The Scatback Is Back – Someone Tell McCarthy!

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Aaron Jones

Things often run in cycles in the NFL and 2017, in my opinion, was the year of the scatback.

A scatback is of course a smallish running back who is fast and elusive, rather than big and strong. Especially in the season just ended, scatbacks made quite a name for themselves – but mostly as receivers.

Here are some of them, and how they performed as receivers in 2017:

Alvin Kamara (5’10”, 215) – 81 catches as a rookie for the Saints, caught over four-fifths of balls thrown to him, had more yards through the air than on the ground

Christian McCaffrey (5’11”, 205) – 80 catches for the Panthers, with all but 75 of his 651 yards coming after the catch

Duke Johnson (5’9”, 210) – 74 catches for the lowly Browns; 694 receiving and 348 rushing yards

LeSean McCoy (5’11”, 210) – 59 grabs for the Bills; 441 receptions in his nine-year career

Kareem Hunt (5’10”, 216) – another precocious rookie and instant Pro-Bowler, 53 catches for the Chiefs, 455 yards, three TDs – one a 78-yard scamper

James White (5’10”, 205) – 56 catches, his third consecutive productive receiving year for the Pats

Tarik Cohen (5’6”, 181) – the speedy rookie had 53 catches for the Bears

Theo Riddick (5’9”, 201) – 53 catches for the Lions; 80 catches for 697 yards in 2015

Jerick McKinnon (5’9”, 205) – 51 catches in his fourth year with the Vikes

Giovani Bernard (5’9”, 205) – 43 catches for the Bengals; he’s caught 39 or more passes in all four years with Cincinnati

Devonte Freeman (5’8”, 206) – 36 catches for the Falcons; 240 catches in his four years in the league

J.D. McKissic (5’10’, 195) – 34 catches for the Seahawks, still a backup, he comes in to mix things up

Did you notice that most of the teams cited above made the playoffs? Good teams are versatile, and they use all the weapons available to them. The Super Bowl champion Eagles had three scatbacks to throw defenses off balance: Darren Sproles (5’6”, 181), Kenyon Barner (5’9”, 196), and Wendall Smallwood (5’10”, 208).

Packers fans should have some familiarity with many of these players. In that critical loss to the Panthers, McCaffrey torched Green Bay for six catches, for 73 yards and a touchdown. The Packers avoided losing to the winless Browns despite Duke Johnson catching four of four throws for 41 yards and a touchdown. Theo Riddick has had several big games against the Packers in his five years with the Lions. Devonta Freeman went four for 42 yards and a touchdown in Atlanta’s playoff win over Green Bay in 2016. Rookie Tarik Cohen should have plenty of chances in future Green Bay-Chicago contests.

Might the Packers go out and look for a scatback who makes a tempting screen pass target for Aaron Rodgers? Oh wait, he’s already here: Aaron Jones, 5’9” and 208 pounds, is a fabulous receiving threat.

McCarthy’s Misuse of Scatbacks

So how is it possible that Aaron Jones was thrown to 18 times and compiled a grand total of 22 yards through the air in 2017? It’s because he was used almost exclusively as a dump-off target for a beleaguered Brett Hundley.

For the year, both QB and RB Aarons were available for five games together; these games produced two completions out of three throws, for 15 yards. The Hundley to Jones stats were: 15 throws, seven completions, seven yards. SEVEN! Jones did well to get back to the line of scrimmage.

In contrast, Green Bay did set up Jamaal Williams nicely on some screen passes. One of the finer plays of the Packers’ season was a well-executed screen to Jamaal against Pittsburgh, which went for a 54-yard touchdown. Over the entire season, however, the Packers never managed to get Jones open for so much as a 10-yard pass play. What is a gigantic waste of talent!

What you saw in 2017 was just one dimension of Aaron Jones. He passed all tests as a runner, but he was never tested as a receiver.

It’s also accurate to say that Aaron Rodgers in 13 years in Green Bay has almost never had such a weapon. Yes, the undrafted DuJuan Harris (5’7”, 206) was a scatback, though not nearly as skilled as is Jones. In his time at Green Bay, which was marred by a knee injury that cost him the entire 2013 season, DuJuan had 50 carries for 221 yards. Did he get more yards through the air or on the ground? Take a guess – I’ll tell you later.

Jones has quickness and elusiveness that are a match for any of the scatbacks on the above list. Almost all of those guys gain more yards through the air than on the ground. For their teams and coaches, the screen pass isn’t a novelty, it’s bread and butter.

