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Breakout backs

Second year is key year for running backs

If you’re looking for a breakout running back, best to focus on guys in their second season. That’s what the numbers indicate.

Since 2000, there have been an average of two running backs per year who make the move up into the top 20 (in overall production) after never before having had a top-40 season. Exactly half of those guys were players in their second season.

By this massaging of the numbers, there have been 44 such running backs in the last 22 season. (Like I said, exactly 2 per year). Half of them have been second-year guys, nine have been third-year players, and six have been players in their fourth season.

The chart was created by playing with numbers in a database, and as a disclaimer, I didn’t make a big effort to run down players who didn’t play at all in their first season. There’s probably also a couple of those guys, but the point in general is made. It regularly happens for a player not to be a big factor in his first season, then to move up into the top 20 in that second season.

Note also that no rookies are listed on the chart below. I’m not trying to gauge those guys here. Instead, I’m looking at how many guys are able to climb up after not being much of a factor.

YearPlayer (best prev rk)YrRunRecTotalTDPPRRk
2015Devonta Freeman, Atl. (49)21,0565781,63414320.41
2010Arian Foster, Hou. (72)21,6166042,22018396.01
2010Peyton Hillis, Cle. (51)31,1774771,65413305.12
2009Ray Rice, Balt. (49)21,3397022,0418330.13
2001Shaun Alexander, Sea. (62)21,3183431,66116306.14
2000Ahman Green, G.B. (96)31,1755591,73413324.44
2008Michael Turner, Atl. (58)51,699411,74017282.04
2006Frank Gore, S.F. (42)21,6954852,1809333.05
2018James Conner, Pitt. (113)29734971,47013284.06
2005LaMont Jordan, Oak. (47)51,0255631,58811296.86
2016Melvin Gordon, S.D. (45)29974191,41612254.67
2002Deuce McAllister, N.O. (65)21,3883521,74016317.08
2010Darren McFadden, Oak. (42)31,1575071,66410273.48
2009Jamaal Charles, K.C. (54)21,1202971,4179237.710
2015Latavius Murray, Oak. (50)41,0662321,2986206.810
2007Earnest Graham, T.B. (127)58983241,22210231.210
2006Ladell Betts, Was. (58)51,1544451,5995242.910
2016Jay Ajayi, Mia. (85)21,2721511,4238217.311
2014C.J. Anderson, Den. (144)28493241,17310211.311
2017Dion Lewis, N.E. (43)78962141,11010203.013
2021Damien Harris, N.E. (53)39291321,06115214.114
2014Matt Asiata, Min. (78)457031288210196.214
2018Chris Carson, Sea. (86)21,1511631,3149205.415
2012Stevan Ridley, N.E. (73)21,263511,31412209.415
2014Mark Ingram, N.O. (42)49641451,1099193.915
2004Reuben Droughns, Den. (95)41,2402411,4818228.115
2015Charles Sims, T.B. (73)25295611,0904184.016
2016Spencer Ware, K.C. (60)49214471,3685199.816
2009Rashard Mendenhall, Pitt. (128)21,1082611,3698209.917
2000Michael Pittman, Ariz. (54)37195791,2986238.817
2020J.D. McKissic, Was. (49)53655899543193.417
2007LenDale White, Ten. (72)21,1101141,2247184.418
2005Willie Parker, Pitt. (104)21,2022181,4205190.018
2016Carlos Hyde, S.F. (61)39881631,1519198.118
2017Alex Collins, Balt. (82)29731871,1606175.019
2008Pierre Thomas, N.O. (57)262528490912193.919
2015Theo Riddick, Det. (47)31336978303181.019
2010BenJarvus Green-Ellis, N.E. (67)31,008851,09313199.319
2018Marlon Mack, Ind. (48)29081031,01110182.120
2016Tevin Coleman, Atl. (79)252042194111191.120
2003Brian Westbrook, Phil. (81)261333294513209.520
2011Shonn Greene, NYJ (43)31,0542111,2656192.520
2004Nick Goings, Car. (77)48213941,2157208.520
2009Cedric Benson, Cin. (43)51,2511111,3626189.220

If we turn the focus back on the 2021 draft, there are certainly plenty of candidates to take a big step forward. Najee Harris, Javonte Williams and Elijah Mitchell all had plenty of success in their first year. Travis Etienne (pictured) is looking like a starter for Jacksonville (though he’s one of those guys who simply didn’t even play in his first year). I like Rhamondre Stevenson. Kenneth Gainwell, Trey Sermon, Chuba Hubbard and Michael Carter were all picked in that draft. Khalil Herbert, Larry Roundtree and Chris Evans went late.

—Ian Allan

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