How good is Breece Hall? Who’s overrated?

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Could Breece Hall be the next Jonathan Taylor?

In Taylor’s second NFL season, the Indianapolis Colts running back gained more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and finished second in voting for AP Offensive Player of the Year. Although Taylor had a relatively high draft position in 2020 — No. 41 overall — he was only the third running back taken, after the Kansas City Chiefs took Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the Detroit Lions selected D’Andre Swift. Although both of those players might ultimately become solid contributors, Taylor currently has more rushing yards than both of them combined.

Although many scouts underrated Taylor, BackCAST — Football Outsiders‘ system for projecting running backs — identified Taylor as a potential star. Taylor had the best BackCAST projection of all time. According to BackCAST, Taylor was not another Wisconsin running back due to fail but a stellar prospect with an unusual blend of size, speed and college production.

Taylor’s recent success begs the question. Are there any underrated running back prospects in the 2022 NFL draft who have superstar potential? Fortunately for running-back-needy teams, the answer is “yes,” with this year’s running back prospects highlighted by Iowa State’s Hall.

Here is how BackCAST works (go to the bottom of the story for the full methodology): BackCAST projects NFL running back success based on statistics that have correlated with success in the past. Historically, a college running back who has a good size-speed combination, has a high average yards per carry and represented a large percentage of his college team’s running attack is more likely to succeed at the NFL level. BackCAST considers these factors and projects the degree to which the running back will exceed the NFL production of an “average” drafted running back during his first five years in the NFL.

For example, a running back with a plus-50% BackCAST is projected to gain 50% more yards than the “average” drafted running back. BackCAST also projects whether each running back is likely to be heavily involved in the receiving game or is more of a “ground-and-pound” back.

What follows are some of the most notable BackCAST projections for the running back prospects available in the 2022 NFL draft, along with two overrated back based on this model:

BackCAST score: plus-149.1%
Type of back: Receiving
Similar historical prospects: Dalvin Cook, LaDainian Tomlinson

Hall is a fantastic running back prospect. Although he comes short of Taylor’s titanic projection, that is like losing to Michael Jordan in a slam dunk contest — no shame there. Hall has the fourth-highest BackCAST projection of all time, falling behind only Taylor, Ricky Williams and Saquon Barkley. Even better for value-seeking teams, Hall’s projected draft position is low relative to a back with his level of talent. Scouts Inc., for example, currently rates Hall as the 46th-best prospect and only the second-highest-rated running back, behind Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III.

Hall has an excellent combination of size and speed. He has decent size at 217 pounds and ran a very quick 4.39-second 40-yard dash. However, Hall’s college production is where he really shines. BackCAST likes running backs who take hold of their college backfields early and never let go, and Hall certainly fits that profile, absorbing 45%, 61% and 68% of his team’s rushing attempts during his three years at Iowa State.

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Breece Hall scores a 70-yard rushing touchdown vs. West Virginia.

The only weakness in Hall’s projection is that he averaged “only” 5.5 yards per attempt. Although yards per attempt is an important metric, there is also a record of success for running backs with relatively low yards per attempt numbers who scored highly on other metrics. For example, the legendary Adrian Peterson averaged only 5.4 yards per attempt in college, and the immortal LeSean McCoy averaged only 4.8.

The one area where Hall tops Taylor is the receiving game. Hall, despite his heavy workload in the running game, also contributed substantially to the Cyclones’ passing attack, catching 82 passes for 734 yards. For that reason, NFL teams can have an extra level of confidence when drafting Hall, because even if he does not work out as a pure runner, it is likely that he will add value as a receiver coming out of the backfield.

Certainly, BackCAST is far from 100% effective, but Hall has many indicators that historically point to success.

BackCAST score: plus-58.6%
Type of back: Receiving
Similar historical prospects: DeMarco Murray, Ahman Green

There is a huge gap between Hall and the next-highest-rated running back in this draft. Interestingly enough, BackCAST’s No. 2 prospect is a sleeper who is ranked 192nd overall by Scouts Inc.

So what does BackCAST like about White? He has a good size-speed combination, running a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at 214 pounds. White is the most productive receiving back in this year’s draft, averaging over 40 yards per game for the Sun Devils. White also averaged a respectable 5.78 yards per attempt on the ground. He did not dominate the backfield at Arizona State, but that could be due to his late start, as he joined the team after a two-year stint at junior college.

White’s rank as BackCAST’s second-best running back has more to do with the weakness of the class than it does with his projection, which is good, but hardly record-breaking. That said, White’s BackCAST projection is great for a fifth- or sixth-round pick.

