Hokepoints: What's a 5-Star Running Back?
Green / Grady / Woodson
Like many of my generation, I had a little thing when Ace finally posted the long-awaited Hello: Derrick Green post. Like he was all…
And the board was all…
And even Magnus was all…
And I was all…well, nothing that would make for an interesting gif. You kids won't remember this but we've had a five-star tailback commit before. And we got really excited. Like We Beat the Russians to the Moon, except fast-excited. And that was right before a Des-pose'd NCAA 2006 arrived with a new mode where you create a freshman and run him to a Heisman. We were all Grady.
But we were all of us deceived.
The high schooler who plowed through the state turned out to be Thomas Rawls except not fast. Grady was given a lot of chances, especially early, but peaked as a fumble-prone, #2 guy to Hart. The meat of his career was spent nursing an ACL tear that won him his medical redshirt, and flirting with the edge of the Darryl Stonum outer boundary of tolerable off-the-field stuff. He finished his eligibility as a fullback in the 2009 outfit with 783 yards, a 3.9 YPC and 10 TDs.
That's a respectable enough career for a blue collar fullback, but not a blue chip. It's also way too small a sample size to justify acting like a wet blanket over Michigan's first five-star RB since the first Grady.
It is well to remember that we had a lot of highly rated backs before stars became a thing, for example Charles Woodson was one according to a Lloyd interview on one of the videotapes I bought when the video store in the Union closed. A-Train was Prep Football Report's #2 back in the nation. Wheatley in high school was the best all-around athlete the state of Michigan had seen since Harmon. Tom Harmon…well this is why we keep things to recent memory. What we need is more samples. To the rest of the NCAA!
(…where gordie bell just traveled, kinda. His stuff is just off Rivals, and includes four-stars, and is mostly a bunch of lists. Aw heck just read both. And JUMP)
What We're Talking About
To the people who decide such things, Derrick Green is an elite running back. He's a five-star, the #1 overall running back and a top 10 overall player to both Rivals and Scout. ESPN has him a 4-star with an 87 rating, the 5th RB and 38th overall prospect. 247 Sports has him a 4-star, the eighth RB, and 84th player overall. Ignoring 247 since their first class with rankings is 2010, Green is one of just 50 players since 2002 to get five-star billing on at least two of Rivals/Scout/ESPN (the latter's been in it since 2006).
Specifically he's the "running" kind of five-star running back, by which I mean some of the services like to break tailbacks into "all-purpose" and "running" backs. It gets confusing when you see some of the previous listings (e.g. Hart is all-purpose), but in general an APB is a spread- or scat-back, while the larger category is for NFL-style thunder walkers. Green, no doubt you've heard, is thunder.
Removing the lighting-style guys like C.J. Spiller and Noel Devine, we are left with the following Green comparables:
|Rivals Name||School||Year||R||S||E||Yds||Yds Pace||YPA||TDs Pace||NFL Pick|
|T.J. Yeldon||Bama||2012||5||4||4||1,239||4,956||6.7||52||in college|
|Marcus Lattimore||S Carolina||2010||5||4||4||3,444||4,592||5.5||55||in college|
|Beanie Wells||Ohio State||2006||5||5||5||3,466||3,466||5.8||30||31|
|Johnathan Gray||Texas||2012||5||5||5||852||3,408||5.3||16||in college|
|Jerious Norwood||Miss St||2002||5||4||-||3,398||3,398||5.5||17||79|
|Michael Dyer||Auburn||2010||5||5||5||2,351||3,135||5.5||20||in college|
|Malcolm Brown||Texas||2011||5||5||5||1,195||2,390||4.8||20||in college|
|Lache Seastrunk||Baylor||2010||5||4||4||1,119||2,238||8.0||16||in college|
|Gerald Riggs Jr.||Tenn||2002||5||5||-||2,016||2,016||5.0||10||undrafted|
|James Wilder Jr.||Florida St||2011||5||4||4||955||1,910||5.8||28||in college|
|Maurice Clarett||Ohio State||2002||5||5||-||1,341||1,341||5.7||18||101|
|Demetris Summers||S Carolina||2003||5||5||-||1,336||1,336||5.7||6||undrafted|
|Isaiah Crowell||Georgia||2011||5||5||5||909||909||4.7||6||in J.C.|
|Brandon Williams||Oklahoma||2011||5||4||4||219||876||4.8||0||in college|
|Aaron Green||Nebraska||2011||4||5||5||130||520||5.2||12||in college|
|Mike Bellamy||Clemson||2011||5||4||4||347||347||5.9||3||in J.C.|
|Jermie Calhoun||Oklahoma||2008||5||5||5||278||278||4.6||1||in J.C.|
|Jason Gwaltney||W Virginia||2005||5||5||-||201||201||4.1||3||undrafted|
That is 34 nodes, over half of whom were drafted or are on track to be, and most of those who went undrafted ended up on NFL teams. You'd expect a five-star to be more than an undrafted free agent; a lot of those guys became so because of something other than talent.
A quick review of the undrafted, the unwanted, and the other guys on this list who didn't Meet Expectations:
- Marlon Lucky had a solid career that peaked junior year. A senior year injury dropped him out of the draft. He's now in the top indoor league.
- Gerald Riggs was half of Tennessee's 1-2 punch with Cedric Houston. Riggs got injured as a senior and that put him out of draft range. He's now with the Toronto Argonauts.
- Marc Tyler, Jimmy Clausen the RB version, scraped out a 1,000 yard season between more remarkable USC tailbacks, had a bunch of off-field issues through senior year that kept him from ever being more than Guy #2 in a crowded backfield. Undrafted, he will probably pop up on somebody's practice squad next year.
