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538: Buffalo, Washington, Are Making Running Great Again

The Bills are on one of the craziest running streaks in recent history.  Washington? Well, here is what I wrote in my Game Scripts recaps after weeks 1 and 2:

Washington finished with a Game Script of -5.8, but even that doesn’t typically justify a 78% pass ratio. That was the most pass-heavy attack in the week (both without adjusting for Game Script and after adjusting), and is a sign of the lack of faith in the team’s ground game. Matt Jones rushed 7 times for 24 yards, Chris Thompson had 4 for 23, and the team’s only other run was a scramble by Cousins for 8 yards on 4th-and-10.

On the pass-heavy side, Washington was at it again. In a game where Washington led for much of the second half before ultimately losing to Dallas, Kirk Cousins had 48 dropbacks (50, if you include the two scrambles), while the team rushed just 17 times (15, if you exclude the two scrambles). Matt Jones wasn’t bad against Dallas, and Cousins wasn’t very good, so it will be interesting to see if anything changes in week 3 against the Giants.

Since then? Well, both teams have seen significant improvements in both quantity and quality on the ground. And now they are are on four game winning streaks after 0-2 starts.  They were the subject of my 538 recap this week:

But it wasn’t just the 0-2 record on the field; the teams looked ugly off the field, too. After the team’s second loss, Buffalo fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman, a move widely viewed as an attempt by head coach Rex Ryan to make Roman into a scapegoat for the team’s problems. In Washington, rumors swirled that the locker room was holding quarterback Kirk Cousins responsible — and that caused head coach Jay Gruden to issue the dreaded vote of confidence for his starter.

Now? Both teams are riding four-game winning streaks and look like playoff contenders. Before this year, only 18 teams in NFL history1 had started a season 0-2 and then won four straight games. Over the past 20 years, this season’s Buffalo and Washington squads are only the fourth and fifth teams to do so. So how did they do it? Although the NFL continues to shift toward the passing game, both teams have zagged and rebounded thanks to their ground game.

You can read the full article here.


Adrian Peterson Was Declining Before His Injury

Adrian Peterson has a torn meniscus, which is expected to keep him out until at least December. Given Peterson’s age — he’s 31, with his half-birthday coming yesterday — it’s reasonable to start thinking about whether the end is near for Peterson.

In his last 8 games (excluding playoffs), he rushed 150 times for 529 yards (3.52) with 5 TDs, one fumble, and 26 first downs. Prior to this stretch, Peterson had averaged 159 carries, 786 yards (4.95), 6.5 TDs, 2.24 fumbles, and 37 first downs. Given his performance in the one playoff game during that stretch (23 for 45 with one fumble), including that would only make the numbers look worse.

I came up with a relatively simple adjusted rushing yards metric to measure running back performance (note that in the formula below, rushing TDs are actually worth 20 yards because all rushing TDs are also rushing first downs):

(rushing yards + rushing first downs * 9 + rushing TDs * 11 – fumbles *30) minus (rush attempts * 5)

This is basically a mix of rush efficiency and rush quantity: we take rushing yards, add some other information, and then provide a penalty for each attempt used. The graph below shows Peterson’s game-by-game results for his career, along with, in black, a trailing-8-game average: [click to continue…]


Running Back Production By Birth Year

Barry Sanders was born in 1968. Emmitt Smith was born in 1969. The next two years were pretty quiet — Dorsey Levens and Garrison Hearst were born in ’70 and ’71 — but business was about to pick up. Terrell Davis and Jerome Bettis were born in 1972, and Curtis Martin, Eddie George, Marshall Faulk, and Priest Holmes were all born in 1973. That’s a 6-year period that gave us some of the most important running backs in NFL history.

And it came at a really important time. Because the previous five years were not nearly as fruitful.

  • In 1967, there were no notable1 running backs born.
  • In 1966, Thurman Thomas was born, but other than him, not much else.
  • In 1965, there were no notable running backs born.
  • In 1964, Neal Anderson2 was born and that’s about it.
  • In 1963, Rueben Mayes was the most notable running back born.

[click to continue…]

  1. Okay, this sounds kind of mean, but I mean notable in the sense of having historical importance to the game of football. []
  2. Note that the notable bar is very low. []

David Johnson, Receiving Superstar

The great Chris Wesseling at NFL.com published an article this week about Cardinals running back David Johnson.  The piece contained lofty praise about Johnson’s receiving ability, so much so that it made me want to re-evaluate his rookie stats.

