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Combine RBs Offer Little of What Ravens Usually Seek

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Corum Combine

Few teams have dealt with the level of bad luck at a single position than the Baltimore Ravens have with running backs over the last two seasons. Reciting the list of injuries just seems cruel at this point, and it makes the team’s pursuit of Derrick Henry – one of the league’s most durable backs – seem perfectly justified.

Henry will lead the 2024 backfield with Justice Hill resuming his change-of-pace/third down role after a quietly excellent 2023 season. The team is hoping Keaton Mitchell can recover from his late-season ACL tear and contribute in 2024, but that’s hardly a guarantee. The Ravens need another back to round out the backfield this year and build for the future of the position.

Eric DeCosta has prioritized speed and explosiveness and demonstrated a willingness to take smaller players when drafting running backs. Here are his drafted RBs’ testing averages and ranks among current GMs:

Weight: 203.9 pounds, 3rd-lightest

Height: 69.3 inches, 2nd-shortest

Arm length: 30.3 inches, 3rd-shortest

40-yard dash: 4.42 seconds, 2nd-fastest

10-yard split: 1.50 seconds, 2nd fastest

Broad jump: 127.28 inches, 4th-highest

Vertical jump: 38.04 inches, 4th-highest

DeCosta openly acknowledged before the Combine that the 2024 RB draft class is “probably not as deep as some other positions,” which is fairly damning as far as exec-speak goes. No one should be surprised that he was right, especially pertaining to his established preferences. There are far more backs over 215 pounds than there are under 205, and only three RBs recorded a 4.42 or better 40 time. None broke 1.50 seconds in their 10-yard splits, either. Five reached 38 inches or higher on their vertical, and only two cleared 127 inches in their broad jump.

Put that together with the Ravens’ other needs, the splash signing of a workhouse RB, and the devaluation of the position in recent years, and it feels like RB won’t be prioritized until Day 3.

That fits well with a draft class without a clear RB1, and consensus big boards don’t have even a single one in the top 50. But even in the age of the devalued RB, it’s hard to imagine all 32 teams waiting until the third round to draft one, especially after the Combine. Coaches and execs can fall in love with athleticism and fit – what a RB could be on their team, in their system.

The Combine plays a big role in that, letting the elite athletes at the position distinguish themselves and raise their stock (and signing bonus).

No running back did that more than Louisville’s Isaac Guerendo, who led RBs with a 4.33 40-yard dash, the third-fastest of the entire draft class. His 41.5-inch vertical also led his position, with a 10’9” broad jump that finished second.

Guerendo did all of that at 221 pounds, and put up the fourth-fastest times in both agility drills to boot. Coming into the Combine, he was not seen as a top-100 pick, but he should hear his name called on Day 2 after his performance. His size-speed combo is rare, making him versatile across multiple schemes and roles, as well as a possible contributor in his passing game. Guerendo might have done the most of any player to boost his draft stock in Indianapolis, and he could have made himself millions of dollars in the process.

Guerendo’s legs could even carry him into the top crop of running backs with Jonathon Brooks (Texas), Trey Benson (Florida State), Blake Corum (Michigan), Jaylen Wright (Tennessee) and Braelon Allen (Wisconsin).

Trey Benson and Jaylen Wright turned heads with the only other two sub-4.4-second 40 times recorded by running backs. Benson’s 1.52-second 10-yard split tied for fourth-fastest among RBs, while Wright led the board jump by three inches and tied for fourth in the vertical jump. Neither tested in agility, and while both improved their stock to secure Day 2 status, they do not offer such an enticing skillset that the Ravens should spend a premium pick on them.

Scouts generally use Combine testing results to confirm what they’ve seen on tape, and no player’s Combine better told the story of his skillset than Corum. He doesn’t have elite explosiveness, with a middling 4.53-second 40 and 35.5-inch vertical and the second-slowest 10-yard split. However, 6.82-second 3-cone and 4.12-second shuttle both ranked in the top three among running backs, and he led his position with 27 bench press reps.

That’s exactly who Corum is – an agile, precise back with attention to detail and excellent balance to maneuver in tight spaces. His size limits his long speed, and his drop in efficiency in 2023 after a 2022 meniscus tear could be cause for concern. His 5-foot-8, 205-pound frame won’t scare away the Ravens, especially with his intangibles and Michigan connection, but he’d need to fall for his selection to be a value play for Baltimore.

