Often times when I split positions into groups for these pieces I do so based on play style more than perceived talent. However, the first group of running backs I wrote on, including players like Carlos Hyde, Lache Seastrunk and Tre Mason presented better metrics in nearly every category than the second tier I’m writing about here. That’s not to say that these players are going to project poorly to the NFL, but that there are far more question marks here than with the first group. Sort through the data and compare it to what you see on tape to get a full evaluation on these players.
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. Yards after contact not capped is listed below, but not included in the aggregate score. The score is capped at 100 and an average score is around a 65.
- We start off with Andre Williams and typically we’d expect productive metrics in these categories for a bigger back like him. His extra yardage score comes out below other RBs like Jeremy Hill and Carlos Hyde, but still beats out some of the smaller players. He suffers the most from capping yards after contact as they typically came on his longer runs dropping from 3.36 to 2.79.
- Ka’Deem Carey’s score of 60.44 comes out below players like Tre Mason, but still sits about average within the group of RBs. We see a bit of a dichotomy with Carey’s numbers as his yards after contact are similar to other top tier RBs, but his broken tackles on 5.2% of carries is among the lowest.
- The lowest of all the running backs, Devonta Freeman’s extra yardage score doesn’t paint a positive picture as a feature back. Breaking tackles on only 4.1% of his carries, Freeman may have generated quality yards per carry, but didn’t do so by making defenders miss.
- While Storm Johnson’s yards after contact are simply pedestrian, his ability to break tackles must not be understated. Doing so on 8.1% of his carries, Johnson would only be behind Seastrunk and Hill in this class. His high rate of broken tackles leads to an aggregate extra yardage score of 76.04 to beat out backs like Mason and Williams.
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.
- Andre Williams’ YPC represents accurately what we can see on tape. He’s excellent at gaining yardage outside the tackles, particularly on Boston College’s go-to play, running directly off-tackle where he gained 7.61 yards per carry. However, on inside runs he was only able to sustain a 4.38 yard average, very low for a player expected to be a power back.
- Carey’s YPC represents a similar predicament to Williams’ except the difference between inside and outside yardage isn’t quite as drastic. In Carey’s defense, he ran inside far more often – nearly 59% of the time.
- If we’re looking for a RB who shows the most promise in this category, it’d have to be Devonta Freeman. He averaged a very positive 5.5 yards per carry while running inside 66% of the time. Most running backs simply cannot sustain a high YPC while running inside often. The only question we have to ask is how much of an effect did FSU’s line have. We know that Freeman didn’t gain many yards after contact, so was the FSU O-line just opening up big holes, or is he adept at finding running lanes?
- Charles Sims ran inside more than any back in the entire class, 73% of the time. You’d expect a RB in West Virginia’s spread offense to go outside more often, but Sims averaged a respectable 5 YPC while cutting inside.
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 in one chart and the percentage of runs in the other. If there were not enough carries for the differential, they were left blank.
- Most notable between these two charts is the defenses that Andre Williams faced. Boston College often ran sets with three or more blockers which set up a variety of situations where they had a numbers advantage. Subsequently, 64% of his rushing attempts were faced with an even number of defenders to blockers, not facing many stacked boxes. We can also see his YPC increase drastically as his blockers increased.
- In this group, Carey was the only one who dealt with a -2 blocker differential on a somewhat regular basis. When he did, he averaged 3.17 yards per carry, which isn’t bad given the circumstances. Among the 0 and -1 differentials, his YPC stayed steady and just about average.
- While not quite as fortunate as Williams, Freeman faced less stacked fronts than the other RBs. However, somewhat oddly his YPC went down over every increase in differential when we would expect it to increase. With the threat of Winston passing, one would expect him to see more positive returns with less defenders.
- Johnson and Sims both ran mainly against a 0 differential front between 57% and 62% of the time. Neither faced particularly heavy or light fronts and their YPCs went down partially as differential increased. Given that we can’t see a trend among a wider array of differentials, it’s most likely inconclusive.
Runs by yards per carry
These metrics show 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 far more pronounced with the second tier of RBs than the group including top backs like Hyde, Seastrunk and Mason.
- Maybe the biggest indictment of Andre Williams is his skills running inside and the fact that he was stopped 55% of the time for runs less than 4 yards. While he was able to break off long runs often, the chain-moving intermediate runs between 4 and 20 yards suffered drastically. There has to be some concern for his ability to gain consistent yardage between the tackles.
- While this entire second tier of RBs has a much higher percentage of runs less than 4 yards than the first group, Carey and Freeman tie for the least here. Both had carries less than 4 yards on roughly 47% of their carries. That compares to about 41% for RBs like Mason and Seastrunk.
- Charles Sims racks up the highest percentage of short carries, failing to gain more than 3 yards on 56% of all his rushing attempts. It’s possible this number could be inflated given his abnormally high percentage of rushing attempts inside the tackles. Maybe a different system would afford him better opportunities on outside runs.
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. I won’t comment on the chart, because it’s mostly self-explanatory. Do remember that short yardage situations can be affected more by offensive line play than other rushing attempts.
That’s the extent of the breakdown. If you read the first piece, you’ll notice I included the percentage of runs by defender differential in this article and not the first. In order to make up for that I’ll be putting out the percentage of runs against various fronts for the first group via Twitter @NU_Gap. Thanks for reading.