Elusiveness Rating

| May 6, 2010

In PFF’s ongoing quest to present the world with unique, insightful statistics, Sam Monson presents the Elusivenessness Rating. The goal of this stat is to filter out the performance of back’s blockers and solely focus on a runner’s contribution…

Everybody knows what a fantastic season Chris Johnson had, topping 2,000 yards rushing, but how many people know that he notched 1,071 of those rushing yards after contact? Only 12 other rushers in the NFL surpassed that mark with their rushing totals. Johnson gained more yards after contact in 2009 than 50 other runners on this list gained in total rushing yards. While Johnson topped the league in YCo — as well as rushing yards — last season, it wasn’t by nearly the same distance from the chasing pack. Three other rushers were able to record more than 900 yards after contact, and not one of them came within 500 yards of Johnson’s league-leading 2,006-yard rushing total. Steven Jackson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Adrian Peterson all recorded more than 65 percent of their rushing yards after first contact. Johnson’s 53 percent actually ranks towards the bottom in terms of percentage of rushing yardage gained after first contact, alongside Thomas Jones and Ray Rice. At the top end of the scale, Cincinnati’s Brian Leonard recorded an incredible 82 percent of his rushing yards after first contact, albeit on just 27 carries in his limited role. Brandon Jacobs, perhaps predictably for a back of his dimensions and running style, is the best-placed back with more than 200 carries, gaining 69 percent of his rushing yards after contact.


Top 10, percentage of yards after contact

Name Team Att. Yds. YCo YCo% YCo/Att.
Brian Leonard CIN 27 84 69 82.14 2.6
Chris Brown HOU 79 267 207 77.53 2.6
Larry Johnson KC 132 380 294 77.37 2.2
Marshawn Lynch BUF 120 450 339 77.37 2.2
Jason Snelling ATL 134 571 422 73.91 2.8
Mewelde Moore PIT 35 118 86 72.88 2.5
Michael Bush OAK 123 591 423 71.57 3.4
Tim Hightower ARI 143 597 426 71.36 2.9
Clinton Portis WAS 124 502 357 71.12 2.9


Bottom five, percentage of yards after contact

Name Team Att. Yds. YCo YCo% YCo/Att.
Tashard Choice DAL 64 349 124 35.53 1.9
Reggie Bush NO 70 396 146 36.87 2.1
Brian Westbrook PHI 61 274 126 45.99 2.1
Correll Buckhalter DEN 120 642 314 48.91 2.6
Thomas Jones NYJ 332 1,402 701 50.00 2.1

An interesting name tops the league when it came to YCo per attempt last season. Jamaal Charles averaged an astounding 3.6 yards per carry after first contact. Known for sprinter speed, Charles was able to make huge gains several times last season once he broke through the first contact. Six of the league’s starting HBs averaged fewer yards per carry — overall, not after contact — than Charles’ 3.60 YCo.

If any statistic represents the nosedive in play of one of those starters, Ladainian Tomlinson, then it is the 1.9 yards he averaged after contact to tie for the poorest mark in the NFL. Tomlinson’s poor showing in just about all of these categories goes to reinforce what the naked eye could see: He was a shell of his former greatness in ’09. It will be interesting to see what he can produce in 2010 behind arguably the league’s best O-line.

The man he replaced in the Jets’ backfield, Jones, didn’t fare much better in YCo per attempt last season, despite recording nearly double the total rushing yards. Jones gained just 2.1 yards after contact per rush, and actually finds himself ranked one place below Tomlinson in the final Elusiveness Rating.

Peterson represents the only HB in the study to record more than 50 missed tackles forced, but it took him 315 rushing attempts to achieve that mark. When we look at forced missed tackles as a ratio of attempts, Peterson slips to 10th.

This list is topped by Leonard, the former Rutgers star who forced five missed tackles in the run game last season, but from a much smaller window of opportunity, given his 27 carries. Unfortunately, we didn’t record how many of those MTs came from hurdling somebody, Leonard’s trademark. Just behind Leonard is Seattle’s Justin Forsett, who was able to notch 23 missed tackles forced on only 114 carries last season. Jonathan Stewart, in third place, is the top back with more than 200 carries (221), forcing an impressive 44 tackles to be missed.

The final Elusiveness Rating factors in a running back’s performance as a receiver out of the backfield, but we have also looked at those receiving numbers in isolation. Rice not only topped the NFL last season for receptions by a running back with 78, but also was the best with 25 missed tackles forced on those receptions. That ratio of 25 MTs in 78 receptions wasn’t enough to get any higher than 10th league-wide, however.

Arizona’s Beanie Wells might not be a prolific receiver, but the five missed tackles he forced on his dozen receptions was good enough to top the receiving ratio. Pierre Thomas (third place) was the highest-placed rusher to record more than 30 receptions, forcing 16 missed tackles in his work as a receiving option.