One place where Johnson’s receiving ability stands out is in his yards per reception. As a rookie last year, he became the first player (rookie or otherwise) in 16 years to average 12 yards per reception while gaining at least 400+ rushing yards and 400+ receiving yards.   And just the third in the last 25 years:

Games Rushing Receiving
Rk Player Year Age Draft Tm G GS Att Yds Y/A TD Y/G Rec Yds Y/R TD Y/G
1 David Johnson 2015 24 3-86 ARI 16 5 125 581 4.65 8 36.3 36 457 12.69 4 28.6
2 Marshall Faulk* 1999 26 1-2 STL 16 16 253 1381 5.46 7 86.3 87 1048 12.05 5 65.5
3 Garrison Hearst 1998 27 1-3 SFO 16 16 310 1570 5.06 7 98.1 39 535 13.72 2 33.4
4 Gary Anderson 1990 29 1-20 TAM 16 13 166 646 3.89 3 40.4 38 464 12.21 2 29.0
5 Barry Sanders* 1990 22 1-3 DET 16 16 255 1304 5.11 13 81.5 36 480 13.33 3 30.0
6 Albert Bentley 1987 27 2-35 IND 12 4 142 631 4.44 7 52.6 34 447 13.15 2 37.3
7 James Brooks 1986 28 1-24 CIN 16 16 205 1087 5.30 5 67.9 54 686 12.70 4 42.9
8 Gary Anderson 1985 24 1-20 SDG 12 6 116 429 3.70 4 35.8 35 422 12.06 2 35.2
9 Curtis Dickey 1983 27 1-5 BAL 16 16 254 1122 4.42 4 70.1 24 483 20.13 3 30.2
10 Darrin Nelson 1983 24 1-7 MIN 15 9 154 642 4.17 1 42.8 51 618 12.12 0 41.2
11 Joe Cribbs 1981 23 2-29 BUF 15 15 257 1097 4.27 3 73.1 40 603 15.08 7 40.2
12 Billy Sims 1981 26 1-1 DET 14 14 296 1437 4.85 13 102.6 28 451 16.11 2 32.2
13 Billy Sims 1980 25 1-1 DET 16 16 313 1303 4.16 13 81.4 51 621 12.18 3 38.8
14 Wilbert Montgomery 1979 25 6-154 PHI 16 16 338 1512 4.47 9 94.5 41 494 12.05 5 30.9
15 Greg Pruitt 1977 26 2-30 CLE 14 14 236 1086 4.60 3 77.6 37 471 12.73 1 33.6
16 Sherman Smith 1977 23 2-58 SEA 14 14 163 763 4.68 4 54.5 30 419 13.97 2 29.9
17 O.J. Simpson* 1975 28 1-1 BUF 14 14 329 1817 5.52 16 129.8 28 426 15.21 7 30.4
18 Mike Thomas 1975 22 5-108 WAS 14 10 235 919 3.91 4 65.6 40 483 12.08 3 34.5
19 Mack Herron 1974 26 6-143 NWE 14 14 231 824 3.57 7 58.9 38 474 12.47 5 33.9
20 Larry Brown 1973 26 8-191 WAS 14 14 273 860 3.15 8 61.4 40 482 12.05 6 34.4
21 Larry Brown 1972 25 8-191 WAS 12 12 285 1216 4.27 8 101.3 32 473 14.78 4 39.4
22 Cid Edwards 1972 29 SDG 12 12 157 679 4.32 5 56.6 40 557 13.93 2 46.4
23 Carl Garrett 1972 25 3-58 NWE 10 6 131 488 3.73 5 48.8 30 410 13.67 0 41.0
24 Essex Johnson 1972 26 6-156 CIN 14 11 212 825 3.89 4 58.9 29 420 14.48 2 30.0

And while you may remember Johnsons’s game-clinching, 55-yard touchdown catch against the Saints, it wasn’t just one or two catches boosting up his average gain. Consider: there were 40 running backs last year who had at least 25 receptions.  Of that group, only Johnson (58%) converted at least half of his receptions into first downs. To find a player with a better conversion rate, you’d have to go down to Arian Foster, who converted 13 of his 22 catches (59%) into first downs.))

1David Johnson362158.3%
2Danny Woodhead803948.8%
3James White401947.5%
4Dion Lewis361747.2%
5Benny Cunningham261246.2%
6Bilal Powell472144.7%
7Mark Ingram502244%
7Ameer Abdullah251144%
9Charles Sims512243.1%
10T.J. Yeldon361541.7%
11Theo Riddick803240%
11Chris Thompson351440%
11Marcel Reece301240%
14James Starks431739.5%
15Giovani Bernard491938.8%
16Duke Johnson622438.7%
16Dexter McCluster311238.7%
18Matt Forte441738.6%
19C.J. Spiller341338.2%
20Darren Sproles552138.2%
21DeAngelo Williams401537.5%
21LeSean McCoy321237.5%
21Fred Jackson321237.5%
24Shane Vereen592237.3%
25Javorius Allen451533.3%
25Chris Ivory301033.3%
27Frank Gore341132.4%
28Lamar Miller471531.9%
29Jonathan Grimes26830.8%
30Doug Martin331030.3%
31Darren McFadden401230%
31Adrian Peterson30930%
33DeMarco Murray441329.5%
34Devonta Freeman732128.8%
35Rashad Jennings29827.6%
36Shaun Draughn27725.9%
37Melvin Gordon33824.2%
38C.J. Anderson25624%
39Latavius Murray41922%
40Justin Forsett31412.9%

It’s obviously premature to talk about Johnson as an all-time great receiving back, despite the quotes in Wesseling’s article. But this gives us something else to keep an eye on in 2016.