- Kregg Lumpkin was the uninspiring back who finally got Knowshon'd out of carries at Georgia. He's now finding work as an NFL journeyman for teams who use up their running backs.
- Stafon Johnson, you've probably heard of. He had a horrific neck injury that inspired USC's "STA FIGHT ON" stickers, until Sta forwent a medical redshirt senior year and sued SC for negligence. Sta Fight On!
- Darrell Scott had the quite silly idea to attend Colorado out of high school. He was a bit of a bust, complaining he wasn't getting carries when a 2-star competed them away from him. Scott put up a decent (814 yards, 5.3 YPC, 5 TDs) season at South Florida then split for the NFL.
- Demetris Summers, that dude from Alberta who somehow ended up playing for Spurrier, got lots of touches as a freshman but got kicked off the team for poking the smot.
- James Aldridge was recruited by Charlie Weis for the Return to Glory™, spending most of his career choosing between unblocked defenders who persistently broke through Weis-era offensive lines, and collecting ensuing Clausen fumbles, all fantastic preparation for a career in rugby.
- Jermie Calhoun didn't become the next Adrian Peterson. After two years of not being able to crack the depth chart he transferred.
- Isaiah Crowell rushed for over 900 yards as a freshman, but was behind the Dogs' dynamic freshmen, and anyway he was kicked off the team for a weapons charge. He was at Alabama State last year.
- Jason Gwaltney is a name once brought up by Rich Rod detractors as an example of kids he took a chance on at West Virginia that wouldn't fly at Michigan, and RR defenders as a guy Rod reeled in over offers from OSU and USC. An injury ended his freshman year when he was losing the competition with fellow freshman Steve Slaton, then he slacked on the rehab, tried to go play for USC, and ended up non-schollied at a Division III school.
- Mike Bellamy was dismissed from Clemson for skipping too many classes.
To this you're welcome to add a Bryce Brown or whatnot from guys who seem to be en route to mediocre backs. But notice anything missing? Very few of these guys were busts, and if they were, it seemed to come from a lack of effort, not talent. I don't want to glory in these failures, just point out that talent evaluation at this position seems to be remarkably accurate.
Realm of the young
Running back is still the first position you think of when you figure a freshman has a chance of making a major impact on the depth chart, and that plays out when you see how many of the five-stars managed to churn out 700+ yard seasons in their first go-rounds:
|Rivals Name||School||Year||R||S||E||Fr Yds||Fr YPC|
|Marcus Lattimore||S Carolina||2010||5||4||4||1,609||5.8|
|Maurice Clarett||Ohio State||2002||5||5||-||1,341||5.7|
|Christine Michael||Texas A&M||2009||5||4||4||910||5.0|
|Demetris Summers||S Carolina||2003||5||5||-||784||5.8|
|Beanie Wells||Ohio State||2006||5||5||592||5.6|
If you were worried about Grady being some kind of median for what you can expect from a Green, this is encouraging. A good third of this list contributed 3,000+ yards to their teams (or are on pace to). Half are NFL draftees. Many of the guys who didn't make it were because of discipline issues, not misjudged talent. When compared to the offensive linemen, this is a position with a very high predictive success rate.
I like this finding, since it fits with personal observations that running backs, if they mature with age, don't develop nearly as much as the other positions. Mike Hart got better at leadership and maybe could diagnose a lane a little better, but he arrived a 185-pound, 200 yards per game, fumbless dude who can shimmy-cut past a guy; minus a pair of functional ankles he more or less graduated a 200-lb version of the same dude. They might learn blocking as they age but it's probably more common to see a freshman with 300 touches than a heretofore unknown redshirt junior leap out of a depth chart if he wasn't injured, transferring, or stuck behind another major guy. They still have their best seasons as upperclassmen, but a great 23-year-old seems to be pretty close to great at 19.
So Green = Awesome is Go, right?
Let's not say that; let's say it negates the old "early growth spurt means he's already too near his ceiling" fear. What the services seem to mean by a 5-star running back is a ready-made more-than-just-a guy who can plug into an offense with minimal rewriting. Heismans and 1,500 yard rushers are notoriously difficult to come by, even if you're manufacturing 350-lb. offensive linemen from cheese and Ted Nugent albums. But if you're going to have the best overall player from any one position, this spot seems to give you the greatest chance of actually coming away with the best overall player from that position.
Speaking of the Nation's Top…
The ESPN and 247 rankings shouldn't be discarded, however they don't change the fact that Green is also just the sixth guy since '02 to be the No. 1 running back to both Rivals and Scout. His company:
|Rivals Name||Year||Ht||Wt||40yd||Yards||YPA||TD||1K+ YDs||Drafted (Rnd)|
|Adrian Peterson||2004||6'2"||210||4.4||4243||5.5||42||3x||7th (1st)|
|Joe McKnight||2007||6'1"||193||4.4||2755||6.7||15||1x||112th (4th)|
|Bryce Brown||2009||6'0"||215||4.4||616||5.4||4||never||229th (7th)|
|Marcus Lattimore||2010||6'0"||210||4.5||3444||5.5||41||x||in college|
Green's 40-time has to be more FAKE than Peterson's. Still, when I posted that I got a little shiver. ESPN was maybe rougher on Lattimore (84 rating, 4 stars, #2 RB) than Green, though 247 (98 rating, 5 stars, #2 APB and #16 overall) just ended that comparison like a Vincent Smith ISO. If the naysayers are correct, they're still talking about a ready-made, better-than-okay player for 2013, with an upside peaking into the Heismanosphere.
Okay I'm ready to dance now.