At the other end of the scale, despite 26 catches out of the backfield each, neither Marion Barber nor Maurice Morris was able to force a single missed tackle as a receiver. Perhaps the most damning indictment of Brian Westbrook‘s decline is the fact that on his 25 receptions he could only force one missed tackle. Westbrook, once known as one of the league’s toughest matchups, is still struggling to find work in May, and while many point to his injury history as the cause, maybe his decline in play needs to assume more of the blame.


Top 10, missed tackles/reception ratio

Player Team Rec. Rec.MT MT/Rec. rating
Beanie Wells ARI 12 5 50.00
Jamal Lewis CLE 8 3 50.00
Pierre Thomas NO 39 16 43.59
Ahmad Bradshaw NYG 21 8 42.86
Tashard Choice DAL 15 5 40.00
Mewelde Moore PIT 21 7 38.10
Correll Buckhalter DEN 31 10 35.48
Fred Jackson BUF 46 15 34.78
DeAngelo Williams CAR 29 9 34.48
Ray Rice BAL 78 25 33.33

An interesting player to look at, in light of the drafting of C.J. Spiller in the first round of the 2010 Draft, is Buffalo’s Fred Jackson. Jackson graded well as a runner in ’09 but also ranks highly in this study as both a rusher and receiver, showing in the top 10 in both lists. He recorded 15 missed tackles forced on his 46 receptions, and added to that with another 38 in the run game on his 238 carries.

Jackson might not be the best pass-protecting HB in the world, but there is no doubt he is an effective weapon out of the backfield and an extremely tough player to bring down with the ball in his hands. Buffalo now finds itself with a crowded backfield going into the 2010 season, but there is more than Marshawn Lynch‘s legal woes to the fact that it is his name — and not that of Jackson — cropping up in potential trade talks.

On the other hand, a player whoranks surprisingly low on both lists is Miami’s Ricky Williams. Williams has been enjoying something of an Indian summer to his career and recorded 1,121 rushing yards last season, 647 of them after first contact. But surprisingly, he could only manage to force 15 missed tackles on his 241 carries, and just two from his 35 receptions, which seems like a much lower figure than you might expect from a rusher of Williams’ quality.

Finally, we move onto the Elusiveness Rating itself. To determine the Elusiveness Rating, we combined receptions and carries to create a “ball-handling opportunities” figure, and then combined total missed tackles forced. Next we divided the total missed tackles forced by the ball-handling opportunities. Then we multiplied this figure by the player’s average yards after first contact x100 to make the end figure.

The magic formula:

(MTrush+MTrec)/(Rec+Att)*(YCo/Att*100)

Who ranks as the most elusiveness back in football over the 2009 season? The toughest back to bring down in 2009 by our study was Forsett, leading the way with an Elusiveness Rating of 70.19. Forsett’s rating puts him clear of Stewart, who came in second with an Elusiveness Rating of 67.66, and a full 13+ points clear of third place. Forsett was noticeably shifty and tough as a runner and receiver, and it will be interesting to see where he fits in 2010, with Seattle having added LenDale White and Leon Washington in the offseason.

Pro Football Focus has long been a fan of the play of Thomas, and it is no surprise that he came out third in the Elusiveness Rating. Thomas showed well across the board in all of the categories we looked at and remains an extremely valuable weapon for the high-octane New Orleans offense, certainly more valuable in our opinion than his big-name stable mate, Reggie Bush. Bush, seen as an elusiveness and dynamic weapon in the open field, ranked 39th in the list, with an Elusiveness Rating of just 21.54.

There’s no doubting the excellence of Johnson’s season, but how much of it was due to his ability to break tackles, force people to miss and to gain yardage when the holes aren’t there? Not much, according to our study, as Johnson ranks 17th with an Elusiveness Rating of 40.44. What is perhaps most astounding, for a relatively small back such as Johnson, is the sheer volume of touches he had in 2009. Between passes and rushing attempts, the Titans managed to feed the ball to Johnson 408 times. For a RB weighing under or around 200 pounds, that is a massive, and perhaps concerning, workload.

Another back whose workload has always been carefully monitored is Peterson. The load-sharing dynamic in the Vikings’ backfield last season was an interesting one, with Peterson doing much of the dirty work, and Chester Taylor being responsible largely for the third-down duties, in part because of his ability as a pass receiver and his shifty nature after the catch. It might surprise some (it certainly surprised us) to see Taylor rank dead last of all runners who qualified in Elusiveness Rating, with a score of just 8.03.

By contrast, Peterson was able to fight his way to a score of 48.60, good enough for ninth overall. Perhaps the inability of Taylor to get any more than was available factored into Minnesota’s decision to allow him to leave in free agency, and their aggressive trade up in the draft to secure Toby Gerhart, whose game tape is all about gaining more yards than should feasibly be there.