Todd Gurley and Rushing TDs on Bad Offenses

Here’s a good article by Matt Harmon presenting the contrarian case against Todd Gurley as a fantasy player. One of Matt’s arguments against Gurley’s fantasy value is that he’s on a bad offense, and his numbers last year were only strong because he scored such a high percentage of St. Louis offensive touchdowns.

That math checks out: Gurley ran for 10 TDs (with no receiving touchdowns), while the Rams scored 27 total offensive touchdowns. That means that Gurley rushing touchdowns made up 37% of all Rams offensive touchdowns, which was the highest rate in the NFL last year, and the highest rate in the NFL in three years. The only other players in shouting range of that number were Adrian Peterson (11/32, or 34% of all Vikings offensive touchdowns) and Devonta Freeman (11/34, of 32% of Falcons touchdowns).1

Another rookie from the SEC holds the modern record in this category. In 1981, South Carolina’s George Rogers was drafted by the Saints, and he led the NFL in rushing yards as a rookie. He also rushed for 13 touchdowns, despite the Saints finishing last in the league in scoring. Rogers rushed for 13 of the team’s 24 offensive touchdowns, or 54%. The table below shows the top 100 seasons by this metric since 1960: [click to continue…]

  1. Note that if we included receiving touchdowns, Freeman would vault Gurley, as he accounted for 41% of all Atlanta offensive touchdowns. []

Thomas Rawls and Great Rookie Seasons

Rawls is one of the best running backs to earn a few hundred grand to play for Pete Carroll.

Rawls is one of the best running backs to earn a few hundred grand to play for Pete Carroll.

Thomas Rawls had an incredible rookie season. He was the only player, rookie or veteran, with two games with at least 160 rushing yards in 2015. His heat map was otherworldly, with the highlight being that an astounding 10% of his runs went for at least 15+ yards. And he led the league in yards per carry, as Rawls averaged 5.65 yards per carry while rushing for 830 yards. Rawls ranked 1st in DYAR, 1st in Success Rate, and 2nd in DVOA according to Football Outsiders.

In the historical context, Rawls also stands out. The table below shows all rookies since 1970 with at least 700 rushing yards and 5.00 yards per carry: there are only 18 of those players, and Rawls has the second highest YPC average in the group: [click to continue…]


Running Back Heat Maps – 2015 Season

Last year, I looked at running back heat maps for the 2014 season; that was a fun article, so let’s update those numbers for 2015.

Last season, Adrian Peterson rushed for positive yards on 78.3% of his carries. Of the 44 running backs with at least 100 carries last season, those running backs, on average, rushed for positive yards on on 79.5% of their carries. That means Peterson was at -1% relative to the average running back at running for at least 1 yard.

In general, Peterson was right around average, plus or minus one percent, at rushing for at least 1 yard, at least 2 yards, at least 3 yards, and so on. Where he stood out was at generating long runs: he had 43 carries of at least 10 yards. And while Peterson also led the league in rushing attempts, he far outpaced all other runners in this category: Doug Martin had 33 such carries, Devonta Freeman had 32, and no other runner had 30+ carries of at least 10 yards.

In the picture below, I’ve listed all running backs with at least 100 carries. I have then shown how they fared at rushing for at least 1 yard, at least 2 yards, at least 3 yards,… at least 10 yards, more than 10 yards, at least 15+ yards, and at least 20+ yards. A blue shading is good: that means a player gained yards at a higher clip than average. A red shading is bad, even though this is a heat map, since I think it makes more sense to associate red with bad (if you don’t like the way my brain works, you can let me know in the comments). [click to continue…]


The 1978 Patriots, Part I

Here’s what I wrote in my first post at Football Perspective:

I’ll be blogging about everything football-related, from Jerry Rice to Bobby Douglass, and from the 1978 Patriots to who is the greatest quarterback of all time.

The New England Patriots rushed for 3,165 yards, an NFL record that still stands. Take a look at the individual players on that team:

Games Rushing
No. Age Pos G GS Att Yds ▾ TD Lng Y/A Y/G A/G Fmb
39 Sam Cunningham* 28 FB 16 14 199 768 8 52 3.9 48.0 12.4 4
23 Horace Ivory 24 rb 15 3 141 693 11 28 4.9 46.2 9.4 5
32 Andy Johnson 26 RB 15 13 147 675 3 52 4.6 45.0 9.8 4
14 Steve Grogan 25 QB 16 16 81 539 5 31 6.7 33.7 5.1 9
44 Don Calhoun 26 rb 14 2 76 391 1 73 5.1 27.9 5.4 1
37 James McAlister 27 16 0 19 77 2 16 4.1 4.8 1.2 3
86 Stanley Morgan 23 PR/WR 16 16 2 11 0 6 5.5 0.7 0.1 6
29 Harold Jackson 32 WR 16 13 1 7 0 7 7.0 0.4 0.1 0
30 Mosi Tatupu 23 16 0 3 6 0 3 2.0 0.4 0.2 0
4 Jerrel Wilson 37 P 14 0 1 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 0.1 1
83 Don Westbrook 25 16 0 1 -2 0 -2 -2.0 -0.1 0.1 0
Team Total 26.2 16 671 3165 30 73 4.7 197.8 41.9 35

[click to continue…]


Bob Ford, a longtime fan of Pro-Football-Reference and Football Perspective, has contributed a 2-part guest post on Yards Per Carry Leaders. Bob is the owner and founder of GOATbacks.com, which looks at the greatest running backs of all time. Thanks to Bob for yesterday’s and today’s articles!

