This article is part of a series in which I evaluate 2022 rookie running backs solely on their ability to run the ball. The first installments can be found here. I’ve changed up my methodology a bit since publishing those articles, which I go over in detail in this process-focused piece. I’ll give a quick refresher below, but also feel free to skip straight to the player-focused analysis below the picture of Arizona State’s Rachaad White a couple paragraphs down.
Outside the ability of whoever happens to be running the ball, there is a whole mess of variables that factor into the effectiveness of a given rushing attack: scheme, play-calling tendencies, opponent strength and scheme, weather, offensive line play, surrounding skill-position talent, etc. And given this entanglement, separating the contributions of the ball carrier from the offensive environment in which he operates is not a straightforward task. My approach to doing that is centered around measuring the degree to which a running back is over- or under-performing the per-carry output of the other running backs on his team.
Starting from the premise that good runners do more with what they are given than do bad runners, it stands to reason that, provided players are operating under generally the same conditions (like, for example, playing on the same team), better backs should produce more per carry than lesser backs. Using this logic, we can establish a baseline for comparing efficiency between players on the same team; for each running back, we can compare his performance (X) to the collective performance of every other running back on the team (Y). If X > Y (essentially, if dude is doing more with his carries than his teammates are with theirs), we can probably conclude that the player in question is a good player, at least to some relative degree.
Assuming that this is a sound method of evaluating running backs relative to their teammates, we can then extend our comparisons to players from other teams (we’re really just creating a baseline for efficiency comparisons similar to how Dominator Rating and other market share-based metrics create baselines for volume-based comparisons).
The key metrics I use to evaluate running back performance vs. that of their teammates are called Yards Per Carry+, Chunk Rate+, and a metric I developed recently called Box-Adjusted Efficiency Rating, or BAE. I also like to use a metric called Breakaway Conversion Rate, but that is not a teammate-relative measure and we’ll therefore look into it separately.
The metrics are pretty straightforward: YPC+ is the degree to which a player over- or under-performs his teammates in yards per carry, and Chunk Rate+ is the degree to which a player over- or under-performs his teammates in rate of “chunk” runs (which I classify as runs of 10 yards or more). At a basic level, I want my running back prospects to find a way to produce more per carry than the other backs on the team, and part of that puzzle is navigating the line of scrimmage and extending runs into the secondary at a higher rate than his backfield mates. YPC+ and Chunk Rate+ measure the degree to which a player does both of these things.
BAE also does those things, but it improves upon Yards Per Carry+ by using a weighted average of a player’s per carry efficiency on carries vs. various amounts of defenders in the box (using data from Sports Info Solutions), relative to the per carry efficiency of other running backs on his team vs. the same box counts. The resulting percentage indicates to what degree a runner over- or under-performed his teammates on his total rushing attempts, relative to how often he faced each box count. BAE is a more comprehensive metric than is YPC+, and I will defer to it accordingly, but YPC+ and Chunk Rate+ will still be used given that the sample of data I have for those metrics goes back a decade-plus (while I’m only able to generate BAE Ratings going back to the 2018 college football season).
Rachaad White graduated high school in 2017, spent a redshirt year at DII Nebraska-Kearney, transferred to Mt. San Antonio Community College in California, blew up as a redshirt sophomore, and then transferred again to Arizona State, where he served as the Sun Devils’ lead back for the past two years. In other words, it’s been an interesting journey through the amateur ranks for Mr. White, who will now head to the NFL and — like Mr. Pink — act like a professional.
A good indicator of his ability to do just that is his posting a yards per carry average 1.64 yards above that of his backfield teammates during his college career, a number in the 88th-percentile among backs drafted since 2007. That YPC+ mark is raw, but if you account for the kinds of box counts White saw in your valuation of his per carry output vs. that of his teammates, you’ll find that he produced at a 131.3-percent rate relative to them. That BAE Rating (which only looks at his efficiency at Arizona State, given that the kind of advanced stats needed for such analysis is not available for his time at Mt. San Antonio) is actually the third-highest mark in the 2022 running back class, only trailing Kenneth Walker and Abram Smith.
The box counts that White saw during his two-year stint in Tempe were nearly identical to the counts that other Sun Devil backs faced (White’s were actually 0.01 defenders lighter on average), and he ripped off 10-yard runs at a 2.77-percent greater clip than those other backs against those similar box counts, a performance in the 68th-percentile.
Legitimizing White’s positive team-relative efficiency is the quality of the teammates that he was outdoing on the ground: the average high school recruit star-rating of other Arizona State running backs during White’s career was 3.67, making them a 67th-percentile group. To outperform such a collective to the degree that White did is pretty impressive.
Note: for the purposes of continuity in my process, I’m evaluating White here as if he didn’t spend any time at Mt. San Antonio, as there is simply far less data available for non-FBS programs. If it helps you sleep better at night, White would have posted a career YPC+ of 1.64 against running back teammates who averaged 1.57 stars as high school recruits if I include his non-ASU stats. None of 10-yard run rate, box count data, breakaway runs, etc., are available for Mt. San Antonio.
The final metric that I like to look at is Breakaway Conversion Rate, where White performed near average, converting 10-yard gains into 20-yard breakaways at a 29.7-percent rate for his career, a mark in the 46th-percentile.
RUSHING EFFICIENCY SCORE AND COMPS
If we then take all those non-BAE metrics and put them in a soup, add a dash of overall team quality, a pinch of offensive line play, and a just a splash of volume, you get my infallible running back model’s composite Rushing Efficiency Score, where White earns a 71.6 out of 100. I’m still testing out recipes that include the box count data, but my prototype composite rating that does has Rachaad White at a 67.8, which would be the fourth-highest mark in the class. However I slice it, I am forced to conclude that White is a pretty good runner of the football.
One way I ground my evaluations of players in historical examples is through the generation of data-based comps. Using the same soup of inputs that contribute to the Rushing Efficiency Score, in addition to physical attributes like height, weight, and athletic testing (we’ll assume that White runs a 4.50 forty at the 6′, 210 he measured in at at the Senior Bowl), my comp machine sees the following players as the most similar to White from a “pure runner” perspective:
There are some quality cameos here made by Alvin Kamara, Marlon Mack, and Dalvin Cook, but it’s certainly worth keeping in mind that guys like Travon McMillian, Johnny White, and Jeff Wilson came out with rushing efficiency profiles and slender frames that look a lot like White’s. Even if he gets to his Combine goal of 215 pounds, he’s a skinny dude at 6′ tall, but that’s the difference between being proportionally built like Kerryon Johnson or Miles Sanders rather than Bilal Powell or Tevin Coleman. My personal view is that our default position should be that guys of nearly any body type can handle a heavy workload, but the track record for guys as skinny as White getting an opportunity at those kinds of roles is not great.
Overall, I think Rachaad White is a good runner, and his total skillset (his receiving profile is pretty nice) makes him a candidate for three-down work at the next level. His meandering journey through the college football ranks means he’s an older prospect (he’s already 23), which should call into question how much of his success at ASU was due to his inherent ability and how much was due to physical advantages given to him by maturity. That, along with his slight build, is my main concern. The range of outcomes for a guy like this is pretty wide, and, barring something astonishing happening at the Combine, I see Kenyan Drake or James Starks as hopeful projections toward the top of it.