If you have been reading Yards Created content for the last two years now, you know what the deal is. It’s April. It’s almost NFL Draft time. And the moment has come to digest another running back class with a ton of data.
However, if you are a new Yards Created reader – welcome!
If you're curious or confused about what Yards Created is all about, there is nothing to sweat. In short, Yards Created is my charting process that measures the difference between the amount of yardage the offensive line blocks for and what the running back "creates" on his own. Instead of using yards per carry (YPC), which is prone to both positive and negative outliers, Yards Created accounts for the amount of yardage running backs should be attributed.
Ultimately, a running backs' Yards Created is what happens after the offensive line has—or has not—done its job.
Before we get to the data, one last disclaimer: This is a rankings/tiers piece, but please keep in mind that the most important information is within the myriad of descriptive data, statistics, and percentage points on this year’s running back crop. Rankings are imperfect, but they are a fine mechanism for organizing thoughts and contextualizing the sheer amount of information you're about to indulge. Still, the detail is in the player blurbs, not the physical rankings.
Over the past three months, I have charted 1,330 carries plus routes run on 13 running back prospects in the 2018 class. It has been a blast watching, analyzing, and compiling data for the 2018 class – but now it is time for the results.
1. Saquon Barkley (87 sampled carries) – What more can be said of Saquon Barkley at this point? This February, I wrote an in-depth profile about how Barkley knocked on hype's doorstep and shattered through it with decisive Yards Created data. In other words, Barkley basically broke my charting system. Over the last three years, Saquon Barkley is second in raw Yards Created/Attempt (YC/A), third in YC/A out of shotgun just ahead of Ezekiel Elliott and just behind Joe Mixon/Dalvin Cook. Plus, the former-Nittany Lion is first in Missed Tackles Forced per Opportunity, and first in targets per game. Just as a bonus, Barkley also has some of the best pass-blocking chops for any back in Yards Created history as he only allowed two pressures on 27 charted pass pro attempts. To boot, at the NFL Combine, Barkley test out as a 99th percentile SPARQ athlete. Barkley is the perfect modern NFL back as 94 percent of his carries at PSU came out of 10- or 11- personnel, and his 6.32 YC/A out of those personnel groupings is nearly two full yards better than the class average (4.46). 44 percent of all runs in the NFL came out of 11-personnel last year. Barkley is in a league of his own who led the class in YC/A vs. Stacked Boxes (7.12). He will soon own the NFL, too.
Future Foundation Pieces
2. Sony Michel (79 sampled carries) – Every facet of Sony Michel's Yards Created data screams that he is a standout player. With above-average figures in Yards Created/Attempt on both carries with the quarterback in shotgun (5.23) and under center (5.27), it's hard to find any initial qualms with Michel's ability as a runner. Michel carried his consistency throughout each of Georgia's rushing formations as he and Nick Chubb were the only two backs (out of 13) in the 2018 class to finish with above average figures in Yards Created per carry out of 10- plus 11-personnel and 21- plus 22-personnel groupings. What's more, Michel possesses a rare trifecta of speed, power, and elusiveness as he forced at least one missed tackle on 45.6% of his carries, an 82nd percentile score in Yards Created history. Even though he has a slighter frame at 5-10, 214lbs -- Michel is a pure sustaining runner who created five or more yards on 39 percent of his sampled carries, second-best in Yards Created history behind Joe Mixon (41%). Barkley (37%), Alvin Kamara (35%), and Kareem Hunt (34%) round out the top-five.
One of the only small blemishes in Michel's profile is his lack of year-to-year receiving production, although Michel did flash small sample three-down potential in 2015 and 2016 with 1.92-receptions per game. Plus, Michel had to compete for touches with Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, and soon-to-be phenom D'Andre Swift all throughout college. The other less concerning scar in Michel's corner is his high fumble rate that's covered in depth in his February Yards Created profile. All in all, Michel has standout traits, superb Yards Created data, and, as a kicker, Michel tied Saquon Barkley for the second-best pass protection execution rate (93%) in Yards Created history. After Barkley, Sony Michel has the second-best odds to become a featured player both as a runner and receiver in the 2018 class.
3. Derrius Guice (95 sampled carries) – An explosive, violent, in-your-face runner -- Derrius Guice is one of the few backs that deserve comparisons to Marshawn Lynch. I mentioned in my in-depth breakdown of Stacked Box Rates and Personnel Groupings that, as a result of LSU's archaic offensive design, Derrius Guice faced a stacked box (defined as at least one extra defender in the box) on an otherworldly 73 percent of his carries. That is by far the most in the class. It didn't matter, though. Guice destroyed extra attention in his sample, shredding opposing defenses for 5.88 Yards Created per attempt (third-best in the class). As you would expect, Guice led the class in Yards Created/Attempt out of 12- and 21- personnel as 57% of his runs came from those two personnel groupings (also most in the class).
