Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Training Camp Roster Breakdown 2009: Running backs and fullbacks

Up next in the training camp roster breakdowns are the running backs and fullbacks.

Ronnie Brown
Brown had a hand in the revolution that was the Wildcat, taking the reins and making it look like he had been orchestrating that style of offense his whole life. But the more amazing aspect of Ronnie's season last year was his ability to play a full sixteen game season for the first time in his career, and doing so a year removed from tearing his ACL. Of course, most people will look at his 916 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns and say that Ronnie was back to normal last year. Except they would be wrong. As I tried to continually warn last offseason, ACL injuries are serious stuff, and despite the outward appearance of normalcy, the player will, in all likelihood, be hindered in his performance until the full 18 month recovery time has come and gone. If you want proof that this was indeed the case, just look at Brown's DYAR statistics for 2008 and 2007. DYAR is a counting statistic not a rate statistic, mind you, and Brown played in only 7 games in 2007 as compared to 16 in 2008. In 2007, he amassed 156 DYAR; in 2008, 127 DYAR. That's more DYAR in less than half the games. So no, Ronnie was not completely healed last year, but he probably is now. And that can only mean good things if he can once again play in every game.

With Pat White onboard, Ronnie might cede some of his Wildcat involvement to the rookie, but he'll likely make up for it with a larger role in the conventional offense and also by taking over more of Ricky Williams' carries.

Ricky Williams
Like Ronnie, Ricky's conventional stats from last season are highly deceptive. In his first meaningful and extensive game action since 2005, his 160 carries for over 650 yards would seem like a solid contribution. But as his advanced metrics show, he was absolutely horrible running the ball in critical situations. On third and fourth downs, he posted a putrid DVOA of -75.2%. In the red zone he had a -21.1% DVOA - the only Dolphin RB with a negative red zone DVOA. Even at 32 years old, it would be hard for Ricky not to improve on those numbers. In any case, he should probably be phased out of most of the team's red zone packages and short yardage situations.

This isn't to say that Ricky is useless nowadays. Far from it. He was excellent as the motion back in the Wildcat, and he showed that he still has some explosiveness left in his legs. As long as Ronnie can continue on with his clean bill of health, Ricky makes for a valuable backup who can shoulder his fair share of the carries.

Patrick Cobbs
Cobbs had been hanging around the bottom of Miami's roster for a couple of years now, but in 2008 he showed why he belongs. Cobbs became the team's jack-of-all-trades, working as a running back, a slot receiver, a Wildcat factor, a kick returner, and a kick coverage guy. He was especially effective catching the ball on third downs, hauling in 8 receptions for 62 yards and 5 first downs. Furthermore, Cobbs totaled 110 receiving DYAR with only 19 catches, good for 8th best in the entire league. Cobbs' versatility in the passing game makes it easier for the team to keep only five wide receivers instead of six if they think that extra roster spot would be better used elsewhere. He also blossomed into a great special teams coverage guy, tallying 16 special teams tackles - tied with Jason Allen for most on the team. Essentially, Cobbs makes for the perfect third back.

Lex Hilliard
Hilliard was drafted in the sixth round of last year's draft and spent the entire season developing on the practice squad. With Brown, Williams, and Cobbs all firmly established above him, it will be tough for Hilliard to make the team. But he could help himself by showing he's able to play both halfback and fullback. That versatility could prompt the team to keep five backs, with Hilliard serving as the fourth RB and backup FB. In four preseason games last season, Hilliard rushed 24 times for 68 yards. If he can't make the team this season, he's still eligible for a spot on the practice squad.

Anthony Kimble
Kimble was an undrafted free agent this year out of Stanford. He's only been playing the RB position since 2005, having played WR before that. When I looked at the Speed Scores of this year's rookie running backs, Kimble was found to have a very poor score of 91.6. There's really nothing exciting about Kimble, and his chances of making the roster are slim to none.

Lousaka Polite
Polite joined the Phins in the middle of last season and immediately went to work carving out a niche on the team. He became the team's starting fullback as well as the go-to guy in short yardage situations. He carried the ball 8 times on third and fourth-and-one situations and converted for the first down each time. Of his 23 total rushing attempts, he converted 15 first downs for an incredible 65.2% conversion rate. While he was a decent run blocker, he could stand to improve in that area since that is his primary role on the team. He could also improve as a pass catcher. But when you throw in his special teams contributions, Polite makes for a nice player.

Chris Brown
Brown spent the end of last season on Miami's practice squad. He can play both fullback and tight end, but there's really no room for him on the roster. He's eligible for the practice squad again.


Here are the KUBIAK projections for Ronnie Brown, Williams, and Cobbs.

R. Brown


Here's my predicted depth chart:
1. Ronnie Brown
2. Ricky Williams
3. Patrick Cobbs

1. Lousaka Polite (starting FB)

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