Matt Waldman’s RSP Boiler Room examines the receiving skills of 2020 NFL Draft prospect Michael Warren II, a running back from Cincinnati.
What should you be watching when studying a running back prospect’s receiving skills? Listen to analysts in the national media and usage is one of the most frequent mentions. Although there will be some correlation between usage and skill, it is a rough way of examining it.
Nick Chubb can catch. We saw one of the best catches a running back could make when Chubb pulled the ball away from a Bengals defender during his rookie year. At Georgia, Chubb split time with Sony Michel, who earned most of the passing role from the backfield.
Power Five college football teams are at the high-end of the recruiting business, which requires coaches to split playing time among top prospects if these schools want to continue drawing them. It’s why Georgia, Alabama, Florida State, and Oklahoma continue drawing top running backs into its programs. Georgia and Alabama often give young players playing time by divvying up roles, which means a player like Chubb may be classified as not much of a receiver, but it’s a short-sighted analysis due to low exposure to a meaningful target volume.
Sometimes, a target volume isn’t as important as the context of usage. A runner could have below-average target volume, but he’s still targeted in situations that indicate a team’s confidence in his skills:
- Third and fourth down.
- Late in games.
- In the red zone.
- Routes of intermediate to expert difficulty.
‘When’ a player is targeted can sometimes have more value than ‘how often’.
Skill-based traits and techniques are important. Hand-eye coordination and technically-sound attack of the target is vital. Packers running back Aaron Jones has great skills in both areas, but he only has 35 career receptions after 2 seasons in Green Bay.
Some may attribute Jones’ lack of volume to a combination of injuries, scheme dysfunction between former coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and/or Rodgers generall unwillingness to throw check-downs as often as the average NFL passer. Any of these reasons could be true.
Route running and pass protection are also potential reasons. There are a lot of backs with strong hand-eye coordination and consistent catching techniques who struggle with route depths, breaks, and late pre-snap adjustments with their quarterbacks.
And if these skills aren’t issues, protecting the passer is. Kareem Hunt earning targets despite struggling as a pass protector during his rookie year was an exceptional circumstance when observing most NFL teams and their approach to running backs.
An examination of all of these indicators can yield analysis that often differs from the crowd that places an extreme weight on the player’s target volume. Cincinnati Bearcats runner Michael Warren II saw his target volume increase from 5 to 25 between his freshman and sophomore seasons.
If he’s targeted in the situations that I observed him targeted against UCLA last fall, it’s likely that target volume won’t be an issue. Still, we should continue examining when a player earns targets and how he consistent he is with the technical and conceptual aspects of route running.
In this episode of the RSP Boiler Room, we see two passing plays from Warren’s 171-yard, 3-touchdown performance against UCLA that give us a baseline of what to continue seeking from his development in 2018.
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