Listening to The Whispers: Changes to The 2015 RSP — Running Backs


I’m about to find out if I can make a difficult part of my life seem funny in a post that took as direct of a path as one of Barry Sanders’ runs. 

I have spent the offseason reviewing and updating my evaluation criteria and scoring values for the Rookie Scouting Portfolio publication. At the same time, I moved to a new town after spending 21 of 22 years in Athens, Ga. Changes encourage reflection and I’ve had a lot of  changes and milestones this spring.

One of them is the RSP entering its tenth year of existence. It’s hard to believe that a decade ago, I decided to become a student of the game.  Rereading that last sentence, it sounds so pretentious. It’s not what I thought when I created a database to evaluate football players. I was bored, tired, and angry about my life direction.

I also figured that if my company wanted to send me to Jacksonville, Florida for a week to study industry best practices, require me to score at least 90 percent on a six-hour certification exam to justify the $15,000 price tag, and then fly up to corporate to sell them on the utility of the knowledge — only a portion of it they were willing to try — I  might as well put some of that knowledge to good use in my own life.

Looking back, I have only scratched the surface of what I want to learn. There are a myriad of concepts, techniques, and strategies that can deepen my understanding of the game.

But if my first 10 years have taught me anything, it is the perspective gained from time and experience doing hard work. I have a feeling that perspective and experience will once again outweigh most of the knowledge-based lessons that I’ll acquire over the next 10 years — if I’m fortunate — of doing this work.


The grits and gravy of “developing perspective” is the confidence that you gain from your experiences.

When people say “it’s not the destination, but the journey,” they’re right. Especially when taking a path that embraces the potential for failure. You have to be willing lose something to gain anything richer.

If’ you’ve ever lost something meaningful in your life or experienced a significant series of failures and you’ve worked through these losses long enough to emerge from the other side of the mess then you know what I mean.

I’ve had my share of personal failures that forced me to cross some long hard paths in my life. From 2001-2003 a series of events nearly cost me everything that I owned. I was always pretty good with my finances, but I was missing some important life skills in another arena and it bled into my financial decision-making.

When you have to learn certain skills as an adult that many people have the opportunity to gain as a child, the classroom is no longer a controlled environment and the mistakes have much harsher consequences.

I realize this is all extremely vague, but  I don’t feel it’s right to share specifics because it reveals events that are not only mine to tell.

I was trying to help loved ones who were experiencing a crisis. These two had no means to help themselves and there was another person with primary responsibility as the caregiver who was overwhelmed. I overextended myself financially to help out. What I didn’t realize at the time was just how emotionally overwhelmed the caregiver was  and the decisions that person made with my assets were financially disastrous.

While I trusted that person to tell me if our plan wasn’t working out, that person doesn’t earn all the blame. I didn’t take an active role in making sure that I was keeping up with what was happening. When you decide to financially partner with someone it’s best to be an active partner or don’t partner with that person at all.

I didn’t learn about these poor financial decisions until one of the consequences appeared at my doorstep as I was settling in on a Sunday afternoon in January to watch Steve McNair and the Titans take on the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship. He was a balding redheaded man with a paunch sagging over his jeans and his eyes darted from me further into the house with a wired intensity that was preparing for anything.

“Matthew Waldman . . . I’m here to repossess your car for failure to make three months of payments.”

There are far worse things in life than having someone repo your ride — I’ve experienced some of them. But you couldn’t have told me that nugget of wisdom on that afternoon.

As the man gave me time to clear (what was) my car of any belongings before he hooked it to the wrecker, the immense shame of what was happening broke through any remaining composure I had like waves tearing through a levy. It pulled my anger into its swirling muddy water and rendered it into debris of unspent rage and then turned it against me as I tried to stay afloat atop the surface of this mess.

Bewildered and frightened, I lost all sense of direction as a menagerie of thoughts and images riding the currents tumbled past:

What will the neighbors think? . . . 

(An image of my friends slowly backing away from me like I’m a landmine that could detonate with any false step) . . .

This doesn’t happen to an “A” student. I was an “A student” . . .

I can’t tell my dad…you should tell him…hell no, I’m 32 years-old and I can handle this myself–I’ve never asked for anything…Yeah, it’s going swimmingly right about now, isn’t it?  . . . 

(An image of Art Schlichter led away from court in handcuffs). . .