Drew Brees threw to Kamara, a rookie and only a third-rounder at that, 100 times – the Saints didn’t spend three years developing him – he’s an All-Pro and Pro Bowler. Dynamic rookie Christian McCaffrey only gained 435 yards (3.7 average), and scored but two touchdowns via the rush. As a receiver though, he rang up 651 yards and five touchdowns. This is how smart teams make use of the skill sets of their players.

Green Bay menace Theo Riddick gets to bedevil the Packers’ defense twice a year. For his career, he’s rushed for 852 yards (3.4 average), but he’s gained 1,854 yards through the air. It would be accurate to say that a scatback, properly used, is essentially an additional receiver. Isn’t that just what Green Bay currently needs?

DuJuan Harris was thrown to four times while wearing the green and gold in 2012 and 2014; he caught three of them, for 28 yards. TWENTY-EIGHT. It’s conclusive: Mike McCarthy has never effectively utilized a scatback as a pass catcher.

Yes, some running backs have been good receiving options for Aaron Rodgers. Eddie Lacy caught 77 balls in his first two years, then slowly ate himself right out of a job. Just think of what Aaron Jones could have accomplished with that much open field.

I’ve documented what a great rookie year Aaron Jones had, despite not being played enough. In fact though, we’ve only seen half of what this scatback can do.

Will the Packers utilize Jones from three to six times a game in 2018 on screens and other passes, as other top teams do with their talented scatbacks? Or will they continue to squander and misuse another valuable asset? I’d love to be proven wrong, but I fear I know the answer.


About The Author

Rob is currently twiddling his thumbs on Whidbey Island in Washington. He likes to do research, although he has no shortage of opinions. He saw his first live Packers game in 1958, the only win of the year.

21 Comments on "The Scatback Is Back – Someone Tell McCarthy!"

  1. I’ve already posted that Aaron Jones could have been a star on a different team. If he was in Kamara’s place in NO he might not have had as good a year as kamara, but I think It would be close. If I were him I’d ask for a trade

    • Robster

      When mockdraftable.com records the NFL Combine numbers of players, it includes several players whose numbers compared most closely to that player. For Kamara, Aaron was the second most comparable. Their dash times are identical – but it’s their quickness that makes them so productive. Kamara gets NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, while McCarthy won’t even start Jones as the team was recording losses when Hundley needed help so badly.

    • PF4L

      Idk man….the more i think about it, the more i’m inclined to give all our offensive players a pass, considering we had a criminal trying to steal someone else’s identity behind center.

  2. Gort

    I thought that passes to running backs were supposed to be a big part of the prototypical West Coast Offense. MM doesn’t call those plays – why? When QB1 went down, and it became obvious that Hundley had no accuracy for the deep ball, shorter passes should have become more frequent. Just another example of why more changes were / are still needed.

    • PF4L

      What we don’t know, is how much Hundley was capable of playing an expanded playbook. I have a feeling he was limited, and McCarthy not running those short pass plays were due either to stubbornness, or lack of confidence of Hundley grasping it all, or both.

      As far as wide receivers, if i see anymore short passes behind the line of scrimmage i’m gonna blow a gasket.

      Maybe with Philbin coming back, this offense show’s a pulse. It would also be nice if Philbin called the plays. I don’t know where McCarthy gets the ego that only he is qualified to call plays. He admitted when handing the play calling to Clements, that he needed to oversee the whole team. What happened to that?

      I gave McCarthy time and a lot of benefit through the years. But i’m done with him. Even McCarthy stated recently, sometimes you just need a new voice. That time is overdue. But unfortunately, Murphy just bought him and his boy some more years of employment. While Ted got banished to a new position….playing solitare on his computer for 8 plus million a year.

      What does Ted do for all this cash? He didn’t go to the Senior Bowl, he didn’t go to the Combine. Are they paying him millions to watch film?
      Murphy: “Ted doesn’t like standing in front of reporters” (Awkward forced laugh).

      Mark my words, there will be a day, sooner rather than later, where we hear about Ted losing his faculties due to dementia or whatever it is that the Packers have been ignoring for a few years.

      The Circus continues, get ready for ACT II.

      • I think TT is probably in worse health than the team is telling the public. Why else would Schneider get emotional about TT not being at the combine. Schneider knows something is up. People come and go all the time in the NFL. I don’t think you get emotional about that unless you know something is not going well health wise for the individual. I won’t even say what I think about Murphy on the subject.

        • PF4L

          Howard, that same thought came to mind as i listened to Gute speak.

          I’ve felt that way for a few years, Ted wasn’t/isn’t right. I’m not saying ..hey i was right.
          I’m saying Murphy and those around him put there head in the sand and ignored it.

