Arkansas' Knile Davis is an interesting name in this year's draft. It wasn't but a couple years ago that many people looked at Davis as one of the best running backs in the country. Before this weekend, however, most services listed Davis as undraftable. Why? A couple reasons.
In 2010, he rushed for over 1,300 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. He led the NCAA with a 6.48 yard per carry average, drawing comparison to fellow Hog Darren McFadden. In 2011 he broke his ankle and missed the entire season. Then, the Bobby Petrino scandal happened and changed everything about Arkansas football. When Davis returned to the field, according to reports, he seemed to run tentatively. His 2012 stats were disheartening; 377 yards on 3.4 a carry with only two scores. He also had fumbling problems (maybe because of really small hands?).
Part of the concern over Davis is that not only didn't he return to form, but he has a history of injuries dating back to his high school days, and more than one dealing with his ankles. In that way, too, he deserves comparison with McFadden.
But why the interest over Davis to earn him an article? Well, he sort of aced the Scouting Combine yesterday. Sorry, sort of is the understatement of the year. Davis blew the combine out of the water like a fisherman with a box of dynamite. Checking in at 5'10" and 227 lbs., Davis ran the 2nd best 40 time of all running backs. The only back to beat him weighs 60 lbs. less than him. There were only three wideouts that ran faster times than Davis. 4.37, officially. At his weight, Davis just turned in a Speed Score of 124.4, best over the last two seasons.
Oh yeah, he bench pressed 31 reps; second-most behind a 250 lb. fullback. His other measurables all ranked in the Top 15 for running backs (out of 38): 15th in vertical jump (33.5"), 10th in thbroad jump (121.0"), 11th in three cone drill (6.96 seconds), and 15th in 20-yard shuttle (4.38 seconds).
The Texas native trained at the Michael Johnson Academy for this past weekend, and shined accordingly. Actually he shined brighter than anyone could have imagined.
Look at that number! It's amazing! It's incredible! It's the fastest ever, at least until we get the official time that adds .15 seconds to it!
So, can we really get excited about any of these speed measurables that come out of the NFL Scouting Combine? I think the safe way to look at things are that the measurables should be tie-breakers or causing slight fluctuations based on assessment of game tape. If you have several, or even only a couple, of players grouped together, you should definitely lean towards the one that showed better overall athleticism. After all, this is a league where running faster, jumping higher and being stronger matter. A lot.
While it's true that straight line speed (read: 40 yard dash times) are good keys for wide receivers and cornerbacks, they don't really work well for other positions. For linemen, you want to take the 10-yard split and throw away the last 30 yards. For other positions, reading and reacting is a much more important skill than straight line speed, but as you've seen from running backs that can't break away to linebackers that can't close in on a pass catcher, it's still highly vital.
Over the past couple seasons, O.C.C. introduced me to Football Outsider's Bill Barnwell's Speed Score metric. It basically weights a player's 40 time at the Combine against his actual weight. A player that is heavier doesn't need to run as fast as a lighter player to have similar game impact. Makes sense, right? Here's why Barnwell only uses Combine speeds to calculate "speed scores" instead of Pro Days or other clockings:
The Combine is, essentially, an SAT for football players. Everyone gets in the same sterile environment, does the same tests at the same time with the same notice under the same conditions, which yields a context that's the same for each player. That's very important.
On the other hand, consider Pro Days. Players wear different outfits. They wear different shoes, often opting for running shoes dedicated to improve 40 time speed as opposed to cleats. Some schools have electronic scoring; others don't even provide a score. Some are run on tracks; others go on football fields, and some even run indoors. Those still outside can run in balmy, warm weather, or unseasonably cold March showers. It's a totally different universe for each player - Steph Stradley, Houston Chronicle 5/3/2010
Speed Score is a simple calculation: (Weight * 200)/(40 Time ^4). An average score for a running back is 100. A good score is 110 and a great score is 120. Through 2009, the only back that had posted under a 98.0 speed score to make a Pro Bowl was Brian Westbrook. The metric might be losing a bit of it's luster though, looking at the recent performances based on the scores over the last few seasons. At the very least, Alfred Morris joined that group in 2012 after posting a speed score of 92.
