Somebody is hard at work trying to make running backs matter again.
Next Gen Stats has just released a new metric this offseason: expected yards per carry. The goal is to separate offensive line production from the result of each run, attempting to demonstrate RB’s effectiveness from player to player.
Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde were both extra effective last year, coming in at 6th and 8th, respectively.
As we dive into what an expected yard per carry means, let’s make one thing clear. It all starts with the offensive line, so for part of this new metric it seems running backs indeed, do not matter. Expected yards per carry “reflects the performance of the run-blockers on an individual play, because it tells you how many yards the ball-carrier should have gained based on the situation around him on the field.” That number itself is a direct reflection of the offensive line’s execution on each play, as well as the defensive alignment and their effectiveness as a run-stopping team.
Where the running backs come into play is how they actually ran the ball in relation to the expectation. Positive numbers obviously equate to a running back surpassing what the play call gave him; and negative numbers indicate
Rashaad Penny a misstep somewhere by the ball carrier.
This metric for success has been designated RYOE: Rushing yards over expectation.
It probably wouldn’t take long to guess which runner topped the league last year. Derrick Henry was the undisputed king, the only RB above 1.0 RYOE. Following Henry were Nick Chubb, Josh Jacobs, Christian McCaffrey, and Saquon Barkley.
Chris Carson finds himself in that stellar company, holding a RYOE of +0.52 per attempt, and a total of 145 yards over expectation on the season.
Mark Ingram was seventh and newly-signed Carlos Hyde falls in at eighth, with a +0.48 RYOE per attempt. Next Gen Stats raved about Hyde, particularly because of how bad his Houston Texans were last season:
“Houston’s offensive line helped account for an ugly 3.8 xYPC — the second-lowest xYPC in the entire NFL.”
Hyde’s 4.3 yards per carry, then, were a whole half-yard ahead of the atrocious Texans offensive line. A yards per carry of 4.3 was also the lowest such mark on this list, meaning Hyde did well with what he was given, and is an elite opportunist, if not a truly elite back.
Seattle is the only team with two such runners on their roster, though I would be curious if there’s an xYPC for quarterbacks and what Lamar Jackson’s RYOE might be.
There’s a lot of potential for a running back corps with Carson and Hyde, especially considering that many assume Hyde was brought in for injury protection.
One possible outcome here could be devastating for Rashaad Penny. NFL.com didn’t release numbers past top-10, but some several dozen one-inch runs don’t give me confidence he scored really high. If Hyde comes in as the primary second back and it feels like he does well because he’s able to make the most of his limited carries... awkward for Penny.
You can’t win the game in the first quarter, but I wonder if you can win a job.