Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens: RB Kerryon Johnson (Lions) And Process-Based Evaluation

Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens examines a short video analysis of Lions running back Kerryon Johnson compiled by contributor J. Moyer that underscores a vital part of player evaluation. 

J. Moyer creates excellent short-form video analysis. If you’re not following his work here or on Twitter (@JMoyerFB), remedy that now. Moyer has produced a few videos about Kerryon Johnson, who we share as one of our favorite emerging runners from the 2018 NFL Draft Class.

Johnson was my No.4 running back in the class—nearly tied for third with Derrius Guice and both earning an immediate starter grade. What J. Moyer’s video then read this excerpt of my scouting report on Johnson and then watch Moye’s video again.

My scouting report excerpt:

Flexible, fluid, explosive, and powerful, Johnson is a smart and dynamic decision-maker with the ball in his hands. Johnson is close to developing a complete game and it should not take him long to get there.

Johnson is one of the best backs in this class at combining varieties of techniques with his feet, hips, hands, and pads to elude or overcome contact. He sets up rushing lanes in gap and zone schemes with his footwork and hits them hard and transitions from avoidance behavior to aggressive behavior once he’s past the line of scrimmage. He often gets skinny through creases as he finishes a jump cut and then emerges through the hole with a powerful forearm shiver at the ready.

He has plays where he keeps his pads low through the hole and others where he’s running upright. Although Johnson is naturally an upright runner, he consistently drops his pads to initial contact and finish strong. Like Barkley, he can get into “elude-first” mode and his pads remain high into the crease where he risks getting blown up.

Johnson’s physical dimensions are at that sweet spot where he has all of the high-end tools at his disposal for gaining yards. He’s strong enough that he can push defensive linemen through contact from an angle for extra yards and agile enough to layer jump cuts in succession to press, cut back, and then cut downhill between the tackles.

He has the quickness to avoid first contact with a jump stop or jump cut when penetrators reach the backfield. Once his pads are down, he can push a pile.

Much of what was stated is what you see Johnson execute in a creative, positive, and productive manner as an NFL rookie. We think of football data in yards, first-downs, and efficiency percentages.

This is results-oriented data that can lack the context of the process that will or won’t make that data predictable. Another path toward quality data comes from examining the game and creating your own information to track.

Look for common problem types presented to players performing a specific position and note the successful things that occur when a player creates replicable on-field solutions for these problems. Looking at the running back position–and specifically, the videos above, there are several things that are definable, trackable, and meaningful to evaluate any runner:

  • Does the player anticipate penetration based on the pre-snap alignment of the defense vs. the offensive play design?
  • Does the player identify sudden changes from the defense that could impede a play in a timely manner?
  • Does the player deliver a timely, efficient, and productive solution to sudden changes? (You could break this down much further)
    • Does the player use efficient changes in footwork stride?
    • Does the player possess capable short-range acceleration?
    • Does the player demonstrate enough change of direction quickness?
  • Does the player demonstrate special awareness of oncoming defenders and reduce the space of his carriage posture?
  • Does the payer show the judgment of when to attack or evade a defender?
  • Does the player win direct collisions with linemen? Linebackers? Defensive backs?
  • Does the player understand how to reconcile solutions based on the design of the play versus the actual outcome developing as the play unfolds?
  • Does the player exhibit judgment that fits within the down, distance, field position, and game clock?

I could formulate at least a dozen more questions from these plays that apply to every running back evaluation. And if you refine these questions correctly and apply scoring that allows you to track the rate of success to these questions, you could generate your own data on runners and compare at every level, every defensive look, and every down-and-distance situation or field position scenario.

I track these questions in the RSP. They are data points about a runner’s process that begin from the root of the player’s performance rather than back-tracking from the result.

Both analysis types have value; it’s a matter of when it’s best to apply the information. The value of this method above is that you’re identifying replicable and desirable behaviors that can be tracked and evaluated regardless of the success or failure of the play and often the success or failure of the surrounding talent.

You’re beginning with context and working forward rather than beginning with results and not sure if there’s context to mine.

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