-Skinny for a running back
-Ball carriage is sloppy
-Not very deceptive in the second level
-Not a great inside runner
I know what you’re thinking. “Who the hell is John Spooney?”
John Spooney had the fastest 100 meter dash in his DI conference (10.37, .01 better than Chris Johnson’s personal best. That’s right, Chris Johnson), and he had 150 carries for 1170 yards (7.8 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns in 9 games in 2013. He came in second in his conference’s offensive player of the year voting.
“Oh, c’mon, there must be a catch. I bet he’s built like Trindon Holliday.”
Nope. He’s 5’11, 185lbs. 5’11 is the NFL average for running backs, 185lbs is on the skinny side, but he’s still only about 15lbs away from having the height and weight of Jamaal Charles.
“Oh, I get it. He probably started off at a big school, but he got dismissed from the team and has a rap sheet reminiscent of Bernard Scott. That must be why I haven’t heard of him.”
No. You know what DI conference he plays in? The Ivy League. He plays for Brown, and he is an outstanding man, a biology major who would like to go to medical school.
The more I watch John Spooney, the more I think there is no catch. He’s just that good. I only heard of Spooney earlier today. He was listed as one of the 98 early entries in the NFL draft (he is an academic senior but athletic junior, took a year off from football for track but came back so he’s technically a junior as far as football is concerned), and I did some research and was just stunned. I immediately found some of his film on YouTube, and he’s a legitimate talent, one of the most underrated prospects I have ever seen. His ceiling is incredible.
I’d like to note something: I don’t usually like to scout via YouTube. I’ve been avoiding YouTube film and trying to stick to my TiVos recently since I have found that YouTube quality is lower than television quality, and it causes me to make a few mistakes with some of the little things. The lower quality footage made me mistakenly say that Kevin Hogan has perfect mechanics, when a television can show me that his hips are nice but his footwork has a few problems and there is wasted motion in his arm during his release. It’s also hard to evaluate the hand usage of offensive and defensive linemen via YouTube. However, with Spooney, I had no choice. I have no Brown film on any of my TiVos, so I had to settle for YouTube.
Another thing I’d like to note about Spooney; he’s a really good candidate for a position change. Running back requires less intelligence than any position in football. The only even slightly complicated element of the position is pass protection schemes, but the most difficult assignments are usually saved for offensive linemen, plus skinny backs like Spooney usually run routes on passing downs, since they don’t have the strength to offer much as a pass blocker. At the NFL level, as a running back, at 185lbs, Spooney can handle no more than 10 carries per game and his mediocre ball carriage could lead to fumble problems. He will likely try to add weight, but many guys struggle to do that, and it’s doubtful Spooney will ever add enough weight to be durable as a running back. However, Spooney has a physical skill set that projects to be above average at many positions, many of which could make better use of his intelligence. At the Ivy League level, all players are smart, so Spooney is most valuable as a running back because that helps the coach get the ball into the hands of his most talented player as frequently as possible. At the NFL level, running back isn’t the best position for his skill set. Wide receiver is an option, as he could probably learn to run option routes out of the slot, but there is no guarantee he can beat press coverage and he isn’t very deceptive with his eyes a running back (which helps as a wide receiver).
If he does change positions, corner is probably his best bet. Watching him block on pass plays for the Bears is incredible, as he has excellent success despite his 185lbs frame (against the Ivy League, but still), and his success as a pass blocker could easily translate to excellent tackling. With his awesome speed, change of direction skills, and strength for his size, he has the physical skill set of a Champ Bailey, and with his intelligence, he could easily learn an NFL playbook. However, it’s not that simple. If it was, the Wonderlic would correlate more with NFL success. The problem is that corners, as well as linebackers and safeties, require not only the intelligence to understand and execute a coverage scheme but also uncanny instincts and reflexes. Their brains must have a large capacity for the defensive schemes, but the most important factor is that their brains are like computers, making thousands of calculations per second. They have to react to what they see as quickly as possible, and figure out everything that their opponent may be doing as quickly as possible. It’s one thing to know what a stick play is; it’s another to quickly notice the running back/wide receiver darting toward the flat and the tight end drifting toward you from the middle and react accordingly based on the defensive play call. Defensive players who aren’t linemen usually have lots of things to process on a given play and the guys who process things most quickly have NFL success. Things like that, reading and recognizing as quickly as possible, are less correlated with intelligence, and there is no guarantee that Spooney offers much in that respect. With Spooney, we know he has the physical skill set to be among the best corners in the NFL, and he has the brain capacity to learn any playbook in a moderately short period of time. The question is, how quickly can he handle the more instinctive aspects of the position? That remains to be seen, but the potential is incredible.