Yesterday, I looked at the YPC leaders for the 46 seasons since the merger was completed, 1970-2015 at the 100/120/180-carry cutoffs. Today, a look at the YPC leaders since 1970 at three higher thresholds. [click to continue…]


Bob Ford, a longtime fan of Pro-Football-Reference and Football Perspective, has contributed a 2-part guest post on Yards Per Carry Leaders. Bob is the owner and founder of GOATbacks.com, which looks at the greatest running backs of all time. Thanks to Bob for today’s (and tomorrow’s) article!

I’ve been curious about YPC leaders over the years, particularly as they’re sorted through increasing numbers of carries. Over the next two days, I will look at the YPC leaders using six different carry minimum thresholds: 100, 120, and 150 today, and 180, 220, and 280 carries tomorrow. These cutoffs weren’t arrived at in an analytically rigorous way, just through instinct and personal judgment. I ran a number of different carry thresholds and simply tried to keep my statistical eyes peeled; in my view, these are at least 6 of the minimums where interesting changes seemed to emerge.

As a general rule, though not an absolute one, I’m in the camp that regards YPC as, at best, a questionable stat when it comes to assessing skill and performance, and at worst a misleading and even bunkum stat, to borrow a term from Chase and the crew over at Intentional Rounding. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting YPC is useless. In fact in some narrow contexts I think it’s even key. But I think it’s woefully overused and over relied on, and I do regard it with suspicion when it comes to assessing rushing and running back value and effectiveness, particularly in “real-game” situations. I think the same holds for mobile quarterbacks, too.

I decided to look at YPC leaders for the 46 seasons since the merger was completed, 1970-2015. Again, no special reason, just to make things more manageable. This would probably get really interesting if we included all pre-merger seasons, but I didn’t do that here. If anyone does, kudos. At any rate, here are the YPC leaders since 1970, sorted at 6 different carry thresholds. [click to continue…]


Guest Post: Putting Lipstick on the YPC pig

Brian Malone, a writer for dynastyleaguefootball.com, has put together a great guest post today. You can follow him on Twitter at @julesdynasty. Thanks to Brian for today’s article!

Putting lipstick on the YPC pig

We all know that that yards per carry is, as Danny Tuccitto puts it, nearly a “bunkum stat” in terms of predictive power.   Even as a descriptive tool, YPC is tolerable but unsatisfying.  Matt Forte (4.12) and Chris Johnson (4.15) had nearly identical YPC in 2015, but their paths to these numbers were notably different.  Forte rarely got stuffed behind the line of scrimmage, and he was well above average at posting four-yard gains.  Johnson, in contrast, was a home run hitter, padding his YPC with runs longer than 20 yards.

Painting a better picture

We could supplement YPC with the standard deviation of a player’s runs.  Or, as Jeff Levy suggests, we could include confidence intervals to define a player’s “true” YPC.  Both supplements add useful information, but neither smacks the reader in the face with the contrast between Forte and Johnson.  For that, we may need a visual. [click to continue…]


Yesterday, Bob Ford wrote DeMarco Murray and, how his 2014 season stands out as a career outlier. Today, I want to look at where it stands among the biggest year-to-year declines.

I looked at all players who rushed for at least 5 games in consecutive years, and rushed for at least 60 yards per game in the first season. For example, Murray rushed for 1,845 yards in 2014, an average of 115.3 yards per game. Last year, in 15 games, Murray averaged only 46.8 rushing yards per game. That’s a dropoff of 68.5 rushing yards per game, which is the second most in NFL history. The first? That honor goes to Lee Suggs.

Suggs was a star at Virginia Tech, rushing for 27 touchdowns in 11 games as a sophomore at Virginia Tech before tearing his ACL as a junior. In his senior year, he had another great season, rushing for 1,325 yards and 22 touchdowns. He was a 4th round pick of the Browns in 2003, where he served as the team’s backup. In ’04, he stole the job from William Green, and rushed for over 100 yards in each of Cleveland’s final three games. He averaged 74.4 rushing yards per game in ’04, but lost his job to Reuben Droughns in ’05. As a result, Suggs saw his average decline by 72.5 yards per game, an even more dramatic dropoff than Murray. [click to continue…]


Bob Ford, a longtime fan of Pro-Football-Reference and Football Perspective, has contributed today’s guest post. Bob is the owner and founder of GOATbacks.com, which looks at the greatest running backs of all time. Thanks to Bob for today’s article!