Carolina continues to show they have an excellent pair of runners in the backfield, with both Stewart and Williams ranking in the top 15. Stewart’s score was a full 25 points higher than that of Williams, but Williams was still able to rank ahead of players like Johnson, Jackson and Ryan Grant.

It will be interesting to see if Clinton Portis reminds new coach Mike Shanahan of the dynamic back he was in Denver, the last time they were together. Portis exploded into the NFL, beginning his career with back-to-back 1,500-yard seasons before being traded to Washington in the deal that brought Champ Bailey to Denver. But Portis hasn’t shown anything like the same explosive ability in his time with the Redskins. For a 2009 season cut short by injury, Portis finished with an Elusiveness Rating of just 15.26, which placed him below a plodding Jamal Lewis in 53rd place.

Darren Sproles, despite being an electric return man for the Chargers, did not show well in the Elusiveness Rating. His score of 19.78 leaves him languishing in 44th place. When the Chargers needed Sproles to try and carry more of the load with Tomlinson proving ineffective, he failed to translate the dynamism he brings in the return game to their offense. Sproles managed just 2.1 yards per carry after first contact, and a total of just 13 missed tackles forced, despite 93 carries and 45 receptions with which to work. The struggles Sproles showed as a more featured back in the San Diego offense may explain why they moved so aggressively for Ryan Matthews in the first round of the NFL Draft this offseason.

Browns rusher Jerome Harrison threatened the all-time single-game rushing record in 2009 with a 286-yard day on 34 carries against Kansas City, and he finished the season with 561 yards in the final three weeks of the season. Yet this wasn’t enough for the Browns to hang their hat on Harrison as the answer at running back after Lewis retired at the end of the season. Looking at his performance in our study, we’re not sure it should have been.

Harrison ranked 45th in Elusiveness Rating with a score of 19.39, and it was no surprise to see the Browns pick up a complementary runner in the draft. They also acquired a versatile weapon with rushing ability, Peyton Hillis, in the deal that sent Brady Quinn to Denver. Harrison might have flirted with records, but this study shows nothing to suggest the Browns can rely on that happening again.

Finally a look at the 2009 rookie class. Wells topped the rookies, ending his season in 11th overall in the Elusiveness Rating with a score of 47.82, some distance ahead of the pack. Donald Brown was in 22nd place, scoring an Elusiveness Rating of 35.06, and Knowshon Moreno was 34th with a score of 24.44. LeSean McCoy might have impressed Philadelphia coaches with his running skills, but it hasn’t translated to a top score in the Elusiveness Rating. McCoy ranked 40th with a score of 21.44.

Shonn Greene fell short of the qualifying number of snaps for the study, but managed to amass just two fewer missed tackles forced than Jones despite 223 fewer carries. Greene totalled 12 missed tackles forced to Jones’ 14 on the season, and running behind one of the league’s best O-lines should enable him to do some good things in 2010, when he’ll hope to feature highly in next year’s Elusiveness Rating.


Top 10, Elusiveness Rating

Name Team Att. Yds. YCo YCo/Att. MT Rec. Rec. MT Elusiveness
Rating
Justin Forsett SEA 114 623 363 3.2 23 41 11 70.19
Johnathan Stewart CAR 221 1,133 740 3.3 44 18 5 67.66
Pierre Thomas NO 147 793 445 3 19 39 16 56.45
Fred Jackson BUF 238 1,067 708 3 38 46 15 55.99
Ronnie Brown MIA 147 648 444 3 28 14 1 54.04
Ray Rice BAL 254 1,338 719 2.8 33 78 25 48.92
Ahmad Bradshaw NYG 163 777 480 2.9 23 21 8 48.86
Michael Turner ATL 178 875 594 3.3 27 6 0 48.69
Adrian L. Peterson MIN 315 1,394 915 2.9 50 43 10 48.60
Jamaal Charles KC 190 1,120 687 3.6 28 40 3 48.52


Bottom 10, Elusiveness Rating

Name Team Att. Yds. YCo YCo/Att. MT Rec. Rec. MT Elusiveness
Rating
Chester Taylor MIN 93 332 203 2.2 2 44 3 8.03
Derrick Ward TB 115 414 256 2.2 4 20 1 8.15
Thomas Jones NYJ 332 1,402 701 2.1 14 10 0 8.60
LaDanian Tomlinson SD 223 733 425 1.9 9 20 2 8.60
Brandon Jackson GB 37 112 70 1.9 0 21 3 9.83
Larry Johnson KC 132 380 294 2.2 5 12 2 10.69
Glen Coffee SF 83 226 184 2.2 4 11 1 11.70
Brian Westbrook PHI 61 274 126 2.1 4 25 1 12.21
Mike Bell NO 172 653 386 2.2 10 4 0 12.50
Jerious Norwood ATL 76 254 158 2.1 4 19 2 13.26

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