Rookie Scouting Portfolio contributor J. Moyer defines his methods for grading a running back’s vision and uses the positives and negatives of NFL running backs LeSean McCoy and Miles Sanders as examples.
We all know that ‘vision’ is an important trait for running backs. But what is vision?
In its most simple conceptualization, vision describes the ability of a back to find the hole and run through it. In reality, this term is a grab bag for multiple skills and traits that define effective cognitive-physical play by runners.
Breaking it down, vision includes scheme knowledge, post-snap visual processing, accurate interpretation of leverage, efficient footwork, anticipation, patience to allow blocks to develop, and the discipline to create within the structure of the play. Impressively, these complex tasks must be executed consistently and effectively within seconds.
When I study runners’ vision, I grade the trait into four tiers:
- Running backs who miss the primary read when it is there.
- Backs who can find the primary hole, but struggle to process changing pictures and find subsequent secondary gaps.
- Runners who can find primary, secondary and even tertiary holes when present.
- Elite running backs who, believe it or not, are so adept that they can CREATE holes on their own.
Week 1 offered an excellent glimpse into both ends of these tiers.
I’d like to start with an example of elite performance, authored by LeSean McCoy. Despite almost no practice time with the Chiefs, McCoy put on a clinic in linebacker manipulation while ripping off several big runs.
As you can see, McCoy knows the scheme, anticipates running lanes, processes post-snap changes, uses footwork and body position to manipulate leverage and even creates an opportunity where none existed. This skill will earn him the role as Chiefs’ primary ball carrier sooner rather than later.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have Eagles’ rookie Miles Sanders. Sanders is a gifted athlete who shot up draft boards after an excellent combine.
Like many great athletes who play running back, Sanders was never forced to learn the foundational skills of running back play. His physical talent alone was enough in high school and the Big 10.
An inefficient week 1 performance (11 carries, 25 yards, 7.8 yards traveled per yard gained per NFL NextGen stats) reflected struggles across several of the ‘vision’ domains. Here is one example, among many, of Sanders abandoning the structure of the play, making high-risk decisions and leaving yardage on the field.
For those who studied Sanders in college, these inefficiencies are not surprising and actually should have been expected. If the Eagles continue to use him as their lead back, it will limit the consistency and effectiveness of their running game, despite an elite run-blocking offensive line.
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