June 22, 2019: Slight update on the data in the attached file to carry yards per attempt out to more decimal places. This had no effect on the three most improved or decline teams chosen. The only effect was occasionally a slight adjustment to their 2017 or 2018 rank.
This article is continuing the series on team statistics looking back and forward. Today I look at rushing yards per attempt and the three teams that changed the most for the better and the three for the worst. Rushing yards per attempt I believe gives the best rushing statistic of how a team or a back are doing in the run game. You just have to eliminate the backs that did not rush for a significant amount of yards. Again these are not the best and worst at yards per attempt, but rather the teams that changed the most from 2017 to 2018 for better and for worst. Here we start with the three most improved teams in rankings for yards per attempt.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
2017 – Rank: 29, Yds/Att: 3.62
2018 – Rank: 8, Yds/Att: 4.69
In 2018 running back Joe Mixon had 1,168 yards rushing at 4.93 yards per attempt. That was the ninth best yds/att among backs that started at least eight games. He averaged 83.4 yards per game which was third among starting backs. No back averaged more yards per game with a higher yards per attempt average. Mixon was drafted in the second round of the 2017 draft. He was the fourth back chosen. He averaged 3.52 yards per attempt his rookie season which was 20th among rookie backs that year with over 10 attempts. In his rookie year Mixon fumbled five times but in 2018 he cut that to zero fumbles. His improvement in year two has been amazing. His 296 receiving yards in 2018 was fifth among the nine backs with 1000+ rushing yards. The four backs ahead of him were all first round top 10 draft picks. Mixon was pick 48 and appears to have been a good pick.
The Bengals picked center Billy Price in round one of the 2018 draft. Though they are tied for the lowest number of negative plays when rushing in the center of the field, all other rushing stats for their team are lowest when running to the center. They are fourth best on power rushes to the right (80%) and 11th best on power runs to the left (75%). Per nfl.com stats a power run is the percentage of rushes on 3rd or 4th down with 2 or fewer yards to go that achieved a first down or TD.
Looking into 2019 the Bengals should be even better in the run game. They invested in their offensive line during the draft. They drafted tackle Jonah Williams in round one. According to the New York Post – He (Williams) treats everything — treatment, weight-lifting, film study, practices and games — like it’s the most important activity he will do. Then in round four they chose guard Michael Jordan of Ohio State. In his freshman year Jordan started at guard and made Freshman All American. He was the first true freshman to start on Ohio State’s offensive line in 23 years, or since Orlando Pace did so in 1994. They signed undrafted free agent guard O’Shea Dugas of LA Tech. Dugas is another true freshman four year starter. He started 43 out of 49 games he played. This Shrine Game report from NFL Draft Blitz says about Dugas “…excels as a run blocker, but he has held up well in pass protection. He is a big guy with great strength. He sustains those blocks well and his hand placement has been good.”.
Then the Bengals drafted two running backs. They selected Trayveon Williams of Texas A&M in the sixth round. Williams led all draft prospects in rushing plays of 10+ yards. He is one of only two draft prospects to have 2000+ yards from scrimmage in 2018. He is on my list of the five toughest running backs in this year’s draft class. Also in round six they drafted running back Rodney Anderson. Anderson had 21 career touchdowns in just 217 touches.
In addition they drafted tight end Drew Sample in round two. Sample is recognized as a good blocking tight end. He also made my list as one of the top five toughest tight ends in the year’s class. He has a tenacious lunch-pail demeanor. Here is a clip of Drew blocking that reminds me of a scene in the movie The Blind Side.
2. Los Angeles Chargers
2017 – Rank: 26, Yds/Att: 3.81
2018 – Rank: 7, Yds/Att: 4.69
The Chargers top two running backs both averaged over 5 yards a carry. Melvin Gordon had a career high 5.1 yards per attempt. Austin Ekeler has averaged 5.5 and 5.2 in his rookie and second year. In 2018 only 10 backs had 500+ rushing yards and averaged 5+ yards per carry (See the table below). The Chargers are the only team that had two running backs on that list. Ekeler was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017.
