Charles Sims is a disciple of the McFadden-Murray school of running back. Today I’m going to show you why.
If I were an unabashed opportunist, I’d claim that Darren McFadden’s disappointing career validated my pre-draft concerns about the Raiders back. But I’m not about being right for the wrong reasons. I still believe I missed on vital parts of McFadden’s game – aspects that make him a viable NFL talent. Recognizing the error of my ways helped me make a stronger assessment of Demarco Murray.
While not identical, McFadden and Murray in the same school of running back style. Soon-to-be-former Houston running back Charles Sims reminds me of these two runners. I have more to see before I can compare his athleticism to these two NFL starters, but it’s good enough for Sims to follow suit.
This 2012 contest against UAB is a good illustration of what makes Sims a good prospect as well as the lingering concerns that make staying in school a wise choice for 2013.
Sims’ Running Style
At 6’1″, 213 pounds, Sims is a taller back. It’s these dimensions and his gait that make him a similar type of runner as McFadden and Murray.
McFadden’s ability to bend runs at high speeds was something I downplayed in my pre-draft assessment. So were his suddenness and aggression in a gap scheme. Although I think Murray is a good zone runner with skill to change direction with sharper cuts, Murray and McFadden both tend to “bend runs” rather than make sharp cuts.
There is also a similarity in their pad level although I think Murray has always been more consistent with his. After seeing McFadden illustrate his style could work, it helped me see that Murray’s gait would work just fine in the NFL. I didn’t worry about his balance the way some of my peers did.
When I watch Sims, I see a blend of both players. All three players are versatile, three-down options with big-play ability. While they are nightmares for defenses if they get their pads square and a head of steam, their styles limit some of their creativity at the line of scrimmage compared to runners like Maurice Jones Drew, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, or even Ahmad Bradshaw.
But that’s the beauty of the position; there is not just one successful style.
Speed and Acceleration
The game I’m using to illustrate Sims’ skill is a 29-touch 171-yard performance against UAB. Despite the impressive box score, I’m often more fond of seeing plays where the player in question encounters difficulty. It’s why I don’t shy away from poor box score performances if the touch-count is high enough.
Sims’ first carry is a good example of the tough sledding he had early in the contest: A two-yard gain from an uptempo play on 2nd and 3 with 12:34 in the first quarter. Houston runs an outside zone to the right and the blocking scheme fails.
The backside blocks fail to stop the pursuit and the right tackle is not fast enough to contain the edge defender. As Sims reaches the right hash, it becomes a footrace with the edge defender penetrating two yards into the backfield untouched. Because of the cornerback and linebacker free behind the edge defender, there’s no room for a cutback.
There are five defenders in this picture with an angle on Sims and only one lineman on his feet. Even that lineman has been beat. Yet Sims still manages to outrun the defensive end , turn the corner, and gain two yards.
This play should have been a loss if not for Sims’ speed, which earns the Cougars a manageable 3rd-and-one.
Like McFadden and Murray, Sims is a dangerous player in space because of his acceleration and it doesn’t take much green grass for him to turn on the turbo boosters. Here is an eight-yard gain on a 2nd-and-eight swing-screen from a 3×1 receiver, 10 personnel shotgun with 6:30 in the first half.
Sims flanks the trips side of the QB. The play is a quick-developing outside screen pass with two wide receivers blocking in the flat as the middle trips receiver motions across the formation as misdirection to fool the defense into taking steps away from the actual flow of the play.
Sims swings to the flat, catches the ball over his inside shoulder with his hands and does a good job of tucking under his outside arm as he makes a fast, down-hill cut about three yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Sims accelerates well and splits the defensive back in the slot getting ahead of the defensive end working down the line of scrimmage. These are two strong angles by defenders and the Cougars runner manages to beat them both.
Although the end wraps Sims from behind, the burst is good enough for the back to earn eight yards and the first down.
Sims’ acceleration can catch opponents off guard. This 36-yard streak up the right sideline with 4:35 in the half is a great example. The play is a 2nd-and-10 pass at the UAB 41 with Sims beginning the play flanking the quarterback to the opposite side of a quads set.
Sims motions from the backfield to the right side where he is the single receiver and draws a cornerback playing single coverage. At the snap, Sims demonstrates good footwork to dip inside-out and earns strong separation on the corner by the time he’s 15 yards down field.
There’s even a nice use of his hands to swipe past the corner to get outside without a jam.
The runner makes the grab at the 15, turning back to the football and waiting on it just long enough to give the defender time to recover. The beaten corner wraps Sims at the 10 and drags the runner to the ground inside the 5. A better throw and this is an easy touchdown.
Good Ball Security Form, But Execution Needs Improvement
Sims typically carries the ball high and tight, but he’s experiencing lapses of concentration when it comes to his ball security at various stages of runs. Here is a 2nd-and-10 run from the Houston 25 with 6:20 in the first quarter. The play begins in a 3×1 receiver, 10 personnel pistol versus two safeties deep and a four-man front.
