If there’s one thing better than a full season’s worth of data, it’s a full three season’s worth of data and we’re in the midst of bringing you the highlights from three years of many of our Signature Stats. Every season we offer up the Elusive Rating numbers–a look at which NFL runners are the toughest to bring down–and we’ve now taken the numbers from the past three years, loaded them in the hopper, and sifted it all to bring you the gold.
In essence, a runner can be elusive either by running over or around would-be tacklers. He gets credit for forcing missed tackles however he does it and gets additional credit for earning yards after contact. The better he performs in those areas, the better his Elusive Rating will be. If a runner fails to make people miss, and goes down on contact, he will not score well in this aspect.
If you haven’t read any of the previous Elusive Rating articles (first of all, go and do it now!), the formula first combines carries and receptions to reach a “ball-handling opportunities” figure. The 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.
[(Missed Tackles Rush + Missed Tackles Rec) / (Rushes + Receptions)] * (Yards per Carry after Contact / Att. * 100)
In order to qualify for the three-year study, a runner must have had at least 25 carries in each of the past three seasons–the minimum number of carries to qualify for an Elusive Rating study in any one season. That removes some interesting players from either end of the list. LeGarrette Blount, in particular, has had two seasons of extremely high grades by the Elusive Rating and I would expect him to shoot into the Top 10 in the same study next year. The threshold for this study leaves us with 47 qualifying runners.
Now that we have that out of the way, we can start to look at some of the data and get an idea of what we can learn from it. There have always been a few players that have scored well in the Elusive Rating, and they are some of the more underrated running backs in the game. Once again, they appear near the top of this list looking back over the past three seasons.
Jonathan Stewart tops the list over the past three seasons, overtaking his teammate since the last time we ran the numbers on the back of another fantastic season in 2011. Stewart might be one of the best backs in football, but the Panthers are determined to stick with a running back by committee approach. They are likely to continue to include Cam Newton as a rushing threat at quarterback, and Stewart’s opportunities to carry the football are thus likely to remain capped. With the touches he is given there is no better back in the league, and it would be extremely interesting to see if that performance would be maintained over a workhorse-type load.
Fred Jackson is another player who has long been an underrated runner, and was on his way to a truly spectacular season last year before a broken leg saw it end prematurely. Despite ranking 14th in touches over the past three seasons no player has forced more missed tackles than his 149. Adrian Peterson is next up with 148, but he has touched the ball 155 more times. Jackson has been a notable success story from humble beginnings–going undrafted and working his way into the league via the Sioux City Bandits, an indoor league team–and is playing well enough at the moment that the Bills can’t get C.J. Spiller as many touches as they would like.
While Stewart and Jackson have been impressive players with the workload they’ve had, there are a few players who have been able to maintain top ratings despite the massive workload of a featured back. Michael Turner and Adrian Peterson are the third- and fourth-ranked players over the past three seasons, each having notched 145+ missed tackles and over 2,400 yards after contact.
Turner’s mark of 2.9 yards per carry after contact leads the league over that time and the numbers both players have maintained despite the volume of touches is truly remarkable. While the NFL might be steering away from workhorse running backs towards a system where backfields are formed from committee, Peterson and Turner are proving that it is still possible for a feature back to be extremely effective and tough to bring down while carrying the full load. They are the exceptions to the rule and the Falcons have noted that they are going to lessen Turner’s carries this season as they shift to a more pass-oriented offense.
The Ugly End
If there is one constant to the Elusive Rating it is that Thomas Jones will be at or around the foot of the table. Jones once again ranks as the least elusive back in football, coming in with an Elusive Rating of just 8.0; the only back in single digits and more than 50 points lower than Stewart at the table’s top. Jones should be used as a calibration tool for offensive lines, because he will get you exactly what is there from the blocking in front of him and no more. The Chiefs are expected to field Peyton Hillis in the same role this season and those results should be quite interesting. In his 2010 season with Cleveland, Hillis finished alongside Jamaal Charles with matching 37.0 Elusive Ratings.
Jones is joined at the ugly end of the table by a few interesting names. LaDainian Tomlinson has just called time on a spectacular career and his ER ranking suggests that it was certainly time to do so. Only three runners were lower over the past three seasons and his 1.7 yards per carry after contact ranks among the bottom as well. As great as Tomlinson once was, his time has gone. Cedric Benson also ranks in the Bottom 10, perhaps explaining why he has remained unsigned for so long this offseason.
More Statistical Tidbits from the Elusive Rating:
● Over the past three seasons Maurice Jones-Drew has rushed for 2,740 yards after contact. That leads the NFL.
● Tashard Choice has forced both the fewest missed tackles (18), and has the lowest yards after contact average (1.5) in the study.
● With Jason Snelling in eighth, the Falcons have two of the Top 10 rushers in ER over the past three seasons.
● Between Kevin Smith and Maurice Morris, the Lions have two of the Bottom 5.
● Chris Johnson has touched the ball more than any other RB over the past three seasons, with 1,087 total.
|Rank||Player||'09 Carries||'10 Carries||'11 Carries||Touches||Missed Tkles||YACn||YACn Avg.||ELUSIVE RATING|
|4||Adrian L. Peterson||313||283||208||901||148||2440||2.7||44.5|
|16||Chris D. Johnson||358||316||262||1087||142||2518||2.3||30.3|
|24||Marion Barber III||214||113||114||483||53||1170||2.4||26.6|