D'Onta Foreman's 2016 stats were very similar to Derrick Henry's in 2015
There are five finalists for the Heisman Trophy in 2016, in Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers and Oklahoma’s dynamic 1-2 duo of quarterback Baker Mayfield and wide receiver Dede Westbrook.
All five are deserving candidates – we went with Jackson as our Heisman pick, followed by Mayfield and Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (see our full top 10 here) – but one player who received a good amount of Heisman buzz but didn’t get an invite to New York is Texas running back D’Onta Foreman.
Why Lamar Jackson is our Heisman pick pic.twitter.com/vEw8EqZRgd
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) December 9, 2016
We can understand the omission, as he didn’t grade among our top running backs in large part due to some fumbling issues, and we didn’t put him in our top 10 Heisman candidates.
But in looking at Foreman’s numbers and comparing them to last year’s Heisman winner, Alabama running back Derrick Henry (now with the Tennessee Titans), we found some very interesting similarities.
[Editor’s note: For the purpose of this article, all of Henry’s stats and data from 2015 include only up to and including the SEC championship game, since the Heisman was decided before any playoff games.]
First off, we need to understand why Henry won the Heisman last season. If you followed us last year, you’ll remember that we were not as high on Henry as everyone else when it came to the award. We saw Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey as the most deserving winner of the award.
But there were legitimate reasons for Henry. He graded ninth in the nation with an 83.2 rushing grade. He led the country in yards and touchdowns. But more importantly, Alabama went 12-1 and won the SEC championship, earning a spot in the College Football Playoff.
So, what does this have to do with Foreman? Well, take a look at this chart below.
|Att||Yards||Avg.||YCo||YCo/Att||TD||MT||Elusive Rating||Breakaway Pct.||PFF Grade|
If you haven’t guessed it by now, Player A is 2016 D’Onta Foreman and Player B is 2015 Derrick Henry. Obviously, touchdowns are the biggest difference here, but for the most part, you must take into account that Foreman racked up these numbers in 11 games, while Henry did it in 13. Otherwise, the stats actually skew in Foreman’s favor. If you project Foreman onto 13 games, he would lead in attempts, yards, yards after contact, and missed tackles, all by a fair amount.
Now, it is worth noting that Foreman did his damage in the defensively deficient Big 12 conference, while Henry did his against the big, bad SEC. That is certainly true to an extent. The SEC in 2015 had some good run defending teams. But so did the Big 12 this year. In fact, stopping the run was basically the only defensive aspect that any team in the Big 12 could accomplish this year. 2015 Alabama’s conference opponents surrendered an average of 4.1 yards per carry, while the Big 12 this year allowed 4.6.
That’s a difference, for sure, but it doesn’t seem like enough of a difference to say that Henry had a better season just on strength of opponents alone.
The other big qualifier here is Foreman’s PFF grade – and a big reason why he wasn’t among the top-ranked players at the running back position this year was his fumbling problem. While Henry fumbled just three times in his 340 carries last season, Foreman fumbled seven times in his 323. They seemed to always come at critical moments, too.
But if you set that stat aside, there is an argument that Foreman this season was as productive or more productive – and impactful – as Henry was a year ago. Even though Texas finished 5-7 this season and Bama was 12-1 in 2015 prior to the College Football Playoff, that disparity had a lot more to do with defense than it did the offensive side off the ball. The Crimson Tide allowed just 11.7 points per game over the last 10 games of the season, while Texas’ defense allowed 31.5 points per game on the year.
Henry accounted for roughly 35 percent of Alabama’s total yards last season, while Foreman accounted for an equivalent 35 percent of Texas’ yards this year. The two players posted almost identical numbers on offenses that were almost identical in terms of QB play, offensive line play, points and yards per game, efficiency, etc.
In summary, we understand why Foreman was left out of the Heisman mix this year. But as a pure runner he was one of the best in college football this season – including comparing very favorably to last year’s Heisman winner.