Unlocking NFL Player Athleticism

by Samuel Feldman ·

It seems obvious that the most successful football players will usually be relatively athletic.  While being the most athletic player on the field does not guarantee success, it certainly improves the odds that a player will be successful.

The PlayerProfiler Terms Glossary outlines two ways to evaluate how athletic a player is. The first, SPARQx – An approximation of Nike’s SPARQ (Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction and Quickness) Rating, is a standardized test for athleticism. SPARQ input factors are 40-yard dash, vertical jump, 20-yard shuttle, and the power ball throw.  Because Nikeʼs SPARQ formula is not public, we compared publically available SPARQ scores to their related input factors, reverse-engineered an approximation of the SPARQ formula, and then applied the formula to each playerʼs workout metrics.  For calculation purposes, power ball throw was converted into bench press so all input factors align with NFL Scouting Combine events.

The second method of evaluating athleticism is the Athleticism Score, which summarizes a player’s workout metrics and normalizes for size. It is derived by aggregating each player’s 40-yard Dash, Burst Score, and Agility Score, and then factoring in a relevant measure of player size to ensure that big players receive a premium for speed, quickness and explosiveness.  RBs have a BMI premium, while WRs and TEs have a height and weight premium.

It is hard to find a bigger fan of athleticism than me. This is the first in a series of articles on athletic profiles and how they can be used to identify potential future stars or busts.  In order to use this information correctly, we must filter athletic profiles to learn which ones have succeeded and failed in the NFL.

When Athleticism Trumps College Dominance

The best predictor of NFL performance is the College Dominator Rating.  Normally, success or lack of success directly translates from college to the NFL.  Occasionally though, there are exceptions that stand out after not performing highly while in college.  Sincerest apologies to all of you Christine Michael truthers; he does not meet this criteria.  Instead, let’s focus on two receivers who did not breakout in college but have the opportunity to blossom as professionals.  The first player is the Cincinnati Bengals No. 2 receiver, Marvin Jones.

[Marvin Jones]-PlayerProfiler

Marvin Jones Advanced Metrics Profile

Marvin Jones‘ 32nd Percentile College Dominator Rating is evidence of his productivity at California.  During his time there, he endured rough quarterback play and was never the focal point of the offense contending with Shane Vereen, Jahvid Best, and Keenan Allen among others.  Jones is again contending with many prominent players in an explosive offense making his production very volatile as evidenced from his 8.9 Weekly Volatility.

A boom or bust WR3/Flex play as evidenced from his 32nd ranked 12.5 Fantasy Points Per Game, Jones currently has the 28th ranked Premium Production with a score of 10 indicating his efficiency.  This is further illustrated as he catches a touchdown on every eighth catch and averages nearly two Fantasy Points Per Target.

Marvin Jones is an ideal WR3 with upside depending on his match-up, and his success gives hope for Jaron Brown, who was in a similar college situation, and is in the same position in the NFL.  At Clemson, Brown was stuck behind Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, Jacoby Ford, and Martavis Bryant among all other skill position players who also were at Clemson.

[Jaron Brown]-PlayerProfiler

Jaron Brown Advanced Metrics Profile

While they have similar measurables, Jaron Brown has both higher SPARQx (83rd Percentile vs 66th) and Athleticism (72nd Percentile vs 52nd) scores than Marvin Jones.  Jones has shown that his College Dominator Rating was a fluke due to the players around him while in school.  It is only a matter of time until Brown proves he is more productive than his CDR implies.  Currently he is sitting behind Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and, the receiver he is sometimes mistaken for, John Brown.  Although Fitzgerald is enjoying a renaissance this year with Carson Palmer at the the helm, NFL success only lasts for so long and this is his 12th year in the league.

Also, Michael Floyd is not the superstar some have expected, and is inconsistent in the offense.  He has the 71st ranked Production Premium with a -21.2 on a 52 Percent Catch Rate.  Between Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald‘s age catching up to him, it is only a matter of time until Brown breaks out in this Arizona offense, similar to Marvin Jones in Cincinnati.

Overlooked Superstar

For most of his career, Adrian Peterson has been the best running back in the NFL; he is the gold standard for true running backs.  Peterson is showing signs of a return to his longstanding form as one of the best the game has seen this year.  Peterson, while properly hailed as the next superstar running back out of college, did not perform like so in college due to injuries (68th Percentile College Dominator Rating).  He broke out late at 20.5 (44th Percentile) and only had 5.6 (50th Percentile) Yards Per Carry.

