After selecting kicker Zane Gonzalez of Arizona State1 with their first seventh round pick, the Cleveland Browns had one last pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. So with the final pick of their 2017 NFL Draft, the Browns picked running back Matt Dayes of North Carolina State with pick No. 252 of the seventh round.
The Browns have a really talented running backs group with Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell leading the way. So, the pick of Dayes was definitely a value pick. His value will likely be on special teams and the third running back on the depth chart. At North Carolina State last season, Dayes rushed 249 times for 1,166 rushing yards and ten touchdowns, while also catching 32 passes for 271 yards.
So, what can the Browns expect from their newest running back? Let’s take a look at the film to examine Matt Dayes’ strengths and weaknesses. Roll the tape!
Matt Dayes has very good vision that helps him navigate the line of scrimmage and find the available holes to run through. Here are three plays that illustrate this strength. In the first play versus Florida State, Dayes is designed to run to the left out of the pistol formation. He starts out of the backfield going to the left, but he sees an unblocked defender filling that hole, so he cuts back to the right. Rather than trying to beat a couple of defenders, who were waiting on the right, to the edge, Dayes cuts back inside after reaching the outside of the right tackle. When he gets to the second level, he sees an alley way to the left, avoiding the defenders in front of him. His efforts on the play earned him the first down. In the second play against Clemson, Dayes is running a stretch play to the right edge. He begins to go the right edge, following his blockers, however he sees the edge getting filled by Clemson defenders. He is able to foresee that problem and find a cutback lane to the inside. His cutback inside makes almost all the defenders to overrun to the edge, leaving the inside running lanes wide open. He is able to get a big 15-yard gain because of the good vision.
In the final play versus North Carolina, Dayes is designed to run to the right edge out of the shotgun formation. When he starts to head toward the edge of the line, he sees a North Carolina show on the edge. Though this does not cause any panic for Dayes. He is able to quickly see a cutback lane inside his pulling left guard. His cutback inside allows the guard to block that edge defender and create a nice running lane. Dayes cuts quickly through the hole and gets enough yards for a first down. Dayes may not have the physical gifts that other running backs have, but his vision makes up for some of that. He is able to quickly diagnose the defense and find vulnerable places for him to run towards.
Matt Dayes pairs his vision with outstanding cutting ability to avoid defenders and cut up field. Here are some examples of his cutting ability. In the first play against Florida State, Dayes is designed to catch a pitch to the right out of a shotgun formation and head towards the outside. He catches the pitch and starts to head to the outside of the receiver blocking on the sideline. But, he sees a defender shoot up field. He uses a quick cut to elude the defender and burst up field for a first down. In the second play versus Clemson, Dayes is running a stretch run to the right. He begins to run to the outside, putting his focus on going around the edge. However when he is running to get to the edge, he sees a lane develop inside and decides to go there. He uses a quick cut inside and continues down field, maintaining the same level of speed throughout the entirety of the play. His cut allows him to get a big chunk of yardage on the run.
In the final play versus Notre Dame, Dayes is designed to run to the right from the single-back set. He initially looks to go around the outside of his lead blocker, but he sees his blocks developing and that a hole is forming in the inside of the lead blocker. He heads towards the hole where he is met by a Notre Dame defender. The defender comes up and lunges at Dayes to make the tackle. Dayes makes a great cut to the left and eludes the tackle attempt, allowing him to continue up field where he breaks a tackle and finishes off a big run play. Dayes combination of vision and cutting ability is a great asset for a running back. They complement each other very well. His cuts are quick and decisive with the ability to maintain good speed throughout the cut without slowing down too much for defenders to recover.
Matt Dayes is a good receiver out of the backfield, allowing him to be a possible option on third downs. Here are some examples of this skill set. In the first play versus North Carolina, Dayes is lined up at receiver on the outside. He is running a stick route about five yards down the field. He gets down field and sits down right at the first down marker, making the catch for the first down. He had the awareness to run his route just enough to be at the first down marker. In the second play versus Clemson, Dayes is designed to run a screen play out of the backfield. He runs a perfect screen. He does not give away his intentions to go out for the pass, staying in position like he is helping to block in pass protection until all the defenders slip past him. He turns around once all the defenders are behind him, catching the pass and running up field behind his blockers for a huge play.
