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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).

rb heat map 2015 season

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?

  • iarejenius

    Darren McFadden’s above average 1-2 yard range. Can’t wait to see Ezekiel Elliott behind that o-line.

  • Lamar Miller stood out in the chart last year. This year I’m surprised his YPC mark is in the blue considering how bad the oline was in Miami (ask Tannehill about how bad it was too). That’s apparent when you see the red on the left of the chart. What a waste of talent. Still sad we won’t be able to see what he can do with Gase and a better line.

  • Woof!


  • Arif Hasan

    “Red is bad” I think is fine for this heatmap. Appreciate the work; Toddy Gurley’s heatmap in particular is pretty unique and worth a deeper look, I think. It seems like he’s a boom-bust runner whose busts get pretty good yardage.

    • Thanks, Arif.

      Trent Richardson notwithstanding, I look more at usage than efficiency for rookie RBs. And that goes double for someone like Gurley recovering from an injury. I am pretty high on him, and have a feeling his heat map will look pretty different next year.

  • Quinton

    There’s a few really interesting things. 1) Lagarrette Blount and his 9% is interesting. Good short yardage? 2) Matt Forte and Rashad Jennings and their consistently being above average for the first few yards. Is that a reflection of the value of experience? 3) Charles Sims jumping up for the 3+. If I could easily check out his runs >4-5 yards, I would.

    The comment about Lamar Miller makes me wonder about the consistency of these from year to year. A big project but I wonder if there’s enough variation in RB and OL location to figure out some value added

  • David Aron

    how does this correlate with OL run blocking grading?

  • Le’Veon Bell is above 0% in every single category a year after finishing above 0% in every category except one, (he was right at 0% in runs of 20+ yards).

    Le’Veon Bell is good at football.