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Steven Jackson and Running Back Records

Jackson, presumably walking off the field after a loss

Jackson, presumably walking off the field after a loss.

One of my very first posts at Football Perspective looked at the weighted career winning percentages of various running backs. You can calculate a player’s weighted career winning percentage in lots of ways, but here’s what I did:

  • Calculate the percentage of yards from scrimmage a running back gained in each season as a percentage of his career yards from scrimmage. For example, if a player gained 10% of his yards from scrimmage in 1999 and the team went 15-1 that season, then 10% of the running back’s weighted winning percentage would be 0.9375. This is designed to align a running back’s best seasons with his team’s records in those years. For example, Emmitt Smith played 2 of his 15 seasons with the Cardinals. But since he gained only 6.5% of his career yards from scrimmage in Arizona, the Cardinals’ records those years count for only 6.5% — and not, say, 13.3% — of his career weighted winning percentage.
  • Add the weighted winning percentages from each season of the player’s career to get a career weighted winning percentage.

At the time, Steven Jackson had the lowest average adjusted winning percentage of any running back in my study. Since then, Jackson played for the 7-8-1 Rams in 2012 and the 4-12 Falcons in 2013. That upped his adjusted winning percentage from 0.292 to 0.307. Among the 129 running backs in NFL history with at least 7,000 yards from scrimmage, only James Wilder had a worse career adjusted winning percentage.

The running back with the highest adjusted winning percentage is Lawrence McCutcheon, who spent the majority of his career with the Rams before end-of-career cups of coffee with Denver, Seattle, and Buffalo. The table below shows the first and last year for each running back, the teams he played for, his career yards from scrimmage, and his adjusted winning percentage. McCutcheon played on those great Rams teams of the ’70s, gaining the bulk of his yards from ’73 to ’77. As a result, his adjusted winning % is an incredible 0.741:

