Over the past few seasons it has become all the rage to have wide receivers run the ball. Years before Deebo played as a WR1 and RB1 in the same season, or Cordarelle Patterson made the move to running back we saw this trend emerge. Tavon Austin way back in 2014 really became the first dual threat wide receiver.
Elite Altheticism Breeds Second Life at RB
Tavon Austin came into the NFL as the 8th overall pick in the 2013 Draft. The Rams selected him thinking they were getting a Wide receiver and return man. What they didn’t know at the time was that they actually got a running back in disguise.
Austin didn’t start playing running back without cause. Austin was struggling to find a rhythm at wide receiver, the coaching staff saw this and to their credit began designing other ways to manufacture touches for Austin. This came in the form of carries out of the backfield. Austin was highly regarded for his speed and agility at 5’8 185 lbs.
At the NFL Combine Austin ran the 40 yard dash in 4.34 seconds, putting up 10 yard splits at 1.55 and 20 yard splits 2.56 and 14 reps. They started giving him carries to utilize his speed in space, having to set aside their concerns about injury. Mims is a similar athlete running a 4.38, putting up 10 yard splits of 1.54, and 20 yard splits 2.56 yard split, as well as 16 reps in the bench press.
Essentially Mims is the same type of elite level athlete in terms of speed, while providing a bigger frame and more strength. Given his abysmal catch rate, and lack of value on special teams, what does the team have to lose by trying him in the run game? Mims has shown the ability to pick up yards after the catch, maybe this will translate to running back.
Cordarelle Patterson; An Interesting Example
Patterson was trending towards bust territory prior to landing in New England. In New England, the always crafty Bill Belicheck saw an opportunity to use Patterson in another way .After injuries stripped his run game of playmakers, Patterson at 6’3 227 lbs made the move to running back.
This season led to 42 carries for 228 yards and 1 touchdown. It also gave New England a 3 down back who could stay on the field in passing situations. Patterson would go on to start 5 games, playing in 15 totaling 63 offensive touches, a career high. Patterson went from 4th or 5th wide receiver and return man to suddenly appearing in depth charts in four different positions increasing his value.
After his stint with New England each stop after this his name would be penciled in at running back. His first season in Chicago he was essentially the 4th running back, and 5th wide receiver, primarily doing his damage on special teams. In year two with Chicago, Patterson gave us a glimpse of what he could be he carried the ball 64 times, and caught 21 passes. Setting another career high in offensive touches.
Patterson went from after thought on offense as a 5th wide receiver to a huge contributor. Atlanta and head coach Arthur Smith knew what they wanted in their backfield and that was the ability to catch the ball. In came Mike Davis, and Patterson who both had the ability to aid the passing game, however Patterson went on to dominate the touches for Atlanta.
Deebo Samuel Effect
Deebo Samuel is the latest example of this move promoting a rather large payday for the young wide receiver. Having once been less than a 1,000 yard player on offense consistently through two seasons, Deebo exploded on the scene in 2021 topping 1,700 yards and scoring 14 times.
We could debate all day long if the increased amount of hits hurts a player’s longevity in the NFL. It’s a legitimate argument, but what shortens careers quicker than anything is a lack of value to a team. Mims has fallen from former starter, to 5th wide receiver because of his lack of versatility. This has caused a sharp cut to his snaps played, and of course in turn his offensive touches have plummeted.
We saw his stars bottom out in 2021 at 8 catches. This isn’t what New York had in mind for the 6’3 207 lb speedster when he was selected in the second round. This also isn’t what Mims had in mind when he was selected to a team like New York that had a desperate need for playmakers at wide receiver when he arrived.
Why Would Mims Make This Move?
Things have changed at wide receiver. So much so that the former second round pick has watched a similar fall to Patterson from starter to 5th wide receiver on his roster. The only problem is, Mims isn’t a pro bowl level return man, and as it seems on the surface teams aren’t rushing out to trade for him. This lack of interest could be very similar to the interest he would find on the open market.
Teams will not commit to him at this point solely on his ability to play outside side receiver. He has shown a willingness to attempt to increase his value while also learning new facets of the game by playing on special teams more this training camp. Why not go one step further and find yourself a role in the offense by attempting to learn running back.
Let’s look at another form of motivation, money. Cordarelle Patterson after leaving Minnesota ended up with the Raiders for one season making $5.6 million for his potential alone. The following year after he couldn’t break out, he was signed by New England for 3.25 million nearly a $2.5 million drop from the previous season. After New England? Chicago paid him an average of $5 million a season after just one season with some time at running back.
After another solid season as a runner in 2020 for Chicago, Patterson ends up in Atlanta. Atlanta steals him for $3 million by showing Patterson a clear path to significant playing time. After one season truly showcasing his ability in the run game, Patterson suddenly was resigned by Atlanta on a two year $10.5 Million deal. Let’s not forget, Patterson has immense value on special teams propping up his contract offers as well. Free agency won’t be as kind to Mims.
How Does He Translate?
The simple answer is we truly do not know. When stacked up against other running backs he could stand to gain about 10 pounds, but his speed would easily make him one of the faster backs in the league. Even if his role is relegated strictly to third down and passing situations his size, and strength can be an asset as a runner when the defense is forced into its nickel or dime defense.
Also this would allow Mims to get a free release as a receiver. Given the threat of Mims as a legitimate runner it only opens up how you can force a defense to show its hand. Line him up in the backfield then send him in motion out wide presnap and see how the defense reacts. If you see a safety or linebacker try and man up on him or another receiver you immediately have a mismatch.
These wrinkles are why teams have begun to value dual threat backs or wide receivers more than ever before. As the NFL progresses it continues to use the short passing game as an extension of the run game, and they have turned to backs, tight ends, and slot receivers to do so. However other coaches have found ways to implement receivers in the run game to achieve the same effect. Could Mims be the next former bust to make the move? How would he fit at running back in your opinion?