Still, Spooney could very well play running back at the next level. He is a flawless outside runner, getting the corner almost instantly with regularity. He is so fast, and he does a great job of changing speeds as an outside runner to get opponents off balance. His quickness is incredible and his change of direction skills are among the best in this draft class. His hips are very loose and he reaches top speed instantly. There are guys in the NFL with his quickness, but very few people have his kind of long speed, and almost no one can catch him from behind. This really helps him as an outside runner. He also makes pretty nice cutbacks, and his incredible short area burst allows him to hit holes while that are briefly open. He also has very good balance and beats the arm tackles of defensive backs and linebackers without breaking stride. It’s so important to contain the outside playing against Spooney.
Spooney is a poor inside runner. Frankly, he can’t beat the arm tackles of defensive linemen in the Ivy League. No chance he is even adequate in this respect against NFL linemen until he adds 20lbs. His vision seems a little bit worse as an inside runner, sometimes trying to hit holes that aren’t there. However, he has so much speed that if he gets past the line, an inside run for him feels like a seam route because he just hits the hole so quickly. He’ll outrun anyone. His biggest problem as an inside runner is that he doesn’t really do a great job of using his quickness. Spooney is a guy who, once he is running at top speed, there is no slowing down. But that isn’t necessarily a good thing. When he is running inside, if he gets past the line, he never stops sprinting, which works against him when there are defenders in his path. If there is a defender who has the proper angle to make a tackle, it’s not always a good idea to continue sprinting forward and concede the tackle. You don’t want to be predictable, but it often works to slow down or even stop, maybe get the defender to overpursue and whiff on the tackle, or potentially break the ankles of the defender by making a sudden cut in the opposite direction. This is would be especially useful for Spooney, because he can regain his speed instantly after making the defender miss. Put it this way: the fact that Spooney rarely makes a play like this isn’t for lack of quickness. Forget the spin move, Bernard’s east west running allows him to make multiple defenders miss without even touching him on that play. Spooney has all physical tools necessary to brake the ankles of opponents, but he rarely tries to be an east west runner in the second level.
Spooney is average on pass plays. He doesn’t drop many passes, but his route running could be cleaned a little and he doesn’t catch many passes in stride. He doesn’t trap passes against his frame from what I have seen. Barring the addition of 25lbs, there is no way he is even adequate in this respect at the NFL level, but he is a really good pass blocker. He does a marvelous job of executing his assignments and finding his man as a pass blocker, and his toughness is phenomenal. He doesn’t back down at all and gets a solid initial punch, but eventually the fact that he is 185lbs and he is trying to block a defensive end becomes recognizable. He usually is eventually destroyed by whomever he is trying to block, but he hangs in there for as much time as he can and really does give his quarterback more time. It’s quite admirable.
Ultimately, I really like Spooney. There is so much to like. He has such outstanding character and toughness, and combined with his outstanding quickness, he could be a great player at the NFL level. I’m pretty exicted.
NFL Comparison: Jahvid Best except a little more raw as a pass catcher, but much smarter. Spooney is skinny enough that he will have injury issues at the NFL level if he plays running back at his current size, but he’s very strong for his size and is no more or less powerful than Best at this point, even though he is 15lbs lighter. Again, Spooney could very well change positions.
Grade: 78 (worthy of an early third round pick)
Projection: UD (by all accounts, will not be drafted)