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The need for speed in the offensive backfield

NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Jacksonville at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Friday I took a look at the profile of Eddie Lacy from the speed data available through the NFL Next Gen stats compared to the other Seattle Seahawks backs, and commenters had their chance to weigh in regarding what they felt that data might be showing. In any case, as had been expected, fans had a variety of different impressions, however, as we saw the speed data available on Lacy puts him above the curve of the NFL average.

Just to get a sample of where that falls compared to the top ten running backs in the NFL, and then at the very end I have thrown in Christine Michael (2016 data used since he spent 2017 on injured reserve with the Indianapolis Colts) and Alex Collins for his 2017 season with the Baltimore Ravens. These are going to be presented without much commentary, and simply with the player’s name and the speed chart.

1. Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs, 1,327 yards, 4.9 ypc

2. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams, 1,305 yards, 4.7 ypc

3. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1,291 yards, 4.0 ypc

4. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills, 1,138 yards, 4.0 ypc

5. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints, 1,124 yards, 4.9 ypc

6. Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears, 1,122 yards, 4.1 ypc

7. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers, 1,105 yards, 3.9 ypc

8. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars, 1,040 yards, 3.9 ypc

9. C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos, 1,007 yards, 4.1 ypc

10. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys, 983 yards, 4.1 ypc

11. Alex Collins, Baltimore Ravens, 973 yards, 4.6 ypc

Bonus: Alex Collins 2016 (125 yards, 4.0 ypc)

Bonus: Christine Michael 2016, Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, 583 yards, 3.9 ypc

Now, the thing that jumps out to me the most about these charts is that for the most part, they all seem to come in at or below league average for their speeds. Maybe that’s simply the Central Limit Theorem taking over on large sample sizes, but that wouldn’t really explain CMike’s 2016 data where he clocked in materially faster than league average on a sample of 148 carries. This is something I’ll put on the list of things to look at further at some point in the offseason if I have time for a far more in depth analysis.

However, the one thing that absolutely jumped out to me is the complete lack of speed Alex Collins displays on a play where he runs fifty yards or more. The data seems to show that once Collins crosses the 45 or 50 yard barrier for distance travelled on a play his speed drops significantly. It’s certainly a small sample size of just eight, but six results that are in excess of 52 yards, not a single one of them is above league average. That pattern is seen with Le’Veon Bell as well, and perhaps not coincidentally Bell and Collins both posted nearly identical forty times at the NFL Combine, with Bell clocking in at 4.60 and Collins coming in at 4.59.

In any case, this is certainly something to keep in mind going forward as the amount of hype surrounding high end running backs seems to have increased considerably in recent seasons.