Matt Waldman’s RSP Boiler Room profiles the astute pass protection recognition and execution of LSU’s senior running back Nick Brossette, a 2019 NFL Draft prospect.
A difficult area of running back play to project for the pro game is pass protection. It’s metaphorically the frontier days when it comes to how various analysts and entities evaluate this skill.
At one extreme, some will tell you that if the back shows the desire to do the work, gets in the way and sustains the effort, that’s enough to project a positive outcome. On the other end of the spectrum, there are analysts who take a data-dominated approach and grade how many pressures the runner gave up.
Each pole has its merits. The “did he try” extreme gives room for player growth, which is an essential part of evaluating young and inexperienced talents. The data extreme is purely results-oriented but does not directly correlate to NFL performance beyond the anecdotal — A back with a low rate of pressures allowed in college may wind up a productive NFL blocker but the rate doesn’t tell you enough details that matter to coaches and evaluators:
- Which types of blocks is he strong or weak at executing.
- Did the player’s successful blocks have refined techniques that project successfully to NFL athletes?
- Does the player exhibit diagnostic skills and the ability to adjust during the play?
- Does he know his responsibilities as an extension of the offensive line against a variety of defensive looks?
- Can he recognize twists and other linemen games as well as his responsibility?
- Does he know which blitzing to attack when there’s an overload to his gap?
- Does he identify the potential defender who might green dog?
- What size of defenders can he handle?
If you aren’t identifying the specifics, then what good is the intel for a team? One organization might be satisfied with a running back who can at least square, punch, and move his feet against linebackers and defensive backs but still has work to do with intricate assignments and challenging diagnostic situations — think Kareem Hunt last year.
Another might require its back to handle all of the line protections and show the capability to stone linebackers up the middle and hold their own against linemen just long enough for the quarterback to throw the ball away — think Edgerrin James replacing Marshall Faulk with a young Peyton Manning at the helm.
If you’re not giving information that’s helpful for a team’s short-term and long-term needs at the position, then it’s not specific enough. This is where pass protection evaluations are problematic not only because of the various methodologies but the variability of sample sizes to gauge skills for a class.
In the case of Nick Brossette, this won’t be as much of a problem if you’re seeking specific skill sets and situations while judging the quality of each. The sample size might not be statistically worthwhile but the evidence of repeatable techniques and decisions offers detailed information to help coaches.
Think about it this way. On a cursory level, knowing that Brossette has a 72 percent success rate against outside pressure and a 63 percent success rate against interior pressure gives is a general understanding of his performance. However, it’s more helpful to know that against inside or outside pressure, Brossette leans off-balance into contact and doesn’t deliver a technically sound punch when he faces opponents his size or larger but executes a perfect stance and punch with leverage and power against defensive backs.
Unless the data breaks down specific position types for opponents and charts techniques in detail, we have no idea whether Brossette’s success fate is based on facing safeties who gave up after the initial punch or technically proficient edge defenders. This is why the qualitative element of scouting combined with data tracking is the best approach.
While I haven’t watched enough of Brossette to give volume-based conclusions that data delivers, the LSU back displays a variety of skills that are unusual for most NFL running back prospects in the passing game. This Boiler Room shows a variety of good diagnostic assessments and technically sound execution that makes him a promising blocker if he makes an NFL roster.
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