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How Bad Was Ray Rice in 2013?

Rice just barely averaged his height in 2013

Rice just barely averaged his height in 2013.

The 2013 season was a disaster for Ray Rice, and 2014 isn’t off to a very good start, either. Last season, Rice carried 214 times for just 660 yards and four touchdowns, producing an anemic 3.1 yards per carry average. On November 9th, I asked whether Rice was already washed up; at the time it felt a bit premature, but in retrospect, such a view seems much more reasonable. Averaging so few yards per carry over such a large number of carries is pretty rare. How rare?

As a disclaimer, I’m in the camp that thinks YPC is an overrated statistic. In 2013, Marshawn Lynch, Eddie Lacy, and Frank Gore all averaged around the league average of 4.17 yards per carry, but that doesn’t make them average backs. So consider much of this post to be a bit of trivia and fun with stats, rather than the best way to identify running back productivity. With that disclaimer out of the way, I calculated each player’s “yards above league average” for each season since 1950, which is the product of a player’s number of carries and the difference between his YPC average and the league average YPC rate.

For example, since Rice averaged 3.08 YPC on 214 carries, he gets credited for being 231 yards below average in 2013. By this measure, Rice was the worst running back in the league. He was worse than his teammate Bernard Pierce (who actually had a lower YPC average but on fewer carries, so he finished 197 yards below average), worse than Willis McGahee (-198) or Rashard Mendenhall (-217), and even worse than Trent Richardson (-220). And this wasn’t your typical worst season in the league, either: his 2013 performance ranks as the 15th worst in this metric since 1950:

1Eddie George200128TEN31593952.984.06-339
2Lamar Smith200131MIA31396863.094.06-302
3Jonathan Wells200223HOU19752932.694.22-302
4Eddie George200229TEN3431165123.44.22-281
5Eddie George200330TEN312103153.34.16-267
6Ottis Anderson198932NYG3251023143.153.95-261
7Ricky Williams200326MIA392137293.54.16-258
8Larry Brown197326WAS27386083.154.06-249
9Harold Green199325CIN21558902.743.89-247
10Edgerrin James200628ARI337115963.444.16-242
11Cedric Benson201028CIN321111173.464.21-240
12James Jackson200125CLE19555422.844.06-237
13Karim Abdul-Jabbar199723MIA283892153.153.98-234
14Benny Malone197927WAS17647232.684-232
15Ray Rice201326BAL21466043.084.17-232
16Trent Richardson2013222TM18856332.994.17-220
17Tom Tracy196127PIT14740222.734.22-218
18Rashard Mendenhall201326ARI21768783.174.17-217
19LaDainian Tomlinson200930SDG223730123.274.24-216
20Darren McFadden201225OAK21670723.274.26-214
21Abner Haynes196629DEN12930422.364.01-213
22Jerome Bettis200331PIT24681173.34.16-212
23Rob Carpenter198429NYG25079573.184.02-210
24Lee Bouggess197022PHI15940122.523.83-208
25Chester Taylor201031CHI11226732.384.21-205
26Curtis Enis199923CHI28791633.193.9-203
27Larry Brown197427WAS16343032.643.88-202
28Tim Hightower200822ARI143399102.794.2-202
29Tony Collins198627NWE15641232.643.94-202
30Warrick Dunn200732ATL22772043.174.06-202
31Maurice Smith200125ATL23776053.214.06-201
32Marion Butts199428NWE24370382.893.72-201
33Reggie Cobb199325TAM22165832.983.89-201
34Larry Schreiber197528SFO13433752.514.01-201
35James Stewart200029DET3391184103.494.08-200
36Christian Okoye199029KAN24580573.294.1-199
37Adrian Murrell199929ARI19355302.873.9-199
38James Wilder198527TAM3651300103.564.1-198
39Willis McGahee201332CLE13837722.734.17-198
40Eddie Price195328NYG10120622.044-198
41Bernard Pierce201323BAL15243622.874.17-197
42Dick Hoak196324PIT21667963.144.05-196
43Travis Prentice200024CLE17351272.964.08-194
44Warrick Dunn200126TAM15844732.834.06-194
45Rudi Johnson200728CIN17049732.924.06-193
46Kerry Collins200230NYG44-30-0.074.22-189
47Po James197223PHI18256503.14.14-188
48Trent Richardson201221CLE267950113.564.26-188
49Chuck Foreman197828MIN23774953.163.95-188
50Kevan Barlow200425SFO24482273.374.14-188
51Alvin Maxson197524NOR13937132.674.01-187
52John Riggins198334WAS3751347243.594.09-187
53Tom Sullivan197424PHI244760113.113.88-187
54Rip Collins195024BAL6910101.464.16-186
55Curtis Martin199825NYJ369128783.493.99-184
56Anthony Thomas200225CHI21472163.374.22-181
57Gene Gedman195826DET9220942.274.23-180
58Craig James198625NWE15442742.773.94-179
59Edgerrin James200224IND27798923.574.22-179
60Thomas Jones201133KAN15347803.124.29-179
61Marcel Shipp200527ARI15745102.874.01-178
62Harlan Huckleby198124GNB13938152.744.02-178
63Louis Carter197623TAM17152113.054.08-177
64Garry James198825DET18255253.034.01-177
65Edgar Bennett199526GNB316106733.383.93-175
66Marshall Faulk199623IND19858772.963.85-175
67Kevan Barlow200627NYJ13137062.824.16-175
68Bill Mathis196325NYJ10726812.54.13-174
69Larry Johnson2009302TM17858103.264.24-174
70Jamal Lewis200627BAL314113293.614.16-173
71Kevin Smith200923DET21774743.444.24-173
72Stephen Davis200531CAR180549123.054.01-172
73Maurice Jones-Drew201328JAX23480353.434.17-172
74Troy Hambrick200327DAL27597253.534.16-172
75Jamal Lewis200526BAL26990633.374.01-172
76Jamal Lewis200829CLE279100243.594.2-171
77Andra Franklin198324MIA22474683.334.09-170
78MacArthur Lane197432GNB13736232.643.88-169
79Chris Perry200827CIN10426922.594.2-168
80Emmitt Smith200435ARI26793793.514.14-168
81Charley Taylor196524WAS14540232.773.92-167
82Rodney Culver199223IND12132172.654.03-166
83Rickey Young198027MIN13035132.73.97-165
84Matt Forte200924CHI25892943.64.24-165
85Jahvid Best201021DET17155543.254.21-165
86Peyton Manning201337DEN32-311-0.974.17-164
87MacArthur Lane197331GNB17052813.114.06-163
88Sid Watson195624PIT11229842.664.11-162
89Jerome Bettis199422RAM319102533.213.72-162
90Billy Ray Barnes196025PHI11731542.694.08-162
91Robert Holcombe199823STL9823022.353.99-161
92Ron Dayne200022NYG22877053.384.08-161
93BenJarvus Green-Ellis201328CIN22075673.444.17-161
94Preston Pearson197025PIT17350322.913.83-160
95Natrone Means199927SDG11227742.473.9-160
96Billy Cannon196225HOU14747473.224.31-159
97Ron Johnson197427NYG9721842.253.88-158
98Ted Dean196022PHI11330402.694.08-157
99Le'Veon Bell201321PIT24486083.524.17-157
100Reuben Droughns200628CLE22075843.454.16-157

