Breaking down the facts and fiction about how and when the NFL running backs start to decline | NFL News, Rankings & Stats
The Cleveland Browns recently signed with running back Nick Chubb for a three-year, $ 36.6 million extension, despite recent semi-finalist extensions not working. The Los Angeles Rams gave Todd Gurley a four-year, $ 57.7 million extension, but had to cut it early in the deal. A similar story happened when the Arizona Cardinals signed David Johnson to a three-year, $ 39 million contract, then traded him under a lower salary cap shortly thereafter.
The Browns’ deal with Chubb could be different. On the one hand, he was one of the best running backs in the NFL, averaging 0.89 rushing yards leading the league compared to what an average running back would have done in the league. same situation – the league’s best score since 2018. More importantly, he doesn’t. Don’t have the wear that Gurley and Johnson did when they signed their extensions. When Gurley was due to start overtime, he recorded 1,042 career rushes in the NFL, while Chubb only has 693. Johnson has had a long history of injuries in the NFL, including thigh, knee, and knee problems. wrist and ankle, while Chubb has only been injured once since college.
There is a lot of discussion on the surface about reduce workloads – if the players at the station tend to regress around a certain age or how a year’s workload affects future seasons. Some of them carry weight when looking at the data, while others do not.
To assess these facts and fictions, we may use Rushing Yards Over Expected (RYOE). RYOE adjusts the rushing yards a running back catches based on the situation. For example, it is much more difficult to gain 2 yards on a first and a goal from the opponent’s 5-yard line than on a third and 15 from midfield.
Now that we have a baseline for evaluating running backs, we can delve into the facts and fictions of running back workload regression.
Fact: running backs give up after their rookie contracts
In the NFL, rookie contracts last for four years (with a fifth-year option for first-round selections). Running backs on their rookie offers usually have some success: they rush for an average of 0.07 rushing yards over expectations, which may not sound like a lot, but it’s better than it gets. pass after that.
When looking at the average RYOE for each year spent in the NFL, Year 5 seems to be when running backs start racking up negative rushes. With the exception of the slight positive blip in year 6, running backs averaged -0.1 RYOE per year in years 5-10, and it gets drastic in years 11-12.
However, there is a strong survival bias at play here. An example of a concept: PPeople often cite Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg as college dropouts turned billionaires, but ignore all the other college dropouts who haven’t reached that level of achievement. In the world of football, this can mean that all the running backs who didn’t reach fifth grade were probably not very good. This means that only efficient running backs make it to the second contract; given this, the drop suddenly seems Following radical.
Usually only good backers make it to year 5, and it’s the backers who earn a negative RYOE. We can see the story unfold by looking at specific running backs and ranking by elite, above average, below average, and bad seasons.
There are many seasons of elite running backs in years 1-7, evidenced by Alvin Kamara’s rookie season, Jamaal Charles’s 2-3 years, and Aaron Jones’ 2020 season in years. 5. However, this performance decreases. as the career of a running back progresses. LeSean McCoy had an elite season in Grade 8 with a +1.21 RYOE / rush, only to have a bad season in Grade 10 with a -1.19 RYOE / rush. A drop of 2.4 rushing yards from the expected drop shows how quickly running backs can fall.
Fiction: Running backs wear out after receiving a heavy workload the previous year
The NFL offseason is longer than most leagues as it spans nine months for most teams, but this free time is needed for players to rest and recover from the damage from the previous season. . Analysts have argued that a transport season of more than 300 for a running back can exhaust the player to the point that he is always burnt. by the time a new season arrives. This does not seem to be the case.
There is no correlation between the workload of a running back one year and the evolution of the RYOE compared to his career average the following year. The enormous workload does not affect them compared to their usual performance. This is especially true when looking at specific case studies.
Adrian Peterson, the running back with the second cumulative RYOE of the PFF era (2006-20), ran the ball an average of 323 times in his first six years in the NFL. Despite such a workload every year, he was able to rack up over 1,000 total rushing yards above expectations and nearly hit 1,500 before starting to level off. LeSean McCoy and Marshawn Lynch both have similar histories, as they were receiving heavy workloads and increasing the cumulative RYOE, but were unable to sustain it past the 2,000 deduction limit.
