Palazzolo’s Pitch: Rookie Runners

Moving on for a look at the league's first-year running backs, Steve Palazzolo shares numbers and thoughts in another rookie review.

| 4 years ago

Palazzolo’s Pitch: Rookie Runners

Pitch-WK07Rookie Report: Running Backs

After taking a look at the rookie quarterbacks last week, it’s time to focus on the first-year running backs. It was a rare draft, perhaps evident of the league’s new direction, as no running back was drafted in the first round for the first time in 50 years. That’s not to say that running backs can’t make significant contributions, but the value of the individuals at the position has changed as teams are running the ball less and using more of a rotation in the backfield. This trend is evident in our top two rated rookie running backs in Giovani Bernard and Andre Ellington who are both playing the role of change-of-pace back to perfection through six weeks.

Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
Playing Time: 215 snaps through six games
Overall Grade: +7.9
Key PFF Numbers:

•  18th in Elusive Rating (25% snap filter) at 31.7
•  6th in Yards/Route Run at 1.97
•  10th in Pass Blocking Efficiency at 97.7

Notes: Bernard has seen an increase in playing time as the season has progressed and he’s now surpassed RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis with his 215 snaps. He’s done his best work in the passing game where he’s grading at +5.7 with 20 receptions for 201 yards and two touchdowns. Half of his 12 forced missed tackles have come on receptions.

Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals
Playing Time: 170 snaps through seven games
Overall Grade: +5.7
Key PFF Numbers:

•  54.0 Elusive Rating
•  1.81 Yards/Route Run
•  Yet to allow any pressure on 11 pass block attempts

Notes: Like Bernard, Ellington has done some damage in the passing game where the Cardinals have moved him around the formation. He’s seen 38 snaps at outside wide receiver, 28 in the slot, and even 15 in a tight end/fullback role. We highlighted his lone receiving touchdown on The Pitch a couple weeks ago. For the season, he’s averaged 6.4 yards on his 28 carries while adding 20 receptions for 190 yards.

Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
Playing Time: 165 snaps, played in four games
Grade: +1.9
Key PFF Numbers (Small sample size warning):

•  27.5 Elusive Rating
•  95.7 Pass Blocking Efficiency on 35 pass block snaps
•  0.67 Yards/Route Run

Notes: After battling injuries early in the season, Lacy has emerged as the Packers top running back. He’s picked up 270 yards on his 61 carries while forcing seven missed tackles. He’s only been targeted four times in the passing game with 31 of his 34 receiving yards coming on a screen pass back in Week 1.

Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Playing Time: 109 snaps, played in two games
Grade: +0.1
Key PFF Numbers:

•  24.0 Elusive Rating
•  0.92 Yards/Route Run
•  No pressure surrendered on 16 pass block snaps

Notes: Bell has battled injuries of his own, but after making his debut in Week 4, he’s become the clear top option for Pittsburgh. He’s had a slow start as a runner, averaging only 2.8 yards/carry on his 32 attempts, but he’s done a nice job as a receiver catching all seven of his targets for 100 yards and a +1.1 receiving grade.


Other Rookie RBs:

Montee Ball, Denver Broncos: Ball has had a tough time hanging onto the football as he has two fumbles on 43 carries and two drops on his four targets in the passing game. He’s grading at -3.8 overall on the season.

Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams: Coming off a career-high 18 carries, Stacy has forced seven missed tackles on the ground on his way to a +3.5 overall grade on 88 snaps.

Christine Michael, Seattle Seahawks: Played all 15 of his snaps in Week 3 picking up 37 yards on nine carries, forcing four missed tackles.

Johnathan Franklin, Green Bay Packers: Gained 103 yards in Week 3, but a late-game fumble followed by another in Week 4 have kept his rushing grade at -1.8. Also has four catches for 30 yards.

Cierre Wood, Houston Texans: Has carried the ball on all three of his snaps, picking up nine yards and forcing a missed tackle.

Khiry Robinson, New Orleans Saints: Carried the ball 26 times for 137 yards and a touchdown. Coming off his best game in Week 6 where he graded at +1.2.

Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions: Played 19 snaps on the season, picked up (-2) yards on two carries in Week 3.

Kenjon Barner, Carolina Panthers: Yet to carry the ball on seven snaps, but dropped a pass on one of his two targets in the passing game.

Denard Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars: Played only 16 snaps, but his 3.8 overall grade stems from a fumble on one of his six carries and a drop on his only target.

Joseph Randle, Dallas Cowboys. Played all 24 of his snaps last week grading at -1.3 with 17 yards on 11 carries.

Knile Davis, Kansas City Chiefs: Grading at 2.6 on 35 snaps, including a fumble on one of his two receptions.

Mike James, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Picked up 12 yards on his three carries.

Benny Cunningham, St. Louis Rams: Grading at -2.7 on 68 snaps, averaging 2.7 yards on 17 carries.


News and Notes

Signature Stats

•  Just as he was last year, Tony Romo is last in the league in play action dropbacks at 11.5 percent.

•  Torrey Smith is showing consistency of his own as 38.5 percent of his targets are beyond 20 yards, the highest percentage in the league for the third year in a row.

•  Five wide receivers have at least 20 receptions and no drops, including Larry Fitzgerald, Torrey Smith, DeAndre Hopkins, Vincent Brown, and Dwayne Bowe.

•  Jets DT Damon Harrison is third in Run Stop Percentage at 10.8 percent but his +18.8 run defense grade is the best in the league by a healthy margin.

Around the Site This Week

•  Three to Focus On for all Week 7 games

•  Nathan Jahnke’s 32 Observations get defensive

•  Who leads the Race for Rookie of the Year?

•  Only PFF can give you Secret Superstars for Week 6

•  Thoughts on our Power Rankings?

•  The PFF Staff’s picks for Week 7


Follow Steve on Twitter.


| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • Topher Doll

    Wow I know Montee Ball has been really bad but so bad you forgot about him? I mean it’s not like he was a late round pick or something.

    • Steve Palazzolo

      That was an oversight on my part. Fixed.

      • Topher Doll

        Haha I just thought he was so bad he wasn’t worth being talked about, as a Broncos writer, I would understand not including him.

  • Guest

    Randle from the Cowboys? He’ll probably be starting this week.

  • Kevin

    Who do you guys feel has been the best running back in this class if we just look at running exclusively?

  • LightsOut85

    Have you ever thought about keeping track of how deep a route is run? (AND displaying it for premium users). I don’t know if there would ever be a situation like this, but perhaps a guy gets targeted often on deep-routes but is also running a fair share of medium/short ones (but isn’t targeted on them as much) – or the reverse (gets targeted on shorts but is sent deep a lot too). (Although if there’s not a surprising situation like that…I don’t think there’d be a point, haha).

    Or how about (and I admit this would require a certain level of subjectivity) “% of routes where target got open”. (I thought of this when a blog for my Chargers illustrated how Keenan Allen was clearly open many more times than his 12 targets this past game but Rivers didn’t see it). It would finally give us something to judge WRs on that isn’t QB dependent (as guys like Larry Fitzgerald and AJ Green (for the future) are hampered by bad QB play. They can’t always get yards on a route if their QB throws an uncatchable ball).