College production and athletic testing numbers prove that Samaje Perine is the best running back prospect coming out of college on the Redskins’ roster
The Washington Redskins selected Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine with the 114th overall pick (4th round) in last week’s NFL draft.
It certainly didn’t take a premium pick to acquire Perine, but it was a move that may pay off in spades for the Redskins, at least in the eyes of many fans and members of the media. Those people believe that Samaje Perine has an excellent shot to supplant Robert Kelley and become the Redskins’ starting running back as soon as this year.
That is what some are saying, but are they right? Is Perine truly the best running back on the Redskins’ roster and should Jay Gruden and company actually be comfortable giving the starting gig on this high-powered offense to the young rookie?
That is what I’ve endeavored to find out. To do so, I’ve compared Samaje Perrine’s resume to the pre-NFL prospects of every other running back on the Redskins’ roster.
This is certainly not the most important aspect of the careers of the runners that we’ll look at, but I also think that we’d be remiss to ignore it altogether.
The rankings below are by position and not overall. They are sorted by 247 Sports’ composite ranking, which is essentially the average ranking among all of the major recruiting services.
Keith Marshall and Mack Brown were clearly the most highly regarded players coming out of high school in this group. Matt Jones barely edges out Perine here. Several different recruiting services had one ranked higher than the other in their respective years. I basically consider them even in this regard.
Chris Thompson slots in right behind them. Robert Kelley was far and away the least celebrated player coming out of high school, with several sites not bothering to rank him at all.
Perine sits in the middle of the pack here, but I do think that it’s interesting to note that he put up more rushing yards in his junior and senior years combined than any of these other runners did (Chris Thompson’s junior year stats were not available).
However, these rankings aren’t all about statistics; another big component is athleticism. As we can see from the combine and pro day numbers of these players, Keith Marshall’s athleticism had a great deal to do with his elite recruiting rankings.
We’re going to look at each of the four main types of athleticism measured by the NFL: speed, strength, explosion and agility; but speed is the sexiest, so we’ll start there.
Before we begin, I need to first point out that the raw numbers for each drill will be presented, but that the size-adjusted results will be the more heavily emphasized here, and that is for good reason. For example, there is a big difference between a 240 pounder running a 4.60 in the 40-yard dash and someone that weighs 170 pounds doing the same.
The adjustment equations used for each type of testing come from Chase Stuart and his site, Football Perspective. Speed score is the most traditional size-adjusted speed measure. You can read more about it here.
Well that explains that. Keith Marshall is one of the fastest size-adjusted running backs of all time. Both Robert Kelley and Mack Brown posted below average speeds for an NFL running back.
Samaje Perine comes in second with Matt Jones right on his tail. Perine may not have blazing speed, but don’t kid yourself into thinking that he is slow. For a 233 pounder, Perine can more than hold his own in the speed department.
Strength is where Perine shines the most as an athlete.
Perine had the fourth best overall weight-adjusted bench press score at the combine. Only Myles Garrett, Carl Lawson and Derek Rivers were better.
Per Mockdraftable, his 30 reps are tied for the fifth most by a true running back at the combine since at least 1999. Only Terron Beckham, Jerrick McKinnon, Shane Vereen and Knile Davis bested him in this department. That’s not the greatest company, but it’s also far from the worst.
And once again, Marshall put up impressive numbers while Mack and Kelley brought up the rear.
The vertical and broad jumps are the best individual measures we have for explosiveness. When we combine those two figures we get an overall explosion score. Unlike the explosion score, Player Profiler’s burst score equally weights the vertical and broad jumps, so the following table has been sorted by that metric.
Not only does Perine have the best raw vertical, broad jump and explosion score of the Redskins’ runners, but he also has the best size-adjusted explosion score and burst score. This might help to explain why he looks faster on tape than his 40-yard dash time would indicate.
Meanwhile, incumbent starter, Robert Kelley, ranks dead last yet again. Keith Marshall and Chris Thompson did not participate in the broad jump, so they don’t have any total explosion numbers to report.
Much like with the explosion score, the agility score combines both the short shuttle and the 3-cone drill to give us a better picture of an athlete’s short area quickness and agility.
Matt Jones is your big winner here. Keith Marshall is the only other plus runner on the roster in terms of agility.
