With Deebo Samuel and Laviska Shenault both going in the 2nd round of the NFL draft, in 2019 and 2020 respectively, more and more NFL teams are starting to use receivers or running backs that both have the ability to be a rushing and receiving threat, as hybrid players within the offensive structure.
Some people believe having running backs that are valuable receivers, and also capable of moving into the slot is huge for offenses and can generate big plays out of mismatches but I dont believe this to be entirely true. The average yards per target for a running back lined up in the slot is only 8.7 yards while receivers average 13.2 and tight ends average 11.2 yards.
Outside of Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush, no running back has charted over 700 receiving yards when lined up at receiver. Christian Mccaffrey, known as the leagues best receiving back averaged 1.5 yards per reception less when lined up out wide as opposed to out of the backfield. The truth is although you can create unique mismatches out of the slot with your running back, having a running back line up at receiver is not as effective as having a tight end or receiver out there.
However, by definition, a hybrid is “a thing made by combining two different elements; a mixture.” So what about the other way around? NFL teams have experimented with using receivers as running backs and the concept has been evolving. The Chiefs were very succesful doing this early on with Tyreek Hill, and we’ve seen more teams use it with players such as Cordarrelle Patterson and Deebo Samuel, and potential rookies who can do so such as Antonio Gibson, Brandon Aiyuk and Laviska Shenault.
Obviously receivers turned running backs, are going to have better receiving skills than vice versa, so how does that make them potentially more effective? The answer is simply that they are able to be more effetive out wide, running a variety of routes and truly exploiting the mismatches given often through their blend of speed and physicality, and their ability to separate as receivers. These players are often extremely physical runners with the football and have the dynamic home run ability to take anything to the house with their explosiveness, making them extremely dangerous on the perimiter on screen passes and other plays of that nature.
The downside is that these players don’t have the experience of running between the tackles traditionally like runningbacks, however teams continue to go away from the traditional ground and pound and have developed more complex offensive schemes. 49ers coach Kyle Shannahan has adopted the modern offensive style, as he adds many wrinkles in the pass and run, while getting the ball into the hands of dangerous playmakers in space such as Deebo Samuel and George Kittle and letting them pick up chunk plays after the catch. Using these players in such a way requires your offense to cater towards getting them the ball in space, which can be difficult, but as we’ve seen with coaches like Andy Reid and Kyle Shannahan, the hybrid receiver can be used in a very valuable way.
Genrally speaking, the sample size for these players is very small and its hard to analyze the data right now and deciding weather using a wide receiver as a running back hybrid is truly efficient on a big spectrum, but as more teams begin to become more innovative, we will soon see a new wave of these new players enter the league and play significant roles, and see all the ways they can be used in NFL offenses