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DeMarco, how many Cowboys fans still think you're great?

DeMarco, how many Cowboys fans still think you’re great?

DeMarco Murray was really, really good last year. He rushed 393 times for 1,845 yards, producing a strong 4.69 YPC average. Jamaal Charles was also really, really good — he averaged 5.07 yards per rush last year, albeit on “only” 205 carries. The NFL average yards gained per rush was 4.16 last season, down a tick from in previous years. But that brings us to the question of the day:

Suppose we sort each running back’s carries in descending order by yards gained. How many carries would we need to take away from Murray in order to drop his YPC average to at or below league average? Same question for Charles. I’ll give you a moment to think about this one.

[Final Jeopardy Music]

[Keep thinking…]

[Are you ready?]

[Your time is now up. Post your answer in the comments!]

For Murray, the answer is just seven.1 The Cowboys star had runs of 51, 44, 40, 32, 28, 27, and 26 yards this year, for a total of 248 yards. Without those runs, Murray would have had 1,597 yards on 386 carries, which translates to a 4.14 YPC average. For Jamaal Charles, the answer is just five. His top five runs went for 63, 47, 39, 36, and 28 yards, a total of 213 yards. Without those carries, Charles would be at 826 yards on an even 200 carries, a 4.13 YPC average.

There were 19 running backs2 last season who recorded at least 100 carries and averaged more yards per rush than league average. Among those players, Justin Forsett is the answer to the question: Which player could lose the most number of top carries and still be above average in YPC? For the Ravens runner, the answer is 9. Forsett rushed 235 times for 1,267 yards last year3, and averaged 5.39 YPC. The far right column shows the minimum number of top carries each back would need to have erased in order to bring his YPC average below 4.16.

Running BackRshRshYdYPCNum
Justin Forsett23512675.399
DeMarco Murray39318454.697
Lamar Miller21610995.096
Arian Foster26012464.795
Jamaal Charles20510395.075
C.J. Anderson1798494.745
Marshawn Lynch28013064.664
Eddie Lacy24611394.634
Jeremy Hill22211245.064
Le'Veon Bell29013614.693
Mark Ingram2259664.292
Jonathan Stewart1768134.622
Jerick McKinnon1135384.762
LeSean McCoy31413194.21
Frank Gore25511034.331
Tre Mason1797654.271
Chris Johnson1546634.311
Denard Robinson1355784.281
LeGarrette Blount1255474.381

So, what is the point of this study? Well, for one thing, I just think this whole thing is kind of interesting. Consider Jeremy Hill, who had a great rookie year, rushing 222 times for 1,124 yards, producing an impressive 5.06 YPC average. But you only need to take away four of his 222 runs — which went for 85, 62, 60, and 30 yards — to bring his YPC average down to 4.07. Even if you just take off his top three runs, that brings Hill down to 4.19 YPC. That just seems kind of crazy to me.

This is a good reminder of how sensitive YPC is to outliers. Even within a season, YPC regresses by about 70% to the mean; from season to season (based off of larger sample sizes), the regression is about 65%. And we know that YPC is not very useful when trying to predict success rate. According to Danny Tuccitto, YPC is basically a bunkum stat.

The other interesting thing here is I like the way this stat automatically adjusts for number of carries. Seven running backs had higher YPC averages than Murray, but only one of those players could lose six carries and still be above average like Murray. So from a ranking standpoint, this is kind of neat. And by the way, I really slept on Lamar Miller having such a great year. I assumed his 5.09 YPC was inflated by his 97 yard touchdown run, but he still shines in this exercise. Miller also ranked 3rd in DVOA and had the best success rate of any running back with 100+ carries last year.

  1. An informal offline poll of two people produced identical answers of fifteen. []
  2. For those curious, the number is a mind-boggling 21 for Russell Wilson, 12 for Cam Newton, and 9 for Colin Kaepernick. []
  3. Note that because I used the play-by-play logs to conduct this exercise, there may be slight differences between the numbers in this table and the official numbers. []
  • James

    I would have guessed closer to 15 too! Can you now do the same thing for YPA to show how it is a much more indicative stat than YPC?

  • Jay Beck

    This is why Jerome Bettis is going in the hall of fame w his 3.9 avg. YPC is totally meaningless. As Scott Kacsmar onc said, “YPC…we need a better stat”. And we have it! It’s called success rate.

    • sn0mm1s

      It isn’t any better. Not when the vast majority of successful runs are more dependent on oline than RB. Maybe if there was a stat of SR when yards required is 3 yards or more. YPC isn’t meaningless though – ypc indicates how good a RB is at creating outliers. The better the RB is at creating the outlier runs – the better the RB.

      • Kibbles

        The other problem with success rate is that it’s not constant based on down and distance. The success rate on 3rd and 1 is substantially higher than the success rate on 1st and 10. Last year, there were 668 rushes on 3rd/4th down with 1 yard to go, and they converted for a new set of downs 467 times, good for a 69.9% success rate. With 2 yards to go, the success rate was 63.7%. Even with 3 yards to go, the success rate was 61.8%.

