- The 2019 position rankings series continues with running backs, including our top 10 ranking, big-money backs of 2020, the advantage of two-back sets, the myth of 'establishing the run' to set up play-action and much more.
On the Monday Morning NFL Podcast, Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling discuss the state of running backs across the NFL, Derrick Henry’s big-play ability and what makes a runner great. Plus, they unveil their ranking of the top 10 RBs in the NFL heading into the 2019 season. Listen and subscribe to The MMQB Monday Morning NFL Podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.
GARY: We know Derrick Henry has very little value in the passing game, and if you’re doing even the most rudimentary statistical analysis you know passing plays create more value than running plays. But Henry had 18 carries of 10-plus yards over the final four games of 2018. Does that make you feel a little bit better about him as the focal point of your offense?
ANDY: That 99-yard run he had against Jacksonville was the real deal.
GARY: Yeah, he needs to have more of those.
ANDY: Why didn’t he think of that sooner? But my problem with Derrick Henry is that I think he's dependent on his blocking. When he gets good blocking he can become a steamroller, but he has to get a clear path to the line of scrimmage first. I think that is what separates good backs and average backs, good backs and great backs, is how dependent are you on your blocking early in the run. What you do at the top of a run? That's wonderful, and big plays matter. But sustainable run plays are what matter more.
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ANDY: What percent of your runs are gaining four yards? How much production are you giving before and after contact? Henry was actually surprisingly good in that area, statistically, last year. But he lost yardage early in his career, and his running style suggests that he's prone to do that. I think, overall, he’s very dependent on his blocking, and I just have trouble getting past that with Derrick Henry and with any running back like him. To me, if you're dependent on your blocking, that makes you, by definition, very replaceable.
GARY: But isn't every running back dependent on his blocking?
ANDY: Absolutely. If you lined up with no blockers and there were just defenders, you'd get smothered—we played that game at recess. What you mean that is: Can you create your own space within confined areas? Can you set up your blocks? Can you actively make your blocks work for you, or can you manipulate the defense? And now we're talking about short-area movement, lateral agility, deceptive body control—the ability to look like you're running one way when you're actually running another way.
That subtle wiggle is what you need. We'll talk about that a lot moving forward, because these guys in our Top 10 almost are all going to have some variation of that.
THE MMQB PODCAST TOP 10 RUNNING BACKS FOR 2019
“Others receiving votes” is included if you listen to the show, along with more running back discussions including the three huge-money backs of 2020, the advantage of two-back sets, and why “establishing the run” has no impact on play-action effectiveness. Position ranking voting is AP Poll-style among three panelists, with Andy’s votes counting double:
1. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas, 77 points (1 first-place vote)
2. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans, 76 (1)
3. Saquon Barkley, N.Y. Giants, 75 (1)
4. Le’Veon Bell, N.Y. Jets, 64
5. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina, 61
6. David Johnson, Arizona, 60
7. Todd Gurley, L.A. Rams, 55
(tie)8. Melvin Gordon, L.A. Chargers, 53
(tie)8. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati, 53
10. Tevin Coleman, San Francisco, 46
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