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).
Thomas Rawls stands as excellent here, which isn’t too surprising given his great 5.65 yards per carry average. He gained 15+ yards on 15 of his 147 runs, or 10% of the time. That’s insane, and 5% above league average. But he wasn’t just a big play threat: look at how dark blue his early line is, too. He was consistent gaining yards: 88% of his carries went for positive yards, with 80% of those (compared to 68% for the average runner) gaining at least two yards.
Giovani Bernard may be more interesting, though. His 4.74 yards per carry average implies that he was good, but not in the way you might think. Bernard was below average at big plays of 15+ yards, but he was great at picking up 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 yard chunks. That belies his reputation, but Bernard was excellent at consistent gaining solid yardage last season.
C.J. Anderson goes the other way, which may explain why he kept fighting for his job last year. On the surface, Anderson’s 4.74 yards per carry average looks good. But he was below average at gaining positive yards, or at least 2 or 3 yards; only 54.6% of his carries gained at least 3 yards, compared to 55.1% for all backs. But once Anderson gained some yards, he tended to do very well: he was very effective at getting 5-10 yards at a time, and put together long runs at a better-than-average rate, too.
What stands out to you?