Matt Waldman’s RSP Boiler Room: Bijan Robinson, Zach Evans, and Hugging Blocks

Matt Waldman’s RSP Boiler Room examines Texas RB Bijan Robinson and Ole Miss RB Zach Evans, two excellent running back prospects who could declare for the 2023 NFL Draft class, and the subtle detail of hugging blocks. 

RBs Actually Think

Football fans, especially NFL and fantasy football fanatics, hold a primitive default view of running backs: Instinctive athletes who haven’t placed much forethought, theory, or technique into how they execute on the field. They’re just quick, fast, strong, and agile.

Good running backs, like most good football players, have developed skills to the point that they can execute them to the speed of instinct. Running the football is a lot like soloing over a harmony of chord changes at a high speed.

Cherokee is a high-tempo song with a harmony of often-used chord progressions grouped in a sequence that’s difficult to navigate musically if you haven’t put a lot of practice into the tune—especially if the song is called at a blistering pace or uncommon key.

Accomplished jazz musicians have learned enough technical, theoretical, and story-telling elements of their instruments and the musical language of the song to perform it well.  You don’t have to listen to this performance to understand the point, but it is enjoyable for those who have time.

For many of you, the solos over this tempo may not sound like anything sensible, but they are all playing theoretically-sound phrases that generate a musical story while interacting with the other musicians in the process.

Football is similar in this way. A running back carrying the ball is soloing over a harmony that the blockers are creating with the play design.

Plays don’t always unfold as designed, which requires the runner and blockers to respond to techniques and concepts to make the play work. This is also true with jazz improvisation.

These responses may simply look like athletic reactions based solely on instinct. However, the more you learn about what good running backs do, the more you discover there’s a difference between backs who are leaning on raw athletic ability and backs who have a refined understanding of their position and the game.

Hugging blocks is one of these differences.

Hugging Blocks

In the past, I’ve called it “scraping” blocks because of the contact running backs often make with their linemen when executing the concept well. “Hugging” is a better term: It’s the act of working tight to the nearest blocker during a downhill track into a crease—often during a cutback after pressing the line from a different direction.

Hugging blocks allows a runner to maximize his velocity, contact balance, and space through a crease. Here’s Raheem Mostert hugging blocks on two plays.

In contrast, let’s take a look at Texas running back Bijan Robinson, a violent one-cut runner with excellent burst who is still learning to hug blocks.

Bijan Robinson Needs to Hug This

First, an important note: Whenever analysts or scouts compare players as a method of educating fans and media about a point of football, there’s always someone who attempts a faulty counterargument rooted in the comparison…

Raheem Mostert can’t hold Bijan Robinson’s jock.

The comparison is about a specific aspect of each player’s performance, not their overall value. This is vital to remember, or you’re lost in superfan mode and will never become a more knowledgeable football fan.


Learning to hug your blocks based on the space you should see pre-snap is something #Texas #Longhorns RB Bijan Robinson can get better at.#NFL RB Raheem Mostert of the #FinsUp is very good at this.#2023NFLDraft

♬ original sound – Matt Waldman

This play had a clear opportunity for Robinson to hug his backside blockers collapsing the line to the left. If Robinson had an ingrained understanding of hugging blocks, he would have avoided much of the backside pursuit coming down the line and get into the secondary.

Ole Miss RB Zach Evans, a transfer from TCU, has developed this ingrained understanding of hugging blocks.

Zach Evans Knows What Mostert Knows

Multiple facets of Evans’ game remind me of Dalvin Cook, a bendy runner with curvilinear movement, speed, and contact balance between the tackles. This play below is a display of that curvilinear movement used as a device to hug blocks on a cutback.

Evans is a top prospect in his own right, but this article is not intended to tell you which running back, Evans or Robinson, is a better NFL Draft prospect. I’m simply highlighting one common running back concept and showing you two good examples of runners executing it and one example of a back who should have done the same.

Hugging blocks is one of several decision-making concepts that illustrate how refined a back’s skills are. The more skills like these that a back has, the better his vision usually is.

And of course, if you want to know about the rookies from this draft class, you will find the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), with the 2022 Rookie Scouting Portfolio for $21.95. 

Matt’s new RSP Dynasty Rankings and Two-Year Projections Package is available for $24.95

If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2020 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2020 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

Best yet, proceeds from sales are set aside for a year-end donation to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse.

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