In the 2000 calendar year, Eddie George had 519 carries. In the 2001 season, he produced the single worst season (according to this formula) since 1950. The next two seasons was nearly as bad, as George produced bottom-5 seasons in three consecutive years.

As you might expect, most of the running backs at the top of the list were very good running backs (or the lead backs on terrible teams — or both). They made it on to the list by virtue of getting too many carries when they were washed up or simply having a ton of carries in a very down year. At 27 in 2014, Rice is still pretty young, so he could end up with a Ricky Williams-like bounce back. Or, at 27, Rice is now old for a running back, and he could have a Larry Brown-like dropoff: the former Washington star was the NFL MVP in 1972, made this list in 1973, and then rushed for just 838 yards on 280 carries over the rest of his career. To the extent you believe a heavy workload signals overuse which leads to the wheels falling off, note that Rice led the NFL with 1,299 carries from 2009 to 2012 (including the postseason).

Since I already crunched the data, let’s close with a look at the best performances since 1950 in this statistic:

1Barry Sanders199729DET3352053116.133.98720
2Jim Brown196327CLE2911863126.44.05684
3O.J. Simpson197326BUF3322003126.034.06654
4Barry Sanders199426DET331188375.693.72651
5Adrian Peterson201227MIN3482097126.034.26614
6Eric Dickerson198424RAM3792105145.554.02582
7Walter Payton197724CHI3391852145.463.85547
8Michael Vick200626ATL123103928.454.16528
9Jamaal Charles201024KAN230146756.384.21499
10O.J. Simpson197528BUF3291817165.524.01497
11Chris Johnson200924TEN3582006145.64.24488
12Randall Cunningham199027PHI11894257.984.1458
13Jamal Lewis200324BAL3872066145.344.16456
14Earl Campbell198025HOU3731934135.183.97452
15Terrell Davis199826DEN3922008215.123.99445
16Jim Brown195822CLE2571527175.944.23439
17Tiki Barber200530NYG357186095.214.01430
18Jim Brown196529CLE2891544175.343.92411
19Ahman Green200326GNB3551883155.34.16407
20Michael Vick200424ATL12090237.524.14405
21Larry Johnson200526KAN3361750205.214.01404
22Frank Gore200623SFO312169585.434.16398
23Shaun Alexander200528SEA3701880275.084.01398
24Marshall Faulk199926STL253138175.463.9395
25Otis Armstrong197424DEN263140795.353.88387
26Emmitt Smith199324DAL283148695.253.89386
27Clinton Portis200322DEN2901591145.494.16385
28Bobby Douglass197225CHI14196886.874.14384
29Jim Brown196024CLE215125795.854.08380
30Adrian Peterson200722MIN2381341125.634.06375
31Barry Sanders199628DET3071553115.063.85372
32LaDainian Tomlinson200627SDG3481815285.224.16368
33DeAngelo Williams200825CAR2731515185.554.2367
34Jim Taylor196227GNB2721474195.424.07367
35James Brooks198931CIN221123975.613.95366
36Barry Sanders198921DET2801470145.253.95363
37C.J. Spiller201225BUF207124466.014.26362
38Joe Perry195427SFO173104986.063.98361
39Clinton Portis200221DEN2731508155.524.22357
40Mercury Morris197326MIA149954106.44.06349
41Dan Towler195123RAM12685466.784.05344
42LaDainian Tomlinson200324SDG3131645135.264.16343
43Robert Smith199725MIN232126665.463.98343
44Gale Sayers196623CHI229123185.383.9337
45Garrison Hearst199827SFO310157075.063.99334
46Marshall Faulk200128STL2601382125.324.06327
47Jim Brown196428CLE280144675.164327
48Marshall Faulk200027STL2531359185.374.08326
49Leroy Kelly196624CLE2091141155.463.9325
50John David Crow196025STL183107165.854.08325
51O.J. Simpson197629BUF290150385.184.08319
