Signature Stats: YPRR - Running Backs
How do Arian Foster’s 217 receiving yards compare to Adrian Peterson’s 217? What about Darren McFadden’s 258 yards and Felix Jones’ 262? It can be very tough to judge the receiving prowess of running backs because it’s usually not clear how often they are being used as a receiver.
With PFF’s Yards per Route Run (YPRR) signature stat it doesn’t matter how often they are running routes, just how well they produce when given the opportunity. We’ve looked at wide receivers and tight ends already, so let’s see the notable performers at running back.
More Receiver than Runner
Darren Sproles has proven himself time and again to be the most dangerous receiving threat from the running back position in the league, but is it even fair to call him a running back any more? Sproles led the running back position in YPRR for the second time in four seasons, but at times he exhibited more receiver characteristics than running back ones. The Saints back ran routes on a league high 73.3% of his snaps, and he lined up as a receiver on a third of his snaps. With all that being said, he crushed all other running backs in receiving stats. Sproles led all backs in yards, receptions, and missed tackles. When it comes to the new wave of ‘space’ players, Sproles is one of the elite.
Like the Saints have with Darren Sproles, other teams now feature running backs that are more receiver first and runner second. Nine running backs spent a majority of their snaps running pass routes this season. Unsurprisingly, most put up decent YPRR numbers, as only Evan Royster had a YPRR below one. Danny Woodhead is certainly a player that comes to mind when you think of a receiving back. Woodhead posted a YPRR of only 0.76 in 2011, but increased that by almost a full yard this season. The former undrafted free agent had the third-highest yards per target mark, at 8.92 and averaged 7.46 yards after the catch.
Ronnie Brown was the consummate third-down back this season, and joined Sproles as the only two backs to have more targets than carries. Philip Rivers was in love with the check down all year and targeted Brown on 25.7% of his routes (teammate Ryan Mathews was targeted on 30.1%, the highest in the league). Another back that benefited from a high target rate was Joique Bell. Bell was targeted on 26.5% of his routes, the third-most in the league, and finished with the second-highest YPRR. He then made the most of those targets, breaking 15 tackles.
Top 15 Running Backs in YPRR
Rank Name Team Targets Yards Snaps in Route YPRR
1 Darren Sproles NO 93 667 335 1.99
2 Joique Bell DET 65 485 245 1.98
3 C.J. Spiller BUF 55 459 241 1.90
4 Ronnie Brown SD 56 371 218 1.70
5 Danny Woodhead NE 50 446 275 1.62
6 Felix Jones DAL 34 262 163 1.61
7 Pierre Thomas NO 45 354 220 1.61
8 Jacquizz Rodgers ATL 59 402 267 1.51
9 Mike Tolbert CAR 35 268 183 1.46
10 Ryan Mathews SD 52 252 173 1.46
11 Willis McGahee DEN 31 221 157 1.41
12 Doug Martin TB 62 472 334 1.41
13 Ray Rice BLT 80 478 342 1.40
14 Fred Jackson BUF 39 217 159 1.36
15 Knowshon Moreno DEN 24 167 123 1.36
So far we have looked at primarily receiving backs, but there are some backs that aren’t used as receiving threats whatsoever. No one did less through the air than Stevan Ridley. The Patriots back was a complete afterthought in the passing game and was targeted on only 6.2% of his routes. He finished the season with only six catches despite running 177 routes, and was the only qualifying back not to break a tackle after a reception.
After Ridley, the second-most ignored back was Alfred Morris. Morris saw the ball on only 7.8% of his routes and, not surprisingly, he finished with the second-fewest receptions of any qualifying back. It is a little surprising that Morris and Ridley would see the ball so infrequently given their running skill, and the fact they both play in efficient passing offenses. No matter the case though, if a back is targeted as infrequently as Morris and Ridley it is nearly impossible to have a quality YPRR.
Bottom 15 Running Backs in YPRR
Rank Name Team Targets Yards Snaps in Route YPRR
36 Shonn Greene NYJ 26 151 170 0.89
37 Vick Ballard IND 24 152 173 0.88
38 Michael Turner ATL 29 128 149 0.86
39 Frank Gore SF 34 234 274 0.85
40 Bilal Powell NYJ 29 140 173 0.81
41 Adrian L. Peterson MIN 48 217 283 0.77
42 Jonathan Dwyer PIT 25 106 143 0.74
43 Evan Royster WAS 19 104 147 0.71
44 LaRod Stephens-Howling ARZ 28 106 155 0.68
45 Chris D. Johnson TEN 44 239 366 0.65
46 Arian Foster HST 53 217 364 0.60
47 BenJarvus Green-Ellis CIN 26 104 236 0.44
48 Alfred Morris WAS 15 77 192 0.40
49 Bryce Brown PHI 18 56 147 0.38
50 Stevan Ridley NE 11 51 177 0.29
Obviously the job description of most running backs is to take handoffs, but guys like C.J. Spiller, Ray Rice, and Doug Martin provide unique threats in an offense. How big an impact those players can have though also has a lot to do with how an offensive coordinator chooses to use them, or how often their quarterbacks are willing to check down. To get even more information on which running backs are also good receivers, read over the Drop Rate article from earlier this week, and check out their grades in the Premium Section.
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