Is DeMarco Murray in Danger of Joining A Very Exclusive Club?

In 2014 DeMarco Murray rushed for 1,845 yards on 392 carries at 4.7 yards per carry and just over 115 yards a game. That’s a great rushing season by any standard, and it puts Murray in some pretty exclusive company. Since Jim Brown first broke 1,800 rushing yards in 1963, just 16 other running backs have done it a total of 20 times, and only 3 (Dickerson, Sanders and Simpson) did it more than once.

Among the 17 RBs who’ve rushed for 1,800 yards, 10 have posted at least 10,000 career rushing yards, and 4 have at least 9,000. Those 4 are Ahman Green with 9,205, Earl Campbell with 9,407, Chris Johnson with 9,442 and Shaun Alexander with 9,553. And only 2 who’ve retired, Terrell Davis with 7,607 career rushing yards, and Jamal Anderson with 5,336, have failed to break 9,000 career rushing yards. After 5 seasons and 5,228 career rushing yards, DeMarco Murray is still active, so we don’t know how many career rushing yards he’ll eventually have, but all running backs who’ve rushed for more than 1,800 yards in a season have always, with the exception of Anderson and the singularly unique exception of Davis, put up a minimum of 9,000 career rushing yards.

Why do I call Davis a “singularly unique” exception? I’ll get to that in a minute, but consider how far behind the rest of the group Jamal Anderson, who rushed for 1,846 yards in 1998, actually is. He’s nearly 2,300 yards behind Davis and nearly 4,000 behind Green. What’s more, and not enviable for Murray, is that it’s Anderson’s career, not Davis’ or any of the others’, that bears a striking resemblance to Murray’s, and that doesn’t bode well for Murray. [click to continue…]


In 2015, there were just 15 games where a player rushed for at least 150 yards in a single game. That’s the smallest number since 1996, when just 14 players hit that mark. Thomas Rawls (!) was the only player with multiple games of 160+ rushing yards, and Adrian Peterson was the only other player with two 150+ yard rushing games.

Games with at least 150 rushing yards were much more common in the early ’00s, but they have not exactly been frequent throughout history. The graph below shows the number of times players rushed for 150+ yards in a game in each season since 1960. Note that in seasons with fewer than 32 teams/16 games, the number of instances were prorated as if it was a 512-game league season.

150+ rush2

The same trend holds up if we look at 125+ rushing yard games, with 2015 representing a modern low. Again, throughout this post, I have pro-rated non-512 game seasons. [click to continue…]


Today’s guest post comes from Adam Harstad, a co-writer of mine at Footballguys.com. You can follow Adam on twitter at @AdamHarstad.

On Saturday, the Hall of Fame selection committee will meet, lock themselves in a room, and debate the relative merits of the 15 modern-era finalists for induction. After an intense discussion, the results will be announced nationally as the final event in the festivities leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl.

While the list of 15 finalists includes several names who have been waiting longer than they should for their call, the one that stands out the most to me is Terrell Davis, who has been a semi-finalist more than anyone else in this year’s class, reaching the top 25 ten times in his ten years of eligibility.

Hopefully the Hall of Fame committee can manage to make room for him in what could easily be a stacked class. Whatever they do this Saturday, however, will not change one simple fact: Terrell Davis should have long ago been elected to the Hall of Fame. [click to continue…]


Antonio Brown has 1,586 receiving yards, most in the NFL, which puts him on pace for 1,813 receiving yards this season.

Adrian Peterson has 1,314 rushing yards, most in the NFL, which puts him on pace for 1,502 rushing yards in 2015.

That’s pretty weird.  In general, the rushing leader usually gains more rushing yards than the receiving yardage leader picks up through the air.  From 1970 to 2014, the receiving yards leader  “outgained” the rushing yards leader in only 10 of 45 seasons.  And in only three of those years did the receiving leader “win” by more than 100 yards: in 1999 (Marvin Harrison had 1663 receiving yards; his teammate Edgerrin James had 1553 rushing yards), 1990 (Jerry Rice over Barry Sanders, 1502 to 1304), and 1982 (Wes Chandler over Freeman McNeil in the strike-shortened season, 1032to 786). On a per-game basis, it’s tough to beat what Chandler did, but Brown is on pace to become the first receiving leader since the merger (in fact, the first in the NFL since 1952) to “outgain” the rushing leader by over 300 yards. [click to continue…]


New York Times Checkdowns: Martin vs. Gurley Battle

A little late, but here is a link to my Thursday Night Football preview: 



Running Back Class of 2008 Still Going Strong

Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, Justin Forsett, Jonathan Stewart, Danny Woodhead, Mike Tolbert, Darren McFadden, Marcel Reece, and Jerome Felton all entered the NFL in 2008. So did Steve Slaton, the rookie rushing leader that year, and Ray Rice, Rashard Mendenhall, Michael Bush, Peyton Hillis, and Felix Jones. Analyzing where the ’08 class ranks in NFL history is a project for the offseason, but today, I thought it would be fun to look at rushing yards by running backs by class year.

