Battle of the Big Running Backs: A Metrics Breakdown

Posted on December 5, 2013

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As fun as smaller scat backs like De’Anthony Thomas are, there’s not much better than seeing a big back run in the open field. That’s the case with this group of bigger backs who may be more known for their flashy, long runs than their propensity to slam it inside. Between Carlos Hyde, Andre Williams, and Jeremy Hill – these RBs average a higher YPC than many of the smaller, speedier backs. And while it may be interesting to see these guys in the open field, first and foremost we have to decide if they play like big backs. How do they do on first contact with a defender, how many tackles do they break? Drafting a ‘bigger back’ that can’t pick up a third and short is a sure way to anger fans.

As always – all games are handcharted by me. Every game/carry is charted for Carlos Hyde and Jeremy Hill. I’m missing New Mexico State for Andre Williams which is furiously downloading at 1 KB/s right now and will be for the next 5 weeks. Anyway, let’s get to it.

Extra Yardage

Here I’m looking at how well the backs can pick up extra yardage, or their elusiveness. YaC is Yardage after Contact. Broken Tackle % is how often a RB breaks tackles, IE 5% would mean the RB breaks a tackle on 5% of his carries. YaC Cap limits yards after contact at 15 yards, so as not to skew the numbers too much.

BBYaC

  • Naturally we’d expect bigger backs to have better yards after contact and more broken tackles than smaller backs, however that’s not always the case as Gio Bernard and Johnathan Franklin excelled at those in last year’s draft.
  • Carlos Hyde is the clear winner in yards after contact. Before adjusting for long runs, his YaC represents more than half of his total yards per carry. His high YPC isn’t a fluke because of the offense he runs in, he’s simply breaking tackles and pushing the pile.
  • We can see a pretty big disparity in Andre Williams’ YaC and YaC Cap due to his propensity to break off long runs on those off tackle stretch plays BC loves. After adjusting for that, his YaC Cap comes out to 2.89 which is slightly above-average in this year’s RB class.
  • Jeremy Hill has the weakest yards after contact in both categories, but slightly edges out Andre Williams in the broken tackles category. It’s interesting that all these backs break similar numbers of tackles – I actually counted 14 for both Hill and Hyde.

Running Style

 BBRunStyle

  • The first thing that sticks out looking at this chart is Andre Williams’ inside yards per carry. Averaging 4.54 yards per carry on inside runs isn’t necessarily a positive for a bigger back. His higher outside YPC from those aforementioned off tackle plays pulls his YPC up, but it’s still a concern.
  • Hyde’s inside YPC too is lower, but at 6.62 yards is much more respectable. However, for a big back his ability to gain 9.72 yards on outside runs is interesting. It’s not as if that number was skewed by a bunch of long runs, 61% of Hyde’s runs were between 4 and 20 yards (intermediate length runs)
  • It’s good to see a back with a higher inside YPC than outside. Hill averaged 7.76 yards per carry on inside runs and his YaC Cap on inside runs was 3.35 – higher than his overall capped yards after contact. However his lower yards per carry on outside runs reveals something you can see on film and that’s a tentativeness when running outside. When bouncing it outside, Hill can hesitate to get to the edge and that doesn’t give him the same outside running ability of Williams or Hyde.

Big RB Situations

Here we have 3rd and short conversion percentage and YPC in goal to go situations. These are the situations where you need your big back to excel or else you’re in a bad situation (see the Dolphins and Daniel Thomas).

BBShortSits

  • The clear winner here is Jeremy Hill. In 3rd and short situations he converted 90% of his rushes while also averaging an above-average 3.69 yards in goal to go situation. Those are both really positive, however when combined with the above numbers on his inside YPC, you have to consider the effect of the LSU O-line.
  • Not pretty for Andre Williams here. Converting only 44.4% of his looks on 3rd and short, Williams looks a bit more like the big back that doesn’t play as such. You can question whether he’d do better on another team with another line, but just look at BC’s line. It may not be a group of 1st round picks, but he frequently runs behind 8-9 blockers with multiple extra offensive lineman. He’s not exactly hurting for O-line help.
  • Hyde’s numbers are pretty solid here. Good to see him converting 80% of his third and short situations. In goal to go situations he’s a little less successful only hitting 2.81 yards per carry.

I’m going to toss this chart up here without comment. These represent the difference in blockers and defenders in the box. Thus, Diff -1 means that there was one more man in the box than blockers for the RB. The numbers aren’t as pronounced here than with some of the smaller backs, but still interesting.

BBBoxDiff

That concludes my treatise on big backs in the draft. I’m a little harsh on Andre Williams in the piece and that’s because of the Heisman/ second round hype he’s receiving. You can make your decision on whether that’s warranted or not based on these numbers and what you know of him. I try not to editorialize too much in the stats commentary, but having looked at quite a few stats and watched every rushing snap from these RBs here’s what I think.

Carlos Hyde is your every-down guy. You can put him in on third and short and feel as comfortable as you do with him on first and ten.  Jeremy Hill is interesting as an inside runner who can push the pile when you need it, but you’d be a bit worried that may not translate to the NFL and that he won’t be nearly as effective if he needs to bounce it outside.  Andre Williams is the big back who doesn’t play big. His speed to the outside is intriguing, but are those stretches that BC runs going to be there in the NFL? I wouldn’t be comfortable putting him in on 3rd and short.

I have to do a lot of self-editing to make sure these pieces aren’t 3000 words long, so there’s a few good stats that I’ve left out.   for those tidbits as well as updates on articles, etc. Thanks for reading.

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Posted in: Running Backs