Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his weekly notebook. The topics of this edition include:
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SPENCER WARE'S BREAKOUT: System guy or legit star?
Is the player or the system?
While walking through the office at NFL Media, I was asked about Kansas City Chiefs running back Spencer Ware -- and whether his success was a byproduct of Andy Reid's scheme or his individual talents. My colleague wanted to know if Ware was "a real guy" or another running back who's being given an opportunity to shine in an RB-friendly system.
When I initially thought about the question, I wondered if he was onto something, based on the success backs routinely have enjoyed under Reid during his time with the Eagles and Chiefs. Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles put up big numbers as focal points of an offense that routinely put the ball in the hands of these shifty playmakers on the perimeter.
Although Reid ideally wants to operate a pass-first offense that features a quick-rhythm aerial attack, he routinely has tweaked his system to accentuate the talents of an explosive playmaker in the backfield. He will use a variety of off-tackle plays and sweeps to get his slippery runners to the edges, but he complements those with designer cutback plays that create seams on the backside. In the passing game, Reid uses a variety of screen passes to get the ball to his explosive runners in the open field. With most of Reid's backs possessing exceptional stop-start quickness and burst, the screen game is a way to generate big plays on high-percentage passes.
That's why it is so hard to determine whether Ware is an upper-echelon back or a product of Reid's offensive system. Studying the All-22 tape, I believe Ware is a rugged, downhill runner with a no-nonsense running style. He displays the strength and power to run through contact, but lacks the top-end speed and quickness to take it the distance. Normally, that would suggest that Ware would act as a "grinder" or short-yardage runner, but he already has posted three runs of 20-plus yards and two of 40-plus in 95 carries, which is a bit of a surprise for a runner without elite speed or burst.
Ware is a natural pass catcher with strong hands and excellent receiving skills. He catches the ball like a wide receiver, but is a wrecking ball when he gets to the open field. Thus, defenders reluctantly hit him on the perimeter, and their hesitancy allows Ware to produce big plays on "now" screens or circle routes out of the backfield.
Overall, Ware is a solid player with a nice set of skills as a runner-receiver. He is a capable three-down back with the potential to carve up defenses in a variety of ways. Although he lacks elite physical traits, Ware certainly has shown enough to be considered a quality starter in most systems.
Of course, there is a difference in being a quality starter and a blue-chip player in meeting rooms. (Blue-chippers are difference makers with the talent and skills to rank as top-10 players at their respective positions.) McCoy, Westbrook and Charles all ranked as blue-chip guys during their prime years with Reid, but I don't think Ware would earn that same designation if we polled league executives. Thus, I would have to rate him as a system player -- instead of a star -- in this evaluation.