        I don’t know what the average success rate on 1st or 2nd down is, but I do know that it is substantially lower than 60%. According to Football Outsiders, Lamar Miller led the NFL with a 57% success rate last year. The median success rate among qualified running backs belonged to LeSean McCoy at 45%. From this, I would estimate that the success rate among average backs on 1st and 2nd down was probably in the 40-50% range and not in the 60+% range.

        This means that a player who gets a disproportionate amount of his work in short-yardage situations will rank much higher in success rate than a player who is essentially identical, but who sees a different skew to his usage. That’s partly how someone like Bettis could rank 13th in success rate in 2003… but 37th in DVOA.

        Success Rate doesn’t really boost Bettis’ case all that much, anyway. He had 6 top-10 finishes, sure, but he also finished dead last in 1995, and he spent most of his career in above-average-but-not-exceptional territory. In fact, according to DVOA, DYAR, and Success Rate, Bettis really only had three exceptional seasons… and you wouldn’t exactly need success rate to pick them out of a lineup. They happened to be three of the four years in his career where he topped 4 YPC. They’re also his top three seasons by yards from scrimmage. They’re also the only three years of his career he was named by the AP to either the first or second string All Pro team.

        Again, it’s not like success rate paints Bettis’ career in a more favorable light than any of the other prisms we could use to evaluate it. Success rate, like any other method of analysis, tells us he’s a guy with three great years (but not historically great), a couple more good years, and then a whole lot of replacement-level play.

        • Jay Beck

          Well, there have been 26 running backs since 1989 to carry the football 2000 or more times and Bettis had a better career success rate than all of them except Edgerrin James (who spent his entire career with 2 HoF caliber QBs. Success rate is only a small piece of the puzzle but it correlates to winning about 3x more than rush yards per attempt (which is statistically insignificant).

          • sacramento gold miners

            The uniqueness of his career at that size really does boost the career of Jerome Bettis. There have been other backs in that size range, like a Craig Heyward and Natrone Means, and those players simply couldn’t sustain excellence for a long period of time. The three best years of Bettis’ career were historical in that context, and at an age when numerous other HOF backs were finished, Bettis was playing a key role for a Super Bowl contender. It’s surprising to me how ranking in the top five all time in 100 yard games doesn’t get more traction.

            Hall of Famers come in many different varieties, and everything should be considered in the evaluation process.There are no established rules for induction, and if a candidate compares favorably to others already enshrined, that’s a plus as well.

            • Kibbles

              Would you enshrine Warrick Dunn? Identical career YFS totals, and Dunn might have been more of a physical outlier than Bettis was. Warrick Dunn was almost as small as DeSean Jackson (5’9″ 180lbs vs. 5’10” 178lbs), yet still put up 15,000 career yards from scrimmage. Just as Bettis is the heaviest RB in history to top 10,000 YFS, Dunn is the lightest, (or co-lightest, tied with James Brooks).

              Harold Carmichael was a bigger physical outlier than Dunn and Bettis put together. In the entire history of the NFL, all players 6’8″ and taller have combined for 12,380 yards from scrimmage. Harold Carmichael alone accounted for 9,049, or about 75% of that total. He’s the only player in history over 1,000 yards. He’s one of just three players to top 400 career yards at that height, (TEs Leonard Pope and Marcus Stroud are the other two). He was also a pretty good player- four career pro bowls, a Walter Payton MotY award, 2nd-team all-decade for the ’70s.

              In my mind, uniqueness shouldn’t really play a role in determining Hall of Fame credentials. It should be all about value added. The fact that Carmichael was a physical outlier is interesting, but to me it doesn’t play into his candidacy. Likewise, the fact that Bettis weighed 250+ pounds is curious, but not noteworthy. Though as you say, it’s not as if there’s some unified set of rules governing what makes someone a Hall of Famer, and I respect those that feel differently.

              • Jay Beck

                Warrick Dunn won’t sniff the hall of fame because of those same 26 runners with 2000+ carries since 1989, Dunn’s success rate was dead last (26th of 26) and demonstrably lower than the guy one spot above him (Eddie George). Dunn’s CAREER success rate was 40.7 which is a ghastly figure.

                • Kibbles

                  Warrick Dunn does not belong in the Hall of Fame because he wasn’t a top-tier RB talent, and the fact that he’s physically unique doesn’t change that fact. Jerome Bettis was better than Dunn, but for me, not enough better to change that simple bottom line. Not when players like Edgerrin James, who were even better still, are such long-shots for Canton.

                  Success rate, as I’ve said, is highly dependent on situation and context. There’s a massive correlation between a back’s success rate and the number of yards needed for a first down. That’s a correlation that has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with usage. As sn0mm1s already mentioned, success rate is heavily influenced by offensive line, especially in short-yardage situations. (There’s a reason Football Outsiders lists “power%” under the offensive line rankings and not the running back rankings.)