In the final play versus East Carolina, Dayes is expected to run a slip out route after he pretends to help in pass protection. After getting faked the handoff, Dayes patiently stays behind the line of scrimmage, looking like he is helping in pass protection. But, he then slips out of the backfield to be a drop off option for the quarterback. The quarterback, though, scrambles out of the pocket. Dayes shows off his receiving traits by following the quarterback to the sideline, so he can remain a receiving option in the play. It pays off and Dayes makes the catch after the quarterback finds him open nine yards down field. The running back shows off his scramble drill skills on this play. As you can see in these plays, Dayes has unique skills for a running back. He can catch the ball out of the backfield and out wide. He is able to line up as a receiver and run receiver routes. He uses qualities of a receiver, including being able to show perception and body positioning to aid his ability to get open for his quarterback. This receiving skill set allows him to be on the field for passing situations.
Top End Speed/Explosiveness
Matt Dayes does not possess much explosiveness or top end speed. Here are some examples of where this can affect his play. In the first play versus Notre Dame, Dayes is supposed to go through the middle of the line, but he shows patience and kicks it around the left edge. He is able to get around the edge and head up field with a big lane ahead of him. But, he did not have the explosiveness or top end speed to burst through the lane and leave the defenders behind. He could not plant and explode after turning the corner. The linebacker was able to reach his ankles and take him down before he could break away from the pack. In the second play versus Wake Forest, Dayes is able to find a huge cutback lane to run through. He shoots up field and makes another elusive cut to leave behind the only defender left in front of him. Dayes has just green grass in front of him, but was unable to get all the way to the endzone. He could not turn on a second gear, allowing a trailing defender to catch him from behind.
In the final play against East Carolina, Dayes is able to find another gaping hole to run through. He runs through the hole with just two defenders to deal with to reach the endzone. However, he is unable to kick into a second gear, allowing one of the defenders to catch up with him and take him down from behind. Dayes was ahead of the defender, but he was unable to leave him in his dust. Dayes’ lack of top end speed hurts his ability to make huge plays. He is unable to leave defenders behind and run all the way for a touchdown. His lack of explosiveness hurts his ability to burst through holes and get a quick advantage against defenders. He needs good blocking to be able to pull off a huge homerun play.
At 5-foot-9, 205 pounds, Matt Dayes lacks the size, strength and power to consistently break through tackles and push for more yards. Here are some examples of his lack of size, strength and power affecting his play. In the first play versus Clemson, Dayes runs through the middle of line where a slight hole has formed. Yet, he is brought down for a minimal gain by a diving one-handed tackle attempt from the defensive lineman coming around the edge. Dayes did not have the strength to run through that arm tackle and was brought down too easily. In the second play versus Notre Dame, Dayes gets a handoff and runs to the right, but cuts back inside when a Notre Dame defender disrupts the edge. He cuts inside and completely stood up when he tries to power through the defensive tackle waiting for him. Now, I did not expect him to break the tackle of the defensive lineman. However, this play shows how little power and strength he shows in his game. Once he is met by the defensive lineman, he gains no more yards, unable to even inch a yard through the tackle. The defender almost instantly drives him backwards after taking on the forward momentum of Dayes. The lineman is even able to almost pick him off the ground.
In the final play against East Carolina, Dayes is designed to run a handoff down the middle of the defense in this yardage situation. He runs through the middle of the line, but is easily tripped up and stopped before getting the first down. The defensive lineman lined up in the right A gap is able to penetrate the line and get a hand on Dayes, turning him sideways. This allows the linebacker to clean up the play and bring down the running back. Dayes is easily affected by the arm tackle attempt of the penetrating defensive lineman, unable to stay strong and run through the tackle attempt without being affected too much. This play also shows that he will not be a reliable player to use in short yardage situations. As a smaller back, he does not possess much power or strength in his legs, which hurts his ability to keep churning after first contact. According to NFL.com, he only averaged 1.8 yards after first contact over his past two seasons at North Carolina State. He will just not be a player who can consistently produce yards after contact.
- Sorry, I skipped Gonzalez in my Browns film room series, it’s tough to write a lot and breakdown video of a kicker. But, I do love the selection! [↩]