This is clearly Perine’s biggest issue as an athlete and it may have something to do with his lack of a receiving game. Robert Kelley’s numbers were again absolutely dismal.
It’s time to wrap up our look at the athleticism of the Redskins’ running backs. We’ll do so by looking at three composite measures of overall athleticism, which are defined below:
SPARQ: SPARQ is a formula developed by Nike which measures player athleticism by outputting a single composite score.
SPARQ-x: Player Profiler’s spin on SPARQ.
RAS: Relative Athletic Scores take player measurements and put them on an easy to understand 0 to 10 scale compared to their position group. A final score is then produced which is also on a 0 to 10 score to show overall athleticism for a draft prospect.
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Fat Rob is by far the worst athlete of the bunch.
Keith Marshall is the cream of the crop here. Matt Jones looks to be the second best Redskins’ runner in terms of overall athleticism. He beat out Samaje Perine by a hair in two of the three metrics. So far, Marshall and Jones look to be the best NFL prospects of the group, but as we all know subjective rankings and athleticism are not the end-all be-all.
Actual production on the field is of the utmost importance when evaluating prospects. Samaje Perine has not yet taken an NFL snap, so we’ll compare what he did at Oklahoma to the college careers of the Redskins’ five other running backs.
We’ll start things off by looking at the career college rushing numbers for each player.
Perine simply puts these other RBs to shame in terms of both raw rushing production and rushing efficiency. Here are some statistics that really drive the point home:
Remember when the Redskins used to suck in the red zone? That was rough wasn’t it? Luckily, those days are over.
I already told you ten reasons why the Redskins’ red-zone offense would improve before the draft; consider Samaje Perine the 11th reason.
Just take a look at the college TD breakdown for Perine and the combined total of the rest of the running backs on the Redskins’ roster (RoR).
Perine’s 39 college red-zone scores are just one less than the combined total of every other running back on the Redskins’ roster. That’s a whopping 76% of his touchdowns that came inside the 20-yard line, and 71% of them came inside the 10.
Perine scored more touchdowns inside the 10, inside the 5 and at the goal line (1 or 2 yard-line) than all of the other rushers on the Redskins’ roster did combined.
He’s no slouch in the long-ball department either. Over 20% of his TDs came from over 25 yards out or more and 12% of his scores went for 40 or more yards. He had the same number of 25-yard touchdowns and one more 40-yard TD in college than Kelley, Jones, Brown and Marshall did combined.
At this point, you may be wondering if Perine racked up big totals on the strength of a few monster games or if he consistently just put up average numbers to inflate his career totals (i.e. that he was a compiler).
If you look at his game-by-game rushing yardage totals you can see that this is simply not the case in either regard. The percentages are based on the number of games in which the players actually received a touch (rushing attempt or a reception).
The guys at Rotoviz.com have done a great deal of work on showing us how college market share (percentage of a team’s attempts, yards or touchdowns compiled by a player) is a far better statistical tool for us to use to analyze college prospects than raw totals are.
Most of their work has been focused on wide receivers, but I believe that this is a very useful metric to look at for running backs, as well. I’ve taken quarterback rushing stats out of the equation to give us a better idea of what slice of the pie each team’s running backs received.
The table below is sorted by dominator rating, which is the average of the player’s rushing yardage and touchdown market shares. Unfortunately, injuries and suspensions have not been accounted for here, so the numbers may be slightly skewed in some cases.
However, at the same time, that shouldn’t have much of an affect for our purposes, because only Perine’s three seasons and the best year in terms of dominator rating for each of the other players have been included.
Perine posted his worst dominator rating as a junior, and that is mainly because he had to share a backfield with Joe Mixon.
Mixon is the superior prospect, but it should be noted that Perine was the team’s workhorse over the course of the 22 games that the two played together in. Perine had more rushing attempts in 18 of those games (82%), more rushing yards in 15 of them (68%) and more rushing touchdowns in 13 of them (59%, with another 23% where they were tied).
That year (2016), Perine finished the season with a dominator rating of 43%, despite having to compete with Mixon and being sidelined for three games with a pulled muscle in his leg. The highest DR that any of the Redskins’ other running backs ever produced was just below that 43% mark.