                  Success rate is a great context stat, and I think as a standalone it is, in fact, a clear improvement over ypc. But it’s hardly the “one stat to rule them all” of RB evals. DVOA/DYAR seem pretty nakedly superior, for instance, simply because they’re essentially success rate adjusted for situation and opposition. And among players who debuted in 1991 or later, Bettis trails Priest Holmes, Tiki Barber, Brian Westbrook, Edgerrin James, Charlie Garner, Ricky Watters, Terrell Davis, and Maurice Jones-Drew, depending on what methodology you use, (career total, weighted career average, average over a player’s best 6 years). Additionally, he did not meaningfully differentiate himself from Corey Dillon, Fred Taylor, or Clinton Portis. And this is simply among the guys who are not in the Hall of Fame and likely won’t get there; it does not include Marshall Faulk, LaDainian Tomlinson, Curtis Martin, or Adrian Peterson. It also doesn’t include Smith/Sanders, who debuted before 1991. It doesn’t include recent guys whose careers are still in their primes, like Forte, Charles, McCoy, Murray, or Foster. It also doesn’t include Shaun Alexander, who dominated Bettis in postseason honors. Or Stephen Jackson, who I think was a superior back who just got stuck in arguably the worst situation in history.

                  I’m sorry, there’s just not any way anyone will convince me that Bettis is a deserving Hall of Famer unless they want to argue that we should also be letting in at least a half-dozen of those eighteen other names I just listed.

                  • Jay Beck

                    Actually, Dunn was most certainly a “top-tier RB talent.” He was a first round draft choice, had a prolific collegiate career and a long and very successful professional career. By no means do I consider him a hall-of-fame caliber player or even a fringe hall-of-famer. And I would certainly agree that evaluating running backs statistically is a nearly impossible endeavor with so many countless variables to consider. I’ve heard Bettis referred to as “a compiler” which to me is so beyond laughable considering he played a rather prominent role in his final two season on teams that went 30-7 including the postseason. 1654 rushing yards and 27 TDs in his final two seasons at the ages of 32-33 for two dominant teams is compiling, yet then someone has the nerve to bring up someone like Steven Jackson who has never been on a winning team in 11 professional seasons. Go add up all the big, important yards Jackson had in 3rd and 4th quarters of games with his team trailing by 14 or more points. You’ll end up somewhere in the vicinity of 1500 YFS. Not to mention that Jackson has played in a totally different era in which scoring and yardage totals have risen dramatically. You can cry about it all you want but Bettis is one of 5 players in NFL history with 14,000+ rushing yards and 100+ rushing TDs (Emmitt Smith, Tomlinson, Payton, Sanders).

                    • Kibbles

                      Dunn never made 1st team AP All Pro. He never even made 2nd team AP All Pro, or any other All Pro list of any note, (though he did win ORoY). He was never considered one of the top 5 RBs in the NFL. To me, that’s the “top tier”, and Dunn was never a part of it.

                      Jerome Bettis ended his career with 4 straight years under 1,000 yards from scrimmage. He averaged 861 total yards per 16 games played over that stretch. During those four years, he was a part-time player in a timeshare with Amos Zereoue, Duce Staley, and Willie Parker. He was solid, and in 2004 I would even say he was very good, but those are not the type of seasons that should add to a player’s Hall of Fame legacy. Nobody ever says “man, the real reason Terrell Davis isn’t in the Hall of Fame is because he didn’t have an extra half-decade of 800-yard seasons at the end of his career”. And yet, those final four seasons are the difference between Bettis finishing his career ranked 14th with 15,111 career yards from scrimmage (in the Steven Jackson, Warrick Dunn, Eric Dickerson neighborhood) instead of finishing ranked 31st with 12,096 yards (in the Ahman Green, Jamaal Lewis, Thomas Jones neighborhood).

                      Again, people are going to differ on what makes a Hall of Famer, but in my book, there is basically no number of 800-yard seasons that improve a player’s HoF credentials.

                      There’s pretty much nothing anyone can say to convince me that Jerome Bettis wasn’t a worse candidate than Terrell Davis, Tiki Barber, Priest Holmes, Edgerrin James, Shaun Alexander, or Ricky Watters, or a virtually indistinguishable candidate from Clinton Portis, Fred Taylor, or Corey Dillon. (To say nothing of the recent batch of Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles, Chris Johnson, and the like.) Bettis got in because Pittsburgh and because for some reason the media thought it was the least bit interesting that he happened to be born in a Super Bowl host city, and because he seems like a very nice and generous guy who’s easy to like.

                    • sacramento gold miners

                      I think Bettis should have been selected earlier for the Hall, and the number of enshrined Steelers may have worked against him in the minds of some voters. Jackson, Jones, Barber,Taylor, Dillon, Watters, and James all had long, excellent careers, but Watters and Dillon had attitude problems. Both I don’t see any of those five as the HOF lock Bettis should have been. And backs like Holmes and Alexander just couldn’t sustain great seasons, but I would put Terrell Davis in the Hall due to his key role in Denver’s back to back SB titles.

