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2024 NFL Draft Comps: Jonathon Brooks, Trey Benson, Blake Corum, MarShawn Lloyd

2024 NFL Draft Comps: Jonathon Brooks, Trey Benson, Blake Corum, MarShawn Lloyd

The NFL Combine and college Pro Days are behind us while the NFL Draft is right around the corner. There has been no shortage of coverage for these prospects, but I wanted to bring a different spin on player comparisons. To do this, I use a technique called clustering, which allows me to bucket these players into several statistical profiles and compare one to another. In the clustering, I included a combination of production, efficiency, athleticism and usage metrics in hopes of capturing who these players are.

2024 NFL Draft Guide

NFL Draft 2024 Prospect Comparisons

This article will cover the methodology with commentary on some of the standout players from the 2024 class. This year’s running back cohort is, in a word, underwhelming. No single prospect stands out as the best of the group and none rank in the top 60 of the consensus prospect big board, with just two of them in the top 75. Because of this, there’s a chance we won’t see a running back drafted in the first two rounds.

In the last 20 years, at least three running backs were drafted in the first two rounds in all but two drafts (2019, 2016), speaking to the relative strength of this class. It’s unlikely we see any of these backs enter a full workhorse role, but some potential diamond-in-the-rough prospects could work themselves into a complementary role.

Methodology

Before I get into the analysis, I want to explain the methodology and techniques I used along with delineating what this analysis is and, more importantly, what it is not. Let’s start with the latter.

This analysis is a descriptive way to compare a player’s college stats and athleticism to historical results. This is not a predictive indicator of future NFL and fantasy success or that a player with similar athletic and production stats will have the same career.

In terms of the methodology, I used a principal component analysis (PCA) using data since 2016. If you’re unfamiliar with PCA, it is a way to “squish” several variables (in this case, each of our statistical metrics), into just a couple of variables — our principal components — thus simplifying our dataset and reducing noise. Put another way, PCA helps us find fewer features that will represent our data (or prospects) in a more compressed way.

This also allows me to visualize the results on two axes using the first two principal components, which I wouldn’t be able to do easily with the several metrics we have. This is also where we can see player comparisons — players that appear further away from the center of the chart are more unique in their results and fall into a more distinct category.

For running backs, below are the weights for the metrics for each of the two principal components. To calculate a player’s principal component, you can read these as linear equations. So, for principal component one, a player’s score is calculated as (-0.17*Height) + (-0.05*Weight) + (-0.01*Forty-Yard Dash) + (0.55*Carries/Game) + (0.58*Touches Market Share) + (0.54*Dominator Rtg) + (0.09*Yards after Contact/Att) + (0.02*Missed Tackles Forced/Rush)  + (0.28*Breakaway %) + (0.13*YPRR).

I also calculated similarity scores between each prospect’s metrics profile — I only used the metrics used in the PCA above. For this, I calculated the Euclidean distance of each metric between each player to get the Cosine similarity, resulting in our similarity score. Below each player, I’ll give a brief list of the players whose statistical profile is most similar to the prospect, along with the similarity score. These scores are in a range of 0 to 1, with 1 meaning a player’s statistical profile is an exact match.

With that, let’s get into some analysis.

Running Back Prospect Comparisons

Jonathon Brooks (RB – Texas)

Most similar players: Javonte Williams (0.800), Bijan Robinson (0.797), Tyjae Spears (0.694)

If not for tearing his ACL late in the 2023 season, I would posit Jonathon Brooks would be the clear-cut No. 1 back in this class. He’s still the top-ranked running back on the consensus big board, but it’s not unanimous. Brooks followed in Bijan Robinson’s footsteps at Texas admirably, rushing for 1,150 yards on just 190 attempts in his final season. His 0.36 missed tackles forced per carry was in the 95th percentile of running backs in 2023 while his 1.5 yards per route run was also quite solid and demonstrates his versatility. Finally, Brooks ranked 22nd out of 252 running backs in my database with a career 4.13 yards after contact per rush.

Because of the injury, Brooks did not do any athletic testing, which could further hurt his draft stock. I don’t expect him to get a huge role as a rookie coming off of injury, but I would be buying stock on him entering his second year.

Trey Benson (RB – Florida State)

Most similar players: Kendre Miller (0.757), Rashaad Penny (0.692), Bijan Robinson (0.685)

Trey Benson is the other player competing with Brooks to be the top running back taken in this year’s draft. Benson is another elusive and explosive back, made more impressive since he suffered a massive knee injury as a freshman in late 2020. Both his 3.9 yards after contact average and 11.7% breakaway rate ranked among the top 30 of the 191 qualifying running backs in my database. Benson didn’t get a ton of carries in college with just 316 total. That should help his longevity in the league with his injury history.

Benson’s athleticism is extremely solid, too, as he has a 116.3 speed score (ranks 17th) thanks to his 4.39-second 40-yard dash. His strength also shows up on the tape as he can bounce off of tacklers to get extra yardage. It feels like Benson will fit in more as an early-down bruiser as he doesn’t have much receiving experience, catching just 32 passes throughout college. Still, I’d be very happy for Benson to be drafted by my team.

Blake Corum (RB – Michigan)

Most similar players: Deuce Vaughn (0.734), Donnel Pumphrey (0.651), Trayveon Williams (0.644)

Blake Corum was a key cog in the Wolverines’ National Championship run last year and has been one of the most productive backs over the past two years. Corum totaled over 1,300 yards from scrimmage each of the past two years and scored a combined 61 touchdowns. However, how he got those touchdowns last year was lackluster:

Furthermore, his efficiency has been downright terrible for someone considered to be among the best backs in the class. Corum averaged a paltry 3.09 yards after contact per carry in his three playing years, just a 34th percentile mark, per PFF. He also struggled to make players miss with just 0.22 missed tackles forced per carry, outside the top 100 backs in my database. Age is another concern with Corum, as he’ll be turning 24 in November of this year. Corum feels like he’ll have a limited ceiling for fantasy and be relatively touchdown-reliant.

MarShawn Lloyd (RB – USC)

Most similar players: DeeJay Dallas (0.806), Kendre Miller (0.682), Bryce Love (0.661)

MarShawn Lloyd spent his first three years at South Carolina before transferring to USC, where he finally got some run (no pun intended). Lloyd matched his rushing production at South Carolina in just one season as a Trojan, but he still failed to reach 1,000 yards rushing in any season. That said, his 7.1 yards per carry last year was outstanding and is in large part due to his 97th-percentile missed tackles forced per attempt.

Lloyd also had one of the bigger discrepancies in how he performed on gap vs. zone run schemes — his gap scheme PFF grade last year was in the 99th percentile while his zone scheme PFF grade was down in the 30th percentile. Some will point to Lloyd’s eight career fumbles as a knock against him. While it certainly may impact his draft stock ever so slightly, it is one of the least-stable stats from college to the pros and shouldn’t be a concern.

2024 NFL Mock Drafts

Here are a few early predictions for the 2024 NFL Draft. We’ll continue to add our 2024 NFL Mock Drafts leading up to the start of Round 1.


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