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Abram Smith and Rachaad White: A pair of running backs to keep an eye on

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Allstate Sugar Bowl - Baylor v Ole Miss Photo by Kevin Langley/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When Shane Waldron was hired as the offensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, many of us expected to see him shift the team’s rushing identity towards the wide zone running scheme that the LA Rams have employed under Sean McVay. And while he did certainly install some new wrinkles to the system, the team’s run game was still focused primarily between the tackles. Look at these rushing charts for evidence of this.

Digging a little deeper, we find that these charts aren’t just colorful, but actually quite indicative of Seattle’s rushing style over the last couple years. In 2021, over 57% of the team’s designed runs went between the tackles according to the above data. This is actually slightly up from 2020, which is interesting given that 2021 was the first season for Shane Waldron and Andy Dickerson in Seattle. Compare this to the Rams from 2020 (Waldron and Dickerson’s final season in sunny California), and there is a pretty stark difference; only about 44% of that team’s designed runs were between the tackles. So what gives?

Mike Solari could be a partial answer here; while Andy Dickerson was named Running Game Coordinator ahead of last season, the possibility that Solari’s style would always be a mismatch was a distinct possibility. Now that he is gone and the team has installed Andy Dickerson as the Offensive Line coach, I expect to see some significant changes in 2022. Seeing as the team re-signed Rashaad Penny coming off a stellar end to 2021 — and I am actually really excited to see if he can revive his career in a system that may play more to his strengths (getting outside and into space) — I still think the team will likely dip into the running back pool with a later round pick.

Between 2018 and 2020, the LA Rams drafted one running back each season, starting with John Kelly in round 6 of 2018, followed by Darrell Henderson (round 3, 2019) and Cam Akers (round 2, 2020). John Kelly and Cam Akers came primarily out of zone running systems, while Darrell Henderson saw a more balanced split in his final year at Florida State. All three running backs had a good amount of experience as pass catchers in college (each totaled at least 200 receiving yards in their final season), and their measurables had some common threads if you look into their combine/pro day performances.

In case you haven’t already watched Sam’s Film Room on the top 3 running backs in this year’s draft, I highly recommend that you do. This article, however, is going to feature two lesser known names at the position who comp pretty closely to the three players listed in the tweet above (Kelly, Henderson, and Akers). The first player — Abram Smith of the Baylor Bearswas in for a Top 30 visit, which may mean little but it does at least indicate that he is on the team’s radar. The second player - Rachaad White from the Arizona State Sun Devils — is regarded as the best receivers in this class of running backs, and it isn’t particularly close. Both players were primarily featured in zone running schemes, although White was the more balanced of the two; zone runs comprised roughly 89% of Abram Smith’s 229 attempts in 2021, which was the highest raw total of any runner in this class. Both players are on the older side, with each set to turn 24 by the conclusion of their rookie seasons. This isn’t ideal, but also not overly concerning to me for guys who are projected to go in the 5th or later. Regardless, let’s look at some film!

Abram Smith | Baylor Bears | 5’ 11 1⁄2” | 213 lbs | Age: 23

4.50 (40yd) | 2.59 (20yd) | 1.53 (10yd) | 36” VJ | 9’8” BJ | 4.40 (Shuttle) | 7.25 (3C) | 13 BP

NFL combine and draft profile

Per Dane Brugler:

“A one-year starter at Baylor, Smith emerged as an ideal fit in offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes’ wide-zone scheme in 2021 and became one of the best stories in college football. After a prolific high school rushing career, he played primarily on special teams and at linebacker over his first four seasons in Waco, averaging 11.5 tackles as the starting weakside linebacker in the final four games of 2020. The coaches asked him to return to running back as a senior, and he led the Big 12 rushing yards and was one of only five FBS players to reach 1,600 rushing yards in 2021. A patient yet decisive downhill runner, Smith trusts his blocking and shows the nimble footwork to clear creases. His receiving, blocking and ball security are areas that can be improved, but NFL scouts have zero questions about his coachability and intangibles. Overall, Smith won’t be an ideal fit for every scheme, but he is tailor-made for outside/split zone run game with his one-cut quickness and feel for lane development. He not only brings value to the backfield but is well-versed on defense and special teams to potentially offer three-way versatility. GRADE: 4th-5th Round” — full profile available here.

Rachaad White | Arizona St | 6’ 1⁄2” | 214 lbs | Age: 23

4.48 (40yd) | 2.58 (20yd) | 1.52 (10yd) | 38” VJ | 10.5” BJ | 20 BP

NFL combine and draft profile

Per Dane Brugler:

“A two-year starter at Arizona State, White was the featured back in offensive coordinator Zak Hill’s scheme. From Division II to junior college to Tempe, he took a winding journey to the NFL’s doorstep, but he bet on his talent and work ethic and averaged 6.4 yards per carry during the past two seasons as the Sun Devils’ leading rusher. White out-leverages pursuit with his lateral agility and decision-making on the move, which allows him to create chunk plays despite his average top-end speed. Though he needs to improve in pass protection, he is a dependable pass-catcher with tracking skills and body control. Overall, White will leave some production on the field, but his explosive darting run style allows him to collect his feet and find yardage that wasn’t blocked for him. He projects as a backup capable of steady NFL playing time. GRADE: 5th Round” — full profile available here.

At the moment, the Seahawks have the 109th overall pick in the 4th round, and back-to-back picks at 152 and 153 in the 5th round.