                      Nearly all HOF backs have declining production during the last few years of their careers, and we’d have to readjust nearly all the rankings, as nearly everyone would drop. Bettis was anything but a compiler, with 940 yards on a 15-1 team in 2004, and delivering key production for the 2005 World Champs. While numerous HOF backs like Earl Campbell were retired, it was Bettis at an older age, closing out wins, and adding to his high total of 100 yard games in his final season. That’s valuable, significant, and rare.

                      Playing a key role on a contender is part of the resume, and along with the impressive stats on an unusual size, was more than enough for the voters to do the right thing. The current backs still have much to prove before they earn HOF consideration, Lynch and McCoy are on the right track.

                    • Kibbles

                      We obviously greatly disagree about what constitutes a “key role on a contender”. Unless you also think Tim Wright and Jonas Gray were playing key roles for the 2014 Pats.

                      Also, to clarify, by “adding to his high total of 100 yard games in his final season”, you mean “had 101 yards once (and failed top top 60 yards in any other game, regular-season or post-)”.

                      2004 was without question a good year. Not a great year, but a good one. I’d even append a “very” to that- 2004 was a very good year for Jerome Bettis. But still, he spent the final four years of his career as the smaller piece of an RBBC with some pretty mediocre backs. It’s better than being retired at that age, sure, but it doesn’t move the Hall of Fame needle for me. Charlie Joiner compiled some extremely impressive career totals by being a barely-above-replacement player for what feels like a century, but there’s a reason why Charlie Joiner is my favorite hobby horse when I decide to make fun of the Hall of Fame. In my opinion, a “barely above replacement” season should never improve a player’s Hall of Fame credentials. In practice, it always does.

                    • sacramento gold miners

                      Franco Harris, Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, O.J. Simpson, are just a few of the HOF backs who ended their careers with a whimper. Although not the premier back he was in the mid 90s, Bettis was still productive, even in a reduced role. Was injured in 2002, but won back the starting role in 2003. Leading rusher on the 15-1 2004 Steelers, and punished the eventual NFC Champion Eagles in the process, snapping their unbeaten string.

                      Even in decline, Bettis was capable of HOF moments, like the key 2005 win over the Bears. So at an age when other HOF backs were finished, Bettis was still contributing to a World Champion. Teamed with Parker in the postseason as well, and Jonas Gray may never be heard from again. Ray Lewis was in decline towards the end as well, and he went out a world champion. I don’t think Eric Dickerson would have taken a pay cut for a chance at a ring.

                      Historical standing. Time tested. Unique dimensions. Longtime key contributor to a SB contender. Great third and short conversion back. One of the best ever totals for 100 yard games. If that’s not a hall of famer, I don’t know the meaning of the word. The variety of the resume got it done, just like it will for Hines Ward eventually.

                      I do reward Charlie Joiner for his excellence into his late 30s, and like Bettis, while not an inner circle guy, definitely has the goods. At one time Joiner was football’s leading receiver of all time, and for me, an easy HOF selection.

                    • Kibbles

                      Eric Dickerson absolutely ended his career with a whimper. And what he did in his final years had absolutely no bearing on the fact that he made the Hall of Fame. Instead, he made it because through seven seasons he had 6 Pro Bowls, 5 first-team AP All Pros, an Offensive Rookie of the Year, an Offensive Player of the Year, a 1st-team All Decade award, and the single-season rushing yardage record.

                      Earl Campbell’s career absolutely faded into obscurity with a quickness. And what he did in his final years had absolutely no bearing on the fact that he made the Hall of Fame. Instead, he made it because through his first three seasons in the NFL, he had been named league MVP by one entity or another three different times.

                      O.J. Simpson was absolutely a shell in his final few years in the league. And what he did in those years had no bearing on the fact that he made the Hall of Fame. Instead, he made it because he was a 5-time first-team AP All Pro, a league MVP, the only player in history to rush for 2,000 yards in just 14 games, and had arguably the greatest running back season ever in 1975 with 2243 yards from scrimmage, 23 touchdowns, and 25 AV in a 14-game season

                      Those three guys are kind of sterling examples of my point that players should be making the Hall of Fame based on how absolutely amazing they were at their best, not how not-entirely-terrible they were at their worst. As for Franco Harris… he’s probably one of the better modern comps for Jerome Bettis in the Hall of Fame, (Riggins ranked 4th in career rushing yards at the time of his retirement and is, in my mind, the best comp for Bettis), but Harris did manage to make 9 pro bowls, (most of which he actually deserved), and won four Super Bowls, (and one SB MVP). He also shared one other striking similarity with Jerome Bettis that helps explain how they both managed to make it into the Hall of Fame despite being the two least talented running backs on this list…