The graph below shows that data through six weeks of the 2015 season. As you can see, players in their 8th NFL season — those who entered the league in 2008 — are doing quite well.

wk6 2015 rushing yards class year

The class with the most rushing yards so far in 2015 are the rookies. That class is currently led by Thomas Rawls, but has also received strong production from higher picks like Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, and T.J. Yeldon. After the class of ’15, there’s a gradual decline with respect to production by older classes. And then, there’s the class of 2008. [click to continue…]


As I did last year, I want to analyze the rushing stats for each team in 2014 using a metric known as Adjusted Rushing Yards per Carry. Thanks to the help of Brian Burke of Advanced Football Analytics (formerly Advanced NFL Stats), we were able to conclude that the value of a first down was about 9 yards. And since we’ve previously determined that the marginal value of a touchdown is 20 yards, this means Adjusted Rushing Yards per Carry is pretty easy to calculate. Also, since Bryan Frye crunched the numbers, we might as well exclude all kneels from the process, too.

One thing to keep in mind (which I have forgotten in the past): since the NFL records-keeping process labels touchdowns as first downs, you should only assign 11 yards per touchdown if you are already giving 9 yards to all 1st downs. And since kneels are marked down as runs, you must back those out, too. As a result, here’s the formula to use:

Adjusted Rushing Yards per Carry = (Rush Yards + 11 * Rush TDs + 9 * Rush First Downs – Kneel Yards Lost1 ) / (Rushes – Kneels)

If we use this metric to analyze the 2014 season, how would it look? Seattle was by far the top rushing team in the NFL last year, rushing for 2,762 yards and 20 touchdowns on 525 carries, good for a 5.26 yards per carry average. But 19 of those 525 carries were kneels, and they went for -20 yards. In addition, Seattle not only led the league with 144 rushing first downs, the Seahawks gained a first down on 28.5% of non-kneel carries, also the highest mark in the NFL. Seattle averaged 8.49 Adjusted Rushing Yards per Carry, while the NFL average was 6.63. Since the Seahawks averaged 1.86 ARY/C over average for 506 non-kneel carries, that means Seattle rushed for 941 rushing yards (1.86 * 506) above average.

The full list for all 2014 teams, below: [click to continue…]

  1. Since this is a negative number — i.e., 10 kneels for -11 yards — we need to subtract kneel yards to turn those yards into an add back in the numerator. []

Franchise Nemeses: Rushing Metrics

Yesterday, we looked at the top statistical passers against each franchise. Today, we revise a post from a couple of years ago and look at the top rushing producers against each franchise.

Only two players have emerged as a franchise’s top rushing nemesis over the last two years. One of those situations involves the Rams. Only five players have ever rushed for 1,000 yards in their careers against the Rams franchise: Shaun Alexander, Jim Taylor, and Tony Dorsett each finished with between 1,008 and 1,032 rushing yards against the Rams. As of two years ago, Roger Craig’s 1,120 was the most, but since then, Frank Gore has upped his career total to 1,191 rushing yards against St. Louis (and he’s done it in three fewer games than Craig).

With the Saints, it’s even trickier. For a long time, Lawrence McCutcheon was the career rushing leader against New Orleans with 966, but Eric Dickerson (984) passed him before Dickerson retired. Then, Warrick Dunn took over the top spot with 1,135 yards. But in 2013, DeAngelo Williams passed Dunn for most career rushing yards against the Saints. Otherwise, the list below remains pretty similar to how things were last time, although note that this time around, I’m including the playoffs. That’s enough to cause Eddie George to leapfrog Jerome Bettis for the top spot against the Ravens.

Oh, and for the second day in a row, you have to go back to the ’60s to find the man who has been the number one nemesis for the 49ers: [click to continue…]


In 2008, Jamaal Charles had 67 carries and averaged 5.33 yards per carry. Those 67 carries represent 5% of Charles’ career attempts to date (excluding playoffs). That season, the NFL league average was 4.20 yards per carry, which means Charles was 1.12 (after rounding) YPC above average in 2008, or 1.12 YPC above average on 5% of his career carries.

In ’09, Charles had 190 carries, representing 15% of his career YPC. He averaged 5.89 YPC, and the league average was 4.24, which means Charles was 1.65 YPC above average for 15% of his career carries.

In 2010, those numbers were 230, 18%, 6.38, and 4.21, so Charles was 2.17 YPC above league average on 18% of his career carries.