Guice is a bad, bad man and a classic throwback to a position that is transitioning evermore to space backs, receiving ability, and the subsequent mismatches running backs present in the passing game. To that point, Guice's three-down potential remains a looming question-mark, although the Tigers' passing offense isn't designed to throw to running backs whatsoever. If Guice can prove to be, at the very worst, a competent pass catcher and improve his pass-protecting chops (65% pass protection execution rate where the average is 76%), the sky is the limit.
4. Nick Chubb (79 carries) – Frankly, all three of these backs in the second tier can be placed in any order from No. 2 to No. 4. It just so happens Nick Chubb is fourth, but don't think for a second Chubb can't be the best back behind Barkley in the class. Like a five-year NFL pro already, everything Nick Chubb does with the ball in his hands is silky smooth. As evidenced by his stellar Yards Created data, Chubb arguably has the most efficient feet of any runner I have charted over the last three years. Chubb is Mr. Consistent in the 2018 class, as he is second amongst the crop in Yards Created per attempt out of shotgun (5.81) behind Saquon Barkley (6.04), he's third in the class in Missed Tackles Forced per Opportunity (0.469), and he boasted above-average Yards Created figures out of 10- & 11-personnel packages (5.26 YC/A) and 12- & 21-personnel (4.55).
Still an 89th percentile SPARQ athlete after one of the most gruesome knee injuries possible in 2015, Chubb is the best off-tackle runner in Yards Created history (11.1 YC/A) and has the highest floor as a rusher of any running back prospect not named Saquon Barkley in the class. Of course, with just 13 receptions in his final three years at UGA, Chubb's immediate receiving ability is a concern. But, like Michel, he has the excuse of competition in Georgia's loaded backfield.
The Two Most Underrated 2018 RBs
5. John Kelly (72 sampled carries) – Standing 5-10 and weighing 216lbs, John Kelly is undersized and, as far as NFL standards are concerned, he is slow (4.64-forty at his Pro Day). That's where the negatives in Kelly's game end, though.
John Kelly is one of my favorite backs I have charted over the last three years. With phenomenal contact balance and power, Kelly forced at least one missed tackle on a massive 53.5% of his opportunities (attempts plus targets) for Yards Created. For perspective about how incredible that figure is, Kelly's missed tackle rate is fourth-best over the last three years behind Saquon Barkley, Joe Mixon, and Kareem Hunt. Wielding explosiveness, elusiveness, and power, Kelly is second-best runner out of 12- and 21- personnel in the class behind Derrius Guice and his 5.81 YC/A vs. neutral fronts (zero extra defenders in box) is also second-best of the crop following Sony Michel (6.81). What's perhaps more impressive is Kelly did all of this fantastic work behind the second-worst offensive line in the class. Tennessee's line only opened up an average of 0.61 Yards Blocked per carry on runs in between the tackles (second-fewest behind PSU, 0.33), which is apparently no matter for Kelly. In fact, Kelly's 4.94 YC/A on inside carries is well above average (4.46) and right in the range of power backs Alex Collins (4.99 YC/A - inside) and Leonard Fournette (5.20 YC/A - inside) in their collegiate sample.
Even if NFL teams wrongly believe Kelly isn't a potential foundation runner, he still has incredible passing down ability to fall back on. Over the past three years, Kelly (6.50) trails only Joe Mixon (10.70) in receiving yards gained per route run, and his 5.40 targets per game are third-most behind Saquon Barkley (5.60) and Christian McCaffrey (5.40) in that span. As one of the few exceptional pass catchers in the 2018 running back class averaging 3.4-receptions per game in his final year with the Volunteers, Kelly will, at the very least, have a positive effect on an NFL passing attack as a rookie. As evidenced by his electric 92nd percentile score in Missed Tackles Forced per opportunity -- Kelly is a dynamic playmaker, fantastic in space and close quarters, and created with little to work with in front of him. He's unquestionably the most underrated back I've charted over the last three years.