                      That’s really what this all comes down to for me. Jerome Bettis was a very good runner. He was a unique runner. He was a long-lasting runner. But was he ever a great running back? No, at least not as I’m defining “Hall of Fame-caliber greatness”. There wasn’t ever really a time when he was considered one of the top 3 backs in the NFL. Maybe there was a super-fleeting window where he was considered top 5. And please note how I kept saying “runner” at the beginning of this paragraph and not “running back”, because that was no accident. Jerome Bettis was a garbage receiver. Michael Turner was famously stone-handed, and he still managed to average 6.1 ypg receiving in Atlanta. Jerome Bettis put up just 5.6 ypg receiving in Pittsburgh. In fairness, he did better in St. Louis, but his career average was still just 7.5 ypg. So you’ve basically got a 1-dimensional oversized runner who fared well-but-not-exceptionally so in even the most advanced metrics and who spent 30% of his career as a committee back on one of the most favorable running teams of the modern NFL.

                      As for Charlie Joiner… his brief stay atop the career leaderboards resulted from a historically long compiling period and a fluke of circumstance. Joiner was part of the first wave of receivers to benefit from the 16-game season, which caused all sorts of career records to fall. Joiner wasn’t even the first receiver to ride a long career and an extended season to an impressive career total; by the time Harold Jackson retired in 1983, he was the #2 receiver in NFL history, nestled comfortably between Hall of Famers Don Maynard and Lance Alworth. And Joiner wasn’t the last good receiver to ride the 16-game wave to great career totals, either; when Stanley Morgan retired in 1990, he ranked 5th in career receiving yards. So why is Charlie Joiner a Hall of Famer when Harold Jackson and Stanley Morgan aren’t? Both of those guys made more career pro bowls. Why is Charlie Joiner in the Hall of Fame when Henry Ellard isn’t? Ellard finished with 1600 more yards, averaged 10 more yards per game for his career, earned one more first-team AP All Pro, and had basically an identical career AV total (133 to 134). What about Irving Fryar? For that matter, what about Keenan McCardell? Why is Charlie Joiner an “easy Hall of Fame selection” for you while all of these other guys are basically just cricket chirps? All of them are essentially the same receiver- good player but never all THAT good who hung around forever and racked up phenomenal career totals as a result.

                      It sounds to me like we just have a philosophical difference. You place a much higher premium on career totals at time of retirement. I place a much higher premium on how favorably the player actually compared to his peers.

                    • sacramento gold miners

                      Some thoughts here. The end of career for Bettis adds value to his career, unlike other HOF backs or other peers who just couldn’t take the pounding. Being the bell cow for a contender for long time is rare, and so is the production. 20-30 years from now, history will be very kind to Jerome Bettis. His mid 90s peak was elite, and the media reports reflected this as well. Advanced metrics have limitations, I would love to see a third down and short yardage category for HOF backs. Ony six other HOF backs have more rushing TDs, and being the second all time leading rusher in Steelers history is yet another mark in his favor. HOF voters do look at the prestige of a franchise, which I agree with.

                      I don’t think the HOF is served by electing players like Priest Holmes, who had three strong years. I made an exception for Terrell Davis because of the postseason factor, he was one of the best ever in that category.

                      Franco Harris is an inner circle RB even if the IM never happens. Smaller back characteristics in a bigger frame, and I would say his numbers would have been even better if the Steelers didn’t have the HOF receivers, and Franco was fed the ball like Adrian Peterson. His postseason play was superior to the vast majority of HOF backs, and while Barry Sanders was better overall, he wasn’t a cold weather back. I don’t think Franco would rush for a single yard in a playoff game, even with a bad wheel.

                      Charlie Joiner has aspects of his career which put him into the Hall, even if the historically important ranking didn’t happen. His involvement with the Charger landmark offensive attack, age defying production, and was a better postseason receiver than some of the receivers you mentioned. It was Joiner catching the huge pass which set up the winning points in arguably the greatest playoff game ever played. These are the types of catches non HOF recivers like Wes Welker fail to make. Henry Ellard was underrated, and has a case, but needed a strong postseason, and I think he came up big only once. Kenny Anderson was like that too, with only a couple standout playoff games. Getting outplayed by a young Joe Montana in SB 16 is something which hurts Anderson.

                    • sn0mm1s

                      Barry was just fine in cold weather: road games, the last 1/2 of the season (usually Nov and Dec) here is the breakdown:

                      756 carries 3782 yards 5.00 YPC 97 YPG

                    • sacramento gold miners

                      Those are impressive numbers, but my reference point would be the 40 degrees or colder outside. As great as Sanders was, those conditions weren’t conducive to his running style. The Green Bay road playoff game may have been the worst of his career, and it was 40 degrees in Washington in the 1991 NFC Title Game, when Sanders only had 44 yards.

                      Super Bowl 9 was a chilly day, and it might have rained hours before kickoff, but Franco Harris had a spectacular game. The turf was also a little slick during that game, and a back like Sanders may not have been as effective.

                    • sn0mm1s

                      Sigh, here are Barry’s regular season stats in 40 degree or colder weather:
                      326 carries, 1644 yards, 5.04 YPC, 103 YPG.