I performed that analysis for every season of Charles’ career — and every other player in NFL history — to determine each player’s career YPC average relative to league average. The table below shows the 200 running backs (by default, only the top 10 are shown) in pro football history with the most carries. The table is sorted by YPC over league average. Here’s how to read it. Jamaal Charles ranks 1st in YPC over league average. His first year was 2008 and his last year (so far) was 2014. For his career, Charles has 1,249 career rush attempts, which ranks 118th in pro football history. He has 6,856 yards, giving him a 5.49 career YPC average. His “expected” career yards per carry average — based on the league average YPC in each season of his career, weighted by his number of carries — is 4.21. Therefore, Charles has averaged 1.28 YPC above league average for his career, the highest rate in football history. [click to continue…]


Was Walter Payton the biggest workhorse in NFL history? In 1977, he gained 43.5% of Chicago’s total offensive yards. The next year, it was 39.5%, and the year after that, it was 39.1%. Payton also was responsible for 37.8% of the Bears output in ’76, 36.2% of the team’s yards in ’84, and 35.8% of Chicago’s offense in 1980.

But wait, there’s more! In ’82 and ’85, Payton was responsible for 33.1% and 33.5% of his team’s offense, and in ’81 and ’83, it was 32.7% and 32.8%. For ten seasons, Payton was responsible for at least thirty-three percent of his team’s offense! And in 1986, he gained 30.6% of all Chicago yards.

Yesterday, we looked at the single-season leaders in percentage of team yards. Today, the career list, using a 100-95-90 weighting method. What’s that? To avoid giving too much credit to compilers, I did not assign full credit to each season, and instead used the following methodology:

1) Calculate the total yards from scrimmage by each player in each season since 1932.

2) Calculate the total team yards (excluding sacks) by that player’s team. Players who played for multiple teams in a season were therefore prejudiced by this methodology.

3) Calculated the percentage of team yards gained by each player in each season since 1932. This was the basis of yesterday’s post.

4) Order each player’s career from best season (per step 3) to worst.

5) Give each player 100% credit during his best season, 95% credit during his second best season, 90% during his third best, and so on. So for Payton, we give him 100% of 43.5%, 95% of 39.5%, 90% of 39.1%, 85% of 37.8%, and so on.

6) Sum the values in step 5 for each player for each season to get a career grade.

That career grade doesn’t mean much in the abstract — Payton’s grade is 318% — but when we order the list, it does provide some limited insight as to which players have been the biggest workhorses in NFL history. This is far from a perfect formula, but I do think it’s interesting. Note that I also performed the same analysis using a 100-90-80 method — to give even less value to compilers — and not a single player moved up or down in the top 15. The table below shows the top 150 players by this metric: [click to continue…]


Last year, DeMarco Murray led the NFL with 1,845 rushing yards. The 32nd-ranked rusher last season rushed for 570 yards, which means Murray rushed for 1,275 yards more than the Nth-ranked rusher, with N representing the number of teams in the NFL. That’s obviously excellent, although not quite the best of all time.

That honor, as regular readers could have guessed, belongs to O.J. Simpson. In 1973, Simpson rushed for an incredible 2,003 yards, while the 26th-ranked rusher in the 26-team NFL rushed for 655 yards. As a result, Simpson is credited with 1,348 yards over the Nth-ranked rusher. Then again, remember that this was a 14-game NFL season; we need to pro-rate that number to 16 games to make for a fairer comparison. That brings Simpson’s season up to +1,540, slightly edging out Adrian Peterson‘s 2012 season (2,097, 564, +1533).

What if we use that methodology for every player during every season of his career? That, to me, is an improvement on just a list of the career rushing leaders, since we don’t give players any benefit for junk seasons. That may be the only thing this list is an improvement on — after all, it is still based on only one statistic — but hey, it’s Friday. Below are the career grades for the top 150 running backs (note that by default, the table only displays the top 25). I have also listed for each back his career rushing yards and his rank in that category. [click to continue…]


A quick data dump today. Since 1960, players who record 20+ carries in a game were on the winning side of things 72.7% of the time. Steven Jackson, however, is just 30-31-1 in his 62 games where he has had at least 20 carries. Given that we would “expect” a player to win 45.1 games given 62 games with 20 carries, Jackson’s 30.5 wins falls 14.6 wins shy of expectation. That, perhaps not surprisingly to regular readers, is the worst record relative to expectation among all running backs since 1960.

The table below shows all running backs who had at least 20 games with 20+ carries over the last 55 years, including the postseason. Thurman Thomas is on top of the table because he had 71 games with 20+ carries, and his teams went 63-8 in those games for an incredible 0.887 winning percentage. That gave Thomas 11.4 wins over expectation, the most ever. If you want to sort by a different category (say, win%), you can: the table is fully sortable and searchable. [click to continue…]


Which Running Backs Played With Best Passing Games?

Payton played with some terrible passing attacks

Payton played with some terrible passing attacks

Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt is the best simple measure of quarterback play. ANY/A is defined as (Gross Passing Yards + 20 * PassTDs – 45 * INTs – Sack Yards Lost) divided by (Pass Attempts + Sacks).  Relative ANY/A, or RANY/A, is simply ANY/A minus league average.

I looked at the 100 players with the most rushing yards in football history.  Then, for each player, I calculated the average weighted RANY/A of the offenses he played on.  As usual, to come up with a career grade, I gave more weight to a player’s best seasons.  If a running back had 18% of his rushing yards come in one season, well his team’s RANY/A for that year was responsible for 18% of his career RANY/A grade.