This is an inside zone play with Sims taking the ball towards the left guard and center who are double-teaming the left defensive tackle. Sims takes a strong approach towards the outside shoulder of the left guard. As he reaches the left hash he cuts back to the inside shoulder of the center.
This press and cut forces the weak side linebacker to move a step wider of the left guard and sets up the block. Sims then hits the crease inside the center at the line of scrimmage, bursts up the middle, and earns five yards.
This weak side linebacker spins away from the guard and pursues Sims as the Houston runner dips outside the oncoming safety six yards past the line of scrimmage. The defender reaches Sims a yard later, wraps the runner high, and spins the back to the ground as the backside pursuit punches the ball free.
Sims initially has the ball high to his chest, but it’s never tight enough to his body. The spin and contact exacerbates the looseness of his elbow from his body. Upon contact from the defender, the ball slips free and turns a nine-yard gain into a turnover.
While Sims’ ball security is decent for much of the run, his pad level is high enough for the linebacker to come backside and get his arm into the runner’s chest. Lower pad level prevents this type of exposure to the ball.
We’ll see instances where Sims’ pad level is lower when he finishes runs, but his height is a critical factor with his lapses with ball security. There are plays where Sims demonstrates a more conscious effort to lower his pads, but his overall running style is unlikely to change. It means the best ways for him to improve his ball security will be to get stronger and maintain concentration on squeezing the ball throughout the play.
Two touches later – a 2nd and 5 with 4:16 in the first quarter – Sims almost loses the ball again at the UAB 7. It was a common occurrence for the defense to earn penetration into the backfield early in this game and disrupt the flow of the running game. On this play, the middle linebacker and defensive end converge on Sims a yard deep in the backfield.
I like that Sims hits the crease hard and drags the end a yard after bouncing off the contact of the linebacker. He does a good job of keeping his feet moving and even demonstrates some body lean. However, the UAB defender rips at the ball and Sims has to make a juggling attempt to secure it with his left arm while falling to the ground.
The pad level is again an issue. The blue arrow is Sim’s actual pad level, but the ideal pad level is closer to the orange arrow. It’s clear to see how much Sims exposes the ball with his pads high. As he approaches the defense his pad level never changes.
Setting Up Defenders
I like that Sims adjusts to what defenders are doing in the game. UAB was successful getting early penetration into the backfield and converging on Sims for minimal gains. The Houston running back does a good job of turning this advantage against his opponents on a nine-yard gain on a 1st and 10 run with 5:31 in the half.
He did an excellent job pressing to the left side to bait he penetration up the middle and then spin inside the defender to reach the line of scrimmage.
The spin and burst from Sims opens a strong lane and I especially like the pad level that Sims display as he’s midway through the crease.
Note the pad level below. This is what Sims has to demonstrate earlier in runs.
Sims’ pads don’t have to be this low at the beginning his runs, but this play is an illustration that his pad level issues area about two things: a high running style due his height and the lack of bend in his hips and knee and inconsistency of effort to correct it. Sims’s pad level can get away from him early in runs if he doesn’t make a conscious effort early in the play.
Promising Pass Protector
Here is an excellent cut block on a corner blitz from the left side of the formation on 2nd and 10 with 5:46 in the half.
Sims crosses the formation from a 2×2 receiver, 10 personnel shotgun set and takes out the slot corner with an excellent block across the body of the cornerback.
The result is an 11-yard gain to the right flat for a first down . Note the way Sims works across the body of the defender and cuts high enough at the waist to force the defender to crumple to the ground at the point of the collision.
Run Bender With Cutting Ability
On the following play, Sims gains six yards on 3rd-and-three from the UAB 24 with 12:55 in the half from a 30 personnel 1×1 receiver pistol with a diamond look. They motion the left fullback to the right and then run a play where Sims follows the two lead blockers right and cuts back to the left on this outside zone play.
Sims does a nice job spotting the cutback lane, planting and changing direction with burst to beat the backside defenders through the crease to reach the line of scrimmage.
The burst from this cut is also impressive. Check out the space he generates 3-4 steps after the cut. Three defenders that were ahead of Sims are now in the rear view mirror.
Sims runs through a wrap to his leg a couple of yards down field and dips further to the backside to avoid the safety just enough to run through a wrap to his leg at the first down marker. He then drags two defenders hitting him from behind for another three yards. When he gets downhill he’s tough to tackle.
If Sims makes the unlikely decision to enter the 2013 NFL Supplemental Draft, I think he is worth a second or third-round pick. Depending on the team fit, he’d fall in a tier that separates Johnathan Franklin and Montee Ball. Perhaps even with Mike Gillislee if the fit isn’t optimal.
Since Sims is likely to transfer to a college program, I think the experience could increase his stock, which should increase his odds to contribute early in the NFL. If Sims remains a college athlete, keep an eye on his speed – both the long sprints and the short area burst. It’s what I’ll be watching closely to determine where he fits on the McFadden-Murray spectrum.
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