Punch Drunk Wonderland

Who Are the Most Efficient Running Backs in the 2015 NFL Draft Class?

Via our friends at numberFire.com.

Is the incoming 2015 running back class the best group to enter the draft in the past 10 years?

Questions like the one above are fairly common when discussing this year’s running back class, and if it’s not one of the best groups to declare in quite some time, it’s certainly among the deepest from a talent perspective. Zero running backs have been taken in the first round in the past two NFL drafts, and this year’s class — front-loaded with talent like Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon -– could certainly buck that trend, regardless of your opinion on running back replaceability at the NFL level.

As the draft slowly lurks closer, it’s time to start looking into some advanced statistics regarding this year’s running back class. Of course, statistical production isn’t the final word in the evaluation of college prospects, but it’s certainly important in the process. With that in mind, let’s get to it.

A Stacked Class?

Before we get in to the numbers, let’s clear through a couple of disclaimers. In the table below, you will notice 15 running backs and their statistical production splits.

“Opportunity rate” is Bill Connelly’s statistic that highlights the percentage of running plays where the back gained at least five yards. The following columns look at the percentage of yardage the running back gained on their relative carries along with the percentage of attempts that went for touchdowns.

For example, 27.3% of Florida State’s Karlos Williams’ carries went for a first down, which was just slightly above average amongst this year’s class.

The data is sorted in ascending order by first name, and the best score for each individual yardage gained split is in bold. All of the data below is solely based on 2014 production — no other previous years are included.

Player School Att. Opp. Rate 1st % 10+ % 20+ % TD%
Ameer Abdullah NEB 264 41.1% 25.8% 17.0% 6.8% 7.2%
Cameron Artis-Payne AUB 303 41.9% 27.4% 14.9% 4.6% 4.3%
David Cobb MINN 315 39.4% 26.7% 15.2% 2.9% 4.1%
David Johnson UNI 287 N/A N/A N/A N/A 5.9%
Duke Johnson U Mia. 242 44.2% 29.8% 20.7% 7.9% 4.1%
Javorious Allen USC 276 39.1% 26.1% 15.9% 2.9% 4.0%
Jay Ajayi BSU 347 36.3% 22.8% 13.5% 3.5% 8.1%
Josh Robinson Miss. St. 190 44.7% 27.9% 20.0% 6.3% 5.8%
Karlos Williams FSU 150 35.1% 27.3% 16.0% 4.0% 7.3%
Matt Jones UF 166 36.7% 20.5% 13.3% 3.0% 3.6%
Melvin Gordon WIS 343 44.6% 29.2% 17.5% 10.2% 8.5%
Mike Davis SC 199 39.2% 26.1% 13.1% 3.0% 4.5%
T.J. Yeldon ALA 194 45.9% 24.2% 14.9% 2.6% 5.7%
Tevin Coleman IU 270 41.5% 23.7% 17.4% 7.0% 5.6%
Todd Gurley UGA 123 45.5% 35.0% 26.0% 8.1% 7.3%
Average 244.6 41.1% 26.6% 16.8% 5.2% 5.7%

Instead of going down the entire list of running backs, here are some key takeaways from the advanced numbers above.

Todd Gurley 6’1”, 226 Pounds (Draft Age: 20) | Georgia

Although Todd Gurley’s 2014 sample is significantly smaller than the other backs in this year’s class (123 attempts) thanks to a four-game suspension and a torn ACL that cut his season short, his numbers were insanely efficient. He finished above average in every yardage gained split, and his 35% of carries that went for 10 or more yards demolished the entire group, as the next closest finisher in that specific split was Duke Johnson at 29.8%.

Among draft circles, Gurley is conventionally the number-one overall running back in this year’s class, but certainly has his red flags, most notably his ACL tear back in mid-November. It’s also possible that his incredible efficiency at Georgia in 2014 was just the result of a limited amount of carries. But it’s worth noting that his 2014 numbers were on 20.5 attempts per game. Plus, his overall statistics weren’t too far off of his career averages that went for a first down (29.4%), 10-plus yards (22.4%), and 20-plus yards (6.5%).

Melvin Gordon 6’1”, 207 Pounds (Draft Age: 22) | Wisconsin

Almost equally to Gurley, Gordon showed very well in these advanced statistics, finishing above average in each split and leading all running backs in percentage of attempts that gained 20-plus yards. Gordon also finished with the highest percentage of attempts that went for a touchdown (8.5%). What makes Gordon’s case so impressive is he was incredibly explosive on a high number of carries (343), and with a ton of attention from opposing defenses like this, where eight defenders are stacked in the box.

Duke Johnson 5’9”, 206 Pounds (Draft Age: 21) | Miami

Miami’s Duke Johnson also popped up as a back with excellent production in his junior year of college. He finished fifth in opportunity rate, second in both first down and 10-plus yard carry percentage, and his 7.9% of attempts that went for 20-plus yards was good enough for third among the group. This is a good example of Johnson’s explosiveness on display.

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K. Smelser About K. Smelser
Kelly Smelser is Owner/Senior Writer for Punch Drunk Wonderland and PDFantasy Sports. Architect of the PDW fantasy football world and general spinster of NFL and Fantasy Football news and analysis. Long walks on the beach, sunsets, and other such niceties are also fine...

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