This is not a good sign for the Titans . . . Yeah, because you’re psychically connected to the fortunes of a football team….Earnest . . . The negative energy is going to hurt them. . . Brian . . . Did I really just think that? . . . Sipe . . . Jamaica seems nice about now, doesn’t it?  . . . Please God, can the Titans….Byner . . . Don’t pray for that . . . One yard — bet Randy Moss scores on that play . . . Isaac Bruce . . . This is ruining any ability to enjoy this game . . . Why the f*ck do I care? My car is getting strung up . . . 

And I was voted “Most Talented” in my high school class . . .

If I was truly talented, I could talk this guy into another day to straighten this out . . .  

The repo man is so apologetic, it’s almost worse that he’s sad for me . . . 

(An image of Ryan Leaf laughing at me)

(An image of me hitting Ryan Leaf in the nuts and the Chargers defense laughing as Leaf falls to his knees)

How am I getting to work? . . .

How could . . . 

Do I . . . no . . .

I might . . . no . . .

If I . . . nope . . .’


This could be a dream . . . 

It’s way too detailed to be a dream . . . 

But then why am I hearing this song? . . .  

And yes, I watched that Titans-Raiders playoff game. Those three hours felt like 10 minutes and 10 days all at the same time. Tennessee could have blown out Oakland and McNair could have had a career-game and it wouldnt’ have matter — I saw the players moving around on the television screen, but my mind was stuck in a loop of what I shared above.


I lost that car in January of 2003. I could have bought another car at one of those joints that give loans to anyone as long as they’re willing to pay interest that’s higher than Steve Young’s career-best QB rating.

I couldn’t do it. I had responsibilities beyond myself and most people in my situation probably would have moved heaven and earth to get a car, but I realized that when I fell into this hole I didn’t land at the bottom, but on a ledge overlooking an abyss. Trying to get a car was that one false step I didn’t want to make if I ever wanted to see light in my life again.

So I took a different route.

I lived five miles from work, the grocery store was a mile from home and on the way, and I had a bicycle. I bought lights so I could see and be seen at night.

I’d tell my co-workers I was training to get into better shape. I’d buy panieer bags and arrived early enough to clean and change in the bathroom. I’d give up my health insurance to save money (yeah . . . don’t say it), I’d  pay off debt, and when I could reasonably afford a car at a rate that looked more like Art Monks’ yards per catch despite the fact that repo on my credit report wouldn’t disappear until 2010 , I’d be ready to buy one.

It’s exactly what I did from January 2003 until August of 2005.

I strapped grocery bags to my bike like the pictures I’ve seen of people doing in developing countries and I bent a more than a few wheel rims before I figured out how much I could carry home. I learned how to read traffic several steps ahead of my position on the road and figured out how to use the head lamp as a preventative tool to warn drivers of my presence.

I discovered that flipping off a drunk passenger who tried to startle you on the road would lead to you standing across from drunk passenger within a few minutes and debating if jail time for assault and battery would be a good resume builder.

And I became much more in touch with my spirituality.

Eventually, I learned that I didn’t need a car. I was surviving without one in a semi-rural college town with poor infrastructure for bicyclists at the time and I did it regardless of rain, ice, darkness or infernally hot summers, drivers with homicidal rage, and the thing I hated most — wind (Of all the weather conditions, wind was actually the worst due to the hilly terrain of my routes. There’s nothing like riding down a huge hill and the wind forcing you to pedal).

I got to work in 20-30 minutes and rarely missed a day. It was Athens so I could afford to be a little quirky as my cover. If I had to travel for business, there was an airport shuttle and I could rent a car for shorter visits to nearby branches.

My life is much different now. I repaired my credit, I own multiple vehicles free and (all paid off early), and my day job might as well be a million miles from my old career even though the offices are no more than a half a mile away from each other.

None of the differences had to do with making more money. When left my first career I took a 58 percent cut in my salary at age 36 to manage a bulk mail operation at the university. I had to sell my future boss on hiring me because I had the experience and qualifications to have his job and his boss’s job (As a former regional manager at Home Depot, moving back home and starting over, he had to do the same with his boss –we both had resumes commensurate for her job).

I knew if I stayed in Athens and took something that required less commitment I could spend more time on freelance writing jobs and developing the RSP. It was a risk, but not as risky as that daily ride for two and a half years without health insurance.


