Matt Waldman’s RSP Boiler Room series examines 2018 NFL Draft prospect Lavon Coleman and a common pass protection flaw among running backs at this stage of his development.
One of my favorite backs of the past 20 years was Edgerrin James. The most common narrative with James is the idea of “what would have been” if not for a knee injury that robbed the Colts back of his elite explosiveness. I recently discovered that James, despite this injury, remained one of the most consistent producers of quality games since 1990 with at least 100 games played.
James was seventh among these backs with 61.5 percent of his games equating to the average weekly production of a top-12 runner during this career. When it comes to the average weekly production of the two top backs—what I define as the Elite Tier of quality games—James ranks 6th among RBs (32.4 percent) with at least 100 games played since 1990.
If I drop that 100-game requirement to 80, James only drops to 8th on the list. This might surprise fans who buy into the “what could have been” narrative for James considering that he got hurt midway through his 3rd year of an 11-year career and still was among the most productive players of his era.
Savvier fans will note that James’ production certainly benefitted from playing with Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Dallas Clark, and Reggie Wayne. Certainly, the ability of Manning and the passing game to make defenses pay with the play-action fake prevented opponents from stacking its numbers to stop James. However, the relationship between James and Manning’s production was mutually beneficial.
One of the reasons this was so was James’ ability to play every down. James was a fantastic pass protector early in his career and it was an underrated reason why fans shouldn’t blindly give all the credit to Manning as the difference maker in the Colts’ offense.
If a running back can’t do everything that the offense requires from the position in the passing game, opponents have a greater chance of knowing which plays won’t be run in a given down and distance based on scheme alignment and personnel.
With James on the field every down, the offense is far less predictable. The difference between a rookie starter and a promising talent at the position is pass protection. No matter how much praise his heaped on rookie runners in practice reports and team previews, you should remain vigilant these prospect’s ability to pass protect—no matter how blithely the writers state this as a qualifier to their assessments
If you want to avoid disappointment about rookie runners whose virtues beat writers blithely extol (along with brief qualifiers about third down—which fans often ignore) in OTA reports and team previews, maintain a vigilant attitude about pass protection. If there aren’t quotes from players or coaches praising the prospect’s ability to pass protect and you’re expecting that back to beat out a veteran for lead duties as a featured back or even a committee, it’s time to re-think that position.
One of the common flaws that young backs have as pass protectors is the ability to deliver a punch with proper position and leverage. If the position is too aggressive, defenders disengage quickly or run by the back. If the position isn’t aggressive enough, defenders can push the blocker into the lap of the quarterback.
The latter outcome is what happens below in this film clip of Washington RB Lavon Coleman. There’s a lot to like about Coleman’s game, but this is an area where Coleman can significantly improve his draft stock if he addresses his technique in the summer of 2017 rather than the winter of 2018.
For analysis of skill players in the 2017 draft class, download Matt Waldman’s 2017 Rookie Scouting Portfolio today! Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2017 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.