2016 RB Speed Scores
By: Devin Sperle
Speed. It's the single, most-identifiable trait when evaluating skill position players. This is even more true when evaluating running back talent. We want prospects that show that burst of speed to get through the line. We need to see that ability to turn on the jets and outrun defenders.
We've been told time and time again to be wary of 40-yard dash times when evaluating prospects because these times are not necessarily indicative of how speed can translate to NFL play. That is where the Speed Score Formula comes in. Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders developed the formula, and /u/lawofmurphy of Reddit has done several reiterations of it during the last few years. The formula is as follows:
(200 x Player Weight) / (40-time ^4)
The theory is that 40 times are intrinsically tied to a player's weight. This is a concept that makes logical sense; a player that weighs less should be able to run faster than a player that weighs more. A speed score of 100 is considered "Average" for an NFL-quality RB. Scores below that threshold are "Sub-par" and scores above it are "Good." A score above 120 is "Extremely Impressive."
Excluding Todd Gurley, who didn't run at the combine last year, the top combine speed scores belonged to Karlos Williams (114), David Johnson (109), Jeremy Langford (109), and Melvin Gordon (103). While we can't attribute Karlos Williams' excellent rookie campaign entirely to his speed score, I have little doubt that it was a contributing factor. Rarely do we see a RB drafted in the 5th round have such an immediate impact for his team.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Ka'deem Carey posted a speed score of 85 two years ago. When you compare the scores of him and Langford, it's easy to see why Langford so quickly rose up the depth chart and overtook Carey as the second back.
I decided to calculate the speed scores for every RB projected to be drafted by CBSSports.com. The results are listed in the table below.
*Indicates player did not run 40 at NFL Combine. Time used from another source.
**Indicates player did not attend NFL Combine. Time used from another source.
|Name||College||Weight (lbs)||40 Time||Speed Score|
|Ezekiel Elliott||Ohio State||225||4.47||113|
|Kenneth Dixon||Louisiana Tech||215||4.56||99|
|C.J. Prosise||Notre Dame||220||4.48||109|
|Tyler Ervin||San Jose State||192||4.41||102|
|DeAndre Washington||Texas Tech||204||4.49||100|
|Darius Jackson**||Eastern Michigan||220||4.40||117|
|Tre Madden*||Southern California||223||4.56||103|
|Wendell Smallwood||West Virginia||208||4.47||104|
|Aaron Green**||Texas Christian||203||4.53||96|
|D.J. Foster**||Arizona State||193||4.53||92|
|Travis Greene**||Bowling Green||200||4.69||83|
|Marteze Waller**||Fresno State||216||4.67||91|
|Marshaun Coprich||Illinois State||207||4.47||104|
After reviewing the results, several players stand out. Ezekiel Elliott (113) and Derrick Henry (116) are projected to be the first two RBs off the board in a few weeks, and their speed scores confirm that they have the speed to succeed at that level of expectations. Most of the other top prospects are right around the average mark, which is what we would expect.
Keith Marshall (127) from Georgia and Darius Jackson (117) from Eastern Michigan are both late round NFL prospects that could be great picks in your dynasty league. I doubt Marshall will fly under the radar since his 40 time was talked about by nearly everyone, but his score of 127 is the highest score I have seen from a prospect. He is definitely worth a flier if you can get him. I actually hadn't heard much about Jackson until writing this article, but I like what I've seen and I would target him in the 4th or 5th round of your rookie draft.
While speed isn't the only important characteristic when evaluating RB talent, it should be considered with every pick. Don't get caught up in the "Ka'deem Carey" type hype and instead look to grab the "Karlos Williams" of the draft.