Continuing our look at the NFL over the past three seasons, it’s time to turn our attention to the running backs and our Elusive Rating.
Already in the books and up on the site are the Elusive Rating studies for 2009 and 2010, so the first task was to run the numbers for 2008, which threw up some interesting stats. If you cast your mind back to the 1,500 yard season that DeAngelo Williams put up that year, it won’t surprise you that he topped the list overall. What might surprise you, though, is that his stable mate followed him as the No. 2 that year as the Panthers packed a formidable one-two punch. Something else worth noting is that Williams’ score of 83.4 is the second best score over the past three seasons (only topped by the ridiculous 89.8 posted by LaGarrette Blount this season.)
As a quick refresher, the Elusive Rating is produced by a formula that first combines carries and receptions to reach a ‘ball-handling opportunities’ figure. Total forced missed tackles in both facets are then divided by that first number and the result is multiplied by yards per carry after contact and then again by 100.
(MTrush + MTrec) / (Rec + Att) * ( YCo / Att * 100)
With that out of the way, back to the 2008 data.
Leon Washington, Fred Jackson and a surprise entry from Correll Buckhalter rounded off the Top 5 from 2008. At the other end of the scale, six players posted an Elusive Rating in the single digits, but no rusher was less elusive than LenDale White, who posted a score of just 5.0 despite rushing for over 700 yards, the second poorest score we’ve recorded in the past three seasons. Nobody has ever called White ‘shifty’, but the numbers demontrate an inability to be effective with power as well, and go some way to explaining his continued absense from the league.
Elusive Rating, Top 15, 2008
YCo / Att
|Adrian L. Peterson||MIN||384||54||3.23||45.5|
Elusive Rating, Bottom 15, 2008
YCo / Att
Now to the three-year numbers. The figures have been tallied up and, in order to qualify for the study, a player must have had at least 25 rushing attempts (the qualifying standard for any single-season Elusive Rating study) in each of the past three seasons. That removes a few players from consideration that have posted exceptionally good or poor figures, but only for a season or two (LaGarrette Blount and Chris Ivory’s 2010 Elusive Rating scores for instance would better any three-year figure posted), and leaves us with a healthy list of 51 players to work from.
The Top Five
When the numbers are totaled, the sharp end makes for some interesting reading. Just like 2008, the Carolina Panthers account for both of the top two spots in the list, this time with Jonathan Stewart (62.9) leading DeAngelo Williams (60.1) at the head of the pack. Whatever the problems the Panthers had last season, it’s clear that they have had some impressive performances from their backs over the past three seasons – even if Williams wasn’t able to recapture his scintillating form of 2008. Stewart’s showing has been consistently high over all three seasons of the Elusive Rating study and it should come as no surprise to anybody familiar with the previous articles that he heads the list.
The two Panthers players are followed closely by one more back before there is a bit of a drop off to the next group of players, and his identity won’t surprise anybody familiar with these studies either: Buffalo’s Fred Jackson. We’ve always been a fan of Jackson’s skill-set, and he’s been consistently impressive in the Elusive Rating studies, ranking in the top five in all three seasons. His score of 58.8 put him some way clear of his former Buffalo stable mate Marshawn Lynch (52.5), who ranked fourth in the study.
Lynch is clearly a runner blessed with ability in abundance, but he will all too often look for the big run, neglecting at times to just stick his nose in there and pick up the yardage that’s there. He ranks highly in terms of elusiveness over the past three seasons, but that’s not to say that his game should be without criticism. What it does show, however, is that he has some significant ability to build upon.
The Giants’ Ahmad Bradshaw rounds off the top five, pushing Adrian Peterson into sixth place. Bradshaw’s breakout season came last year, but he’s shown well consistently enough to break into this upper group.
The Inglorious End
No player managed to post an Elusive Rating in the single digits over three seasons, but the one that came the closest was Thomas Jones, lending yet more support behind the Jets’ decision to say goodbye, and to those clamouring for Jamaal Charles to see more of the workload in Kansas City. Despite 927 touches over the past three seasons, Jones has forced only 48 missed tackles (Blount forced 50 in just 201 carries last season), and though there were worse figures than the 2.28 yards he posted after contact, it was also at the poor end of things.
Jones is joined in the bottom five by a couple of players whose scores bear testiment to the effect age can have on a running back. Brian Westbrook (50th), and LaDainian Tomlinson (47th) at their best were among the toughest tackles in the league, but their Elusive Ratings (12.5 and 16.4 respectively) confirm what the eye already knew – that their decline has been swift and severe.
One more player it’s worth drawing attention to given the negative opinion held by many of Marion Barber (28.0 ER) – Tashard Choice. Choice finished the study ahead of only Jones and Westbrook at the bottom with an Elusive Rating of 13.8, significantly poorer than that of Barber, who beat his numbers across the board. The good news for Cowboys fans is that Felix Jones posted a much better score than either (37.2), but for those looking at a change in the three-headed monster, perhaps Barber isn’t the one to be singling out.
Elusive Rating, Top 15, 2008-2010
YCo / Att
|Adrian L. Peterson||MIN||1061||167||3.09||48.6|
|Chris D. Johnson||TEN||1062||142||2.97||39.7|
Elusive Rating, Bottom 15, 2008-2010
YCo / Att
Rather than going through the list any more, we’re going to pick out a few choice figures from the study. No player over the past three seasons has forced more missed tackles than the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson. Running behind an often suspect O-line, Peterson has forced 167 missed tackles, 25 more than any other player (Chris Johnson is second, with Fred Jackson just three further behind). Though this study does try and minimize the effect blocking has on a player’s numbers, there’s no doubt that Peterson would only be more dangerous with some improved blocking, and despite the lack of help from the big guys in front of him, he is still able to post impressive numbers across the board.
DeAngelo Williams tops the list of yards after contact per rush over the past three seasons with 3.34 (not a terrible rushing average period, let alone after contact), but for those wondering where Jamaal Charles’ name has been so far, he is just behind with 3.30 yards per carry after contact. At the other end of that list is a certain Reggie Bush, once heralded as the next great running back, who has managed only 2.1 yards per carry after contact.
Three players amassed more than 1,000 touches (rushes and receptions) over the past three seasons (Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson and Steven Jackson), but the lowest number of touches to qualify for the study was 140, recorded by Kenneth Darby.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @SamMonson … and, of course, our main Twitter feed: @ProFootbalFocus
Signed up yet for Pro Football Focus Premium Stats?