                    • sacramento gold miners

                      That’s impressive, but I think Barry would agree his postseason was disappointing. Six career games, with only one hundred yard outing. While I have Sanders rated ahead of Harris all time, the margin isn’t significant. I’m a believer in adding the postseason to the mix when evaluating past and current players, since winning is the ultimate goal of sports.

                    • sn0mm1s

                      His postseason is as good as Jim Brown’s or Walter Payton’s. Also, out of the top 50 all time rushers, Barry is the only one to never play with another HOFer or either side of the ball or a QB to make a pro bowl or all pro team. His lack of help/contributing star power is rather unique. It is difficult to play well in the postseason with help – much less not a single player that required much of a game plan on either side of the ball. If you actually watched that Redskins game you would see *every* receiver in single coverage. Washington kept 7 DL/LB in the game even when the Lions rolled out 4 WRs on nearly every play.

                    • Jay Beck

                      Willie Parker’s 2005 postseason rushing stats: 57 att, 225 yds, 1td
                      Jerome Bettis’s 2005 postseason rushing stats: 56 att, 180 yds, 3 tds

                      Parker had the 75-yd TD jaunt in the super bowl. Bettis had “the fumble.” Those things happened, but for a washed-up 33 yr old on his last legs, Bettis was able to outperform Parker save for one big run. Bettis also had a 12-yd TD called back against Denver in the AFC CG due to an illegal formation penalty.

                    • Kibbles

                      One person sees that and says “wow, he basically outperformed the average talent he was stuck in an RBBC with, (but not really).” Another sees it and says “wow, he averaged just 45 yards per game on one of the most run-heavy teams in recent memory (at 3.2 yards per carry, for however little that’s worth), and additionally made a season-ending error with the game all but sealed only to be saved by Deus Ex Machina, all while failing to secure so much as a single reception in four games.”

                    • Jay Beck

                      Washed-up, ancient, 33-yr old Bettis led the Steelers in rushing in the Wild Card round against Cincy in 05 (and scored the go-ahead TD from 5 yds out), and was the game’s leading rusher in the AFC Championship game (scored a TD and had another called back). And his team won the Super Bowl.

                      The prior season (at age 32) he had 7 100 yard games in 7 starts for a team that went 16-2. (incidentally, the most 100 yard games in NFL HISTORY by a runner 32 or older…no one else in NFL history had more than 5 in a season at that age).

                      The almighty God of Power Backs Earl Campbell played in 6 career playoff games all IN HIS PRIME and averaged 3.1 yards a carry and fumbled 6 times. Go look at mighty Walter Payton and Barry Sanders’ postseason game logs.

                      Then there’s the receiving argument. Bettis could catch a dump pass and screen pass like virtually any other running back. The Cowher-era Steelers always had a primary ball carrier and a 3rd down back. Prior to Bettis and after (see LeRoy Thompson, John L Williams, Fred McAfee, Eric Pegram, George Jones, Richard Huntley, Amos Zereoue, Verron Haynes, etc).

                      A guy like Curtis Martin had sooo much receiving value he averaged less yds per reception than the bumbling, overweight, clod-footed Bettis. Never mind that a massive amount of those Martin receptions came on 3rd and forever check-downs that didn’t result in a first down or have any impact on a game whatsoever.

                      Not all yards are gained equally. Bettis was never the beneficiary of stat-padding garbage yards on 3rd and forever dump passes, draw plays, etc. And he played with arguably the sorriest collection of QBs of any notable RB in the past 30 years.

                    • sacramento gold miners

                      The Hines Ward HOF discussion will certainly be a heated one, and the struggles at QB for his first six years of his career should be noted. Owens and Moss had a much higher quality at that critical position starting out.

                    • Jay Beck

                      The point is that Dunn was a “top-tier talent”. I stated explicitly he doesn’t warrant discussion for the HoF. There is a difference between talent and production. Take Terrell Davis or Priest Holmes for example. Both guys were so underwhelming coming out of college they were fortunate to make an NFL roster. In 4 seasons in Bal, Holmes was unable to distinguish himself behind Bam Morris, Ernest Byner, Jay Graham, Eric Rhett, and Jamal Lewis. He signed a modest free agent contract with Kansas City and was expected to share the backfield with Tony Richardson. The Chiefs totally overhauled their roster after a disappointing 7-9 season and brought in Trent Green and overhauled their offensive line (eventually signing HoF tackle Willie Roaf) and Holmes ran behind what is considered one of the greatest offensive lines ever. Of course Holmes inevitably got hurt and his production was exceeded by Larry Johnson.

                      Terrell Davis meanwhile was a 6th round draft choice whose rookie season coincided with the 1st year of the Shanahan era in Denver. Shanahan (along w Alex Gibbs) combined a unique zone-blocking scheme to complement a HoF QB, TE and LT. It was also future perennial All-pro Center Tom Nalen’s rookie season. Not surprisingly, the nobody RB proceeded to put up monster numbers. After Davis inevitably got injured and after Elway retired, Sharpe left, Zimmerman retired, etc, Denver was still a perennial top rushing offense for nearly a decade with guys like Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Reuben Droughns, Tatum Bell, and Clinton Portis leading the way.

