Athletic comparisons are very popular amongst draft enthusiasts, and a big part of a lot of draft analyst’s process when it comes to evaluating prospects. The combine is a standardized test that is supposed to provide the inference of what a player can do athletically on the football field. Speed, explosiveness and agility are tested by doing specific drills like the 40-yard dash, three cone and vertical jump at the combine.
Comparing a player’s athletic traits to past and current NFL players is very common in the draft community, as it provides a picture of what certain prospects could potentially look like against NFL competition. Athletic comps are just a small part of a big process when it comes to evaluating rookies as there’s a lot of other attributes such as production, technique, character, level of competition, efficiency and many other things to consider while examining a prospect’s potential.
I took the numbers and measurements from the combine and sorted the data to make athletic comparisons for some of the top running backs prospects, making sure the players are compared within a few inches and pounds from each other. The database has all the running back prospects from 2008 to the present date. Keep in mind, this is just an exercise to provide a snapshot of a player’s athleticism, the comparisons below are not intended to predict a player’s career arc in the NFL but provide an example of how a player may look athletically playing against NFL talent.
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Corey Clement, RB Wisconsin
Clement’s collegiate career was riddled with injuries that prevented him from building up his resume. He is a dark horse in this draft class just like Joique Bell was back in 2010. The two players mirror each other almost identically when it comes to their height-weight-speed ratios.
James Conner, RB Pittsburgh
At 233-pounds, Conner is a thick back who is tough to bring down once he gets going. His combine numbers suggests that he has enough speed to get the job done. When it comes to size and speed he compares to both Carlos Hyde and Samaje Perine.
Dalvin Cook, RB Florida State
A lot of people were not impressed with Cook’s combine performance because they were expecting an elite level athlete. Just like his combine performance, the backs that compare to him athletically are forgettable. Wendell Smallwood was considered one of the trendier sleepers in last year’s rookie drafts. Both players are very similar when it comes to size, speed and burst.
D’onta Foreman, RB Texas
Foreman only tested in the bench press during the combine, leaving us just his height and weight to make comparisons too. Without knowing his exact numbers, it appears he falls into the Carlos Hyde, Jordan Howard and Jeremy Hill archetype.
Leonard Fournette, RB LSU
There aren’t any players who compare to Fournette, which makes him an outlier when compared to most running backs in the league. His size and speed is going to make him a nightmare to bring down in the open field for linebackers and defensive backs at the next level.
Wayne Gallman, RB Clemson
Gallman didn’t test well at the combine due to delivering sub optimal performances in the 40-yard dash, three cone and vertical jump. None of the prospects listed were ever key contributors to an NFL team. The big difference between him and the rest of the players listed is that he was very productive college and excelled in big games against tough competition.
Kareem Hunt, RB Toledo
Hunt is another prospect with a huge following that disappointed at the combine. His 4.62 40-dash time combined with his height and weight leaves him compared to running backs like Alfred Morris and Vick Ballard. Both of these prospects provide a glimmer of hope for Hunt after his lackluster combine performance since they were able to produce at the NFL level.
Alvin Kamara, RB Tennessee
Cameron Artis Payne, Kenneth Dixon, Ryan Williams and Cierre Wood are all prospects that held some sort of dynasty value during their career. Kamara’s 39.5 vertical is an indicator that he’s a very explosive athlete and should have a lot of burst while running with the football.
T.J. Logan, RB North Carolina
Logan compares to the smaller shiftier backs. Jahvid Best was a dynasty darling who showed a lot of promise during his short NFL career. Danny Woodhead has carved out a long productive career in the league. Logan’s size and speed profiles him as a change of pace back that could be used as a pass catching specialist out of the backfield.
Marlon Mack, RB South Florida
Mack is an under-the-radar prospect who has the ability to contribute to an NFL team and become fantasy relevant. Shane Vereen has been productive as a receiving back for both the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. Mack’s athletic prowess and on field abilities probably compares most to Vereen than to any of the other players on this list. Tashard Choice is a forgotten running back who was very resilient running between the tackles and wasn’t afraid to lay the hammer at the point of contact.
Christian McCaffrey, RB Stanford
McCaffrey was one of the most impressive athletes at the combine. His 6.57 three cone time was impeccable and is one of the factors that allow him to stand out amongst this year’s batch of rookies. LeSean McCoy’s name is illuminated in strobe lights in McCaffrey’s comparable list. McCoy has been one of the most productive backs in the last eight years and he is physically almost identical to McCaffrey.
Johnathan Franklin was a favorite of many in his draft class but a neck injury prematurely ended career. It would’ve been interesting to see how his career would’ve played out with the Packers. With a solid collegiate career and an amazing combine performance, McCaffrey is setting himself up to becoming one of the top drafts prospects to emerge from the collegiate ranks in the last few years.
Elijah McGuire, RB Louisiana Lafayette
McGuire, a favorite of many draft aficionados, is considered one of the bigger under-the-radar prospects in this draft class. Despite his horrible three cone time, he had a decent combine by running a 4.53 40-yard dash at 214-pounds. McGuire and the previously mentioned Marlon Mack have similar arc-types in the athleticism department. Knowshon Moreno makes an appearance on this list, which is a very positive comp since he was a very productive player a few years ago.
Jeremy McNichols, RB Boise State
McNichols had a great combine, scoring well in the 40-yard dash, three cone and vertical. He also was measured with 10-inch hands, which is a positive attribute for securing and catching the football. The list of comparable prospects isn’t very exciting but he had one of the best combine performances in this year’s running back group.
Samaje Perine, RB Oklahoma
Perine did well at the combine. He’s not a homerun hitter, so it wasn’t a surprise that he came away with a 4.65 40-yard dash, but his 40-time is pretty remarkable when compared it to his size. Mass plus velocity equals force and Perine has the ability to generate a lot force at the point of contact. He managed to push out 30-reps on the bench press, equating to a 425-pound max bench press. Daniel Thomas is a player who compares to him that had a run at fantasy relevancy at the NFL level. Perine was hyper productive in college and should outshine the other two players on this list.
Donnel Pumphrey, RB San Diego State
There are not many running backs that are under 190 pounds making a living at the NFL level. Lighter running backs need to have elite speed to be able to compete in the NFL and although his 4.48 40-yard dash isn’t horrible it isn’t fast enough to make him a game changer. Don’t be mistaken, he was hyper productive in college and runs very well between the tackles for his size, but the odds are against him due to his small frame and lack of speed.
Jamaal Williams, RB BYU
Williams built up a lot of steam by impressing a lot of scouts and draft analysts during Senior Bowl Week. His combine performance was a letdown as he ran slower than expected and he displayed sub optimal agility during his three cone testing. He’s still a very interesting prospect with rock solid collegiate production and his tape makes him a favorite amongst a lot of draft analysts.
Joe Williams, RB Utah
Williams is a speedy 210-pound back who is tough to tackle in the open field. He’s been floating under the radar due to the sheer quantity of talented running backs in this draft class. He rushed for over 100-yards in six of the nine games he played in last season, including a 332-yard performance against UCLA. He will be a trendy mid-round option in rookie drafts this year.
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