We’ve now reached the third and final day of looking at three years of our Yards Per Route Run data. Today, it’s time to analyze the running backs that catch the ball. While fantasy football players know the value of backs that can catch, a running back’s reputation elsewhere is typically based on how well he runs with the ball.
While the main job for wide receivers and, debatably, tight ends is receiving, a running back might be in for a pass play so the opposition thinks the play could be a run. Therefore, there are a number of backs who have compiled a lot of pass routes and yards, but they might not really be all that effective in the passing game on a per-route basis.
In case you missed the last two days when we covered wide receivers and tight ends, Yards Per Pass Route run details how many receiving yards a player gains divided by how many times a player runs a pass route. Therefore, if a running back stayed in the backfield as a blocker, that play wouldn’t be considered here. In order to qualify, a back needed to run 300 routes and that left us with 63 eligible backs.
While Ray Rice might be a bit overrated in his impact as a rusher, he has worked wonders as a receiver. He has more than double the receiving yards of a handful of players also in the Top 10. This list is full of players that we have grown accustom to seeing at Aloha Stadium in late January. The main exceptions are the New Orleans duo of Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas. The Saints not only have had effective wide receivers and a new superstar tight end in Jimmy Graham, but a big part of the offense is dumping the ball off to their backs.
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Below is a chart of the halfbacks who ran the most pass routes. Eight of the names remain the same, while LaDainian Tomlinson and Fred Jackson are added to the list. Both players were within 60 yards of being in the Top 10 receiving yards list, so really there isn’t much of a difference between who who runs the routes and who gets the yards. The similarities in the list show that for some of these players the reason they have so many receiving yards is because they have so many opportunities to gain them, and not that they are necessarily great receiving backs. That is why a rate metric is needed.
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Yards Per Route Run–The Best
The oft-injured Darren McFadden tops the list of backs here, just barely edging out the Saints’ prolific duo, which might come as a surprise. Also in the Top 10 are Arian Foster, Matt Forte and Rice, showing that they aren’t just in for pass plays to make the defense think they might run, but because they are very effective as receivers. Also in the Top 10 is a reunion of the 2010 San Diego backfield, as Sproles was once a Charger, Ryan Mathews on his small sample finished fifth, and Mike Tolbert rounded out the top group.
There have been plenty of players switching teams at the bottom of the list. Tolbert has moved from San Diego to Carolina, and he could cut into the playing time of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams on passing downs. Michael Bush went from being the backup for one player in the Top 10 to the backing-up another in this past offseason. Brandon Jackson had enough pass routes in his time in Green Bay to qualify for the list, but we have yet to see him play an offensive down for Cleveland as he missed 2011 with turf toe. Then Mewelde Moore has been a third-down specialist in Pittsburgh, but now brings his play to the Colts.
Yards Per Route Run–The Bottom
The bottom of the chart is full of interesting names as well. Cedric Benson has not been the answer in Cincinnati’s passing game and he was replaced by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who hasn’t fared much better. Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden prizes receiving backs for his West Coast offense, so one has to wonder if they really added anything. The Chiefs also decided to make a change by replacing the second-least-effective back in Thomas Jones, but they had a major upgrade with one of the best receiving backs in 2010, Peyton Hillis. In 2011, the Cardinals traded away Tim Hightower who hasn’t fared well in this metric, but still have Beanie Wells in the Bottom 10.
While it might not be entirely fair, fullbacks Vonta Leach and John Kuhn are in the Bottom 10. Even though Tolbert will play fullback, he has played more halfback over the last three years. That leaves Le’Ron McClain (now with the Chargers) as the highest-rated fullback that qualified with enough pass routes. However, his 0.88 YPRR simply isn’t very impressive.
One important note to make is that if a wide receiver makes this list, chances are his NFL future isn’t too bright. However, if a back makes this list it just means that he probably shouldn’t be called upon for pass play duty but could still be an effective runner. This is the case for players like Michael Turner and Willis McGahee.