6. Rashaad Penny (102 sampled carries) – A monster producer in 2017 with 2,383 yards from scrimmage on 308 touches at San Diego State, Penny did what fantastic prospects from non-Power five schools are supposed to do: Shred poor opposing competition. Running behind San Diego State's formidable offensive line that finished with the second-best figure in Yards Blocked per attempt (1.66) over the last three years, the Aztecs and Rashaad Penny road-graded inferior front-sevens. Penny obliterated his competition regardless of the defensive front and was the only running back in the class to post above-average Yards Created per attempt figures against both stacked (5.31) and neutral boxes (5.79). Penny was also explosive in between the tackles as his 5.90 YC/A on inside carries is fifth-best in Yards Created history behind Joe Mixon, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, and Ezekiel Elliott in that order. Penny also finished with average to above-average figures in missed tackles forced per carry via speed (0.11), elusiveness (0.11) and power (0.18) on his 102 sampled carries. On the whole, Penny is fifth amongst the crop in total missed tackles forced per attempt (0.392) ahead of Derrius Guice (0.389).
Unlike most backs in the class, though -- Penny primarily ran out of heavy, non-shotgun based offensive sets. Just 6% of his charted attempts came out of 10- & 11-personnel, and 5.9% occurred with the quarterback in shotgun. Penny and the Aztecs mighty offensive line obliterated their inferior Mountain West competition, but it may take time for Penny to get used to running behind fewer blockers in a modern NFL rushing scheme. Still, Penny will excel early on if he goes to a "heavy" attack as 42 percent of all runs in the NFL last year were in either 12-, 21-, or 22-personnel. Penny has plenty of experience there. Overall, Penny's Yards Created data is promising, but, like nearly everyone not named Barkley or Kelly in the class -- his passing down chops leave a lot to be desired. In his final two years at San Diego State, Penny averaged just 1.26-receptions per game and his 73% pass protection execution rate is slightly below collegiate average (76%).
Three Backs Yards Created Didn't Love
7. Kerryon Johnson (75 sampled carries) – Where Kerryon Johnson wins (and doesn't win) is as clear as day. With a lanky 6-0, 212lbs frame, Johnson banged the rock inside early and often at Auburn as 88 percent of his sampled carries where inside of the tackles in Yards Created. As you may expect, Johnson is the fourth-best back in Yards Created/Attempt between the tackles in the class, and just 13% of his carries were stopped for zero or fewer yards (best). Johnson is a functional inside grinder, but he lacks explosiveness and shiftiness as he forced at least one defender to miss a tackle on just 26.7 percent of his sampled carries, the fifth-worst clip in Yards Created history. Johnson may not be laterally gifted, but his ability to pound the rock efficiently in between the tackles will translate in the NFL immediately.
8. Ronald Jones (97 sampled carries) – Now in my third year preparing Yards Created, Ronald Jones is the toughest back I have ever had to crack. Jones is a three-year producer out of USC with at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage to his name every season dating back to his freshman year, but his profile is littered with frightening Yards Created figures. Jones did come away with a 71st percentile score in Yards Created per attempt on off-tackle runs due to his speed in a clear and defined lane, but the rest of his data is downright frustrating.
While Jones is supposed to be a smaller, "faster" rusher -- he is dead last in the 2018 class out of 10- and 11-personnel (3.27 YC/A) despite exactly two-thirds of his runs coming from those two offensive packages. Jones struggles to see rushing lanes that aren't clearly defined for him, and his Yards Created data is further evidence of that. Because, with an extra blocker (either one extra TE or FB/RB) on the field in 12- and 21-personnel, Jones' Yards Created per attempt shot up to 5.50, third-best in the class. Still, Jones struggles to create on his own out of shotgun -- his 3.68 YC/A with Sam Darnold at the helm is second-worst in the class -- and he fought to make defenders miss in open space. Jones' missed tackle per opportunity rate (0.327) comes in at the 42nd percentile over the last three years.
So, what are we left with regarding Jones? There is no doubt Jones' offensive line at USC was poor (third-worst in the class in Yards Blocked per attempt) and may have impacted his vision at times. Still, Jones struggled to be a sustaining runner as just 22 percent of his runs created five or more yards (fourth-worst figure in Yards Created history). With just 0.96-receptions per game in his final two years as a Trojan and the worst pass protection execution rate in Yards Created history (55%), pinning where Jones excels, outside of rushing off-tackle, is a tall task. Jones is an enigma in the 2018 crop.
9. Royce Freeman (87 sampled carries) – Freeman is a monster college producer with over 6,400 yards from scrimmage to his name across four years, but there are some major concerns about his ability to consistently create on his own. In Oregon's spread scheme that ran out of 10- & 11-personnel on 67 percent of his sampled carries, Freeman saw gaping rushing lanes as the Ducks' offensive line opened up an immense 1.56 Yards Blocked per attempt (third-most over the last three years).
