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Two years ago, I wrote this post titled “Take Away His X Best Carries and He’s Average.” The idea was simple: Suppose you sort each running back’s carries in descending order by yards gained. How many carries would we need to take away from him to drop his production to at or below average?

Browns running back Isaiah Crowell ranked 9th in yards per carry last year, with an impressive 4.81 average gain. But that number may be a bit misleading, to the extent it made you think that Crowell was consistently churning out big gains. Crowell was responsible for the longest run of the season last year, an 85-yard run in week 2 against the Ravens. And, for what it’s worth, it was one of the easiest long runs you’ll ever see:

In the last game of the year, Crowell had a more impressive 67-yard run against the Steelers. But here’s the thing: outside of those two runs, Crowell averaged just 4.08 yards per carry on his other 196 carries.

There were 42 running backs last year who had at least 100 rush attempts; those players averaged 4.19 yards per carry last year. So if you remove Crowell’s two best carries, he falls below that average.

An impressive Powell movement

On the other hand, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell averaged 4.86 yards per carry last year, and his six best runs went for 44, 38, 33, 26, 25, and 24 yards. Remove those, and Bell still averaged 4.23 yards per carry, which means you need to remove his seven best runs to drop him below average.

Jets running back Bilal Powell was the star of this metric.  He averaged 5.51 yards per carry last year, but he was a consistent producer of big gains.  He had 12 runs of 13+ yards, and you need to remove all 12 to bring Powell below average.  Remove those 12 carries and his average finally dips to 4.16 yards per carry.

Below are the 19 running backs to exceed that 4.19 yards per carry average last year, and the fewest number of carries you would need to remove to bring their production below average:

PlayerTmRushYdsTDYPCNum
Bilal Powellnyj13172235.5112
Ezekiel Elliottdal3221631155.079
LeSean McCoybuf2341267135.419
Jordan Howardchi252131365.218
LeVeon Bellpit261126874.867
Mike Gillisleebuf10157685.706
Mark Ingramnor205104365.095
Jay Ajayimia260127284.894
Devonta Freemanatl2271079114.753
Isaiah Crowellcle19895274.812
Carlos Hydesfo21798864.552
Derrick Henryten11049054.452
DeMarco Murrayten293128794.391
Spencer Warekan21492234.311
Ryan Mathewsphi15566184.261
David Johnsonari2931239164.231

What stands out to you?

  • Anders

    That David Johnson with 293 only need 1 attempt removed to move him under league average.

    • Well he barely eclipsed league average so I guess maybe that’s the more surprising part?

      • Anders

        I be honest, I never really looked at his stats, I just assumed they was good consider how media talks about him, but him barely making it over league average for a supposedly explosive runner is surprising

        • Wolverine

          I think it’s more his receiving value that makes him a star, combined with running ability adequate enough to prevent the defense from over-comitting to stop the pass. Like a rich man’s Darren Sproles or Theo Riddick. He was also a big producer in fantasy football, which often drives media and fan narratives these days.

          • Brock

            I would also say that his ability to be slightly above league average over a large sample (nearly 300 carries) is quite valuable as well. You’ll notice Murray also needs only 1 carry to fall below league average.
            As was stated above, his receiving ability gives him quite a boost as well.

        • Consider that Johnson rushed 293 times for 1,239 yards, averaging 4.2 yards per carry.

          All other Cardinals running backs rushed 81 times for 360 yards, averaging 4.4 yards per carry.

        • LightsOut85

          I know (per the little teases PFF gives) he breaks a lot of tackles, so perhaps (strictly talking runs here) the ability/effort is there, but other variables on the plays limited the total yards his runs gained.

    • Mr. Dunwich

      Even if he was a little below league average without needing to remove a run, I still wouldn’t be alarmed. His dual threat ability really makes up for a lack of pure rush strength.

  • nicholai

    Rex Burkhead?

    • nicholai

      minimum of 100 carries threshold or something?
      edit: Literally right there in the article. Doh.

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  • Wolverine

    Looks like the Jets were wasting carries and pass targets on an aging Matt Forte, instead of giving them to Bilal Powell. Their season might have gone slightly better if they hadn’t made that mistake.

  • evo34

    How about a table with something like: percent of carries needed to be removed to reduce RB’s YPC by 0.4 yards?

  • Nuclear Badger

    I realize Ty Montgomery only played RB for the last portion of the season, but he seemed to consistently churn out decent gains. I’m sure he was well below whatever playing time minimum you had, but I’d be curious what his number was.

    • nicholai

      not that far below – he had 77 carries. Take away his 4 best runs (61, 36, 31 and 26 yards) brings him slightly below average – 73 for 303 = 4,15 ypc. Take away his 3 best runs and he’s still well above average (4,45 ypc).

      • Nuclear Badger

        Thanks – I wasn’t quite sure to find a complete list of runs. Still – four puts him in the middle of the list above.