Working through player and team write-ups in recent weeks, I notice that there have been more successful running backs. There are a lot more guys averaging over 5 yards per carry or at least in the high 4 range. Fewer players, meanwhile, have been mired down the 3-yards-per-attempt territory.
Checking into the numbers further, I see that this is, in fact, correct.
To look at this, I figured I’d leave jet sweeps and quarterback scrambles out. There are a lot of really mobile quarterbacks in the league right now – with Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson the latest additions – and I wanted to make sure they we’re polluting what I think I’m seeing. So I’m looking just at running backs.
The average running back last year averaged 4.35 yards per carry. That’s the highest in the least 10 years.
|AVERAGE RUSHING PER TEAM (RBs only)|
What’s going on here?
Luck, of course, could play some role. Maybe just by chances, we had a few more successful backs and coaches who were better at drawing up running plays. But I don’t think that was a big factor.
I think it is tied more to the direction of the game in general. The league’s about passing now, with teams attacking through the air like never before. And as teams pass more often and with more success, I think opposing defenses are spending less time and resources trying to figure out how to stop running backs. That’s more of an afterthought now.
Notice in the chart above that running backs (per team) averaged only 343 carries last year. That’s 29 fewer than the average for the previous nine years. And as fewer runs are called, more of them will be draws and delays out of passing formations – plays that tend to average more yards.
There are also limitations nowadays on how often teams can practice. That could be having an impact on the quality of tackling and run defenses in general.
Whatever the reasons, we saw 10 different running backs last year average at least 5.0 yards per carry. (That’s among players with at least 100 attempts). In the previous six seasons, there were never more than 6 of those backs. All but one of the backs running for at least 5 yards per attempt last year, by the way, were players in their first or second year. Aaron Jones of Green Bay has been the leader in this area, averaging 5.5 yards per carry in each of his first two seasons.
|AVERAGING 5.0 YARDS PER CARRY (2009-18)|
|2010||Jamaal Charles, K.C.||230||1,467||6.40||5|
|2017||Alvin Kamara, N.O.||120||728||6.07||8|
|2009||Jamaal Charles, K.C.||190||1,120||5.90||7|
|2012||Adrian Peterson, Minn.||348||2,097||6.00||12|
|2012||C.J. Spiller, Buff.||207||1,244||6.00||6|
|2009||Felix Jones, Dall.||116||685||5.90||3|
|2016||Mike Gillislee, Buff.||101||577||5.70||8|
|2015||Thomas Rawls, Sea.||147||830||5.65||4|
|2010||Brandon Jacobs, NYG||147||823||5.60||9|
|2009||Chris Johnson, Tenn.||358||2,006||5.60||14|
|2013||Andre Ellington, Ariz.||118||652||5.53||3|
|2016||Bilal Powell, NYJ||131||722||5.50||3|
|2011||Fred Jackson, Buff.||170||934||5.50||6|
|2011||DeMarco Murray, Dall.||164||897||5.50||2|
|2018||Aaron Jones, G.B.||133||728||5.47||8|
|2018||Kerryon Johnson, Det.||118||641||5.43||3|
|2018||Phillip Lindsay, Den.||192||1,037||5.40||9|
|2016||LeSean McCoy, Buff.||234||1,267||5.40||13|
|2014||Justin Forsett, Balt.||235||1,266||5.40||8|
|2011||Ben Tate, Hou.||175||942||5.40||4|
|2011||DeAngelo Williams, Car.||155||836||5.40||7|
|2011||Jonathan Stewart, Car.||142||761||5.40||4|
|2011||Darren McFadden, Oak.||113||614||5.40||4|
|2009||Pierre Thomas, N.O.||147||793||5.40||6|
|2009||Correll Buckhalter, Den.||120||642||5.40||1|
|2009||Justin Forsett, Sea.||114||619||5.40||4|
|2018||Matt Breida, S.F.||153||814||5.32||3|
|2012||Jamaal Charles, K.C.||285||1,509||5.30||5|
|2009||Ray Rice, Balt.||254||1,339||5.30||7|
|2013||Donald Brown, Ind.||102||537||5.26||6|
|2018||Gus Edwards, Balt.||137||718||5.24||2|
|2018||Austin Ekeler, LAC||106||554||5.23||3|
|2016||Jordan Howard, Chi.||252||1,313||5.20||6|
|2011||C.J. Spiller, Buff.||107||561||5.20||4|
|2010||Darren McFadden, Oak.||223||1,157||5.20||7|
|2010||LeSean McCoy, Phil.||207||1,080||5.20||7|
|2010||Chris Ivory, N.O.||137||716||5.20||5|
|2009||DeAngelo Williams, Car.||216||1,117||5.20||7|
|2018||Nick Chubb, Cle.||192||996||5.19||8|
|2013||DeMarco Murray, Dall.||217||1,121||5.17||9|
|2013||LeSean McCoy, Phil.||314||1,607||5.12||9|
|2016||Ezekiel Elliott, Dall.||322||1,631||5.10||15|
|2016||Mark Ingram, N.O.||205||1,043||5.10||6|
|2014||Jeremy Hill, Cin.||222||1,124||5.10||9|
|2014||Lamar Miller, Mia.||216||1,099||5.10||8|
|2011||Pierre Thomas, N.O.||110||562||5.10||5|
|2009||Jonathan Stewart, Car.||221||1,133||5.10||10|
|2018||Melvin Gordon, LAC||175||885||5.06||10|
|2013||LeGarrette Blount, N.E.||153||772||5.05||7|
|2015||Ryan Mathews, Phil.||107||539||5.04||6|
|2018||Saquon Barkley, NYG||261||1,307||5.01||11|
|2018||Christian McCaffrey, Car.||219||1,098||5.01||7|
|2014||Jamaal Charles, K.C.||206||1,033||5.00||9|
|2012||Marshawn Lynch, Sea.||315||1,590||5.00||11|
|2011||Reggie Bush, Mia.||216||1,086||5.00||6|
|2010||LeGarrette Blount, T.B.||201||1,007||5.00||6|
|2009||Willis McGahee, Balt.||109||544||5.00||12|
|2009||Shonn Greene, NYJ||108||540||5.00||2|