2014 RB Performance

Submitted by fergusg on August 24th, 2015 at 10:18 PM

OK - so I know there have been a number of posts on RB performance and who the best RB is (mods - I think this is a new take, but feel free to remove if its redundant).  

I did a little more digging into the RB performance last year to see if I could quantify who performed better.  I came up with the following charts, which I think definitively shows Drake was our best running back by far.  (click to make bigger).  

Chart 1 - Big Ten Opponents only

This is based on approximately 32 attempts by Green, 56 by Johnson and 82 by Smith (Note: see data disclaimer below).

How do I read this chart?

Basically, the chart tells you what % of each RB's rushing attempts went for more than X yards.  The x axis is "X yards", the y-axis is the % of attempts.  Being higher on the chart is better.  Data is limited to Green, Smith and Johnson.

E.g.  25% of Green's rushining attempts went 7 yards or more; 34% of Johnson's did the same and only 20% of Smiths.  Likewise, 18% of Johnson's carries went 10 yards or more. 

Note: Read "15+" as "16 or more yards" (its a little nuance I oversaw when creating the charts)

How did you create this chart?

I basically copied and pasted the play by plays from ESPN for every game into a spreadsheet, then ran some conditional formulas and pivot tables  to identify:

1. Was a UM running back in the play?

2. If so, was it a rushing attempt?

3. If so, what was the result in yards.

4. Filter, summarize, etc

Data disclaimer: The underlying data may not be 100% correct, there may be minor discrepancies, but based on the digging and testing I've done, the impact to the results is limited.  I'd put the confident interval at >95% on the results.

What should I to take away from the chart?

Basically, Drake Johnson was the most efficient back by some margin.  71% of his carries went for 3 or more yards, compared to 44% for Green and 51% for Smith.  The talk of him not being a Power 5 RB seems like nonsense to me, based on the data.

I made also made up a metric I called the explosion/implosion index, calculated as follows: % of carries 10 or more yards divided by % of carries for 0 or less yards.  Johnson kills the other two here...

Explosion/implosion index results

  • Johnson: 2.0
  • Green: 0.57
  • Smith: 0.43

What if you include all games?  What if you exclude Indiana?

The answer is it gets closer, but doesn't change the story substantially.  

If all games are included, Drake still sits higher at all point on the curve if all games are included.

If all games except Indiana are included, Drake sits higher at all but 5 points (9-12 yards), where all the running backs are within 1-2 percent of each other.

Chart 2  - all games excl.  Indiana

If all games except App State, Miami (OH), and Indiana are included (Chart 3), Drake is higher at all points, except 15+ yard (5% of Drakes carries when 15+ yards, 7% of Green's did). 

Chart 3  - all games excl. App State, Miami (OH) and Indiana




August 24th, 2015 at 10:29 PM ^

These don't add up.  They add up to way more than 100% of the carries.  Or am i missing something

For example: you state (in the first chart) that Green ran for 1 yrd on 78% of his carries.  Then you say he ran for 5 yds on 31% of his carries.

That's only two of the numbers on the chart and its over 100% The whole line is 500%ish


August 25th, 2015 at 1:22 AM ^

The ability of Drake to find creases and shift gears/direction seemed more prolific last year to me as well.

Of course, there are important variables we can't really take into account in chart form:  The level of competition and the efficacy of team blocking on each play relative to each of their performances. 


restive neb

August 24th, 2015 at 10:58 PM ^

The problem with the analysis is that it ignores the fact that the three data sets are not concurrent. Drake's carries mostly came after those of Smith's and Green's. How do we block for the effect of an improving offensive line, or changing skill of opponents. We can't know definitively whether the ball carrier or one of the other factors is more significant.

Honk if Ufer M…

August 25th, 2015 at 12:09 PM ^

But don't forget that Kalis said Drake made the line look better.

The stats are too crude to judge a running back with. They can be useful but you really have to watch the plays.

On any given play you can watch the vision, instincts, how he reads & reacts to his blocks & the movements of the defenders & decisions made about going this way or going that way at particular points in a run. You can see the quality of moves or lack thereof. You can see how hard or easy he was to tackle and how hard he fought. You can see how he plays in the clutch & when he's tired & in the 4th quarter. You can see the speed or quickness or burst or not.

You can see how he takes a hit. You can see that he fumbles when he shouldn't have or doesn't when he should have. Mainly, you can see if he gets as many, more, or less yards than he should have on a given play.

Then there are things unrelated to his running such as seeing how well he blocks. You can see how well he sells on play action, how he runs routes and catches out of the backfield.

Green has had long runs on certain plays because the holes and lanes were there, but at the first sign of needing a move or a bit of quickness, acceleration to get by someone, or the ability to jump high enough and quickly enough to get over a guys hand sticking up from the ground while he was laying on his back, he went down. He had a high ypc but the eye test showed he often got less yards than he should have & rarely made extra yards that average backs wouldn't have on a given play.