          Loyalty is commendable, but the team regressed because of it, and Murphy gets the Lions share of the blame, because Ted is the one individual in football operations, that he is payed to oversee.

          It literally almost makes me physically ill, when i break down this team intellectually.

  3. PF4L

    I’m reading that and i get to Kareem Hunt. Then 2 questions instantly come to mind. Who drafted him and when is the last time the Packers drafted an instant Pro Bowler? I understand that we don’t usually draft high. Hunt was a 3rd rounder.

    In other News: Phil Mickleson just won his first tournament since 2013.
    Long live Lefty.

  4. Empacador

    Come on Rob! McCarthy is always talking about establishing the run! You can’t establish the run when you are wasting plays throwing to running backs! There is some analytics guy telling him what metrics he needs to hit during a game, don’t you remember that playoff loss to Seattle? McCarthy needs to have so many rushes – win, lose, or draw! I thought that’s why on 3rd and short he dials up the air mail for 40 yards downfield that is almost never successful, rather than fight for a new set of downs. To not only establish but assert his run dominance! You know, this shit is confusing when it comes out of his mouth. It’s almost like he says one thing but does something completely different.

  5. With all the “scatbacks” in the league it appears to me an additional emphasis is needed on having two good slot corners. In watching the Jaguars play the Patriots it looked like Aaron Colvin was spying the Patriots backs in the AFCC. Of course it helps when you have two outside corners that can play man and hold up. You don’t want to get a linebacker or safety singled up on some of those scatbacks. Otherwise “It’s that wheel route”. ;-)

  6. Ferris

    This guy is a potential superstar…you can just see it when he gets the ball. You don’t see it with Williams. EVERYONE sees it…except that “Highly Successful” dipshit with a hot dog in his mouth. They did draft Kareem Hunt the coaches just misused him in favor of a slower, less elusive, decent but not great higher draft pick. Even the Bears use their backs better, so do the Vikings with McKinnon, Jones is McKinnon, but Lardy turns him into Eddie Lee Ivory.

  7. Kato

    PF4L- lonely boy is back, and talking shit about Aaron Rodgers in the Rodgers article published before this one. Apparently Cousins is better than Rodgers. Apparently he has been off his medication

    • Savage57

      It’s a safe bet she’s more upset about being gender-referenced inaccurately than she is about anything else you wrote.

  8. Kato

    Muhammed Wilkerson visiting the packers. Packers are going to have to clear cap room for that one

  9. cz

    This article is titled “The Scatcack is Back”

    What a load of S***

    5’10 and up and over 200lbs have never ever been referred to as ‘scatbacks’ or “smallish”

    Sometimes you articles are so far from the truth, it is mind-boggling how you get near the truth other times.

    In you article you claim Alvin Kamara at 5’10” and 215 lbs is a smallish/scatback, and not simply an average halfback.

    If that was true then the below guys are by your lame interpretation, scatbacks too.

    You tell these guys listed below they are one-dimensional scatbacks and not complete halfbacks…
    WP: 5 ft 10 in , 200 lb
    LT: 5 ft 10 in , 215 lb
    ML: 5 ft 11 in , 216 lb
    Walter Payton,
    Ladanian Tomlinson &
    Marshawn Lynch
    … all only scatbacks in Rob Born’s mind.

    Heck, Tony Dorsett was only 192, and he and Terrell Davis only 5’11.

    True ‘scatbacks’ ARE smallish…
    Think of guys like…
    DuJuan Harris 5′ 7″
    Dion Lewis 5’8″
    Giovanni Bernard 5’8″
    Dave Meggett 5′ 7″
    Darren Sproles 5′ 6″
    Barry Sanders 5’8″
    Chris Thompson 5’8″
    Thomas Rawls 5′ 9″

    • MJ

      You can blame Rob for blending the scatback and receving back together. The first is a smaller, quicker guy that is more likely to make defenders miss than plow through them.
      A back may or may not be adept at receiving out of the backfield or even lining up close to the line of scrimmage. If he is, he is a receiving back. LeVeon Bell is a good receving back, but by no means a scatback. On the other hand, being agile and smallish doesn’t imply good ability to catch.

      So there you have it. Both concepts do not necessarily go hand in hand. The article could have been titled “the receiving back is back”, and would have still made sense. The receiving back is a mismatch theat that offenses are exploiting more and more. Except of course McCarthy’s. Hopefully Philbin will throw in some fresh ideas.

  10. cz

    In your list of scatbacks, i give you credit for only:
    Tarik Cohen
    Giovanni Bernard and
    Devonte Freeman

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