Perhaps a product of his offensive line, Freeman is a classic jack of all trades, but a master of none. Freeman posted reasonable 45th and 42nd percentile scores in YC/A running in between the tackles and outside, respectively. But, he forced at least one defender to miss on just 29.5 percent of his opportunities (24th percentile), and his 1.36 receiving yards gained per route run is second-worst in the class behind Ronald Jones (1.00). Production-aside, Freeman's below-average Yards Created profile mixed with his average athleticism (55th percentile SPARQ score) doesn't give him much separation in the class. Freeman's inability to create yardage and force more missed tackles behind Oregon's offensive line that allowed just 16 percent of all of their runs to be stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage (20th in the country, per FootballOutsiders) is a significant concern.
Best Of The Rest
10. Kalen Ballage (61 sampled carries) – With just 450 carries on his odometer through four years at Arizona State, making sense of Kalen Ballage's small collegiate sample is a tall task. On the one hand, we have a freak athlete with 89th percentile SPARQ athleticism in Ballage who ran a 4.46-forty yard dash at 228lbs (91st percentile weight-adjusted speed). On the other hand, Ballage couldn't beat out Demario Richard for the workhorse gig at ASU and almost switched to defensive end in college. Ballage's Yards Created profile is a mixed bag and consistent collegiate production is nearly non-existent, but he can undeniably impact an NFL team's passing game as his 5.43 yards gained per route run is fifth-most in Yards Created history. Still, Ballage's 4.56 YC/A is a full half-yard below collegiate average, and even though he is absurdly fast for his frame, he forced at least one defender to miss on just 32.1 percent of his opportunities (40th percentile). Landing spot will be critical for all running backs, but for Ballage especially.
11. Bo Scarbrough (71 sampled carries) – Much like Ballage, Scarbrough's light collegiate sample makes him a puzzling prospect to read. Bo Scarbrough's injury history dates back to his high school days and, unfortunately, followed him to Alabama where he tore his ACL as a freshman in spring practice in 2015 and broke his leg in 2017. Scarbrough ended up touching the ball just 288 times in college. As a momentum runner, Scarbrough struggled to gain steam running with the quarterback in shotgun formations, but his small sample of carries under center left a glimmer of hope. Scarbrough's 5.29 YC/A with the quarterback under center was second-best in the class behind Derrius Guice (5.42). Still, I wonder if Scarbrough has too many fatal flaws to overcome as injuries have followed him for many years, and he was a marginal player in 'Bama's passing attack. Standing 6-1 and weighing 232lbs, injuries may have zapped Scarbrough's suddenness and lateral quickness as his 0.06 missed tackles forced via elusiveness alone is third-worst in the class behind Royce Freeman and Mark Walton (0.05).
12. Nyheim Hines (63 sampled carries) – At 5-8, 196lbs Hines is an undersized back who struggled to consistently create on his own behind an underrated NC State offensive line. Hines finished his Yards Created sample with a 42nd percentile score in raw Yards Created/Attempt, and he posted the second-worst figure in Yards Created history in Missed Tackles Forced per Opportunity (0.213). Hines' inability to create and make defenders miss behind an NC State line that finished slightly above average in Yards Blocked per attempt (1.31; CFB average is 1.18) leaves major pause for concern. In fact, Hines created five or more yards on just 24 percent of his sampled carries, well below collegiate average (29%). While Hines grappled to create on his own, he did impact NC State's passing game for three years, catching 89 balls across 38 games mostly as a part-time player. What's more, with 4.38 wheels, Hines possesses 79th percentile weight-adjusted speed and could immediately serve as a kickoff return man in the NFL. Hines averaged nearly 25 yards per return in college.
13. Mark Walton (73 sampled carries) – Coming off of a gruesome ankle injury that ended his 2017 season in Miami, Walton is a marginal NFL athlete (17th percentile SPARQ score) and one of the most inefficient runners in Yards Created history. In fact, Walton's 3.89 Yards Created per attempt mixed with his lowly 0.164 Missed Tackles Forced per rush are the worst two figures in my database over the last three years. Walton really struggled with extra defensive attention, too, as his 2.60 YC/A against stacked boxes -- runs with at least one extra defender in the box -- is two full yards below average. Walton was a workhorse when healthy, though and he is second in the class behind Saquon Barkley in routes run per game. Still, Walton has a long way to go to overcome a miserable Yards Created profile, lackluster athleticism, and a horrible ankle injury sustained six months before the NFL Draft.
Graham is a senior analyst for Fantasy Guru and works closely with statistics to produce quanitative analysis for complementary weekly content. He will be appearing before the season and during the season on The Fantasy Guru Podcast with John Hansen and Joe Dolan. Be sure to follow Graham on Twitter at @GrahamBarfield.