Elusive Rating 2010

| March 24, 2011

One of the hardest things in football to achieve is an evaluation of a running back’s performance independent of the blocking in front of him.

Filtering out the play of the other ten guys on offense – as well as the coaching and playcalling – is incredibly difficult to do. Nevertheless, we’ve had a stab at it here at PFF.

You may remember last season we ran an Elusive Rating article. In it, we broke down some interesting numbers from our database and concluded that Seattle’s Justin Forsett, in a limited role for the Seahawks, narrowly edged Jonathan Stewart as 2009’s most elusive back. This season, we’ve crunched the numbers again, and once more, they make for some interesting reading.
 
 
Busting through contact

Before we get to the magic Elusive Rating itself, we’re going to take a glance at some of the more basic stats included in the study. Last season, Chris Johnson not only topped the 2,000-yard rushing mark, but he notched 1,071 of those yards after first contact. Not only did no runner threaten the 2k barrier in 2010, but there was a corresponding fall in the top mark in yards after contact. Michael Turner led all rushers in yards after contact with 941 and he was the only player to break the 900-yard mark, compared to the four players that achieved the same figure last season.
 
The 68.7% of Michael Turner’s yardage gained after contact is by no means a low figure, but it is good enough for only 15th in the NFL among qualifying rushers. None of the 14 players ahead of him, however, carried the ball more than Turner, and only Stephen Jackson (330) was within 112 carries of Turner’s 334.
 
Many of the backs who rank highly in this category are third down specialists. Last season, Brian Leonard recorded what we thought was an astounding 82% of his yards after contact, playing the 3rd down role for the Bengals. This season, an entirely new benchmark was set. Mewelde Moore, playing a similar 3rd down role for the AFC Champion Steelers, recorded a ridiculous 97% of his yardage after contact. Moore put up 99 yards on 33 carries and 96 of them came after first contact. If you were carrying any doubt about the struggles of the Steelers’ O-line, that’s a figure that should help to convince you.
 
When we posted on twitter asking for people to guess the player that led the league in yards after contact this season, we got more than a few responses saying LaGarrette Blount. While Blount wasn’t in the running (his 739 YCo ranked him 12th), it’s only because of his late entry into the lineup. Recording 73.4% of his yards after contact, more than any other player with over 200 carries, he almost certainly would have topped the list had he been starting for a full season. In 2009, Jamaal Charles registered 3.6 yards per carry after contact, a number Blount’s 3.7 topped, and Blount did it without the gift of track-sprinter speed that could turn a broken tackle at the line of scrimmage into an 80-yard footrace. As we’ll see later on, and if you didn’t know already, Blount had a heck of a season.
 
The numbers for another much more heralded rookie weren’t so impressive. Jahvid Best managed just 1.8 yards per carry after contact, the worst mark among qualifying rushers, and just 54.3% of his yards came that way, which also ranked near the bottom. The Lions’ rookie found himself at the tail end of the table across the board as he struggled to have any kind of impact in his rookie season, hampered for much of it with injuries.
 
Blount, on the other hand, was at the sharp end across the board. He led the league in forced missed tackles as a rusher with 50, four clear of any other HB, and only Fred Jackson, Adrian Peterson and Michael Turner leapfrog the Tampa Bay rookie when missed tackles in the passing game are included.
 

Yards After Contact Percentage, Top 10

Player
Team
Att.
Yds
YCo
YCo / Att.
Yco%
Mewelde MoorePIT3399962.997.0%
Chester TaylorCHI1122672121.979.4%
Marshawn LynchSEA1655734402.776.8%
Cadillac WilliamsTB1254373262.674.6%
Donald BrownIND1294973702.974.4%
LeGarrette BlountTB20110077393.773.4%
Correll BuckhalterDEN591471071.872.8%
Brandon JacksonGB1907035102.772.5%
Ryan TorainWAS1647445363.372.0%
Mike TolbertSD1827375292.971.8%

 

Tough to tackle

One of those players, Adrian Peterson, has been in the news for controversial comments about the Lockout recently, but on the field he was as good as ever this season, despite claims in some circles that his performance had slipped. For the second year running, he led the league in forced missed tackles (this year with 53), and in 2008 he was second only to DeAngelo Williams. No player has forced more missed tackles over that three-year span than Adrian Peterson. Given the performance of the Vikings’ run-blocking as a unit this season, that feat is all the more remarkable.
 
Peterson recorded 50 forced missed tackles in 2009, but it took him 315 attempts to do so. This season, his 46 came on 283 carries and was good enough for him to trail only Blount. The 50 that Blount amassed came in just 201 carries, giving him by far the best ratio of missed tackles forced per rushing attempt. At the other end of that scale, is a player that experienced a complete nose-dive in 2010. Ray Rice was among the better performers in 2009, and ended up 6th overall in the final Elusive Rating that year, but this season he recorded the single worst ratio of forced missed tackles to attempts, with just five in his 308 carries. Interestingly though, Rice wasn’t as ineffective as a receiver out of the backfield, where he was able to force 14 missed tackles on just 63 receptions.
 
