If you’ve watched so much as a handful of NFL games, you’ve likely heard that cliché tossed around before, perhaps as a euphemism for a white quarterback or a receiver. But, in watching Legarrette Blount, I was reminded of the term. Not because Blount is fast – he’s not – but because I was surprised at how sudden his movements are. At 6’0”, 250 lbs., Blount has a long-standing reputation of being a between-the-tackles pugilist, a standing he further cemented when he ran for 18 touchdowns for the Patriots in 2016. But, the newest addition to the Lions backfield is more than just a cloud of dust waiting to happen.
Athletic Ability and Open Field Running
Athleticism is more than just 40 times and vertical leaps. Louis Riddick, an ESPN analyst and former Director of Pro Personnel for the Philadelphia Eagles, once described it as ‘movement patterns,’ a piece of wisdom which was revelatory to me. And Blount, despite possessing a low top-end speed and minimal linear explosion, impressed me with how suddenly he moved.
At 250 lbs., he stops his momentum very quickly, and it took many a defender by surprise in 2017. That unique trait contributed to him being ranked among the most elusive backs in the league by Pro Football Focus. For comparison’s sake, another former Patriot, Dion Lewis, finished the year with a 73.2 elusive rating. Blount wasn’t far behind at 72.8. This, coupled with his elite play strength and very good finishing ability, makes Blount an extremely difficult open field tackle. When he ramps up to full speed in space, defenders need to exert more force to bring him down. Blount can leverage this to his advantage by throttling down at the last second to create unfavorable tackling angles, at which point he either forces a miss or relies on good contact balance to truck onwards.
Vision and Creativity
This trait translated to his work behind the line of scrimmage. Blount has good vision and was able to create running lanes in Philadelphia’s diverse run scheme by downshifting to set up pull and wash blocks. Penetrating defensive linemen and shooting linebackers often found themselves grasping for air by sudden stoppages in Blount’s rush track. He also presses the line of scrimmage well on zone plays and earns commitments from linemen before pushing into the proper gap accordingly. And the willingness to trust his blocking and ‘drive through the smoke’ allows him to gain yardage through smaller holes lesser backs don’t see.
Short Yardage and Yards After Contact
Of course, Blount is well-known for his piledriving abilities. Whereas limbs flashing into gaps are enough to deaden some backs, he powers through arm tackles to get through the hole and into the second level. Behind the line, ankle biters are an inadequate deterrent as he continues to barrel forward in spite of such attempts. He runs with solid pad level and good forward lean and lowers his shoulder into contact to generate yards after contact against even the strongest and best-leveraged tacklers. His leg drive is so good that he can drag stout defensive linemen, or a convoy of smaller defenders, before going down. And although he’s reviled by fantasy football players as a goal line vulture, Blount offers the Lions great utility as a short yardage specialist.
Burst and Play Speed
He is not without his flaws, though. His burst through the hole is marginal and he lacks the ability to quickly plant and cut upfield, particularly on outside zone runs to the fieldside. This means he needs to either be given a runway or fight through the second level in order to get into the open field. He’s not a contain buster, as his play speed is adequate at best, making it difficult for him to break contain or find daylight to the perimeter. And while he’s a tough ask to bring down in space, he was often caught from behind due to a lack of long speed.
Blount won’t be much of a factor in the passing game, either. He has just 54 receptions on 74 targets in a career spanning 127 games across eight seasons. Philadelphia largely limited his passing game work to basic flat routes and checkdown responsibilities, as they preferred Corey Clement and Wendall Smallwood as satellite backs. He caught what was thrown to him, but his unorthodox catching technique casts doubt on whether that trend will continue in 2018. The Eagles coaching staff likewise relegated him to the sideline because of shaky pass pro. In spite of willingness and good mental processing to identify threats, Blount put his head into too many blocks and threw his body around more than he used sound technique. He, and his quarterback, would benefit from him playing with improved fundamentals to utilize his mass.
Projection and Fit
The Eagles ran more man and gap run blocking schemes than the Lions did in 2017, but Blount was effective on the outside and inside zone concepts that both teams favored. He operated from under center and out of the shotgun, so he should plug into Jim Bob Cooter’s offense well. That said, I’m excited about his potential to make an impact on the offense this year. The Lions ranked 32nd and 23rd in power success and open field yardage (respectively) in 2017, according to Football Outsiders. I expect Blount to make an impact in those areas while working as a two-down back and short-yardage specialist, and he synergizes well with what’s already on the roster. And, as Nick Rodriguez of 12up.com noted, he draws extra defenders in the box, which further benefits the passing game.
Ultimately, I think Blount was an excellent value pickup by Bob Quinn. And although he doesn’t preclude them from investing in a back in the draft, he stands to a positive effect on a team that has had a historically bad run of…well, running.