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Running Back Styles: Comparing Shane Vereen to Jahvid Best

The first thing I’ve always noticed about Jahvid Best are his strides--long and galloping. Every step he takes seems to bring him a foot futher away from a defender trailing him on the play. It’s why he’s virtually unstoppable if he gets past 5-10 yards from the line of scrimmage, and why he’s racked up enumerable gains of 50 yards or more throughout his career.

The next thing you notice is his upper body. You can see how his torso is always straight and facing forward, regardless of which way his legs are moving.  How his eyes are always straight ahead, allowing him to survey the entire field ahead of him.  Best’s wingspan allows him to wrap that arm around the football tight and he’s able to move the ball from one arm to the other in full stride.

Ron Gould running backs tend to learn how to optimize physical ability with proper technique. You can probably see this with every runner over the past decade, but no one looks better doing it than Best.

The third and final thing I notice the most when watching Jahvid is his stop and go motion. It’s not like he just decelerates down and makes a cut when a defender’s on top of them (that’s 2008 Jahvid). It acts as a short cutback where he stops, let the defender reach out vainly for where he expected Jahvid to be, then make a quick movement away from the would-be tackler before accelerating right back at full pace (He sometimes does a hop-step to avoid leg tackles).  It’s as if the Millenium Falcon went from lightspeed to zero in barely under a second...and then went right back to lightspeed in that same instance of a second. Sometimes Best can pull off this maneuver, but he usually requires some open space between him and the defender to make this work.

So how does that compare to Vereen?

Vereen doesn’t have the same long strides. But he isn’t that much slower than Best because his feet are hitting the ground at a much faster pace.  He operates at a more natural rhythm that allows for him to change direction without appearing to slow down.

So while it appears like Jahvid is in a realm of his own when it comes to speed, Vereen’s no slowpoke himself. His first kick doesn’t look like much, but it’s enough to elude unblocked rushers from the outside.  Get him out in the open field and he can outrace most defenders, although he’s not as unstoppable as Best inside.

Vereen’s upper body isn’t as upright as Jahvid’s, but he utilizes his posture well. He hugs the ball close to his compact frame and leans forward when expecting contact. Plus the constant moving feet seem to help; defenders have trouble on where to approach hiim and wrap him up properly. Defenders seem to find it harder to take down a guy who’s feet keep on hitting the ground rather than someone who requires more track strides, probably because

I’m never going to say Shane Vereen is a better running back than Jahvid Best, but he could be more consistent without having the same long runs. It’s one of those deals where you have to ponder this question: Do you want the guy who will hit a home run every five to six at-bats, or the dude who keeps on dinging singles and doubles once every two to three at-bats?

All I know is that for the past two years, it’s been a luxury to have both.