52Skeets Quinlan195325RAM9770547.274317
53Robert Smith200028MIN295152175.164.08317
54Jamaal Charles200923KAN190112075.894.24314
55Hugh McElhenny195224SFO9868466.983.81310
56Chris Warren199426SEA333154594.643.72306
57Robert Griffin201222WAS12081576.794.26304
58Tiki Barber200631NYG327166255.084.16303
59Gale Sayers196825CHI13885626.24.02301
60Michael Vick200222ATL11377786.884.22301
61Dan Towler195224RAM156894105.733.81299
62LeSean McCoy201325PHI314160795.124.17299
63Keith Lincoln196324SDG12882656.454.13297
64Napoleon Kaufman199623OAK15087415.833.85297
65Fred Taylor200731JAX223120255.394.06297
66Lenny Moore195623BAL8664987.554.11296
67Priest Holmes200229KAN3131615215.164.22295
68Warrick Dunn200530ATL280141635.064.01294
69Jamaal Charles201226KAN285150955.294.26294
70Paul Lowe196024LAC13685586.294.13293
71Emmitt Smith199526DAL3771773254.73.93291
72Charlie Garner199927SFO241122945.13.9289
73Jerome Bettis199321RAM294142974.863.89286
74Leroy Kelly196725CLE2351205115.133.92284
75Terrell Davis199725DEN3691750154.743.98282
76Jim Taylor196126GNB2431307155.384.22282
77Don Woods197423SDG227116275.123.88281
78Ottis Anderson197922STL331160584.854281
79Randall Cunningham198623PHI6654058.183.94280
80James Brooks198628CIN205108755.33.94280
81Paul Lowe196327SDG177101085.714.13279
82Donovan McNabb200024PHI8662967.314.08278
83Paul Lowe196529SDG222112165.053.8277
84Franco Harris197222PIT1881055105.614.14277
85Thurman Thomas199125BUF288140774.893.93276
86Mike Anderson200027DEN2971487155.014.08275
87Stephen Davis199925WAS2901405174.843.9274
88Wendell Tyler198429SFO246126275.134.02273
89Steve McNair199724TEN10167486.673.98272
90Dan Towler195325RAM15287975.784272
91Tony Dorsett198127DAL342164644.814.02272
92Hoyle Granger196723HOU236119465.063.92268
93Larry Csonka197125MIA195105175.394.02267
94Bo Jackson198927RAI17395045.493.95266
95Barry Sanders199527DET3141500114.783.93266
96Greg Pruitt197827CLE17696035.453.95264
97Michael Vick201131PHI7658917.754.29263
98Ray Rice200922BAL254133975.274.24262
99Hugh McElhenny195426SFO6451568.053.98261
100Roger Craig198828SFO310150294.854.01260

Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of overlap between this list and this list. But this time, Barry Sanders takes the top spot.

  • Richie March 18, 2014, 1:27 pm

    Do you have a list of career “rushing yards above average”? I thought you did, but the search function here is crashing, and google isn’t helping.

    With all those bottom-5 appearances, it makes me wonder how Eddie George’s career ranks.

    • James March 18, 2014, 4:16 pm

      Using the historical archive link at the top of the page (I find it much easier/more reliable than the search function) I found this: http://www.footballperspective.com/career-rushing-yards-over-50-yards-in-each-game/

      It’s not quite the same thing, but it’s close, and it also only includes data from 1960 to 2011. Eddie George had the 24th most career rushing yards at 4,613 when you exclude the first 50 in each game (RYov50), making up 41% of his total (38th highest), with the 22nd highest percentage of games with over 50 rushing yards at 70%. So that still doesn’t account for number of carries in any way, but not bad.

      For some perspective, throwing out his final season with Dallas (I don’t remember this?!), he averaged 566 RYov50 per season. In his All Pro 2000 season he had 790 RYov50. In the following 2001 season he had only 252 RYov50.


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