NFL Draft | Isaiah Pead and the Rise of the Space Player

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 03: Isaiah Pead #23 of the Cincinnati Bearcats runs the ball past Byron Jones #16 of the Connecticut Huskies as he tries to tackle him on December 3, 2011 at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati defeated Connecticut 35-27. (Photo by Tyler Barrick/Getty Images)

The rise of the spread offense has changed almost everything about the NFL draft evaluation process. For roughly 20 years from the fall of the Wishbone to the rise of the spread in the mid 2000's pro style offenses and College offenses were more or less the same. They used the same type of players in the same types of roles and thus made projecting from one level to the next became simpler (in theory).

But the rise of the spread created a whole new breed of athletes who routinely shredded collegiate defenses who's skills and abilities were/are loosely related to what pro scouts see in a "good" prospect. And no I am not talking about the quarterback position. I am talking about running backs, and how the greater trends in Football have altered the conception of the position, and thus how running backs are evaluated. Those are the factors that have made Isaiah Pead an intriguing prospect for alot of teams.

To see the value of Isaiah Pead as a draft prospect you have to acknowledge two separate yet interrelated facts. 1) The NFL is a passing league now 2) The era of having one back do it all is over. As such the smartest offensive teams in the league have abandoned the running game in the traditional sense and have parceled out the various functions that were once the province of a single, robustly talented individual. Instead they have a fleet of backs, each with their own specific function and area of the field where they are most effective. Most teams have two backs now, smarter teams have more

The team I am thinking of is of course the Saints who have done more to parcel out individual functions of the running back to multiple guys than just about anyone. In doing so they have created a new role in the NFL, the space player. Well created isn't the right word. But they sure have come close to perfecting the role. That role could be defined as such.

In coaching the Saints, Payton takes advantage of the three best ways to use space players. First are screen passes — plays designed to get the runner into open space, preferably with blockers ahead of him. Second is the space player's role as an underneath receiver, where he provides an easy option for a quarterback while drawing coverage away from downfield receivers. And, finally, a space player can be a runner on draws and sweeps after the earlier plays have forced the defense to substitute favorable (for the offense) personnel.


Related: Offensive Balance and the Screen Game

In that context the biggest weakness of Isaiah Pead, his desire to bounce everything outside and make the frankly ludicrous cut back runs that have become his calling card aren't really a weakness as much as a guy knowing where his bread is buttered. That is the thing that the team drafting Pead has to keep in mind. As much as I love what Pead did this year in terms of making himself a complete back at the college level he simply isn't a complete NFL back and there is nothing wrong with that. Isaiah has the ability to have a long career by exploiting the soft spots in defenses. After all that was what he did here at UC first as a compliment to the passing game under Brian Kelly and then as the tip of the spear in Butch Jones's offense. Whoever drafts Isaiah will be getting a great player who can destroy a defense's integrity in a very specific way.





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