Not every back gets to run behind the league’s best offensive
line (last season that was the Los Angeles Rams). So not every back
has wide open holes to run through time after time. The resulting
issue means it would help fantasy owners (and likely head coaches
too) to know which running backs are able to “make their own
holes” when necessary. And who will still be able to run the
ball effectively when injuries inevitably take out starters on their
Below is a ranking of running backs based on their “yards
after contact” per rushing attempt (minimum 120 attempts).
In this study, if a running back rumbles through a huge hole
and goes 90 yards for the score, untouched, his yards after contact
total is obviously unaffected. But if that same back runs over
an unblocked linebacker and sprints to the end zone, his yac/att
will reflect the additional effort necessary to succeed.
This number more accurately portrays which running backs can
be counted on, whether their line is on the top of their game
or struggling to produce holes. The great running back can make
something out of nothing. He might still be able to be productive
even if the backup tackle or guard is blocking in front of him.
Cleveland – The 2018 rookie ranked No. 1 overall amassing
829 yards after contact on just 192 rushing attempts (4.318 yac/att).
His margin over No.2 Derrick
Henry was more than three-quarters of a yard, which equaled
the margin from Henry and No.12 Royce
Freeman. And he did it behind a middle-of-the-road OL as the
Browns ranked just 18th of 32 teams based on Football Outsiders’
Adjusted Line Yards ranking. He’d be a great early choice for
fantasy owners, but for one sticking point … No.4 on the list
is his new teammate Kareem
Hunt (3.166). Come game nine when Hunt returns from suspension,
it’s hard to imagine Chubb continuing to see the workhorse carries
he’ll see in the first half of the season.
Henry, Tennessee – Henry ranks No.2
on the list (3.553 yac/att) and should be given great respect
after noting his running back mate, Dion
Lewis, ranked No.32 behind the same offensive line. Consistent
with the elite “toughness factor,” the 6-foot-3 247 lbs. Henry
produced 149.6 (786 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns) of his 187.8
fantasy points after Week 9 as defenses wore down … and he didn’t.
Sounds like a fantasy playoff star in the makings.
Barkley, New York Giants – Barkley’s
rookie production (3.199 yac/att) looks even better when you consider
how downright ugly the Giants’ offensive line was in 2018. Not
only was he productive in the passing game (91-721-4) as an outlet
for Eli Manning,
but he broke the second-most tackles in the league (56) on the
way to 835 yards-after-contact and 11 touchdowns. If New York’s
attempts to improve their OL these past two seasons has finally
succeeded, there is no telling how good Barkley will be in 2019.
Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers – Barring
Gordon pulling a “Le’Veon Bell” and sitting out the season, he’s
in a great situation with the Chargers. He plays behind a top-five
OL, in an offense with diverse weapons and a quarterback in Philip
Rivers who knows how to use them. His only issue (besides
not having a larger bank account) is that management might think
they can still win with Austin
Ekeler and Justin
Jackson as their tandem and wait out/trade Gordon. That would
be a mistake in my opinion, but mine only seems to count in fantasy
circles, not in Chargers’ management meetings.
Carson, Seattle – Carson broke the
most tackles of any running back last season (58) en route to
a surprising 1,151 rushing yards and nine touchdowns behind an
improving, though still not top-10, Seahawks offensive line. Last
season’s three-man “RBBC” is down to two with Mike
Davis’ trade to Chicago and Carson (2.960) should grab the
majority of the workload over Rashaad
Penny (2.55). Like Henry, Carson was at his best down the
stretch, posting 654 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in seven
games after their bye (Week 10).
McCoy, Buffalo – With little threat
from the passing game, McCoy didn’t win the hearts of fantasy
owners and Bills’ fans with his production. Of course, given the
30th-best OL, a dearth of receivers and a rookie quarterback to
scare defensive coordinators, it wasn’t a big surprise. McCoy
posted the worst rushing yardage total (514) and rushing touchdown
total (3) of his 10-year career. His game was always speed and
elusiveness, breaking tackles is not his forte. Now slowing down
at age 31 with 2,346 carries behind him, he can’t be trusted to
be a viable starter for fantasy owners.
Fournette, Jacksonville – Fournette
is a solidly built guy (6-foot, 228 lbs.), so his lack of production
after contact (282 yards) is a bit of a surprise (2.122). Even
in 2017 when he ran for over 1,000 yards, he wasn’t much better
(2.343). The threat of a passing game with Nick
Foles instead of Blake
Bortles should help, but if Fournette can’t produce after
the first hit then running behind the weak Jacksonville run-blocking
unit will likely make for another disappointing season.
Williams, Green Bay – Running behind
the same top-10 Packers OL as Aaron
Jones, Williams couldn’t produce anything close to Jones’
results (2.198 vs. 2.722). I believe management will finally figure
out what the numbers say, that Jones is the better running back.
Johnson, Arizona – An unimaginative
offensive scheme and a rookie quarterback conspired against Johnson
last season. He’ll still have a rookie quarterback under center
in 2019, but this one should enhance Johnson’s talents. Having
seen how Lamar
Jackson’s running helped the 2018 Ravens’ running back corps
(3.51 ypc behind Joe
Flacco and 5.41 under Jackson), I think Kyler
Murray does the same for Johnson. However, don’t go overboard,
as the 2016 version of Johnson (331.8 fantasy points) was greatly
enhanced by extreme volume (373 touches) and that level is unlikely
to be repeated. His yards-after-contact in 2016 was just 2.293.
Lindsay, Denver – The rookie was
the star of the offense in 2018, but he didn’t produce those numbers
by running over people (2.292 yac/att) he went around them. Fortunately,
the Broncos’ OL opened up plenty of holes (ranked 6th). Interestingly,
behind the same line, Freeman ranked 12th overall (2.777 yac/att),
18 spots ahead of Lindsay. Perhaps that’s why we keep hearing
whispers of an RBBC situation despite Lindsay’s eye-opening 2018
results (192-1037-9). Be careful of overvaluing Lindsay.