In what looks like something of a trend, those players forcing the most missed tackles per reception are guys you don’t think of for their receiving skills. Marion Barber III and Jonathan Stewart are ahead of the pack with the best two ratios. These players, by and large, are considered rushing threats far more than they are feared for their receiving skills. It’s possible that these players are being given an easy ride in coverage by defenses that are focusing their efforts elsewhere, giving them an inflated score. Between that and a low sample size in terms of receptions (none of the top eight players in this category recorded more than 21 receptions) this category is largely populated by players that we wouldn’t expect to see back at the top end this time next season. Notably, the one exception to that, and the one player to appear in the mix both seasons is the Bills’ Fred Jackson. Jackson is a player that PFF has long been championing, and he continues to impress as a true weapon in all areas of the game, forcing nine missed tackles on his 31 receptions.
 

Forced Missed Tackles, Top 10

Player
Team
Att.
Rush.MT
Rec.
Rec.MT
Total MT
Adrian L. PetersonMIN2834636753
Michael TurnerATL3344612551
Fred JacksonBUF2224231951
LeGarrette BlountTB201505050
Ahmad BradshawNYG2764247850
Chris D. JohnsonTEN3164444549
Arian FosterHST32731661849
Rashard MendenhallPIT3244223648
Peyton HillisCLV27031611142
Darren McFaddenOAK22230471242

 

Forced Missed Tackles per Touch, Top 10

Player
Team
Att.
Rush.MT
Rec.
Rec.MT
Total MT
MT/touch
LeGarrette BlountTB20150505024.3%
Fred JacksonBUF222423195120.2%
Marshawn LynchSEA165302173719.9%
Mike GoodsonCAR103183692719.4%
Jonathan StewartCAR17830843418.3%
Ryan TorainWAS164281843217.6%
Mewelde MoorePIT3342661016.9%
Adrian L. PetersonMIN283463675316.6%
Cadillac WilliamsTB1251746102715.8%
Darren McFaddenOAK2223047124215.6%

 

The crystal ball?

One player we mentioned last season was Miami’s Ricky Williams, who put up a surprisingly poor showing in the Elusive Rating. Williams had nice raw numbers, but forced surprisingly few missed tackles both as a rusher and as a receiver. When Miami’s run-blocking deteriorated in 2010, so did Ricky’s raw numbers, prompting observers to question his running which was, in truth, not much different than in 2009.
 
The only obvious parallel in terms of a player that could potentially suffer a similar downturn in fortune would be the Patriots’ BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Much was made of New England’s Law Firm topping the 1,000 yard mark for the season, but he was running behind one of the league’s top three run-blocking units of 2010, and his ratio of forced missed tackles per attempt sits among the bottom 20 players in this study. If the Patriots experience a drop in run-blocking prowess in 2011 (very possible if they lose the services of Mankins in particular) then Green-Ellis might start to feel the eye of scrutiny a lot more.
 
The Elusive Rating itself

But that’s enough of the raw numbers. On to the magic formula. The Elusive Rating formula begins by combining carries and receptions to give a ‘ball-handling opportunities’ figure. We then combine forced missed tackles in both the run and pass game to find a total number for forced missed tackles, which is then divided by the ball-handling opportunities. This number is then multiplied by a player’s yards per carry after first contact figure (x100) to get our final number. Confused yet?
 
The magic formula: (MTrush+MTrec)/(Rec+Att)*(YCo/Att*100)
 
Last season, Seattle’s Justin Forsett set the benchmark in our first Elusive Rating study. Forsett’s ER of 70.19 narrowly edged Jonathan Stewart for the best rating of that season. As you might have gathered from some of the numbers we have already discussed, this season’s competition wasn’t as close. Posting a fairly ridiculous ER of 89.8 was Tampa Bay’s LaGarrette Blount.
 
There are a few things that need to be said about that. Firstly, Blount was a rookie! Secondly, his ER was more than 30 points in front of the next best mark (Fred Jackson’s 58.5,) and thirdly, Blount went undrafted just months before.
 
Blount had enough red flags in his file – due to off-field (well…ish) issues when he punched a Boise State player and some other major attitude problems in college – that he was passed over on draft day. He was also cut by the Titans in the pre-season – a team crying out for a power-rushing complement to Chris Johnson – and nobody saw Blount as a blue-chip talent sitting on the scrap-heap.
 
But, given an opportunity, Blount set about running like a man possessed. It reminded us a lot of Adrian Peterson – running with the kind of wild and reckless abandon that simply wins battles against defenders that are only prepared to make a tackle, not fight for it as well. Blount was able to run around, over and through defenders and recorded a ridiculous number of forced missed tackles given his time starting. Most impressive was the repertoire of moves he pulled out and that he was running behind a far from stellar offensive line in Tampa Bay.
 
