Thursday Seattle Seahawks fans learned that the team is retaining both running back Mike Davis and defensive end Marcus Smith, but there are obviously still several free agents left unsigned and on the market. This includes 2017 free agent acquisition Eddie Lacy, whose performance this past season ranked among the worst in the NFL among running backs with at least fifty carries. Fans were quick to lament how slow Lacy was, and how his lack of success was a direct result of his complete lack of speed.
Interestingly, this may not have been the case. With the Next Gen Stats that the NFL has begun releasing, there is now data available on the speeds at which NFL players are moving on the field in game. In order to help understand this speed data, the Head of Analytics for Rotoviz, Josh Hermsmeyer, has done an immense amount of work on the topic, and has created an easy to use tool which charts player speeds against the NFL average for the position.
For those interested in the full review of speed data he did, it can be found by clicking here, or for a quick preview some can look at the following tweet.
Everything I ever wanted to know about NFL player game speed collected in one place.https://t.co/RLtbPid3Ur— Josh Hermsmeyer (@friscojosh) March 19, 2018
Lots of questions and quite a few answers. pic.twitter.com/rrCL0MZB9q
Regardless of whether you wish to read the article or not, his work generated the charting tool noted, and we can now take a look at exactly how slow Lacy was on the field for the Seahawks. The results are, in a word, surprising.
The red line is Lacy’s speed, with the yellow line representing the average speed for NFL running backs. I’m not sure what word best fits my reaction when looking at this, so I decided to dig a bit deeper. With both 2016 and 2017 data available, comparing Lacy’s speed over the last two seasons seemed interesting.
That is far more in line with what I would have anticipated - at or below league average almost all the way through the sample. While it is obviously far from definitive proof, it certainly seems to provide some support for the impression I got watching tape that Lacy was pressing much of the time, rather than patiently letting the play develop.
My interest piqued, I took a couple minutes to look through the other Seattle running backs to see if the results were similar. Sext up was Mr. Taunt himself, Thomas Rawls, and here is his 2017 speed data.
That chart seemed to show the same thing as Lacy’s 2017 chart, with much of the speed data coming in above league average speeds, so let’s take a peak at his 2016 chart.
This is far less pronounced, and tracks well with the leave average. It’s certainly interesting, if nothing else. Moving along to the recently resigned Mike Davis, he comes in on the opposite side of the league average graph.
That’s certainly interesting. What about Chris Carson?
Carson seems to have tracked the league average fairly well along most of the curve, so now for a glance at J.D. McKissic.
That is in line with what I would have expected from McKissic, who always struck me as speedy on tape in spite of the fact that he ran a 4.57 forty yard dash at his Pro Day. McKissic even clocks in above average when compared to the average wide receiver.
So, while it’s impossible to draw any firm conclusions from just this data, looking at the speed data for the 2017 Seattle running back corps certainly raises some interesting questions. The first of which is how accurate the data truly is if it is registering Eddie Lacy as faster than the league average running back, but really it digs into whether Lacy and Rawls were pressing too hard during 2017. If they were, it could go a long way towards explaining some, but nowhere near all, of the struggles the running game suffered last season. Now, I know someone in the comments section is going to chime in and state that this speed data in isolation is irrelevant in the absence of comparing it to the successful running backs across the league and that no back could have been expected to be successful behind the Seahawks 2017 offensive line. Just as an advanced word of warning, if that commenter happens to be you, be prepared to be put on blast in a follow up article in the coming days because I’ve already looked at that data and have those comparisons.
In any case, with Davis now set to return and Chris Carson hoping for a full recovery, the picture of the running back room is beginning to get more complete, and working towards filling the holes with the young, hungry players the team wants.