Rookie and seventh round draft pick Justin Jackson had a decent 4.12 yards/carry and 206 yards. That was 12th best among rookie backs with 100+ rushing yards. In college Justin Jackson and Myles Gaskin were the only two backs that over the last five years had 1000+ rushing yards and averaged 4.5+ yards/carry for each of four seasons.
On the offensive line they have Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung. Okung made the Pro Bowl in 2017. Russell was selection 6 in the 2010 draft. On rushes to the left side the Chargers are number one in rushes of 10+ yards with 34 in 2018. On the right side they have success on Power runs with a 100% success rate. They are one of only four teams to have 100% success on power runs in a specific direction.
The Chargers went mostly defense in the draft and UDFAs. They did pick up OT Trey Pipkins in round three. He is looked on as a developmental prospect but he did dominate at a lower level of competition. On nfl.com they say as one of his positives – Finisher who keeps grinding on opponents until he hears the whistle.
The Chargers did not do much in the offseason to improve their run game. However at seventh in yards per carry they did not need to. Also the rest of the division did not draft high picks in run stopping.
3. Seattle Seahawks
2017 – Rank: 21, Yds/Att: 3.98
2018 – Rank: 5, Yds/Att: 4.79
Running back Chris Carson has been a pleasant surprise as he was a seventh round pick in the 2017 draft. He is their leading rusher with 1,151 yards at 4.7 yards per attempt. He led the NFL in 2018 in broken tackles on rushes with 58. Carson was one of only nine backs to have 1000+ yards rushing in 2018.
Rookie running back Rashad Penny had 419 yards at 4.9 yards per attempt. He had the eighth best yards per attempt among the 40 rookie running backs. He did not start and only got 17% of the offensive team snaps. But when he was in he touched the ball 88% of the time.
Mike Davis was the another running back and had 514 yards with a 4.6 average. He has signed with the Bears in free agency.
Quarterback Russel Wilson had the sixth most rushing yards among quarterbacks with 376 yards and a 5.6 yard average. Looking over the last five seasons Wilson comes in sixth among active quarterbacks in in average rushing yards per game at 33 yards. He has a 5.76 yard per attempt average over that time-frame.
Their offensive line features 2008 first round selection left tackle Duane Brown. When running to the left the Seahawks had the fourth most 1st downs with 48. Power runs to that side came in ninth in the league with a 76% success rate. Averaging the various run stats over each of left, middle and right the Seahawks came in first in 10+ yard runs, second in power runs and third in 1st down runs. The only category they did not excel in was negative runs of which they came in 14th.
In the draft the Seahawks picked guard Phil Haynes in round six. According to this review on BigBlueView Haynes is a mauler in the run game. This is what coach Pete Carroll said about Haynes after the draft – “He’s going to be 340 pounds. He’s a really strong, really physical guy. He likes to finish blocks and knock guys down. He’s got an attitude about him.” Haynes made my list of the top five toughest draft prospects at each position.
Also in the sixth round of the draft the Seahawks selected running back Travis Homer. In his three year college career Homer averaged 6.0 yards per attempt with his low season being 5.9 yards. His career average ranks tied at 11th with Devin Singletary in career average for active players. In two combine drills considered important for running back explosiveness Homer came in second and first. He had a 39.5 (2nd) in the vertical jump and a 10’10” (1st) in the broad jump. He also did good in the forty with a 4.48 (5th) and a 7.07 the 3 cone (6th).
The three most declined teams in yards per rush attempt are as follows.
30. Chicago Bears
2017 – Rank: 11, Yds/Att: 4.24
2018 – Rank: 27, Yds/Att: 4.14
The Bear’s yards per attempt did not decrease that much between 2017 and 2018. However by that small decrease they were passed by as the league average increased from 4.07 in 2017 to 4.41 in 2018.
Jordan Howard was their lead rusher with 935 yards and an average 3.7 yards per carry. Howard’ s yards per carry has decreased each year from his rookie year in 2016 with 5.2 to his 3.7 in 2018. In March 2019, Howard was traded to the Eagles for a 2020 sixth round pick.
