It can be endlessly fascinating to work through PFF’s Signature Stats database and try to determine whether the results match up with our intuitions. Last week, I argued that yards before contact, or Vision Yards, are just as important as yards after contact, perhaps more so. This week I’m looking at yards after contact, but with a somewhat unusual premise. Not all missed tackles are created equal.
It’s important to note that if we know yards after contact are important – it tends to be the main (if faulty) way we evaluate a running back separate from his line – and we know yards before contact are important, then we’ve taken a circuitous route to arrive back at a fairly simple conclusion. Total yards is the stat that really matters. It may be an obvious premise, but it’s one that’s important to keep in mind. Every extra split we analyze runs the risk of taking us further down the rabbit hole if we lose sight of the main thing.
On the other hand, the yards per carry stat for individual players tends to be very inconsistent and unpredictable season to season. With the possible exception of Jamaal Charles, you can basically go down your running back spreadsheet and autofill 4.3 yards per carry. Everyone else, even Adrian Peterson, tends to regress to the mean.
So now that we’ve cast doubt on the value of individual running back stats, let me explain why knowing who breaks tackles, how they break them, and how many yards they generate from each one can help you avoid roster-crippling mistakes.
Who were the top players in 2013 in terms of forced missed tackles per attempt?
|4||Adrian L. Peterson||0.21|
Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson, and Eddie Lacy all make the list, but otherwise this is sort of a motley bunch. Ben Tate has been very good at the point of contact in consecutive seasons, but, as I mentioned in the Vision Yards column, he can’t match Arian Foster’s ability to find and hit the hole. Those targeting him in free agency should make sure they have a favorable scheme and elite offensive line. If they don’t, he could end up looking a lot like the No. 9 player on our list, Daniel Thomas.
Other than Thomas, the other real surprise player might be Trent Richardson. Most experts watched Richardson this year and came away convinced he was running with less authority than usual, but he broke tackles at the same rate as Lacy, everyone’s running back du jour. While some of the issues for Richardson are clearly his own fault, it’s actually somewhat likely that Indianapolis put him in a horrible position. The circulating meme suggests it probably wasn’t the surroundings if a moribund back like Donald Brown could have a breakout year, but Brown finished No. 3 on our list and ahead of Adrian Peterson. Brown may have really just finished an extraordinary season. He’s primed to be one of the most undervalued free agents.
We also get confirmation that there’s more than one way to force a missed tackle. Reggie Bush is a truly bizarre inclusion on the list, and he’s joined by LeSean McCoy and Andre Ellington. Those players are using elite agility to break ankles at the contact point and break tackles as a result.
Not all forced missed tackles are created equal
Now let’s take these same players and re-rank based on the amount of after contact yardage they generated for each missed tackle.
|7||Adrian L. Peterson||14.3|
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Ellington led the group since we know he led the NFL in yards per carry. Part of this is owed to Ellington’s explosiveness and part simply to the randomness we talked about earlier. He had the good fortune to break tackles in a series of “just the right moment” situations where daylight was visible ahead.
It may come as more of a surprise that players like Alfred Morris, LeGarrette Blount, and the aforementioned Donald Brown came in ahead of speedsters like Peterson and McCoy. Brown is the player who doesn’t fit, but it’s perhaps meaningful that he both broke tackles at a good clip and gained good yardage after the contact point.
Morris and Blount have been here before. Morris averaged 17.6 yards per forced missed tackle in 2012, finishing with more yards after contact per attempt than Lynch. Much of the credit for his overall performance was given to RG3, but Morris excelled again even as Griffin and the Washington offense struggled. Morris was a fantasy disappointment in 2013 because Washington didn’t provide enough goal line opportunities, but he could emerge as one of the more undervalued players heading into next season.
Blount finds himself in a similar situation. He led the league with an absurd 3.68 yards after contact in 2010 on the back of a 14.8 yard average per broken tackle. Another undervalued free agent, Blount is more of a little back in a big back’s body, and unlike most people, I don’t mean that in a bad way. Blount is miscast as a bruiser, but his quick feet and elite vision also landed him on this list of Vision Yards All Stars.
And now for the bad news.
If you’re an owner of Eddie Lacy or Marshawn Lynch, it’s more than a little discouraging that they find themselves in the same vicinity as Daniel Thomas and Trent Richardson. It’s been frequently noted that Lynch finished 2013 with the exact number of carries as frequent whipping boy Ryan Mathews and yet managed 71 fewer yards. Lynch is heavily dependent on the goal line touches provided by Russell Wilson and Seattle’s rugged defense. Lacy and Lynch both possess excellent dynasty league value. You shouldn’t sell for less than their perceived values, but you can avoid a significant – and largely unseen – risk if you can trade them and get strong value in return.
How did the rest of the bell cows perform?
Here’s a look at the rest of 2013’s headlining backs with their splits for forced missed tackle per attempt (MT/ATT), yards per forced missed tackle (Yards/MT), and yards after contact per attempt (YCo/Att). The list is sorted by yards per forced missed tackle.
|Name||MT/Att||Yards/MT||YCo / Att.|
|Chris D. Johnson||0.08||24.4||1.84|
As alluded to earlier, Charles posted an interesting split this year. He broke tackles at a much higher rate than in 2012, but his yards per missed tackle plummeted from 27.3 to 14.1. His four long touchdown receptions against the Raiders clearly attest to the burst that remains, but none of those touches are included in these numbers (although Oakland didn’t force him to make many people miss on those plays). Charles’ numbers help to underline how unstable these splits can be, but it’s also a good reason to take him No. 1 overall next season. The Kansas City superstar finished with the best points per game season in PPR since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006, but there’s plenty of reason to believe he actually got unlucky.
I’ll leave you to your own devices in analyzing the remaining players except for this final note. Your eyes were not deceiving you when it came to the lack of tackle-breaking prowess demonstrated by Arian Foster, Chris Johnson, Frank Gore, and Knowshon Moreno.