NEPD Editor: Doug Kyed
Bill Belichick may not draft running backs often, but when he does he knows what he’s looking for.
Since the Hoodie took over in 2000, the Patriots have drafted just seven running backs, which includes two last season.
As part of our continuing Patriots Case Study series, I am going to dissect exactly what those attributes are that the Patriots seem to be looking for.
The Patriots have taken running backs all over the draft board, taking one in the first round (Laurence Maroney), one in the second round (Shane Vereen), two in the third round (J.R. Redmond, Stevan Ridley), one in the fourth round (Cedric Cobbs), one in the sixth round (Justise Hairston) and one in the seventh round (Antwoine Womack). As you may have noticed, they haven’t been extremely successful with any of these picks. Other than Ridley and Vereen, who we don’t know about yet, Maroney was the most successful with 49 career games played and 17 starts. J.R. Redmond played in 50 games starting six and Cedric Cobbs appeared in five games. That’s it. Hairston and Womack never played in an NFL game.
There’s reason to be excited about both Ridley and Vereen though. Ridley started two games for the Patriots carrying the ball 87 times for 441 yards, one touchdown and a 5.1 average yards per carry. He flashed some issues holding onto the ball, but he definitely showed enough in his rookie year for the Patriots to allow BenJarvus Green-Ellis to walk.
Vereen didn’t get as many opportunities, but he showed some impressive burst in his limited action vs. KC and Philly.
Even after taking both Ridley and Vereen last year, the Patriots will likely be looking to take another RB in the draft, or signing one in free agency. Going into the season with two unproven 2nd year players and a third down back seems a bit risky for Belichick.
Even with their limited success, Belichick does seem to have a pattern he follows when looking to draft a RB. I’ll go through those now.
Patriots RB draft picks range from 5’10 ¼” (Vereen) to 6’0 ¾” (Hairston). Four of the seven picks have been 5’11”. That’s the typical range for an NFL RB, and Danny Woodhead and Kevin Faulk have proved that Belichick is not opposed to having shorter RBs on his roster.
Patriots RB draft picks range from 210 (Vereen, Hairston) to 225 (Ridley). Once again, not much of a range there. Three players (Redmond, Womack, Maroney) are right in the 215 range. Again, that’s the typical range for an NFL RB.
With limited measurements available, Vereen had the shortest arms at 30.7” and Ridley had the longest at 31.9. All of Pats RBs who had their hands measured were between 9” and 9.4”.
This is where we finally see a bit more of a range. Antoine Womack was the fastest with a 4.46 40, while Cedric Cobbs was the slowest at 4.75. The average is right around J.R. Redmond’s 4.50 flat. 40 time isn’t the most important when it comes to RBs. Game breaking plays are nice to have, but what you really want is a short burst at the line of scrimmage to get through holes.
10 YARD SPLIT
Here’s where things get very interesting, four players have had ten yard splits recorded, three (Cobbs, Hairston, Vereen) ran 1.56 while Stevan Ridley ran 1.60. That might be the biggest thing that Belichick, and many other decision makers, are looking for when drafting RBs. A sudden burst and fast acceleration.
20 yard splits show a pattern as well, but Cobbs sticks out with a 2.71 compared to 2.58, 2.65 and 2.66 from Vereen, Hairston and Ridley.
J.R. Redmond had the worst vert with 32.5”, while Cedric Cobbs had the best at 40”. 36” seems to be the average. A 36” vertical is proabbly a little over the league average for a RB. Vertical jump is not only good for going up and getting passes, but it also shows explosion.
Broad jumps range from 115 (9’7” Vereen) to 123” (10’3” Cobbs, Maroney). The average is right around 120 (10’0”). Once again, that’s above average for an NFL running back. Broad jump is another workout that measures explosion.
This is another workout with a small range in times. Four RBs were clocked and they range from 4.15 (Hairston) to 4.28 (Vereen). This is another drill that measures sudden burst.
Only Hairston, Ridley and Vereen were timed. The times range from 6.78 to 6.95. Those are all great times for the 3 cone, which measures change of direction.
Only Maroney, Ridley and Vereen were tested. There’s a range of 18-31 reps. Upper body strength is fine, but the real important strength to have as an RB is in your legs.
No Patriots RB draft pick has ever started more than nineteen games. That’s pretty significant. Half of the RBs that tested at the combine this year started over 19 games. Vereen tops out the list at 19 while Ridley only started nine games at LSU.
With other positions, Belichick seems to avoid underclassmen, such is not the case for RBs. Maroney, Ridley and Vereen were all juniors when they left their respective colleges. That at least partially explains the low career start totals.
Laurence Maroney had the most career carries with 660, Hairston had only 190 career carries at Central Connecticut. There’s not a major pattern as far as career carries goes, like there appears to be for career starts.
This one I found very interesting. Shane Vereen is the only Pats RB pick to have more than 26 career college receptions. Vereen had almost three times as many at 74. I figured Belichick would always look for players who could catch the ball out of the backfield, but that’s not the case.
Of course, when we’re only talking about seven total picks, these are all small samples. But when we see the same numbers repeating, it is telling.
I’ll have my response to this column later in the week showing which RB prospects the Patriots may be interested in.