Johnson, by the eye test, almost always got at least what he should have and consistently found ways to get extra yards that the average back wouldn't have on his given plays. You can say he got more carries when the line was playing better overall at that point in the season, but you can still see what I'm talking about on a play by play basis if you watch his runs and the other guys runs at whatever point in the year. You could also see that he was running better than the other guys in the games they had in common, for the most part.




August 25th, 2015 at 12:35 AM ^

the chicken or the egg.  If you go back and read Brian's UFER's from early in the season, the general feel of the running game is there were holes to be found but the running backs weren't finding them (Green and Smith).  That's not to say the oline was dominating and they were gaping holes, but if Brian's going back and re-watching the game a few times to dissect the plays and he's seeing holes, I gotta believe that there were some holes.  Maybe not necessarily on every running play, but enough times for Brian to make comments that the backs weren't finding the holes.


August 24th, 2015 at 11:19 PM ^

Wow. Well, there it is. I really just hope that our running game performance is dramatically improved, and I think that it will be the O line that determines that, more than the RB. Good gravy, I just want to see us run all over teams again.


August 24th, 2015 at 11:19 PM ^

Hopefully smith can be a good runner who won't break for too many big ones but can still get good runs and Isaac can come in and be a bruiser and green can give either a break

A Fan In Fargo

August 25th, 2015 at 12:37 AM ^

especially when Drake gets healthy. I like the idea of Derrick coming in though later on in the game and busting a few nice runs out. Giving Drake, Deveon and Ty a blow from time to time. Might be a nice little change of pace against any tired D. I don't want to count Derrick out just yet though and lock him in at 4. We'll all see soon enough my good men! The running backs really are stacked. Wonder what it'll be like next year?  

Roc Blue in the Lou

August 24th, 2015 at 11:44 PM ^

My take is slightly different.  If we assume the line continues improving from that truly dreadful early Big 10 start of last season and gains momentum under Drevno, then perhaps a multi-headed monster run game is our best weapon.  I see Smith hitting the line HARD and falling forward for 3 to 4 yards a play, and NOT getting pushed back into the backfield.  He softens up the d-line and, soon enough, LBs and safeties are cheating forward...enter Isaac or Green for a slash through the front seven for longer gains.  When healthy, Drake adds vision and a change of pace runner who thoroughly demoralizes an already grasping defense--think arm tackles and Drake GONE.  Sure, it's a rose colored glasses scenario, but I can dream, right??? 


August 25th, 2015 at 12:08 AM ^

OP, to normalize for OL improvement, I think you should consider plotting similar charts, but have each game as a separate color. I would expect games against cupcakes to yield bigger plays, and overall improvement by the end of the season.


August 25th, 2015 at 12:10 AM ^

But don't you think that (1) the o-line will be very much improved, (2) QB will be much better than DG in the passing game (3) the offensive strategy will be way more creative.....

So then each of those guys will generate greater statistics than your terrific analysis concluded?


August 25th, 2015 at 10:52 AM ^

Drake was more successful under last year's conditions.

I do think, as many here allude, that we've got some different kinds of backs in the stable, and that as the gears shift in a more confident, competent o-line attack, several of them can thrive.


August 25th, 2015 at 12:20 AM ^

Bill Connolly at Football Studyhall has a good metric for rating RBs. I believe Green beat out Drake in that metric with Smith hanging out near average territory. Ty Isaac's lay available rating (2013) is the best of all.

Sounds like it's a dogfight in camp so we should have good depth.


August 25th, 2015 at 12:53 PM ^

Actually a pretty interesting bit of analysis by Connelly. It would seem to show Smith was the worst of the three, with Johnson being more consistent and Green being more explosive. That passes the eye test to me.


August 25th, 2015 at 7:57 AM ^

bravo to the OP for quantifying proof of Drakes superior performance. My eyes werent lying and thought he ran like the man, and id cringe when id hear contrary nonsense. BRAVO


August 25th, 2015 at 9:17 AM ^

The running game was putrid last year when you take into account we gained almost half of our total yards against App State, Miami of OH, and Indiana.  Take away those 3 games against by far our 3 weakest opponents and we were almost as bad as the year before.

The good news is the O line has been together for another year and should be improved.  I too think Drake Johnson could be the answer at RB, he seems like the only guy we have with enough burst to make big plays.  Green and Smith both seem slow, although they can be the types of backs that can wear down a defense in the 4th quarter.  No idea on Isaac yet.  I also thought the O line looked much improved against Ohio State and were able to mocve the ball at times against a great front 7.


August 25th, 2015 at 9:35 AM ^

Our O Line certainly makes some of this data fuzzy.  Drake appears to be the most productive RB we have, but that may be only because he has the elite speed to acutally make something out of nothing while running behind an atrocious O Line.  Drake, perhaps, doesn't need as big of a hole, or a hole to be open as long ("That's what he said!"), or for there even to be a hole because of his speed.  Green and Smith appear to be disappointing thus far, but that really could be that they can't perform because that O Line doesn't create opportunities for them.  If you are coached to "follow the play" and "follow your blockers" and you do just that and no holes are ever created then is that on the RB?  I don't think so.  What I do know is there will be no excuses this year.  We will be able to see what each back brings to the table and how productive they really can be.