                      Warrick Dunn in fact, had his best seasons utilizing Alex Gibbs’ same system in Atlanta.

                      The point of all this is that circumstances are everything when it comes to success in the NFL. And it has been proven over and over again that the RB position is largely fungible. I think RBs are the most over represented members of Canton but they also tend to be the faces of a team’s offense and fan favorites so it makes sense for the HoF to feature these guys in their museum.

                    • Kibbles

                      It seems by “top-tier talent” you mean “was drafted high”. In which case, sure, Warrick Dunn was a top-tier talent, like Ron Dayne, while Frank Gore and Arian Foster are merely JAGs.

                      At Warrick Dunn’s absolute best, he was the Xth best RB in the NFL. Solve for X. Also, what value does “X” have to be in order to qualify as “top tier”?

                      For me, Dunn probably tops out at about the 8th best RB in the NFL. At his very peak. And to me, that value of “X” is not high enough to qualify as top tier, regardless of where he was drafted. Jerome Bettis probably topped out at the edges of the top 5 (maybe 4th or 5th at best), but the problem for me is that he was only there for a season or two. So I’m unwilling to call him a “top tier talent”, either.

                      It’s true that Denver was a fantastic rushing team after hiring Shanahan and Gibbs. In fact, from 1995 to 2005 (the last playoff appearance of Shanahan’s career), Denver ranked 2nd in rushing attempts, 1st in rushing yards, and 2nd in rushing touchdowns. And if you want to hold it against Terrell Davis that he played in such a phenomenal system for rushing production, I guess I can understand that.

                      By the way, Pittsburgh ranked 1st in rushing attempts, 2nd in rushing yards, and 3rd in rushing touchdowns over that exact same span. Who was their primary running back during that stretch again?

                    • Jay Beck

                      Jerome Fucking Bettis. And that’s a credit to him. Steelers in 1995 were 17th in rushing by Football Outsider’s advanced metric prior to Bettis’s arrival and were 1st in 1996. Steelers ranked 10th in rushing in 2005 (Bettis’s final season), and fell to 22nd in 2006. Pittsburgh’s run game has sucked now for nearly a decade.

                      Warrick Dunn was a phenomenal talent. Not a Hall-of-Famer.

                      Bettis was a two-time 1st team All-Pro (and 2nd team another year) so in the eyes of voters, he was topping out in the 2-3 range. And he finished 4th in MVP voting in both 1996 and 1997. It’s almost like the voters thought that consistently running the ball down the throats of defenses stacking the line with 8+ men in the box due to mediocre quarterback play was impressive.

                      Funny you mentioned JAG Arian Foster, who’s consistently injured career is a near carbon copy of Terrell Davis or the other turds Denver produced post-Davis. And Foster has been running in the same Shanahan/Kubiak ZBS system to boot. One cut and go…(same for the superstar otherworldly Justin Forsett and the spectacular Alfred Morris – get those busts ready in Canton!)


              • sacramento gold miners

                I was hoping Warrick Dunn would have continued playing because he was underrated, and someone I was rooting for to get elected to Canton. But I can think of three solid advantages for Bettis over Dunn, the first would be historical ranking all time, only four greater at the time of his retirement in NFL history. Second, Dunn missed out on a Super Bowl, and while that’s not a prerequisite, it was Bettis in a reduced role, still helping the Steelers win it all. Third, Bettis has a decisive edge in 100 yard games, doubling up Dunn, 64-31. Dunn had an outstanding career, but not quite enough in my book.

                Harold Carmichael was great, and I do believe he was highly ranked in the all time receiving categories at the time of his retirement. Maybe a win in Super Bowl 15 would have made a difference, but I’m not sure his height advantage as a WR is regarded in the same way unusual dimensions are treated at the RB position. This was a player spread out from the line of scrimmage, and touched the ball many times less than a RB during a game and a season. While the number of 6’8 receivers in the NFL is small, I think the basketball option at the high school and college level is the biggest reason we don’t see more of this type of player.

      • Jay Beck

        I respectfully disagree. I think tough, physical runs in between the tackles is an unquestioned skill and having great footwork, finding tiny soft spots among the chaos at the line of scrimmage and using leverage to fall forward is an unquestionable skill. I don’t think any single run is ever independent of an offensive line or tight end/wr all attempting to do their respective job on a run play. Almost never does one see a runner break 11 tackles or juke 11 guys out of his shoes so there is always a reliance on teammates. And when one considers that the vast majority of run plays are extremely modest gains, every little yard counts.

        • sn0mm1s

          If this was truly the case you wouldn’t see QBs with such successful runs from short yardage. Short yardage is much more a function of the oline than the runner. No run is completely independent – but some are much more dependent than others.

