The charting process is complete and all of the data is ready for publishing. It's time to break it all down.
For this year's running back class, I took on a new endeavor in my third season charting soon-to-be rookie backs by not only recording typical Yards Created, missed tackles, and routes run. While Yards Created attempts to define the difference between offensive line and running back play, it still needed further context to describe the data.
Mainly, we're trying to get to the bottom of not only where running backs create the yards but also how and why.
To do so, I added a substantial new piece to the Yards Created process by charting not only defenders in the box like last season -- but offensive formations, blockers on a given play, and Yards Created per Attempt versus different defensive fronts and offensive personnel packages.
Just like any one data point, these results are not the be-all and end-all for prospects. Yards Created is not perfect and not the answer to all of our questions about running backs. However, these results will, at the very least, give more insight into the running back class.
Yards Created: Stacked Box Rate and Blocking Advantage
|Name||Avg Blockers||Avg Defenders||Avg Difference||Stacked Box%||YC/A vs. Stacked Box||YC/A vs. Neutral (or +)|
All right, so what are we looking at? First and foremost, a "stacked box" is simply defined as the percentage of carries with at least one extra defender in the box that is not accounted for by the blocking scheme. So, if there are only six blockers (five offensive linemen, one tight end) on a given play and seven defenders (four defensive linemen, three linebackers) line up to stop the run, the running back is herein facing a "stacked box."
The results -- at the far right part of the table -- are straightforward, too.
This year's No. 1 running back and the LeBron James of RB prospects for his receiving and rushing ability, Saquon Barkley, undeniably conquered extra defensive attention. Barkley gets knocked for "running small" at his size -- but he dominated versus stacked boxes, posting a class-best 7.12 Yards Created per rush attempt. It's not like Barkley faced at least one extra defender infrequently, too -- as defenses stacked the box against Barkley 55 percent of the time, slightly above the sample average (53%). Barkley did post below-average scores as an inside runner (3.55 YC/A), but, again -- that was due in part to a poor offensive line.
While inside running is Barkley's lone, small hiccup in his Yards Created profile, the 2018 classes best runner between the tackles was Rashaad Penny. Working as San Diego State's workhorse back last year, Penny posted 2,248 rushing yards on just 289 carries and added another 19/185 via the air. Penny also absolutely obliterated his competition regardless of the defensive front. In fact, Penny was the only running back in the class to post above-average Yards Created per attempt figures against both stacked (5.31) and neutral (or plus) fronts (5.79).
Penny's 5.79 Yards Created per attempt versus neutral (or plus) defensive fronts was third to Sony Michel (6.81), who vanquished even fronts, and the most underrated back in the 2018 class, John Kelly (5.81). Michel is firmly locked in as my pre-draft No. 2 running back for fantasy football purposes while John Kelly is one of "my guys" in this class, despite his poor athletic testing at the NFL Combine and one year of production at Tennessee. I'll expand my thoughts on Kelly in my rankings/breakdown column on April 9th.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, LSU product Derrius Guice faced a stacked box on an otherworldly 73 percent of his carries, by far most in the class. It didn't matter. Guice destroyed extra defensive attention in his sample of 95 collegiate carries, shredding opposing defenses for 5.88 Yards Created per attempt (third-best 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.
Mr. Consistent, Nick Chubb, is a definite Yards Created favorite, too. Now three years removed from major knee surgery (multiple ligaments were torn), Nick Chubb solidified his status amongst the class with solid figures versus stacked (5.09 YC/A) and neutral fronts (4.57 YC/A). Still an 89th percentile SPARQ athlete even after one of the most gruesome injuries possible, Chubb is the best off-tackle runner in Yards Created history (11.1 YC/A) and boasts an 84th percentile score in missed tackles forced per carry. He's a stone-cold stud rusher.
What makes Chubb's rushing profile even more impressive is that while at Georgia, he was asked to run out of virtually every offensive personnel package imaginable. As you can see below, Chubb rushed from 10- (4WRs, 1RB) and 11-personnel (3WRs, 1TE, 1RB) 48 percent of the time and out of 12- (2WRs, 2TEs, 1RB) and 21-personnel (2WRs, 1TE, 1FB, 1RB) on 49 percent of his sampled carries:
|Name||10- & 11-Personnel %||12- & 21-Personnel %||Other|
While Chubb was asked to run like a five-year pro out of every personnel package in the playbook, he rewarded the 'Dawgs with above-average Yards Created figures out of 10- & 11-personnel packages (5.26 YC/A) and 12- & 21-personnel (4.55). Chubb, not totally unlike Saquon Barkley, struggled a bit as a grinder in between the tackles -- but the overwhelming majority of his Yards Created data is superb.
Whereas Nick Chubb excelled no matter the personnel package, USC man Ronald Jones remained one of the most enigmatic running back prospects I have ever charted. While Jones is supposed to be a smaller, "shiftier" rusher -- he is dead last in the 2018 class rushing 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 are not clearly defined for him, and his Yards Created data is further evidence of that. However, 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 behind Derrius Guice (6.13) and John Kelly (5.89).
Still, 98 percent of Jones' charted attempts came out of shotgun, and his 3.68 YC/A out of the 'gun is second-worst in the class behind Mark Walton (3.63).
Ronald Jones may have struggled to create yards out of 10- and 11-personnel, but Saquon Barkley surely did not. His 6.32 YC/A out of 10- and 11-personnel is nearly two full yards better than the class average (4.46). Barkley did not have enough carries out of 12- and 21-personnel to register Yards Created figures in either personnel package as nearly all of his charted attempts (94 percent) came out of 10- and 11-personnel.
PSU's offense is nearly all shotgun and spread based, while LSU's attack is still stuck in the 1980s with an overwhelming amount of blocking disadvantage placed on the running backs plate due to the archaic scheme. That was no matter for Derrius Guice. Hilariously, Guice led the class in 12- and 21-personnel usage, faced a stacked box on 67% of his runs out of those two packages, and still led the entire crop in Yards Created per attempt from 12- and 21-personnel (6.13).
Why Stacked Boxes and Personnel Packages Matter For RBs
Again, Yards Created is not a perfect process. Running backs and offensive lines will always be tethered together, and with the NFL shifting to a more pass-happy league, running backs are forced to contribute more as receivers.
Still, that should not stop us from better contextualizing rushers. We all know LSU's offense is archaic, but having the data to back up the fact Derrius Guice dominated versus a ton of defensive pressure is illuminating.
To that end, knowing not only how a back wins but where and why is also important. For example, the most dominant NFL personnel package is 11 (3WRs, 1RB, 1TE). Teams use it on 60 percent of all plays and 44 percent of rushes. Of course, these numbers fluctuate team-by-team, but the second-most popular rushing package in the NFL is 12-personnel (2TEs, 2WRs, 1RB), accounting for about one-quarter of all runs.
When projecting this year's class, knowing Ronald Jones struggled out of 10- and 11-personnel behind USC's somewhat shaky offensive line is helpful.
Examining Stacked Box Rates and Personnel Packages are only a part of the process, though. Yards Created will be back with a full feature of rankings, breakdowns, and data -- lots of data -- for the 2018 RB class on April 9th.
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.