Signature Stats: YPRR – Running Backs

Michael Renner completes his look at the most efficient pass catchers in the NFL by assessing the league's running backs - although some of these guys play more like wide ...

| 4 years ago

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.

Receiving Backs

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

RankNameTeamTargetsYardsSnaps in RouteYPRR
1Darren SprolesNO936673351.99
2Joique BellDET654852451.98
3C.J. SpillerBUF554592411.90
4Ronnie BrownSD563712181.70
5Danny WoodheadNE504462751.62
6Felix JonesDAL342621631.61
7Pierre ThomasNO453542201.61
8Jacquizz RodgersATL594022671.51
9Mike TolbertCAR352681831.46
10Ryan MathewsSD522521731.46
11Willis McGaheeDEN312211571.41
12Doug MartinTB624723341.41
13Ray RiceBLT804783421.40
14Fred JacksonBUF392171591.36
15Knowshon MorenoDEN241671231.36


Wasting Away

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

RankNameTeamTargetsYardsSnaps in RouteYPRR
36Shonn GreeneNYJ261511700.89
37Vick BallardIND241521730.88
38Michael TurnerATL291281490.86
39Frank GoreSF342342740.85
40Bilal PowellNYJ291401730.81
41Adrian L. PetersonMIN482172830.77
42Jonathan DwyerPIT251061430.74
43Evan RoysterWAS191041470.71
44LaRod Stephens-HowlingARZ281061550.68
45Chris D. JohnsonTEN442393660.65
46Arian FosterHST532173640.60
47BenJarvus Green-EllisCIN261042360.44
48Alfred MorrisWAS15771920.40
49Bryce BrownPHI18561470.38
50Stevan RidleyNE11511770.29


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.


Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeRenner

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • Mark Mccollough

    Buffalo has got a lot of things wrong over the last 13 years, but identifying RB talent is not one of them. 4 current or former Bills on the top 14 of this list with Spiller, Jackson, McGahee, and Bell. This does not even include Lynch the number 2 RB in yards this year. Now if the front office can apply that voodoo to the QB position we can finally end the streak!