≡ Menu

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.

For example, among this group, the backs gained at least 0 yards on 90% of their runs, at least 1 yard on 81% of their runs, and at least 2 yards on 69% of their runs.1 Last year, DeMarco Murray gained at least 0 yards on 91%, 1 yard on 81%, and 2 yards on 69% of his runs; in other words, he was just barely above average in all three categories. But where Murray stood out was in percentage of runs that went for bigger chunks: in particular, 49% of his carries went for at least 4 yards, +7% over the league average of 42%.

Take a look: for each running back, the picture below displays his percentage over or under league average. So for Lamar Miller, the 11% in the 5 column means that he gained at least 5 yards on 43% of his runs, or 11% higher than the league average rate of 32%.

RB heat map

And for those who want the information in table form:

Running Back# Car0123456789101520
DeMarco Murray3931014765453232
LeSean McCoy314-3-4-3-1210211111
Le'Veon Bell2902543542122210
Marshawn Lynch2803263454333310
Matt Forte266-1001342211-2-1-2
Alfred Morris26500-3-220-1011011
Arian Foster2600-1-11432133321
Frank Gore255-1-123344422200
Eddie Lacy2462010143346631
Justin Forsett235-1-1-3-2156788735
Mark Ingram2252012522121110
Joique Bell223-2-3-6-4-20-2-2-1-1000
Jeremy Hill22216102123444311
Lamar Miller21602677119656412
Andre Williams216-1-5-6-6-8-6-8-9-7-6-5-20
Jamaal Charles2053777746643121
Andre Ellington201-3-3-1-5-7-4-5-5-5-4-210
Chris Ivory198-31-2-2245432-10-2
Steven Jackson1892-1220-5-2-2-4-4-2-3-1
C.J. Anderson1793333477774422
Tre Mason179-3-6-7-3-2-20123411
Jonathan Stewart176-4-3-25669544520
Terrance West17100332-1210-1-4-10
Giovani Bernard16832-4-3-2-5-4-1-100-1-1
Alfred Blue168-3-5-6-10-5-5-6-5-6-5-5-3-1
Rashad Jennings16744360000-1-2-10-2
Matt Asiata164572443-6-5-7-8-6-3-2
Branden Oliver160-1-3-6-4-1-2-4-3-3-3-1-10
Trent Richardson160-10-1-6-7-4-4-4-3-3-4-2-2
Darren McFadden1562220-2-5-4-5-5-4-3-2-2
Chris Johnson15404865-4-5-3-2-2000
Bishop Sankey1532465-2-11000-3-3-2
Isaiah Crowell148-6-6-9-3-232455421
Fred Jackson1411360001-2-3-5-4-3-2
Denard Robinson135-2-215-1-4-1-10-1121
Doug Martin13521-3-7-8-7-6-6-7-5-4-1-1
Knile Davis134-3-6-5-6-8-10-6-4-5-4-120
LeGarrette Blount125-4-1-2-3-121001022
Ben Tate119-4-5-5-8-7-2-3-4-3-5-3-2-1
Jerick McKinnon113-1228355243201
Ronnie Hillman10620-4-3-5-7-2-2-112-11
Anthony Dixon105322440-3-4-6-6-4-11
Toby Gerhart1011-22-4-9-10-8-30-1-3-3-1

Let us know your thoughts in the comments! My lone comment: Matt Asiata’s heat map is a thing of beauty.

  1. Note that I took an average of the averages approach; in other words, I am placing the same weight on DeMarco Murray’s runs as Toby Gerhart‘s when calculating league average, rather than count Murray’s runs nearly four times as much because he had nearly four times as many carries. []
  • Dan


    Some of these are surprising. If you told me that Chris Johnson & Darren McFadden have one pattern, and Tre Mason & Isaiah Crowell have the opposite pattern, I would not have guessed which is which. It doesn’t seem to be about blocking, since Chris Ivory & Terrance West don’t match their teammates’ patterns.

    Looking at another pair of teammates, the Jamaal Charles vs. Knile Davis contrast is pretty striking (and bad news for anyone hoping for a Priest Holmes style changing of the guard). Similar bad news on Andre Williams & Alfred Blue. But good news for people who were worried about Jeremy Hill being only 4 big runs above average, and for the C.J. Anderson fan club.

  • Oh man, this is so cool. This site is the best ‘cuz of geeky things like this. Excellent work and great suggestion from Dan.

  • Delevie

    I guess this hammers home SEA should have given the ball to Beastmode in SB, eh? Actually, they probably should give it to him pretty much every play.

    The craziest item on this list? Not one NE Patriot RB on it, the only team in the NFL in 2014 that didn’t have a 100 carry RB.

    • dbqp

      Blount is on, but these numbers show he’s a boom or bust back at heart. I still think Gray is a more consistent runner.

      • Delevie

        Yes, I didn’t see that, although only 60 of those carries came with NE. It would be interesting to see his split between the two teams.

      • Jackson

        I also think gray is more complete, but Blount tires out a defense in a certain special way. He stands up for so long even when it’s obvious he won’t get another yard.

  • Jack

    Knile Davis, come on man!

  • dbqp

    This is very cool. Adding -2 and -1 yards would complete the map.

    One additional way to evaluate running backs would be to use the median yards per carry, but I assume runs are only given as integers (3 or 4 yards, rather than 3.73 yards). All the backs here have medians in the range between 2 and 4, as no backs gain at least 4 yards more than 49% of the time. Maybe you could do the mean of the median 20% of carries or so? Using only the median 10% would give a result very close to 3 as the average back in the sample gain between 3 and 4 yards 13% percent of the time, almost all of which is included in the 45-55% range.

    In essence, this might be the same idea as Dan suggested in a comment to the earlier post (removing top and bottom 5%), but with a much narrower band.

  • wow, awesome graphic Chase! Really helps look at how some RBs are better at hitting holes quickly and/or the anecdotal skill of “falling forward”

    I was linked to this through Jimmy Kempski (Eagles writer, Philly Voice); he noted that the other PHL target, Frank GoreHe Who Spurned Us, had a heat map more akin to Murray’s than Shady. Helps clarify the notion Chip wants the RB more likely to get the consistent 3 or 4 yards vs. the risk of zero or negative yardage on 1st down.

    • Bryan Frye

      Here’s every Sproles carry from longest to shortest: http://pfref.com/tiny/stWE3

      If you look up a player on PFR (Mathews for example), you’ll see a tab in the Rushing & Receiving area labeled “Rush Plays [+]” which will take you to the same type of page to which I linked you. The drawback is that it’s only one guy at a time, but that isn’t a big deal if you’re only interested in two guys.

      • thank you!
        Just discovered that, and wasted half an hour 🙂
        analysis: Sproles is the shiznit

        for my Eagles fans:

        • dnabrice

          Now you have me coming over from B247 to give you upvotes on another blog!

  • Derrick Deziel

    This is awesome….I would like to see the percentage be the percentage of that players attempt which went for those yardages vs as compared to NFL average and then compare the two charts.

  • seenable

    Lamar Miller, holy shit.

  • GR

    Can you post what the average percentage is for each yardage segment?

  • Andrew deHaas

    Will you please follow up with multiple years of this statistic? That is fascinating, in the least!

  • voice of the people

    where is thomas rawls? nd what are the horizontal numbers on the top of the table for?

  • Mixitup

    2016 Heat Map, por favor.