RkNameFirst YrLast YrTeamsYFSAdj Win%
1Lawrence McCutcheon19721981RAM-DEN-SEA-BUF83770.741
2Chuck Foreman19731980MIN-NWE91060.733
3Roger Craig19831993SFO-RAI-MIN131000.723
4Terrell Davis19952001DEN88870.719
5Franco Harris19721984PIT-SEA144070.71
6Jim Taylor19581967GNB-NOR103530.709
7Michael Turner20042012SDG-ATL78660.708
8Tony Nathan19791987MIA71350.703
9Tom Matte19611972BAL75150.701
10Alex Webster19551964NYG73170.694
11Jim Brown19571965CLE148110.691
12Mark van Eeghen19741983OAK-NWE82340.686
13Dorsey Levens19942004GNB-PHI-NYG-PHI72890.686
14Kevin Faulk19992011NWE73080.683
15Calvin Hill19691981DAL-WAS-CLE89440.682
16Tony Dorsett19771988DAL-DEN162930.672
17Robert Smith19932000MIN81100.665
18Thurman Thomas19882000BUF-MIA165320.663
19Leroy Kelly19641973CLE95550.659
20Frank Gifford19521964NYG90430.656
21Ray Rice20082013BAL92140.655
22Edgerrin James19992009IND-ARI-SEA156100.651
23Lenny Moore19561967BAL112130.645
24Marcus Allen19821997RAI-KAN176540.645
25Larry Brown Jr.19691976WAS83600.644
26Larry Csonka19681979MIA-NYG-MIA89010.639
27Eddie George19962004HOU-TEN-DAL126680.625
28Rick Casares19551966CHI-WAS-MIA73850.619
29Ahman Green19982009SEA-GNB-HOU-GNB120880.617
30Garrison Hearst19932004PHO-ARI-CIN-SFO-DEN100310.606
31Keith Byars19861998PHI-MIA-NWE-NYJ87700.604
32Brian Westbrook20022010PHI-SFO102750.599
33Shaun Alexander20002008SEA-WAS109730.597
34Ricky Watters19922001SFO-PHI-SEA148910.593
35Mike Garrett19661973KAN-SDG74910.591
36Wendell Tyler19771986RAM-SFO81940.585
37Neal Anderson19861993CHI89290.584
38Walter Payton19751987CHI212640.582
39Joe Perry19481963SFO-BAL-SFO117440.581
40Emmitt Smith19902004DAL-ARI215790.579
41LaDainian Tomlinson20012011SDG-NYJ184560.577
42Joe Cribbs19801988BUF-SFO-IND-MIA75550.573
43Wilbert Montgomery19771985PHI-DET92910.572
44Lydell Mitchell19721980BAL-SDG-RAM97370.571
45Duce Staley19972006PHI-PIT83720.571
46Earnest Byner19841997CLE-WAS-CLE-BAL128660.563
47John Riggins19711985NYJ-WAS134420.563
48Mike Alstott19962006TAM73720.559
49Curt Warner19831990SEA-RAM83110.556
50Jamal Lewis20002009BAL-CLE124860.556
51Stephen Davis19962006WAS-CAR-STL95460.554
52Curtis Martin19952005NWE-NYJ174300.553
53Matt Forte20082013CHI95850.552
54Antowain Smith19972005BUF-NWE-TEN-NOR78630.55
55Marshall Faulk19942005IND-STL191540.549
56Ken Willard19651974SFO-STL82890.547
57LeSean McCoy20092013PHI76000.546
58Marshawn Lynch20072013BUF-SEA89210.546
59Eric Dickerson19831993RAM-IND-RAM-IND-RAI-ATL153960.543
60Clem Daniels19601968DTX-OAK-SFO84520.542
61Warrick Dunn19972008TAM-ATL-TAM153060.54
62Terry Allen19912001MIN-WAS-NWE-NOR-BAL102150.54
63DeAngelo Williams20062013CAR82040.538
64Sam Cunningham19731982NWE73580.538
65Jerome Bettis19932005RAM-STL-PIT151110.537
66Priest Holmes19972007BAL-KAN111340.537
67Bill Brown19611974CHI-MIN90210.534
68Fred Taylor19982010JAX-NWE140790.531
69Tiki Barber19972006NYG156320.527
70Hugh McElhenny19521964SFO-MIN-NYG-DET85280.526
71Delvin Williams19741981SFO-MIA-GNB70130.524
72Freeman McNeil19811992NYJ110350.524
73Don Perkins19611968DAL75270.523
74Ricky Williams19992011NOR-MIA-BAL126150.523
75Chester Taylor20022011BAL-MIN-CHI-ARI70640.523
76Tony Collins19811990NWE-MIA70030.519
77Adrian Peterson20072013MIN118120.517
78James Brooks19811992SDG-CIN-CLE-TAM115830.516
79Clinton Portis20022010DEN-WAS119410.515
80Frank Gore20052013SFO127390.515
81Deuce McAllister20012008NOR78160.513
82Abner Haynes19601967DTX-KAN-DEN-MIA-NYJ81650.511
83Ronnie Harmon19861997BUF-SDG-HOU-CHI-TEN88500.509
84Chris Johnson20082013TEN99680.508
85William Andrews19791986ATL86330.507
86George Rogers19811987NOR-WAS75440.507
87Mike Pruitt19761986CLE-BUF-KAN92380.506
88Reggie Bush20062013NOR-MIA-DET84040.506
89Rodney Hampton19901997NYG82060.503
90John Henry Johnson19541966SFO-DET-PIT-HOU82810.503
91Thomas Jones20002011ARI-TAM-CHI-NYJ-KAN126140.501
92John Williams19861995SEA-PIT96620.5
93Willis McGahee20042013BUF-BAL-DEN-CLE98130.498
94Ottis Anderson19791992STL-NYG133350.494
95Billy Sims19801984DET71780.494
96Barry Sanders19891998DET181900.493
97Darrin Nelson19821992MIN-SDG-MIN70010.488
98Joe Washington19771985SDG-BAL-WAS-ATL82520.486
99James Stewart19952002JAX-DET75560.474
100Joe Morrison19591972NYG74670.473
101Earl Campbell19781985HOU-NOR-HOU-NOR102130.473
102Larry Johnson20032011KAN-CIN-KAN-WAS-MIA75960.466
103Chuck Muncie19761984NOR-SDG90250.465
104Ted Brown19791986MIN73960.462
105Donny Anderson19661974GNB-STL72440.457
106MacArthur Lane19681978STL-GNB-KAN74420.456
107John David Crow19581968CRD-STL-SFO86620.456
108Greg Pruitt19731984CLE-RAI87410.454
109Charlie Garner19942004PHI-SFO-OAK-TAM108080.452
110Eric Metcalf19892002CLE-ATL-SDG-ARI-CAR-WAS-GNB79640.452
111Ronnie Brown20052013MIA-PHI-SDG72500.44
112Michael Pittman19982008ARI-TAM-DEN91390.439
113Dick Bass19601969RAM72580.438
114Herschel Walker19861997DAL-MIN-PHI-NYG-DAL130840.43
115Timmy Brown19591968GNB-PHI-BAL72610.423
116Corey Dillon19972006CIN-NWE131540.42
117Jamaal Charles20082013KAN77980.418
118Travis Henry20012007BUF-TEN-DEN70370.413
119Tony Galbreath19761987NOR-MIN-NYG81380.413
120Maurice Jones-Drew20062013JAX109440.41
121Floyd Little19671975DEN87410.407
122Larry Centers19902003PHO-ARI-WAS-BUF-NWE89850.406
123Chris Warren19902000SEA-DAL-PHI96310.403
124Gerald Riggs19821991ATL-WAS97040.38
125O.J. Simpson19691979BUF-SFO133780.374
126Fred Jackson20072013BUF72600.367
127Ollie Matson19521966CRD-RAM-DET-PHI84580.313
128Steven Jackson20042013STL-ATL141930.307
129James Wilder19811990TAM-DET-WAS95080.294
  • Among active runners with at least 7,000 yards from scrimmage, Ray Rice has the highest adjusted winning percentage at 0.655. The Ravens have posted a 62-34 record since Rice was drafted by Baltimore in 2008; that’s a winning percentage of 0.646. Rice’s adjusted winning percentage is slightly higher largely because Baltimore had a 0.594 winning percentage in ’08 and ’13, Rice’s two worst years.
  • Maurice Jones-Drew has an adjusted winning percentage of 0.410, which comes in at #120 on the list of 129 backs. Buffalo’s Fred Jackson has an adjusted winning percentage of 0.367, which ranks 126th. At least for me, that really puts in perspective how bad Steven Jackson’s teams have been: despite winning 6% fewer games, he only comes in two slots below Jackson.
  • Five running backs have 18,000 yards from scrimmage: Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Marshall Faulk, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Barry Sanders. You won’t be surprised to see Sanders have the lowest adjusted winning percentage in that group at 0.493. But Payton, Tomlinson, and Smith all have adjusted winning percentages of 58%, yet it seems as though only one of those players gets remembered as playing for dominant teams.
  • McCutcheon and Chuck Foreman each made 5 Pro Bowls; Roger Craig has been a Hall of Fame finalist, and Terrell Davis has a pretty strong HOF case, too. Those four backs also have the four highest adjusted winning percentages. That’s pretty interesting, although I’m not quite sure what it means. I do think each player has been a bit marginalized because they played for great teams, and I suppose the numbers here support that theory.
  • Thomas Jones has an adjusted winning percentage of 0.501, but that only places him at #91 on the list. The fact that 71% of the running backs with at least 7,000 yards from scrimmage had a career adjusted winning record says something, although it is probably too difficult to separate causation from correlation here.
  • Kibbles

