Speed kills. Unfortunately, much like the wide receiver position, the evaluation of the running back position at the high school level is often entirely based on speed.
However, qualities such as quickness through the hole, run vision, pick and slide skills, balance and change of direction skills are every bit as important. A player termed an all-purpose back with excellent size and power is the ideal prospect for most programs.
While speed is nice, quickness is great. There are a lot of great running backs at the college level who lack great 40 speed, but have exceptional quickness.
Also, with so many spread offensive sets, today's running backs must be versatile enough to catch the ball out of the backfield. The running back with the ability to split out wide and create mismatches in the passing game is the ideal choice. It also helps if they have some skills as return specialists.
There are plenty of other areas used to judge running backs. The ability to make tacklers miss and eliminate a lot of head-on collisions is a great indicator of a back's ability to stay healthy.
Blocking is another under-evaluated skill when it comes to grading backs. Most freshmen entering college have not spent a lot of time working on their blocking skills. If you ask any college coach, a freshman running back is more likely to sit on the bench or come out on passing downs not for his inefficiencies as a runner, but for his lack of success as a blocker and his inability to pick up the blitz.
It is very rare when you get a back who can do everything: run, catch and even return. These guys give opposing defenses nightmares, and they can change the personality of an offense. The Marshall Faulks of the world are rare, but their all-around ability and versatility brings a different dimension to any offensive philosophy, and that's what every recruiter in the country is looking for.
Running Back Grading System
Scouts Inc. will evaluate the running backs on the following criteria:
1. Inside runner: Can they pick and slide? Do they have the vision to be quick to hole? Do they show the ability to cut back?
2. Outside runner: Do they have the speed to turn the corner? Do they make sharp and quick cutbacks? Are they a home run threat?
3. Elusive runner: Can they avoid tackles and constantly avoid taking big hits? How is their change of direction? Do they have good moves in space? How is their overall vision?
4. Power runner: Do they run with good balance? Do they break tackles, or do they go down on first contact? Do they fall forward after contact?
5. Blocker: Are they willing to be a blocker? How are their instincts in pass protection? Can they run block?
6. Hands, routes: Can they make both easy and tough catches out of the backfield? Do they have fumble problems? Do they expose the ball too often, and are the problems correctable?
7. Durability: Can they take a hit? Do they show the toughness to stay in a game when not 100 percent healthy? Do they wear down too much over the course of a game?
8. Running style: Are they a slasher, darter or power back? Do they show the ability to kick it into a second gear?