It began as a ride of shame, but it evolved into one of the great experiences of my life.  I discovered that life wasn’t over because I failed. I learned the difference between “need” and “want”. What mattered and what didn’t was easier to see because I didn’t have the resources to engage in the typical bullshit that we often wade though to maintain certain societal illusions — illusions that often have good motivations, but have poor real-world applications.

This was experience conceived the Rookie Scouting Portfolio and the RSP has been an exercise where I have applied (and continue to do so) the lessons I have learned:

  • Start simple and keep your beginnings modest.
  • Accept that there will be a lot of internal and external doubts ahead.
  • Celebrate small victories.
  • Keep the broadest vision in mind every day, but focus on the smallest tasks.
  • Persistence is a most powerful tool. You win by refusing to lose.
  • Don’t flip off the drunk passenger (or Tweeter) screaming by in his girlfriend’s car blaring Sweet Home Alabama unless you want to add intrigue to your resume.
  • Building something good is more marathon than sprint.
  • Know your value.

It’s all clean and simple in bullet points, but making anything look simple is one of the hardest tasks in life — especially when it comes to transitioning from this story to the changes I’ve made to my running back evaluation process. There is none, but we expect sharp changes of direction when he talk running backs, don’t we?

Here’s the list of criteria that I have changed for runners in 2015:

  • Added – Judgment with Staying Inside vs. Bouncing Outside: I used to factor this into the Good Decisions category, but I find that this isolated decision is easier to improve than other conceptual mistakes. The reason is the jump in athleticism from college to professional football. Once a young pro figures out that he’ no longer has the massive edge in quickness and athleticism, his decision-making often matures. Other decisions are more about awareness, intellect, and reactions that are more difficult to change.
  • Added – Variation of Stride Length: I thought about incorporating a broad category labeled “Good Footwork,” but specifics are better. One component of excellent footwork is the ability to seamlessly vary the length of one’s stride. It’s about the integration of the eyes and the feet to set up change of direction and avoid traffic while maintaining good balance and control. Marshall Faulk was excellent at varying his stride.
  • Added – Variation of Stride Pace: One of the reasons why Darren McFadden has struggled at points during his career is that he’s not consistent at varying his pacing. Pacing the rate of your steps is important to crease development. This bleeds a little into vision, but I see stride pacing as a mechanical/technical tool for a runner that is implemented and vision as more of a conceptual thing.
  •  Eliminated – Avoids Direct Shots: If a back can do all the things I list under vision, agility, and power, he’ll avoid direct shots. No need to be redundant.

So there you have it, a whole lot for a little — but isn’t this the case for running backs most of the time? Walter Payton would agree:

Next Post: A far less tangential look at changes to wide receiver and tight end evaluations — and there are many. 

For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2014 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2014 RSPs at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.


9 responses to “Listening to The Whispers: Changes to The 2015 RSP — Running Backs”

  1. I think it’s great that you are always look to improve your ranking process. It’s definitely equal parts science and art.

    Question for you; have you gone back to past rsps and look at any running backs that you had ranked either to high or to low and look to see if this new ranking method would have been a more accurate prediction of how those players would ultimately perform?

    • Thanks Tony,

      My desire to make changes often comes while doing the work on those players at the time. I’ll have observations about a player that I feel isn’t fully encompassed in the scoring. So to answer your question, I don’t “go back,” as much as I “see it while I’m doing the work.” This is the beauty of having both a grade checklist and literally writing what I see play-by-play.

  2. Hi Matt, Reading your columns on Football Outsiders lead me to your blog where I bought the RSP last year (and this year… and 2012 for pleasure!). I must say that this is a game changer. Being a CPA, I relate to evaluations based on a good process.After that, I discovered FootballGuys by following you on Twitter, which is awesome. The commute to work is always better with the podcasts.That changed the way I play Fantasy Football. Seeing the way all the Fantasy “Gurus” interact on twitter made me want to Benchmark a few things with a respected GM in my Dynasty League. It’s always good to see that the way you think is not the only way. What I never thought I’d read from you, is inspirational stories. That might be the most valuable thing you can share with all your readers. Cheers from Montreal, Quebec.


    Date: Thu, 7 Aug 2014 18:19:06 +0000 To:

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