Nowhere can the importance of an offensive line be seen more clearly than in Tennessee. You need look no further than Chris Johnson over the past two seasons. In 2009 he broke the 2,000-yard barrier, and was proclaimed the best back in the league by some. In this very article last season, we questioned how much of that was attributable to his ability to make things happen when the blocking wasn’t opening up the holes. Last season, he ranked 17th in the Elusive Rating. This season he ranked 19th, with near identical figures in many categories. The only thing that changed was the Titans went from an above average run blocking offense in 2009 to the worst run-blocking offense in football in 2010. There was no way Johnson was ever going to threaten 2,000 yards again with the blocking he was following this season, and, in truth, he was always far more likely to end the season closer to 1,000 yards than he was 2,000.
 
There are clear parallels with the season that Arien Foster has just had. There is no doubt that Foster was a very impressive rusher, but it’s equally true that he benefitted from some very good, often overlooked, run blocking by the Texans up-front. Foster may have noteworthy raw numbers (and the league rushing title), but he only placed 32nd in the Elusive Rating with a score of just 32.4. His total of 49 combined forced missed tackles was only bettered by five other half backs, but he took 393 touches to rack up that number. If the Texans can’t repeat their blocking performance next season, Arien Foster might find 2011 a much tougher prospect.
 
Between Blount’s dominant running and the consistency of Fred Jackson there are no huge surprises in the 1-2 this year, but the same can’t be said for the 3rd placed HB. Ryan Torain has always looked like a capable player when healthy, and he remains as one final reminder of Mike Shanahan’s ability to spot a running back, having plucked him out of nowhere originally for the Denver Broncos. Despite some awful run blocking by the Redskins, Torain was able to one-cut his way to an Elusive Rating of 58.0 and amass 32 total forced missed tackles, coming on just 182 touches. If the Redskins can keep Torain healthy, he is a legitimate ball-carrier for them, and a player to keep an eye on for much improved rushing numbers in 2011.
 
One reason why the Panthers can afford to let DeAngelo Williams explore free agency is the excellent play of Mike Goodson. Goodson has always looked like a dynamic player in very limited playing time, but in an expanded role this season he excelled, doing enough to rank 5th in the ER with a score of 54.4. Goodson has clear flaws in his game (pass protection being the major one), but the same thing was said about Fred Jackson, and he has quietly developed into one of the league’s better all-around backs. In 2011 without Williams, the Panthers would have Jonathan Stewart (himself ranking 8th this season) as their lead back, but Goodson would provide a more than capable, and very dangerous, change of pace option behind him.
 

Elusive Rating, Top 10

Player
Team
Att.
Yds
YCo
YCo / Att.
MT
Rec.
Rec.MT
Elusive Rating
LeGarrette BlountTB20110077393.7505089.8
Fred JacksonBUF2229396462.94231958.5
Ryan TorainWAS1647445363.32818458.0
Darren McFaddenOAK22211577663.530471254.6
Mike GoodsonCAR1034392882.81836954.4
Marshawn LynchSEA1655734402.73021753.7
Adrian L. PetersonMIN28312988773.14636751.5
Jonathan StewartCAR1787704842.7308449.4
Mewelde MoorePIT3399962.9426649.2
Ahmad BradshawNYG27612398293.04247846.4

 
At the other end of the scale, we have some predictable faces. Thomas Jones matches his performance from 2009, finishing with the 3rd worst Elusive Rating on the season, despite improving his score from 8.6 to 10.5. It’s fair to say that Jones still has a place in this league and we all know that he isn’t in the least bit elusive at this point, but what stands out most is that he was given 245 carries on the season. Given what the Chiefs have in Jamaal Charles, that is simply an inexcusable work-load for a guy who will get you exactly what is there and nothing more.
 
The Detroit Lions managed to place two players in the bottom six league-wide in Elusive Rating, with neither player scoring higher then 16.0. They need to hope they see a major upturn in the performance of Jahvid Best when he comes back healthy next season. In Best and Maurice Morris, the Lions had easily the poorest performing duo in the 2010 study.
 

Elusive Rating, Bottom 10

Player
Team
Att.
Yds
YCo
YCo / Att.
MT
Rec.
Rec.MT
Elusive Rating
Steven JacksonSL33012418742.62346720.7
Chester TaylorCHI1122672121.9820620.2
LaDainian TomlinsonNYJ2209144932.21952519.4
Correll BuckhalterDEN591471071.8428416.6
Maurice MorrisDET903362032.3325516.0
Jahvid BestDET1725673081.8858913.3
Ray RiceBLT30812907012.35631411.8
Thomas JonesKC2458965142.11114210.5
Beanie WellsARZ1163972632.34507.6
Ladell BettsNO45148942.112303.1

 

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