Saturday, May 2, 2009

Forty-Time, Schmorty-time.

Lot of ink the past day or so about undrafted FA Tyrell Sutton, the undersized running back from Northwestern, who ended up missing out on millions of dollars on Draft Day after suffering through injuries his last two years at college, then recording a plodding 4.75 40-yard dash at the combine.

He's latched on with the Packers, and the 5'8" back seems to be an intriguing prospect. 3,884 total rushing yards in the Big Ten isn't a fluke. It could make you Ron Dayne, too, but at least he's worth considering.

I'm kind of rooting for him. Not making any predictions or anything, but you like to see kids rewarded when they have the real talents you need in the NFL. And news for you: blazing straight-ahead speed ain't one of 'em. Remember Willie Gault? Or did you forget about him, too?

In fact, of all the measurables out there at the combines, I'm offering that the 40-time is one of the most misleading predictors of success in the NFL. Oh, don't get me wrong. I am totally on board that you can't teach speed, speed kills, and all those other cliches.

But speed without the intangible skills is useless. Case in point: LeShon Johnson, and his blazing 4.35 40-yard dash time. Highly touted as a first-round talent, he dropped to the third round in 1994, where Mike Holmgren was left to wonder "how can I get this speed on the field?"

He was left to wonder that for quite some time. Johnson was blessed with some pretty impressive speed, but he lacked the real skills you need in the NFL: awareness, vision, picking the right lane, waiting for your blocks to develop, and hitting the hole hard.

Come on. You all remember LeShon getting the ball, hitting his warp speed drive, and running right into the back of his blockers (who got credit for the tackle). In college, they never told him the names of plays: they just told him specifically what hole to go hit (they numbered them for him).

LeShon blamed it on poor vision, but never really got it going as a career rusher. He finished his career in the XFL (while "He Hate Me" is finishing his in the NFL. Irony?).

If Sutton is able to embody those talents that Johnson didn't have, I'm willing to throw out his lack of straight-line speed. In fact, how often does a running back ever really have to use straight ahead speed? The position is dependent on securing the ball, being able to see the field, to move laterally as well as forward, to change speeds, and take a hit.

In fact, the stat that makes me feel a bit better about Sutton isn't his 40-time, it's his Wonderlic, which is a respectable 21 on his first test, and a 25 at the combine. While that in and of itself doesn't mean he's going to have all those intangibles that Johnson didn't have, it gives me a lot of hope that he has that capacity to translate his skills from college to the NFL a lot more successfully.

And why not? He's 5'8". According to scout John Dorsey, he's short, but not small at 213 lbs. Can he become the change-of-pace back we've hoped for from Brandon Jackson, but never quite got?

The coach was impressed.

“Good little football player, I’ll tell you that,” Mike McCarthy said after Friday’s practice. “He jumped out today. I don’t know what everybody here thought of him. I thought he definitely showed some ability. He definitely has a chance. He has a spring in his step, and he’s instinctive, so we’ll see.”

Of course, this is rookie camp, and other than the drafted guys, few of them will even be around come training camp. It's fun to get excited about a kid like this, but we all know the chances are slim.

But Jerry Rice proved that you can run a 4.7 40-yard dash and compensate by getting the job done elsewhere. Face it...if you need someone to catch one pass for you to win a game, do you want Jerry Rice or Don Beebe on the other end?

Sutton may be an excellent fit for McCarthy's hybrid ZBS if his instincts serve him well. Getting a handoff in the ZBS means you get it, wait for the blocks to set up in front of you, then make your one cut and go. In other words, LeShon would have been a really bad ZBS running back.

But Sutton might be the kind of player that would thrive in it as a third-down option. We will have to see if he can beat out Kregg Lumpkin as the third RB, another UFA. Lumpkin was unavailable most of last year due to injury. You never know if that sits in the back of a coach's mind when looking at the roster the next year.


IPB said...

Let's just hope that yet another injury bug hasn't invaded the Team. Justin Harrell is bad enough, especially with the money he's already been paid. Sutton isn't going to get anything more than the minimum, I believe. Still, we better hope he isn't prone that way.

Jersey Al's Green Bay Packer Blog said...


Nice article. I have been disappointed with Jackson as a running back, although I do think he showed significant improvement last season. Sutton sounds like a poor man's Knowshon Moreno. We'll see.

BTW, I have linked to your blog from my blog. As a fellow Packerchatters writer, would you do the same for me?


Thanks and keep up the interesting articles...

C.D. Angeli said...

I think that was my biggest fear with the 2008 draft, IPB, was both Harrell and Jackson had major injury issues their senior seasons. Not to equate the draft with fantasy football, but when I draft my team, injury-prone players move way to the bottom of my rankings.

Jersey Al, thanks much for the props and comment, and you are officially linked!

Franklin Hillside said...

Sutton was the guy I was most excited to see sign. He will make the team and is a great receiver out of the backfield.