In just a few short days, all rookies will officially report to their very first NFL training camp. With a new year comes new talent in the league and Yards Created is my attempt to better quantify an integral part of fantasy land. Whether you love them or hate them, running backs will always be tough to evaluate for numerous reasons. Offensive lines, quarterback skill, play-calling and game flow can muddy the water between signal and noise in running back production. Yards Created is not agnostic of offensive line play, but instead attempts to clear the road for a better understanding of the position itself.
If you have not read Yards Created yet, please check out the introductory piece. You will find a plethora of detail about Yards Created, its origination, how I chart running backs and its mission in the debut. Additionally, I wrote a handful of Yards Created profiles this offseason that are chock full of additional information. You can access all of them here.
Due to the lack of college film, all of the Yards Created samples feature at least five games played and/or 60 or more carries. The entire sample for the 2016 class is 12 deep and features all but one of the 13 running backs selected in the first five rounds of the draft.’
This column will focus primarily on the rookie class and their individual Yards Created metrics with a slant toward immediate and future fantasy opportunity. While this process isn’t directly predictive of NFL success, it can give us a better idea of where to stand on certain prospects.
Let’s get to the data.
Yards Created and Yards Blocked
|G||Att||YC/Att||YC In/Att||YC Out/Att||YB/Att||YB In/Att||YB Out/Att|
|2016 Class Avg.||NA||91||4.77||4.48||5.75||1.07||1.09||1.05|
Here is the beating heart of the 2016 Yards Created project. In the chart above, you can find Yards Created per attempt on an inside and outside basis along with team-based Yards Blocked data. The distinction here is important: Yards Created is anything a running back gains after the offensive line has or has not completed their blocking assignment while Yards Blocked is the amount of yardage cleared for the rusher. Offensive line play is directly related to running back production, but Yards Created tries to better parse out the marriage of running back and blockers.
Run Type and Alignment
|2016 Class Avg.||70.0%||22.8%||2.4%||3.1%||1.4%||77.1%||22.9%|
In addition to Yards Created, I also track play type and label inside, outside, counter and toss plays as such. Adjoining rush type is alignment data denoted as: Shotgun/Pistol (S/P) and Under Center (UC). The alignment data does not account for formation (i.e. I-Formation, three-wide receiver sets, etc.), but instead gives a snapshot of where the running back receives a carry when the ball is snapped.
Right off of the bat, we notice Ezekiel Elliott’s uncanny ability to create yards on his own. Dallas’ new addition created more yards on inside (5.98) and outside (7.63) attempts than any other back in the class. At just 20-years-old, Elliott shredded opposing defenses for 100 or more yards in 12-of-13 games in 2015 and accounted for a robust 77% of Ohio State’s total rushing yards. By all measures, Zeke’s Yards Created production backs up Kevin Cole’s strong prediction of NFL success. Elliott has the makeup of a top-10 fantasy back for many years to come.
Kenyan Drake’s small sample success pops off of the page, but be aware of the pitfalls of limited data. Yes, Drake finished atop the class in Yards Created per attempt — but I’m legitimately concerned that most of Drake’s carries cannot be replicated in the NFL. Only 37.8% of Drake’s attempts were in between the tackles, well below the class average (70%). To utilize Drake’s 82nd percentile weight-adjusted Speed Score, Alabama designed 62.1% of Drake’s attempts to go outside of the offensive tackles. No other back in the class had more than 44.1% of their carries go off-tackle.
I wrote in more detail about how to make sense of Drake’s small sample success earlier this offseason, but the likelihood Drake makes an immediate fantasy splash is now further diminished by the ‘Fins acquisition of veteran Arian Foster. Perhaps Foster’s signing is more of a warning sign for Jay Ajayi, but at the very least, Foster should cut into Drake’s usage in the passing game. Drake is still very much worth a second round pick in dynasty rookie drafts, but he is nothing more than a RB5/6 stash in 2016 re-draft/best ball leagues.
The Eagles’ 5th round pick Wendell Smallwood is a quiet winner per Yards Created. He finished third in the class on a per attempt basis (5.30 yards) while leading the class in inside attempt percentage (81.0). Granted, West Virginia tied Ohio State for the most Yards Blocked per attempt (1.34) in the class, Smallwood is explosive behind his 5-10, 208 pound frame.
The West Virginia product finished third in the class in Yards Created on inside attempts (5.30), a little more than half a yard above the class average (4.77). Smallwood is currently in line to spell Ryan Mathews — but should he find more work — he theoretically fits very well in new Eagles’ coach Doug Pederson’s offense. Pederson is an Andy Reid disciple, whose quasi-West Coast offense is predicated on inside-zone rushing.
Coming in near average in all three Yards Created categories (per attempt, inside and outside), Jordan Howard is expected by some to supplant the incumbent Jeremy Langford with relative ease. Ironically, Howard is less athletic than Langford and — just like his teammate — does not do one thing on a per-attempt basis extraordinarily well. As you will see below, Howard’s missed tackle per attempt rate (0.282) was the worst in the class. Howard does posses enough functional athleticism to succeed on inside and outside attempts, despite lacking eye-popping Yards Created numbers. The 10th running back off of the 2016 NFL Draft board, Jordan Howard can compete for touches, but I am not convinced by his college data that he will immediately relegate Langford to the bench in his first professional season.
Despite a really poor combine, Alex Collins showed very well in all three Yards Created categories (per attempt, inside and outside) posting above-average scores across the board. After Thomas Rawls and his draft mate C.J. Prosise, Collins is the forgotten name entering the now Marshawn Lynch-less Seattle backfield. Collins’ dynasty average draft position (187 overall) has dipped below Josh Ferguson’s (181 overall), who is a shifty pass catching back, but went undrafted. Collins was selected in the 5th round this May. Collins may not light up the measurables column, but his functional athleticism and ability as a rusher is demonstrated by his rock solid Yards Created data. Regardless, any running back that is 21-years-old or younger and rushes for 1,000 yards in three straight SEC seasons needs to be on our radar.
Before we get to the missed tackle data, I would be remiss without mentioning “The Terminator”. Given the Schwarzenegger-like nickname by RotoViz’s Matt Freedman, Derrick Henry is nothing short of an enigma. Standing at a rock solid 6-3 247 pounds, there are no subjective or objective comparisons that fit Henry’s bill.
Irresponsibly mischaracterized due to his massive size as an inside-runner only, Henry is the second-best off-tackle runner in the 2016 class behind Ezekiel Elliott. Henry’s mammoth 96th percentile weight-adjusted Speed Score gives him the raw speed and explosiveness necessary to post an absurd 7.03 Yards Created on outside attempts. Once more, Henry is usually thought of as a pounder who is more proficient when his quarterback is under center. That is simply not the case. In fact, Henry was better out of the shotgun (4.03 Yards Created/Attempt) than under center (3.81 YC/Att.) at Alabama. Becoming just the 13th running back all-time to post 2,100 or more rushing yards in a season, Henry’s cumulative final season production was nothing short of grand. Should the Titans’ allow a 50/50 carry split, Henry may be the better back in Tennessee at season’s end.