RSP Boiler Room No. 114: Top RB Play Is Brains Over Brawn

Photo by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Waldman’s RSP Boiler Room examines a common issue with college and NFL running back development with Miami RB Mark Walton’s sophomore tape as an example.

Brains over brawn. At some point, every good running back must develop craft to accompany their physical skill or they will not become competent professionals.

Football analysts and media widely recognized Miami RB Mark Walton as an underrated prospect to begin the 2017 season. Walton had season-ending ankle surgery, which increases the odds that he’ll return to Coral Gables for his senior season. [Update: Walton declared for the NFL Draft in December.]

It makes Walton the perfect back to feature in a series of videos highlighting common issues with running back development. Most fans and media (and even former professionals) characterize the running back position as heavily instinctive.

The more I study the position in depth, the less I feel this is an accurate statement. An”instinctive” play is usually the product of intensive preparation that allows the player to react productively at such a high speed of processing that it appears instinctive.

For the Sunday fan who just wants to enjoy the game, this isn’t important. For a player, scout, writer, analyst, or competitive fantasy owner, making these small distinctions is the correct path towards discerning refined talent that has a greater likelihood of producing immediately from the impressive athlete who teases us.

As impressive as Walton has been as a sophomore and junior, his tape reveals a player still refining his game. This video highlights a run where Walton does not consider the design of the blocking scheme.

The result is an attempt where the physical ability is impressive, but the lack of conceptual savvy likely costs him a much bigger play. This is a common flaw with many running backs, whose early development is based on one blocking scheme and college football is their first exposure to another.

For all of you Miami and Walton fans, keep your defenses in check, this is sophomore tape used as a broader example to highlight a common issue with running back play in general. This is not a definitive scouting report on Walton’s NFL prospects. Even so, Walton fails to follow gap-running rules twice in this game without a true mitigating circumstance to ignore them. I bet as I get even further into Walton’s junior tape that we’ll see some progress if gap plays are a steady staple of the Miami offense.

If not, there are plenty of NFL backs who had to learn the same things during their first and second seasons in the league. In the next part of this series, I’ll profile a zone run of Walton’s that illustrates the differences between a good college runner and a top-notch professional.

For analysis of skill players, get the  Rookie Scouting Portfolio. 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 each.

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