Second year running back Tarik Cohen rushed for 444 yards and a 4.5 yard per attempt average. In his senior year in college Cohen was 23rd in the nation in career rushing yards per attempt with a career 6.5 average. That average was fifth in the FCS. His nfl.com draft profile in 2017 was quite impressive. Nicknamed “The Human Joystick” for his ability to make seemingly impossible cuts. Cohen was third at his combine in the forty yard dash with a 4.42.
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky was the third leading rusher on the Bears with 421 yards and a 6.2 yard average. Trubisky was the fifth leading quarterback in rushing yards.
The Bears were 27th in negative runs. They did come in 8th in power runs and 10th in 1st down runs.
Looking into 2019 the Bears drafted running back David Montgomery of Iowa State in the third round. Montgomery is known for fantastic contact balance, getting yards after contact and fighting for every extra yard. His career 4.7 yards per attempt was 52nd among active FBS career leaders. His 2018 4.7 yards per attempt was 58th among players with 1000+ yards.
Seventh round pick Kerrith Whyte had 866 yards and a 65. yards per attempt in 2108. At his Pro Day Whyte made running back targets in seven of his eight drills. His results and what place they would have been at the combine are 4.37 forty (1st), 21 reps bench press (10th), 42″ vertical jump (1st), 11′ broad jump (1st), 4.37 20-yard shuttle (13th) and 7.2 3-cone (10th).
The Bears signed undrafted free agent offensive tackle Joe Lowery of Ohio University. Lowery came in tie for second in Pro Football Focus‘s top-five offensive tackles in the 2019 NFL Draft by run-blocking grade. He made 2018 Mac All Conference First Team and 2017 All Conference second team.
The Bears signed free agent running back Mike Davis from the Seahawks. Davis had 514 rushing yards in 2018 with a 4.6 yard average. He has increased his yards per attempt each year since having only 1.7 in his 2015 rookie season.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
2017 – Rank: 9, Yards/Att: 4.29
2018 – Rank: 26, Yds/Att: 4.14
Second year player Leonard Fournette had 439 rushing yards with a 3.3 yards per attempt average. He played in only 8 games due to a hamstring injury and a one game suspension. His rookie year he rushed for 1,040 yards at a 3.9 yard average. in his last two years in college Fournette had 6.5 yards per attempt both years and averaged 120+ yards per game.
T.J.Yeldon had 414 rushing yards with a 4.0 yards per attempt. The Jaguars lost Yeldon in free agency signing with the Bills in 2019.. Quarterback Blake Bortles was their third leading rusher with 365 yards and a 6.29 yards per attempt average. Bortles was released by the Jaguars after they signed Nick Foles. Carlos Hyde was their third leading running back with 189 rushing yards and a 3.3 yard average. The Jaguars released Hyde in 2019 after giving up a fifth round pick to get him in October 2018.
The run game was good in short yardage situations and ranked 9th in power runs average across all field positions. Their worst ranking was 21st for 1st downs rushing. Their percent of rushing plays that made 1st down was 22% which was 25th in the league.
In 2019 the Jaguars drafted Offensive Tackle Jawaan Taylor in the second round. Taylor made Pro Football Focus’s list of the top-five offensive tackles in the 2019 NFL Draft by run-blocking grade coming in at number four. They signed undrafted free agent guard Bunchy Stallings after the draft. Stallings was SEC All Conference First Team in 2018. He was selected as an All American by the Associate Press and by the Athletic. Stallings totaled 170 blocks at the point of attack and had 55 knockdown blocks. Stallings is said to be a mauler in the run game and helped contribute to running back Benny Snell breaking 1,000 yards rushing each of the last three seasons. Stallings was selected to the ESPN 2018 mid-season All-America team and they had this to say – “He has been a road-grader for the Wildcats. ”
They drafted running back Ryquell Armstead in round five. At the combine among running backs Armstead was second in the forty (4.45), sixth in the bench press (22), fifth in the 3-cone (7.02) and sixth in the 20 yard shuttle (4.29). Armstead was one of only nineteen draft prospects that rushed for 1000+ yards and 5+ yards per carry. In that list he was sixth in rushing touchdowns (13) and eighth in yards per game (110) . His draft profile at nfl.com describes a physical, competitive and fearless runner who will drive through contact to break tackles or finish falling forward.