Reality: For all types of running backs there is a carry limit where we can predict a negative RYOE
We previously looked at elite running backs who were less successful after reaching this 2000 carrier threshold. The graph above shows all types of running backs and finds that 1,500 runs before a season usually means a fall is coming. In the PFF era, there have been 27 seasons where a running back had at least 1,500 runs at the start of the season – only seven of those seasons resulted in a positive RYOE. The trendline is clear once a running back gets that many litters – they usually show signs of regression.
This trend appears to be a specific throwback – it does not appear to follow other positions. We just saw Aaron Rodgers win an MVP at 36 for leading the NFL’s most effective passing offense. At 32, Cole Beasley was one of the NFL’s top slot receivers and even received an all-pro vote for his performance. Conversely, by the time running backs reach 27, they are generally past the peak of their careers.
Fiction: Heavy college workload means running back won’t do as well in NFL
Draft analysts often like to refer to the number of deferrals received in college as the reason they should be drafted higher or lower. A running back who was a workaholic during his NCAA career has more doubts about his future in the NFL, while a running back who has seen a lighter workload is often referred to as ” costs”.
This does not seem to be the case. Nick Chubb and Dalvin Cook both spent years at the center of their collegiate attacks and became two of the best running backs in the NFL. There is little or no correlation between the number of rushes accumulated by a running back in college and their performance in the NFL. Tarik Cohen and Mike Davis being “fresher” did not lead to better performances in the NFL.
Fact: The draft position of a running back is more important than the running back itself
PFF Zach drapkin look at in how the draft position of a player remains relevant throughout contract negotiations and how the most drafted players often get more money despite similar performances.
An important variable in determining the expected rushing yards for each play is the number of defenders in the box at the time of the snap.
The running backs drafted on day 1 (first round) see a much higher number of boxes throughout their careers. On day 2 (laps 2-3) and day 3 (laps 4-7) see the number of lighter boxes during the race. While drafting a running back in the first round isn’t usually good for an organization, having a heavily drafted back in your backfield can actually help your passing game. Defenses stack the surface more when threatened by a running back in the first round, which makes it easier for the passing offense to be successful as it is easier to pass when there are more defenders in the box. .
These Day 1 backers are put in more difficult situations, so by averaging the same yards per carry as the bibs on Day 2 and Day 3, they receive a higher RYOE for the first two years of the run. their career. We can see that Day 1 and Day 2 backs have more opportunities as their careers progress, reaching a negative RYOE around year 5, as discussed earlier. Survival bias plays a big role in drafted running backs in rounds 4-7 as they have to fight to stay on the rost for opportunities and peak near the end of their careers, as all good rushers from day 3 survived.
Fiction: Adrian Peterson should have a higher RYOE than Jamaal Charles because Charles didn’t play that long
When posting RYOE charts of all time on Twitter, a common response is that Adrian Peterson’s RYOE career would have been higher without his longevity, while Charles retired in his prime. Using an effects model with the rollback as a random effect and the number of years in the NFL as a fixed effect, we can see how the average RYOE changes with age and apply it to an adjusted RYOE.
|Years in the NFL||RYOE adjusted according to the strength of the Rusher|
This is slightly different from the previous bar graph showing the average RYOE over each year spent in the NFL, as it attempts to adjust running back strength and only factor in years spent running in the league. It follows a similar pattern to the bar graph, as running backs drop after year 5 and regress severely from year 11. However, even after adjusting for age, Jamaal Charles’ average RYOE is stunning. always everyone.
Charles had an age-adjusted RYOE of 0.79 per rush – Derrick Henry and Adrian Peterson’s ceilings were not close to his average. Marshawn Lynch and LeSean McCoy went from their normal RYOE as they also rushed towards the end of their careers.
To sum up: Running backs typically fall once they hit 1,500 runs and have played five to seven years in the NFL, which means there are several candidates to experience that regression soon (or in the case of Le’Veon Bell, the regression has already started).