When I began playing Fantasy Football in 2011, my love for football grew exponentially deeper than it already was. Something about playing this game within the game profoundly deepens your appreciation for the minutia of the game. The details, the in-depth stats, are what I geek out about. More succinctly, there is one position I have always been fascinated by – the running back.
Heading into this season, I was doing my normal preseason studying and found myself asking a question – “I wish I knew what type of runs each running back excelled at.”
I couldn’t find anything like it, so I decided to build it. With that said, I present to you the Rush Rating – a tool to track running back success by run direction. On each graphic, you will see three stats: Yards Per Carry, Percentile Rank compared to the rest of the league, and Number of Attempts by each of the seven directions. The tiers are as follows:
0 – 39.9th percentile = Below Average
40 – 69.9th percentile = Average
70 – 100th percentile = Elite
I will have a new column every Wednesday, highlighting running backs and their matchup that week. To preview this tool, I offer you five running back profiles based on last year’s statistics.
Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans
Measurables: 6’3”, 247 lbs, 4.54 40-yard dash
2018 Stats: 1,059 yards, 215 att, 12 TDs, 4.9 YPC
Henry is a physical freak, and over the second half of last season it finally began to look like he was putting it all together, capped by an absurd 238 yard, 4 TD performance on Dec 6, 2018. Highlighted by probably one of the greatest runs in NFL history, his 99-yard scamper was punishing and demonstrated his great physicality and burst, as well as just how difficult it is to bring down a nearly 250 pound running back.
Normally considered a downhill, up-the-gut running back (which probably has something to do with the fact that 33% of his runs went up the middle), the numbers also show that he is elite when stretching the field to the edge in each direction. While the “exotic smashmouth” offense might be the desire, Tennessee would be wise to draw up more plays for Henry on the edge. 4/7 categories at either above-average or elite with a sub-par offensive line, and Henry has shown that with a full workload, he has the upside to be a solid RB2 with RB1 upside.
Nick Chubb – Cleveland Browns
Measurables: 5’11”, 227 lbs, 4.47 40-yard dash
2018 Stats: 996 yards, 192 att, 8 TDs, 5.2 YPC
What a rookie campaign for Chubb, who didn’t get the starting nod until week 7. If you take just his averages from week 7-17, they extrapolate to 1,317 rushing yards and 10 TDs on the season. That’s strong. Now entering his second year, his first professional offseason as the lead dog in the Dog Pound, and an improved offense thanks to the acquisition of some guy named OBJ – as well as the expected second-year progression of Baker Mayfield, Chubb is in a great situation, and demonstrated amazing ability in 5/7 categories. The only two categories that he did not measure well in are ones that he received significantly less opportunities in.
While efficiency is amazing, opportunity matters a great deal for running backs. Chubb will be a total workhorse to start the year, but the acquisition of Kareem Hunt, who will start the season with an 8 game suspension and return week 10, poses a threat to his touches. If Hunt wasn’t in the picture, Chubb would be my RB5 entering the season. The Browns have not made it clear how they plan to deploy Hunt when he returns, so the range of outcomes for both he and Chubb down the stretch remain up in the air. If Chubb secures his job as the unquestioned bell-cow, he will be a surefire RB1. If Hunt cuts into his workload substantially, then the guy you drafted to be your bell-cow may produce mediocre numbers as you head to the fantasy playoffs. Because of this risk, I would much prefer Chubb as a high-end RB2.
Aaron Jones – Green Bay Packers
Measurables: 5’10”, 207 lbs, 4.56 40-yard dash time
2018 Stats: 728 yards, 133 att, 8 TDs, 5.5 YPC
First and foremost, #FreeAaronJones. Secondly, a 207 pound running back led the league in YPC up the middle at 6.39 YPC. To go along with it, the coaching staff apparently understood his prowess for running up the middle and called 29% of his rush attempts right down broadway.
Jones does not have a single detrimental stat on his resume, finishing 2018 no less than the 42.4th percentile in any category. Now as the lead back in an offense run by Matt LaFleur, who was the offensive coordinator for Todd Gurley and the Rams in 2017 (Gurley: 1,305 yards, 13 rushing TDs), Jones looks secured to finally get the lead back role that he looked to have deserved a season ago. This could be a huge breakout year for Jones in an Aaron Rodgers offense. If he sees 200 carries, which I expect Jones to eclipse, he could be looking at an 1,100 rushing yard and double-digit rushing TD season, before factoring in any receiving work.
James Conner – Pittsburgh Steelers
Measurables: 6’2”, 229 lbs, 4.65 40-yard dash
2018 Stats: 973 yards, 215 att, 12 TD, 4.5 YPC
Conner, in his first year as the lead back in Pittsburgh due to the Le’Veon Bell holdout, looked absolutely electric in the 13 games he played. Averaging over 16 carries per game, as well as heavy involvement in the passing attack, the Steelers offense looked as good as ever without Bell in the fold. If you expand his numbers over a full season, Conner was on pace for 1,190 rushing yards. That’ll work.
What’s interesting about his chart is that, on the whole, he really enjoys running to the right. This will be an interesting trend to watch this year. I expect that with his 229 pound frame, numbers up the middle will improve as well. Now entering his second season in this system, and having an entire offseason to prepare as the unquestioned lead back, I expect massive things for Conner this year. He is a locked-in RB1, with league winning upside.
Austin Ekeler – Los Angeles Chargers
Measurables: 5’10”, 201 lbs, 4.43 40-yard dash
2018 Stats: 554 yards, 106 attempts, 3 TDs, 5.2 YPC
For the last two years, Ekeler has been the primary backup to Melvin Gordon. Last season, filling that role, he looked absolutely amazing in leading the league in YPC to the right edge, and putting up elite efficiency in three other categories as well. I bring this up for the simple reason that Melvin Gordon is still, as of September 1st, holding out for a new contract which is expected to continue into the regular season.
It isn’t as straightforward as assuming that Ekeler will be the next Gordon and that we will see him get 15+ carries per game, but his usage will absolutely increase. Justin Jackson, the next RB on the depth chart behind Ekeler, will absolutely see some work as well. Neither of them are particularly large RBs, so I believe Ekeler, the more experienced back, will see the goal line work going forward. Don’t reach for Ekeler too early – his ADP is already up to the end of the 5th round – but if you can get him as an RB3/4, he could have some nice value. The issue here is Gordon. If Gordon ends his holdout, you’ll have spent an early round pick on a backup that you can’t plug into your starting lineup each week. Personally, I won’t be taking him at his ADP. Duke Johnson, Derrius Guice, and James White are all going after Ekeler, and I would prefer any of them.