Sorry about the 2010 link being to ESPN Insider. As you can see, 2009 was a ridiculously bad year for drafting running backs. LeSean McCoy, the only runner of note from that class, didn't run at the Combine due to a leg fracture.
Here are the complete 2013 Combine measurables for Running Backs, in neat, sortable columns.
|Player||School||Height||Weight||40 Time||Speed Score||10-yd Split||Bench||Vert||Broad||Hand|
|Le'Veon Bell||Michigan State||6-01||230||4.52||110.2||1.55||24||31.5||118||9.58|
|Giovani Bernard||North Carolina||5-08||202||4.53||95.9||1.53||19||33.5||122||9.38|
|Tommy Bohanon||Wake Forest||6-01||246||4.88||86.8||1.63||36||35||119||10.08|
|Zach Boren||Ohio State||5-11||238||5||76.2||1.65||25||32||109||10.08|
|D.J. Harper||Boise State||5-09||211||4.52||101.1||1.54||23||33.5||120||10.28|
|Eddie Lacy||Alabama||5-11||231||DNP||- -||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||9.48|
|Marcus Lattimore||South Carolina||5-11||221||DNP||- -||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||9.78|
|Miguel Maysonet||Stony Brook||5-09||209||DNP||- -||DNP||20||DNP||DNP||8.48|
|Christine Michael||Texas A&M||5-10||220||4.54||103.6||1.51||27||43||125||9.38|
|Lonnie Pryor||Florida State||5-11||227||4.7||93.0||1.61||17||30||114||8.38|
|Joseph Randle||Oklahoma State||6-0||204||4.63||88.8||1.61||DNP||35||123||8.68|
|Theo Riddick||Notre Dame||5-10||201||4.68||83.8||--||DNP||32||118||8.68|
|Robbie Rouse||Fresno State||5-06||190||4.8||71.6||1.64||15||34||114||9.28|
|Chris Thompson||Florida State||5-07||192||DNP||- -
|Matthew Tucker||Texas Christian||6-0||221||4.55||103.1||1.54||17||35.5||118||9.28|
|Spencer Ware||LSU||5-10||228||DNP||- -
|Kerwynn Williams||Utah State||5-08||195||4.48||96.8||1.52||17||35||118||9.18|
|Braden Wilson||Kansas State||6-3||251||4.81||93.8||1.6||22||DNP||DNP||10.08|
|Cierre Wood||Notre Dame||5-11||213||4.56||98.5||1.53||16||37.5||124||8.58|
We know that Dallas might need both a running back and a fullback, if they move on from Lawrence Vickers for cap reasons. While the FB might come in the form of a UDFA, it still could happen.
Some other things need to be noted. Straight-line speed is not the end all be all for running backs. There are numerous examples of players that either under or over performed their 40 time and even their speed scores. Last year was a shining example of this. Tampa Bay rookie Doug Martin ran a slightly above average 104 and I already noted Alfred Morris' pedestrian score.
The big question is, should Dallas look at Davis in the latter rounds if he's still available? Can they put any amount of trust in him as a lead back turned complimentary (instead of the reverse that was attempted with the smaller, slower Felix Jones). It would definitely allow them to use their higher draft picks on other need positions, but would it turn out to be a wasted resource?
Of course, the cautionary tale for a "big back" with a blazing Speed Score is Mario Fannin, 2011 from Auburn. Fannin didn't have the pedigree that Davis did, but was a UDFA signed by Denver after the '11 draft. Fannin has suffered two season-ending training camp injuries in a row. Maybe guys that big aren't supposed to be that fast.
What are your thoughts? Would you approve of a late pick of Davis, is he worth the risk? What other backs are catching your eye?