[Adrian Peterson]-PlayerProfiler

Adrian Peterson Advanced Metrics Profile

Adrian Peterson finally resembles the superstar we know and love.  Although his premium production is -14.0, he is using his impressive physical profile (77th Percentile SPARQ-x, 56th Percentile Athleticism Score) in an imposing manner.  He has the seventh most Evaded Tackles on the year and is doing so with the seventh highest Evaded Tackle Per Game.  Peterson is back to form, and is here to stay.  His success bodes well for another physically impressive yet overlooked back, Latavius Murray.

Before the year, the rumbling surrounding Latavius Murray was relatively negative with many naysayers projecting him as an early down back in a poor offense, fearing that Trent Richardson or Roy Helu could potentially cut into his role. Obviously this has not been the case.  Like Adrian Peterson, Murray uses his positive physical profile (76th Percentile SPARQ-x, 55th Percentile Athleticism Score) to his advantage.

Latavius Murray-RB-Raiders

Latavius Murray Advanced Metrics Profile

Latavius Murray is becoming a bell-cow back in Oakland, and this should not come as a surprise.  He broke out in college at nearly the same age (39th Percentile) as Adrian Peterson while boasting the same 5.6 (50th Percentile) Yards Per Carry.  In doing so, he earned a 50th Percentile College Dominator Rating.  Murray is finally earning his opportunity to shine in Oakland, and there is room to improve on it as well.

Murray is sitting at 18th place in terms of Evaded Tackles, and is doing so with the 13th most Evaded Tackles Per Game.  His Production Premium is a -15.6 ranking him five spots behind Adrian Peterson at 55th place.  While that is not ideal, it shows there is room for improvement, which is also shown from his 15th ranked Snap Share and 16th ranked Opportunity Share (for comparison, Peterson ranks ninth and fifth in these categories respectively).  Through six games, Murray has six touchdowns, which provides more room for improvement in his game.  It is only a matter of time until Murray is fully appreciated for the talent that he is: A young Adrian Peterson.

Up and Coming Receiver Turned Tight End

Going in to the year, Washington was expecting Niles Paul to ascend as their starting tight end.  His season ended before it could start when he suffered an ankle injury.  This allowed Jordan Reed to reclaim his former starting position for Washington.

[Jordan Reed]-PlayerProfiler

Jordan Reed Advanced Metrics Profile

In college, Niles Paul was a wide receiver, and his transition to tight end in Washington appeared successful year. Many of his efficiency metrics, Production Premium, Yards Per Target, Catch Rate, and Red Zone Catch Rate all were in the top-15 for tight ends.

[Niles Paul]-PlayerProfiler

Niles Paul Advanced Metrics Profile

This year, Jordan Reed has shown improvement in his game, but he remains the smallest and least athletic tight end on the roster.  Due to his injury history, it is wise to keep an eye on his backup who shows many similarities to the other tight end on the roster: Niles Paul.

[Derek Carrier]-PlayerProfiler

Derek Carrier Advanced Metrics Profile

Derek Carrier was a wide receiver in college who has turned into a tight end while in the NFL.  He has a 99th Percentile Breakout Age at 18.1 years old, and has a 92nd Percentile collegiate Yards Per Catch whereas Niles Paul has an 89th Percentile Collegiate Yards Per Catch.  While Paul has a 70th Percentile College Dominator Rating, Carrier has a 100th Percentile College Dominator Rating.

In the limited time Derek Carrier has played, he has a 9.7 Production Premium with an 83.3 Percent Catch Rate.  While both tight ends ahead of Carrier are good, he is a dynasty stash and needs to be monitored in redraft due to the injury history of both tight ends ahead of him in Washington. Carrier has all the makings of a breakout tight end.

Committee Back Killer

In his first game of the year, Orleans Darkwa outsnapped Rashad Jennings 14 to 11, and took 8 carries for 48 yards and a touchdown. Impressive for being stuck in a committee with Jennings, Shane Vereen, and Andre Williams.

Athletically, Orleans Darkwa checks all the boxes looked for in a lead back, and he profiles as a poor man’s Ryan Mathews while displaying similarities to both Demarco Murray and Marshawn Lynch as well.

[Orleans Darkwa]-PlayerProfiler

Orleans Darkwa Advanced Metrics Profile

Darkwa is slightly slower and weaker than Ryan Mathews, but he compensates with more impressive burst and agility scores. If Darkwa can continue to show strongly, he will have the opportunity to take over the unproductive Andre Williams (-46.6 Production Premium and 2.8Yards Per Carry) and Rashad Jennings (2.8 Production Premium and 3.7 Yards Per Carry) for the early down back role in the offense.


While Derek Carrier has the most raw athleticism of the players profiled here, all of the players I discussed have athletic profiles that look eerily like others who have already displayed NFL success.  Through using this knowledge we can identify current sleepers, and future breakouts.