed: 4.46

    Weight (BMI): 201 pounds (28.8)

    Pass-Catching Ability: No

    Projected Round: Fourth or fifth

    Let me start by saying that I wasn’t originally very high on Seastrunk for two reasons. First, he’s 5’10”, 201 pounds. That’s far from ideal size.

    Second, he had nine career receptions at Baylor, including zero (none, zip, nada) in 2013. And here’s the most frightening stat of all time: According to Packer Report, Seastrunk had more drops (10) than catches in college.

    So now we’re looking at an undersized player who’s legitimately poor as a receiver out of the backfield. What’s to like? Well, although college production isn’t that important, you still need to be impressed by Seastrunk’s career 7.6 yards-per-carry average. You need to be impressed by it because it’s likely a reflection of his explosiveness.

    He ran a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, which is good, and then he followed it up with a 4.37 at his pro day, per NFL.com, which is awesome. But remember that the broad jump is nearly just as predictive as the 40-yard dash for running back success, and Seastrunk jumped an unimaginable 11’2” at the combine. That’s serious power—a rare degree of it—that means he has an extremely high ceiling as a pure runner at the next level.

Damien Williams, Oklahoma

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    Speed: 4.45

    Weight (BMI): 222 pounds (31.0)

    Pass-Catching Ability: Yes

    Projected Round: Seventh or undrafted

    Oklahoma’s Damien Williams is on no one's radar because he didn’t play all that much in college, collecting a career-high 176 carries in 2012. He also caught 34 passes that year.

    He is 5’11”, 222 pounds with 4.45 speed, and his 35.5-inch vertical and 10’1” broad jump are also impressive. That sort of athleticism is tough to find in the late rounds.

    The catch? There are potential character concerns, as Williams was dismissed from Oklahoma last year for a violation of team rules. That’s not a positive, obviously, but it’s also not too tough of a pill to swallow when the cost to obtain him is zippo. As a likely undrafted free agent, there’s every reason to give the talented running back a look.

     

    Note: Combine results courtesy of NFL.com.

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