    Terrell Davis for HoF #Rings #RBWinz

    • Chase Stuart

      There ya go.

  • Have you done this with QBs and RANY?

    • Chase Stuart

      I haven’t. This formula is intended to loosely be a proxy for playing time, and at least for QBs, I think starts would actually be a better metric than RANY or even passing yards. There are differences on the margins, of course, but the goal is here to eliminate seasons where a player has 16 games but minimal contribution. That doesn’t really exist with QB starts. But wait for tomorrow’s post for more info.

  • patrick donovan

    Are these figures adjusted for games missed? Doesn’t seem they are…..which would lead to incorrect conclusions.

    • Chase Stuart

      I’m not quite following what you mean.

  • patrick donovan

    For example you mention SJAX the last two years & show the record of teams he was on, when he missed quite a few games…so wouldn’t your win % # be more accurate using games he actually played in versus including all games for the team?

    • Chase Stuart

      I believe my method is a pretty good proxy of games played, and frankly, a better proxy than using actual games played. But I see your point.

  • James

    “The fact that 71% of the running backs with at least 7,000 yards from scrimmage had a career adjusted winning record says something, although it is probably too difficult to separate causation from correlation here.”

    I think two reasons combine here to make that happen, one obvious, the other obvious to stat heads.

    1. The group of RBs with at least 7,000 career rushing yards is heavily biased towards good backs, so years they play better and gain more rushing yards will be years their teams do well.

    2. We know that winning teams run the ball at the end of games, so a team with a good record will give their good RB lots of carries at the end of all those games they won, giving the RBs an extra number of carries and yards in the good seasons and fewer in the worse seasons, driving up their adjusted win percentages.