Jonathon Brooks did not test at the Combine, as he is coming off a torn ACL suffered during the 2023 season. He’s consistently ranked as the top back in the class, but his injury raises questions about his ability to contribute as a rookie. He’s a scheme-proof fit that would certainly help the Ravens in 2026 and beyond, but it’s tough to spend a premium pick on Brooks with Keaton Mitchell already sidelined to start the season.

Braelon Allen only jumped at the Combine, with the third-lowest vertical (32 inches) and a middling broad jump (9’9”). He weighed in at 235 pounds after playing 10 pounds heavier in 2023, but didn’t take the chance to show off his movement skills at that weight. His subpar jumping scores sustain questions about his explosiveness that a solid 40 time could have answered.

Allen doesn’t really fit DeCosta’s draft history, but that’s only based on three picks, and this jumbo-sized class could offer the long-term replacement for the goal-line prowess of Gus Edwards.

Another candidate for such a role is Audrice Estime, a 221-pound back out of Notre Dame who spoke glowingly of the Ravens after meeting with John Harbaugh. A comparison to Edwards feels a little too convenient, but it fits. He doesn’t have elite long speed, but he is so hard to bring down that chunk gains are commonplace for him. He doesn’t make tacklers miss in open space, but he has the one-cut ability to burst through holes at the line of scrimmage. Crucially,

Estime’s Combine 4.71-second 40 time substantiated concerns about his breakaway speed, but he broke 20 mph on at least one occasion at Notre Dame, and his 22 runs of 15+ yards ranked seventh in college football last season. It’s also worth noting that he ran a 4.58-second 40 at his Pro Day, better matching his Combine explosiveness with the fourth-best vertical and board jumps among RBs.

Estime’s Pro Day will help restore his stock after the slowest RB 40 run at the Combine, but he still doesn’t fit the mold of an outside zone or pass-catching running back that the NFL currently prefers. If teams prioritize the faster backs in the draft class – which they often do – Estime could fall to the Ravens on Day 3.

Washington’s Dillon Johnson is another Day 3 back with a clear role and translatable skills for the NFL. He’s a fine athlete but doesn’t have an elite athletic trait to hang his hat on, and his Combine did little to dispel that notion. His 40 time was second-slowest among RBs, and his vertical jump was second-worst.

But Johnson’s physical abilities won’t define his pro career. He might be the best third-down back in the class after reeling in 136 of his 150 targets in the last three years for an impressive 91% catch rate out of the backfield. He’s not a next-level athlete, but his pass-catching chops will be even more relevant in the NFL.

The Ravens have lacked that pure pass-catching skillset in their backfield for a few years, but it may be hard for them to overlook Johnson’s physical limitations early on Day 3. The further Johnson falls, though, the easier it becomes to justify a late-round pick on a running back who can find his way on the field on passing downs as a rookie as he develops as a ballcarrier.

One final name who didn’t test at the Combine but might be worth a look on Day 3 is Frank Gore Jr. His pure talent and college production fall far behind the rest of the “nepo babies” of his draft class, but his maturity and work ethic will intrigue teams like the Ravens who prioritize intangibles as part of their NFL projections.

Fewer players were more impressive at the podium; Gore Jr. spoke with what can only be described as a humble confidence. He knows whose son he is, and he knows what advantages that brings him. He doesn’t deny those advantages; he embraces them with the intention of fully-capitalizing on them. He can’t help being Frank Gore’s son, but he sure can maximize the benefits of learning from his father, a consummate professional and one of the most respected players in the league for his entire career. If Gore Sr. passed down even a fraction of that to his son, Gore Jr. will find a way to make it in the NFL.

For all of the athletic traits that shine at the Combine, a prospect’s ability to handle the transition to the pros and not only survive, but thrive, can be even more important than their pure playing projection.

The post Combine RBs Offer Little of What Ravens Usually Seek appeared first on Russell Street Report.


Source: https://russellstreetreport.com/2024/03/24/ravens-draft-central/nfl-combine-running-backs/


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