This running back class has often gotten the reputation of being relatively weak at the top. While that might be true, from a metrics standpoint there are a slew of interesting players to analyze from scat backs that play like bruisers to big backs that don’t play as powerfully as they should. When breaking down running backs, whether it is on film or analytically, it’s often hard to separate performance from their offensive line. By narrowing the scope of the metrics to focus on small segments of play, we can at least try to remove as much of that as possible. Of course, it’ll never be able to control completely for line play, so use these numbers as a complement to film study rather than a hard and fast ranking.
I hand charted every game for each running back. There are some categories that are a bit more subjective, such as broken tackles – but the same methodology has been applied to each RB. Stats like YPC and % of runs by distance may vary slightly from play-by-play data which sometimes may contain information that doesn’t match up with what’s on tape.
How did they generate extra yardage?
Extra Yd represents an aggregate score combining yards after contact capped for 15 yards and broken tackles as a function of total carries. The score is capped at 100 and an average score is around a 65.
- Carlos Hyde narrowly grabs the top extra yardage score among the first group of RBs and the entire class. His yards after contact of 3.48 is by far the highest in the group, showing that he plays like the bigger back he is.
- Coming in just behind Hyde in the rankings is Jeremy Hill. Breaking tackles on 8.59% of his carries, he leads the entire class in the amount of broken tackles. In addition, he also posted a strong 2.93 yards after contact. It seems obvious to expect the big RBs to lead these categories, but that’s not always the case; Gio Bernard and Johnathan Franklin were leaders in this category in the 2012 draft class. High rankings for Hyde and Hill are just testaments to how hard they run.
- A lack of broken tackles, nearly half the amount as Jeremy Hill, really hurts Bishop Sankey. Despite coming in at a reasonable weight of 209lbs at the combine and being billed as an all-around back, Sankey’s extra yardage numbers are poor. For some reason he doesn’t seem to have quite the same ability to drive through contact as the others.
- The real surprise of the group comes when looking at Lache Seastrunk. While he comes across as a scat back, Seastrunk’s elusiveness isn’t limited to making guys miss in the open field. He broke tackles at a similar rate to Jeremy Hill. These numbers are similar to what we saw from Gio Bernard where both backs just seemed to shrug off tackles to gain extra yardage.
Where did they run?
The chart below represents both the yards per carry gained on outside and inside runs. In addition, it shows how often they did so as a percentage of their total runs.
- While only doing so on 39% of his total attempts, Carlos Hyde averaged an incredible 9.29 yards when running off tackle. It’s easy to question a bigger backs’ ability to bounce it outside when necessary, but Hyde clearly shows the ability to get to the edge. In addition, he averaged a very respectable 6.3 yards running up the gut.
- Hill was the only RB to average a higher yards per carry on inside runs than outside, showing that his reputation as a strong runner was well earned. I personally had questioned his ability to successfully run outside, but he proved he was adept at doing so by averaging 6.3 YPC. While that’s a respectable YPC, it should still bear monitoring that he was the only one to do worse outside than inside.
- With the lowest YPC on inside runs, Tre Mason averaged a slightly concerning 4.83 yards. If we’re looking for a possible explanation, Mason faced a stacked box far more than other RBs (we’ll get to that more later) facing one more defender than he had blockers 44% of the time.
- Again, Seastrunk’s metrics come across as counterintuitive to what might be expected of him. He ran between the tackles 62% of the time which is more than anyone in the first group. Some may claim poor vision led him inside, but he averaged a very positive and productive 6.44 yards per carry.
What defenses did they face?
In charting each play I counted the number of blockers and personnel in the box at the beginning of each play. In doing so, we can create a ‘blocker differential’ or how many defenders there are compared to blockers. In the chart below, -1 represents one more defender in the box than blocker, 0 represents an even number of defenders and blockers, and so on. The values for each category are YPC. If there were not enough carries for the differential, they were left blank.
- Although it’s hard to compare when two of the five backs are missing data for a -2 differential, Hyde’s jump from averaging 2.5 yards to 6.78 yards with one less defender is certainly noticeable. There’s a bit of divergence in all of Hyde’s metrics – one on hand he generated excellent extra yardage but on the other hand he didn’t fare well against stacked boxes or in short yardage situations. It raises questions about which part of his game will translate to the NFL.
- Hill was very consistent when faced with -1 and 0 differentials averaging around 7.2 YPC, but somehow dropped when he had an extra blocker. Based on the data, we’d expect it to go up but it’s likely an anomaly.
- Similarly, Tre Mason’s YPC among the various blocker differentials doesn’t make a ton of sense. Even controlling for long runs, different field position and situations – there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for why Mason would run better against boxes with an extra defender and one less defender. He did face -1 defenders 44% of the time, near the highest in the class, so his average of 6.5 yards is positive.
- Here’s maybe the biggest concern with Lache Seastrunk, his ability to run against heavier front. As would be expected, Baylor’s offense spread out the defense so Seastrunk was often running against nickel fronts. When facing one more defender than blocker, he only averaged 4.76 yards per carry while averaging 8.32 with one less defender. Can he run when defenses are stacking the box in the NFL?
How did they do in short yardage situations?
The chart below represents two short yardage situations. 3rd Down % is the rate at which the RB converted 3rd and short situations. Goal to go is the yards per carry in goal line situations.
- Carlos Hyde, despite very positive stats in the extra yardage and inside categories, was just so-so in short yardage situation. He converted 75% of third and short situations and gained an average 2.7 yards per carry on goal to go runs.
- Meanwhile, Jeremy Hill showed off the skills in short yardage that would be expected for a power back. He converted third and short approximately 86% of the time while powering for a group leading 3.53 yards in goal line situations.
- Showing off that he has some short yardage ability despite his size, Tre Mason converted 92% of his third and short situations on a non-insignificant amount of attempts. That number leads the entire group of running backs and would be hard to beat. In addition he averaged a good 3.06 yards in goal to go situations. While his elusive metrics weren’t off the charts like they had been in 2012, this shows he has some power.
- In line with his earlier metrics, Sankey struggled a bit in both third and short situations and goal to go yardage. If you’re going back to look at Sankey, make sure you check out his ability in situations where he has to generate power.
Runs by yards per carry
I won’t comment on this chart, but it shows the percentage of runs by yardage gained. It should give you a feel for whether a back was getting stopped short often or breaking off solid long runs regularly. It’s a bit less pronounced with this group, but in the second group we’ll see backs with much higher percentages of short runs.
That’s the extent of this piece on the first group of running backs. I didn’t have the ability to comment extensively on the final chart, but will tweet thoughts out and extra stats on Twitter @NU_Gap. Thanks for reading.