      • sacramento gold miners

        We’re just going to have to disagree on this one. While the offensive line is important, the top backs find a way to amass more yardage than their counterparts. The top breakaway backs can rip off substantial yardage with just a small crease, and the top power backs often get that crucial yard for a first down. The HOF caliber backs also succeeded for years in those situations when everyone in the stadium knew they were getting the ball, and still couldn’t be stopped.

      • Jay Beck

        Wait, so you don’t think there’s a difference between a QB sneak and a run w a back lined up 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage? And who said anything about short yardage? A first and ten run for 4 is a big difference from a first and ten run for nothing. And the offensive line and respect for a passing attack to slow the LBs a half a step, it all plays a role.

  • Clint

    I’d love to see what Chris Johnson’s would be for his 2,000 yard season

    • Bryan Frye

      Despite 81 carries for a loss or no gain, I think you’d have to remove 9 or 10 of Johnson’s top rushes to get him down to league average. He gained a ridiculous 570 yards on his 10 longest carries, and removing those gives him 348 for 1436, at 4.13 YPC. In addition to those 10 carries (the shortest of which was 32 yards), he had 12 more carries of at least 20 yards. On top of those, he had another 27 carries of at least 10 yards. He may be a punchline to some people today, but that season was insane.

      • Clint

        Wow! Thanks for breaking that down.
        Yeah, unfortunately, he’s fallen off, but daaaang. Usually the super-speedy guys don’t have too much success, partially because they’ve always relied solely on their speed, and that doesn’t work in the NFL. It worked for CJ. He’s still a solid option for a team though. I heard Tennessee brought in some new coaches and started doing a different style of running, which could’ve been part of his downfall.

  • Being a Dolphins fan I remembered that 97 yard run by Lamar Miller. So I thought that would hurt him a lot in this exercise. But thinking back on the season as a whole he seemed pretty consistent. There weren’t too many rushes for a loss. He’s quick but he doesn’t try to pull a LeSean McCoy/Barry Sanders all the time. And even though he’s relatively small he seemed decent after contact. Really solid player. I hope we get another good season out of him before he’s contract is up.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Interesting stat, but we have to remember how these players were used. I’m a Forsett and Charles fan, but those players would have likely been unable to have the same number of longer runs with the kind of workload Murray dealt with in 2014. Very strong possibility both players would also been injured or worn down in that role. Conversely, if Murray had a different role with far fewer carries, he could have had a greater number of longer runs. But for the Cowboys, he had a different role with the huge number of carries.

  • I would like to a comparison of Emmitt Smith vs Barry Sanders best season.

  • Alex

    Interesting exercise, but there’s an implicit assumption here that the league average is not affected by outliers. I think what you should do is take away the top X carries for every running back and then compare a particular back’s average to the league average.

  • Bobs_Vendetta

    This article seems to serve no purpose whatsoever, except perhaps as another attempt at justifying the Dallas Cowboys refusal to honestly try to re-sign Murray.

  • Pete

    I get that YPC is (may be / can be) a flawed stat, but I don’t think this is the right approach to prove it. Take out the 10 best ideas of Einsteins’s life, and he is an average guy. Was he really average? Obviously, no. So i’ll rather stay with what the second sentence of the conclusion says: it is indeed interesting. And that’s it.

    • Nitpicker

      This is a logical fallacy known as a false analogy. Fairly common as a rhetorical device, but rarely used by serious thinkers who want people to take them seriously.

      • cshav10

        The false analogy may be true. But it’s possible that the long-run outliers had other effects on the game. For example – and this is anecdotal, not statistical – it seems clear to me that teams were forced to stack the box against McCoy because of his threat of breaking the long run. So it would be interesting to see if there were a correlation between the presence of a long run threat, and the long or mid-range pass game, which would show you the influence of the long runs on the game overall. In football, everything is connected to everything else in one way, shape or form.

  • nobodyaskedbut .

    Another meaningless exercise in math. No running back has ever had sustained success without good blocking. Those big gains are what being a top running back is all about.

    • Nitpicker

      In other words, “I can’t find anything meaningful here, but I do enjoy being an asshole on the Internet.”

    • eYeDEF

      Marshawn Lynch had some pretty mediocre run blocking lines in 2011 and 2013, yet still had sustained success because he led the league in broken tackles.

  • Steven Tucker

    I’m interested in seeing this done with 2012 stats. I’d really like to see how Adrian Peterson fares. And as a Redskins fan, I’m interested in seeing how Alfred Morris stacks up (and am curious about RG3 from a QB perspective as well).

  • 370HSSV 0773H

    Other interesting stats would be to take away receivers “Yards After Catch” numbers that a quarterback gets credit for.

  • Xing Li

    Would be interesting to see what these players average vs the LA if we remove all “big” runs (have to pick an arbitrary threshold, or maybe any run 2+ std. dev. outside of the average). Allow us to see which players derive most of their value through consistent successful runs vs. those that had huge success rates. I would expect this exercise to be favorable to Forsett but also straight-line runners that don’t dance.