Sunday, February 24, 2008

So Who is the Best RB in the Draft?

There's all sorts of bukake rollin' around about how Darren McFadden's draft stock is slipping because he doesn't have the lower body mass that people like in an RB. Especially when compared to Rashard Mendenhall and Jonathan Stewart, D-Mac's legs do look skinny, kinda like the guy at everyone's gym who has a jacked upper body yet looks like he hasn't done a thing for his legs. Is this that big of a deal? Does it invalidate D-Mac's incredible run through the GAUNTLET that is the SEC? Or is it just poo-poo?

As we all know, the college game varies significantly from the pro game, where better athletes with better skills at every position level the playing field significantly. You'd be hard pressed to look through the roster of great RB's in the NFL and find an RB without tree-trunk legs, and those who do find success without a lot of lower body mass usually are about as boom-or-bust as it gets. Still, is it really a necessity?

Even if it is the case that having a massive lower body is a requisite for NFL success, does D-Mac's skinny legs really show anything about how strong he is? Genetics are a fickle mistress, some people, no matter how strong they are, just can't get a lot of mass on their legs, especially calves. If I was an NFL talent evaluator, and I'm most certainly not, I'd be more interested in D-Mac's vertical and squat numbers rather than giving it a look over and assuming the guy has no power.

But really, if anything, this debate is more an indictment about the combine process in general. Sure D-Mac doesn't have a lot of lower-body mass, but at the same time...he was an absolute beast in a conference that, while hard for me to admit, is as deep as it gets with top-level talent on the defensive side of the ball. What McFadden did against LSU is not to be discounted, nor is his total body of work, spanning across 2 ridiculously productive seasons.

McFadden has a performance record that should trump any such talk about his little legs, but it's his other baggage that has to be taken into account. He's simply more of a gamble than Mendenhall or Stewart, from a physical standpoint, as he could be more injury prone or might not be "that" effective between the tackles. In my opinion, all three of these guys are about on the same plane.

RB (and to a lesser extent LB) is the easiest position to become acclimated to in the NFL, just because it relies so heavily on athleticism and instincts rather than technique and polish like a WR, OT, CB or DE. Each of these guys were incredibly successful in a spread-option formation, and a lot of their success can be attributed to a QB who can get big yards with their feet. In McFadden's case, the QB wasn't the threat and he was keyed on primarily by top-notch defenses. Would Mendenhall or Stewart have been as successful if the threat of Dennis Dixon or Juice Williams wasn't there? Why have Nebraska RB's been so meh in the pros running out of a more antiquated option style? This is more of an issue, to me, than any measurables.

But I do believe that all three RB's will be successful. Whatever the strategy, you can't deny that Stewart is a 230 lb. beast of a RB who is not fun to take down. Regardless the scheme, Mendenhall is a thick back who can elude tacklers, break tackles executed with poor technique and has the speed to take advantage of poor angles of attack. McFadden looks like the SEC version of Adrian Peterson, you just don't shred a defense like LSU's if you don't have serious ability.

Perhaps, in McFadden's case, he was poorly coached in the weightroom, which wouldn't be a stretch if you consider just how batshit crazy the whole Arkansas program has been recently. And that brings us to McFadden's other knock, his attitude and off-the-field issues. Perhaps he will never be able to be coached well and will resist any attempts to build the discipline necessary to build your legs. Lets be honest here, doing squats and deadlifts take a huge toll on your entire body, and you're going to be in serious pain for awhile in order to really build the kind of trunks that Mendenhall and Stewart already have.

So really, in Mendenhall and Stewart, you have a couple of generic RB's who can get plugged in vitually anywhere and pretty much have a B+ ceiling established. With McFadden, you have the chance of failing spectacularly, like Reggie Bush, another thin-legged RB has run is on the way to doing. But you also have the chance of landing Adrian Peterson, a home run threat every time he touches the ball you have the chance to get points. But Peterson has huge I'm just keep going in circles.

Let's just wait and see. But if you're the GM who passes on McFadden and he turns into a Hall of Famer, you're an idiot.

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