He also put up an elite dominator rating of 60% as a freshman. He was named the Big 12 Rookie of the Year and was a member of the All-Big 12 team. Multiple outlets named him a second or third team All-American for his efforts.
He very well could have made it on the first team, but he had some very stiff competition to deal with that year in the form of Melvin Gordon, Jay Ajayi, Tevin Coleman and Ameer Abdullah.
Perine is the only player in all of Division I college football (FBS) that gained over 1700 yards on the ground and scored over 20 rushing touchdowns as a true freshman since 1996 (Ron Dayne).
Another important concept touted by Rotoviz is breakout age. Jon Moore of Pro Football Focus has been a pioneer on this subject so I’ll let him explain it:
“For everyone thinking, “Yeah, but these guys are only going to be in the league for a few years. Who cares how old they are?” The point here has nothing to do with career longevity. The matter at hand is figuring out how talented a player actually is. A 20 year old dominating defensive backs who are 21 or 22 is much more impressive than a 23 or 24 year old doing the same.”
Different sites set different bars for breakout age, but we’ll set the mark low here and consider a breakout year to be any season in which the running back either posts a rushing attempt or rushing yardage market share over 25%. The age used is the player’s age on the last day of the year in their breakout season.
Perine had the second youngest breakout age of any RB on the roster, just four months behind Keith Marshall’s. But as we have seen, Perine was significantly better in college in terms of overall production and efficiency. He is also younger and has dealt with far fewer injuries than Marshall has.
Perine only missed three games in college due to the aforementioned pulled muscle. The majority of Washington’s other backs haven’t been so lucky. Perine is also currently a year and a half younger than the next youngest RB on the roster, Keith Marshall.
Marshall tore his ACL as a freshman and has suffered several other injuries in his college and pro careers. He missed 20 games at Georgia and was placed on injured reserve just prior to his rookie season in the NFL.
Both Matt Jones and Robert Kelley have needed surgery to repair their meniscus and are 24, going on 25.
Not only is Chris Thompson the oldest player of the group, but he has also dealt with more major injuries than any other player on this unit. Thompson is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in 2018.
The running backs on the Redskins’ roster have combined to rush for just 2,320 yards in their NFL careers. Only the Packers, Lions and Dolphins’ running backs have combined to rush for less yards in the pros.
Washington simply has not had a quality running back on their roster in the last several years, and the numbers back that up.
Keith Marshall was the most celebrated recruit coming out of high school and is unquestionably the most athletic running back on the roster. However, outside of his freshman season, which took place five years ago, he has done very little in terms of actual on-the-field production. His career has been derailed by injuries; and frankly, he runs like a track star and not an NFL player.
Matt Jones is a decent athlete, but has never been able to consistently put up big-time numbers in both college and the NFL. The only things that he has done consistently are avoiding contact and fumbling.
Chris Thompson is a great third-down back, but his body type, injury history and age limit him to that role. He’s also going to be a free agent next year.
Outside of a 61-yard touchdown run against the Bears last season, Mack Brown hasn’t done anything in college or the pros to justify typing another word about him.
Robert Kelley is a nice player. However, his small sample of plus NFL production has been overrated. He was not productive in college, despite playing at a smaller school that provided little competition. And, finally, and perhaps most importantly, he is one of the least athletic running backs in the entire league. I could go on, but I feel like I already said it all here.
Samaje Perine was highly regarded coming out of high school, is an above-average athlete, was ultra-productive as a rusher at one of the best programs in college football history, has never suffered a truly major injury and is the youngest back on the Redskins’ roster.
Perine was not the best running back prospect in the 2017 NFL draft; truthfully, he probably wasn’t even in the top 5. But that doesn’t matter much anymore. Samaje Perine is on the Washington Redskins now, and he is easily the best running back prospect that the team has had in years. As such, he should be afforded every opportunity to compete for the RB1 role on this team; and if he is, don’t be surprised when he runs away with the job and never looks back.
*All statistics are courtesy of 3 Sigma Athlete, 247 Sports, CBS Sports, College Football Reference, ESPN, Footbll Outsiders, Football Perspective, Mockdraftable, NFL Draft Scout, Player Profiler, Pro Football Focus, Relative Athletic Scores, Rivals and Rotoviz*
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