For example, in 2001, the good Jake Plummer showed up for the Cardinals, and Arizona had a RANY/A of +0.53.  But since Thomas Jones rushed for only 380 yards that year — just 3.6% of his career total — only 3.6% of his career RANY/A is based on the +0.53.  Conversely, Jones set a career high with 1,402 rushing yards in ’09 for the Jets, representing 13.2% of his career total.  New York, behind a rookie Mark Sanchez, had a RANY/A of -1.69 that year, which matters a lot more when calculating Jones’ career grade.  In fact, Jones played with bad passing offenses for most of his career: as it turns out, among all players in the top 100, it’s Jones who played with the worst passing offenses in his career. [click to continue…]


Running Back Heat Maps

Commenter Dan had a good suggestion: what if we create heat maps for each running back, with color-coding to depict how often a player gained at least X amount of yards?

Well, ask, and ye shall receive. I looked at all running backs with at least 100 carries in 2014, and then measured on what percent of their runs did each running back gain at least 0 yards, at least 1 yard, at least 2 yards, etc., up to 10 yards. I also calculated the percentage of runs that went for at least 15+ and at least 20+ yards. [click to continue…]


On Friday, I asked the question: how many carries would we need to take away from DeMarco Murray in order to drop his YPC average to at or below league average?

Today, I want to look at it from the other side. How many of Trent Richardson’s worst carries would we need to erase to bring his YPC above league average? For this experiment, assume that we are sorting each running back’s carries in ascending order by yards gained. I’ll give you a moment to think about the answer.

[Final Jeopardy Music]

[Keep thinking…]

[Are you ready?]

[Your time is now up. Post your answer in the comments!] [click to continue…]


DeMarco, how many Cowboys fans still think you're great?

DeMarco, how many Cowboys fans still think you’re great?

DeMarco Murray was really, really good last year. He rushed 393 times for 1,845 yards, producing a strong 4.69 YPC average. Jamaal Charles was also really, really good — he averaged 5.07 yards per rush last year, albeit on “only” 205 carries. The NFL average yards gained per rush was 4.16 last season, down a tick from in previous years. But that brings us to the question of the day:

Suppose we sort each running back’s carries in descending order by yards gained. How many carries would we need to take away from Murray in order to drop his YPC average to at or below league average? Same question for Charles. I’ll give you a moment to think about this one.

[Final Jeopardy Music]

[Keep thinking…]

[Are you ready?]

[Your time is now up. Post your answer in the comments!]
[click to continue…]


Last year, I built a trivia question around the leaders in receiving yards per games over a 3-year period. Today, the same thing but for rushing.

Trivia hint 1 Show

Trivia hint 2 Show

Trivia hint 3 Show

The table below shows every player to average at least 75 rushing yards per game over a 3-year period, with a minimum of at least 100 carries in each season. [click to continue…]


The Emmitt Smith Rant

Emmitt Smith was a product of the system, the one where they gave him the ball.

Emmitt Smith was a product of the system, the one where they gave him the ball.

One of Doug Drinen’s first posts at the old PFR Blog was titled, “The Emmitt Smith Rant.” That was now nine years ago, and while not much has changed regarding Smith’s career since 2006, how many people other than me still remember that old post? So I’ve decided to revive Doug’s old post, with his permission, of course.

With greatness comes backlash, and every great player has collected his share of detractors. And while Football Perspective readers don’t underrate him, it feels as though Emmitt Smith has been remembered by a significant number of football fans as a less-than-special running back.  He played with Hall of Famers at quarterback and wide receiver, with Pro Bowlers at fullback, tight end, and several spots on the offensive line. As a result, it’s understandable that some diminish the peak numbers he produced during his prime.

And yes, he did put up some monster numbers during his prime.  From 1991 to 1995, Smith was historically dominant. Consider that among all running backs during their ages 22 through 26 seasons (i.e., Smith from ’91 to ’95), he rushed for 8,019 yards; the next closest player during those ages was LaDainian Tomlinson with 7,361.  Smith also rushed for 85 touchdowns: Tomlinson (72) is the only other player within 20 rushing touchdowns of Smith during those ages.

But let’s say you don’t want to give Smith “full credit” for those years.  What about what he did from 1998 to 2001? During those years, Chan Gailey and Dave Campo coached the team for two seasons each. Dallas went 28-36 during those years, and the passing attack ranked 17th in Net Yards per Attempt. In other words, these weren’t the Troy Aikman/Michael Irvin Cowboys. And while Larry Allen was still around, the offensive line was more name than substance at this point.

At the start of this four-year period, Smith was 29 years old. Through age 28, Smith had recorded 2,595 carries in the regular season,1 the most of any player through age 28 in NFL history. So you’ve got a situation where a running back had been worn down to an absurd degree, stuck on a mediocre team and on a mediocre offense. If Smith was not a special back, how would he do? [click to continue…]

  1. In addition to 318 more in the playoffs. []
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