BackCAST score: plus-57.8%
Type of back: Balanced
Similar historical prospects: Jay Ajayi, Nick Chubb

Like White, Allgeier posts a good BackCAST projection despite being low on most draftniks’ boards. Allgeier is a big back at 224 pounds. His 4.60-second 40-yard dash is below average but certainly not bad for a back of his size. Allgeier was also the most productive back on a per-carry basis in this draft class, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

The odds are clearly stacked against a player with a draft projection as low as Allgeier’s (he is currently ranked 274th by Scouts Inc.). That said, he is certainly a player to watch if he manages to stick on an NFL roster and get some playing time.

BackCAST score: plus-54.4%
Type of back: Ground-and-pound
Similar historical prospects: Jamaal Charles, Laurence Maroney

Walker is the consensus pick as the top running back in this draft, but BackCAST puts him behind Hall and two late-round picks (White and Allgeier). Walker does not have a bad projection per se, but he has a weaker projection than most top running backs in past drafts.

Walker has a good size-speed combination — he ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at 211 pounds. However, Walker did not start dominating backfields until he transferred from Wake Forest to Michigan State as a junior. To be fair, his sophomore year was during a pandemic-shortened season. However, it is also fair to question why freshman Walker was stuck behind a running back (Cade Carney) who was averaging under 4 yards per carry for the Demon Deacons in 2019.

7dNathan Forster

2dJordan Reid and Matt Miller

2dJordan Reid and Matt Miller

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Walker also adds very little to the receiving game. He caught only 19 passes in three years of college football, averaging only 4.3 receiving yards per game. There have been successful running backs with less than that, but most of them played during a different era when running backs caught few passes. There have been only a few running backs drafted in the past decade who averaged less than 5 receiving yards per game in college, and only one with sustained success (Melvin Gordon III).

Walker is certainly not a bad prospect, but BackCAST suggests that he might not provide great value as the top-rated running back in the draft.

BackCAST score: plus-48.0%
Type of back: Balanced
Similar historical prospects: Mewelde Moore, Dion Lewis

Spiller is the last of the four prospects after Hall who are rated similarly. Of the four, Spiller has the worst size-speed combination — he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.63 seconds at 217 pounds. Spiller, however, makes up for his measurables with production. He had the highest workload of the four, recording 541 carries in three years with the Aggies.

Spiller, White, Allgeier and Walker have similar BackCAST projections. A shrewd team might want to wait and pick whichever one requires the least draft capital.

Most overrated

BackCAST score: minus-45.7%
Type of back: Balanced
Similar historical prospects: Kenny Irons, Lee Suggs

BackCAST score: minus-55.4%
Type of back: Receiving
Similar historical prospects: Theo Riddick, Brian Calhoun

Although Scouts Inc. slates Cook and Williams as only fourth-round picks, they are highly rated in a relative sense, as they are the running backs rated third- and fifth- highest in this draft class, respectively. BackCAST, however, feels that they are overrated and projects them both to have roughly half the production of the average drafted running back.

They suffer because of their size — both backs weigh in at less than 200 pounds (199 for Cook and 194 for Williams). Cook ran a 40-yard dash at 4.42 seconds, which is fast, but not particularly fast for a player as light as Cook. Williams, on the other hand, managed only a 4.65-second 40-yard dash, which is very slow for a sub-200-pound running back.

Cook’s projection suffers most from his light workload at Georgia. He had only 230 career rushing attempts in four years with the Bulldogs. Although there have been exceptions, running backs with below-average usage in college often do not make an impact on the NFL level. Williams, on the other hand, had slightly higher than average usage, but it is not enough to save his projection from his poor size-speed combination.

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Despite his lower projection, Williams might have the higher upside of the two. Although he lags behind his draft mates in overall projection, he is third among all backs invited to the combine in receiving yards per game. Williams could follow a similar path to Theo Riddick, who had little success on the ground but did find a niche in the NFL catching passes out of the backfield.

Nothing is certain in the NFL draft, and Cook and Williams could ultimately meet and exceed their draft projection. However, the historical trends suggest that running-back-needy teams might want to look toward one of BackCAST’s middle-to-late round sleepers instead.

Methodology

BackCAST is based on a statistical analysis of all of the Division I halfbacks drafted in the years 1998 to 2019 and measures the following:

The prospect’s weight at the NFL combine.

The prospect’s 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. If he did not run at the combine, BackCAST uses his pro day time.

The prospect’s yards per attempt with an adjustment for running backs who had fewer career carries than an average drafted running back.

The prospect’s “AOEPS,” which measures how much, on average, the prospect’s team used him in the running game during his career relative to the usage of an average drafted running back during the same year of eligibility.

The prospect’s receiving yards per game in his college career.

Source: ESPN NFL

    

Author: Ellen Garcia