32. Philadelphia Eagles
2017 – Rank: 4, Yds/Att: 4.47
2018 – Rank: 30, Yds/Att: 3.94
The Eagles had a hodgepodge of bargain basement running backs in 2018. Looking at the 87 NFL running backs that rushed for 100+ yards in 2018 ranked by yards per attempt the Eagle backs came in at 51st (Josh Adams), 54th (Wendell Smallwood), 59th (Jay Ajayi) and 66th (Corey Clement).
Their lead rusher was Josh Adams with 511 rushing yards and a 4.3 yard average. Adams was 11th among 18 rookie running backs with 100+ yards in yards per attempt. Adams was signed in 2018 as an undrafted free agent. The next lead rusher was Wendell Smallwood. Third year back Smallwood had 364 yards at a 4.2 yard average. His 4.03 yards per attempt average over his three year career ranked 34th among 37 active backs who played over those three years and had 300+ rushing yards. Smallwood was selected in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. Following Smallwood was Corey Clement with 259 yards and a 3.8 average. Clements’s 4.08 average over his two year career ranked 41st among 69 backs that played over those two years. Clement was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017. Next was Jay Ajayi with 184 yards and a 4.1 yard average. In his two years in Philly Ajayi has averaged 5.1 yards per attempt for 592 yards. That would be third among backs that rushed for those two years. However his two year average is dragged down to 4.18 and 37th by a lower 3.4 yard average in his first 7 games of 2017 in Miami. The backs are rounded out by Darren Sproles who rushed for 120 yards at a 4.1 average, Sproles was injured for most of the 2018 season. Of the 2018 backs Sproles is considering retiring and Jay Ajayi has yet to sign. Smallwood, Clement and Adams are all signed through the 2019 season.
The Philadelphia run game averages across the offensive line positions of left, middle and right come out as follows. They were 18th in rushing first downs, 16th in negative plays, 21st in 10+ yard rushes and 21st in power runs. They were significantly better running to the middle of the line. Here is a table of their rankings for run routes.
In 2019 the Eagles traded a 2020 sixth round pick to the Bears to get running back Jordan Howard. Howard has dropped in yards per attempt each year of his career. He had 5.2 his rookie year in 2016, followed by 4.1 and a 3.7 in 2018. Howard is on the final year of his rookie contract and becomes a free agent in 2020.
In the draft the Eagles selected Pittsburgh running back Miles Sanders in round two. It is interesting to note the commonality between Sanders and Saquon Barkley‘s last years’ numbers for yards and yards per attempt. Not that Sanders is equivalent to Barkley but he did share a similar rushing profile. Of course Barkley had that profile for three seasons while Sanders had to sit and watch.
Here are the plays of 10+ yards for both players. For Barkley I show his two years and an average of the years as they were quite different.
|8||Saquon Barkley||Penn State||SO||RB||14||46||19||7||5||4||2||2||1||0|
|49||Saquon Barkley||Penn State||JR||RB||13||29||14||11||6||5||4||2||2||1|
|19||Miles Sanders||Penn State||JR||RB||13||37||10||6||4||1||1||1||0||0|
Provided by NFCBeast.com
Pro Football Focus does a nice comparison article of the two and discusses their different running styles. A summary clip is
“Sanders is a punishing runner who gets yards between the tackles and will seemingly always get positive yards. Barkley is a home-run threat who is shiftier in space and out of the backfield.”
Since the two are now division rivals the comparisons of these two backs will go on for many years. It should make for interesting games.
The Eagles signed guard Nate Herbig as an undrafted free agent following the draft. Herbig is a big powerful guard. He weighed in at 335 lbs at the combine which was tie for second heaviest among o-linemen. He bench pressed 29 reps which was tie for sixth among o-linemen. He has good strength and power for power runs.
Here s the data for all the teams Yards Per Rush Att Update. The first two tables are sorted by change in rank from year to year in descending order. Under those tables is the 2018 season sorted by rank.
Here is a running total of teams ranked in the series showing the top three (1-3) and the bottom three (30-32) for each category.
|Yds/pass att||Pts /Play||Yds/Rush Att|
Provided by NFCBeast.com