Number Crunching: Running Backs Success Rates

Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports

Who's ready for some stat analysis?

For anyone that remembers the running back success rates, it's coming back.

For anyone that is unfamiliar with running back success rates, you can read more about success rates and their utility with our friends over at Football Study Hall. In basic terms, the goal is to try to move away from simple averages (like yards per carry), which can be heavily influenced by outlier runs.

Here's a quick illustration why success rates are useful: if you have a running back that carries the ball 10 times, goes 99 yards for a touchdown on one carry, and gets zero yards on the other nine, he'll have a pretty nice stat sheet (showing 9.9 yards per carry), even though he did nothing of use 90% of the times he carried the ball.

By looking at the 90% "failure rate" in this case, we are able to see past the raw stats and evaluate how well the back contributed to the team being able to consistently move the chains.

So, what constitutes a "successful" run? A run is considered successful under the following conditions:

  • On first down, the runner must gain 40%+ of the yardage necessary to reach a first down.
  • On second downs, the runner must gain 60%+ of the remaining yardage necessary for a first down.
  • On third and fourth downs, the runner must gain 100%+ of the remaining yardage necessary for a first down.

To put some simple numbers to it, if a runner ran the ball three consecutive times in a standard 1st and 10 situation, he would have to gain 4 yards on first down (40% of 10 yards), 4 yards on second down (60% of 6 yards), and 2 yards on third or fourth down (100% of the remaining 2 yards).

Got it? Good. One last thing before we get into the numbers. I have to give a huge shoutout to CrimsonTideGermany for hooking me up with an amazing spreadsheet to help automate these calculations. These pieces wouldn't be happening if not for that massive help.

On to the data:

Team Player Games Total # Att Successful Att Success Rate Yards Gained Yards Per Carry
Alabama T.J. Yeldon 1 17 10 58.8% 75 4.4
Alabama Jalston Fowler 1 2 0 0.0% 1 0.5
Alabama Dee Hart 1 5 1 20.0% 15 3.0
Alabama Altee Tenpenny 1 6 2 33.3% 24 4.0
Alabama Derrick Henry 1 2 0 0.0% -3 -1.5
Arkansas Jonathan Williams 1 18 10 55.6% 151 8.4
Arkansas Alex Collins 1 22 15 68.2% 137 6.2
Auburn Corey Grant 1 8 7 87.5% 136 17.0
Auburn Cameron Artis-Payne 1 10 6 60.0% 52 5.2
Auburn Tre Mason 1 16 12 75.0% 88 5.5
LSU Alfred Blue 1 19 8 42.1% 89 4.7
LSU Terrence Magee 1 13 6 46.2% 95 7.3
Ole Miss Jeff Scott 1 12 6 50.0% 138 11.5
Miss St LaDarius Perkins 1 16 4 25.0% 50 3.1
Texas A&M Ben Malena 1 12 10 83.3% 82 6.8
Texas A&M Tra Carson 1 14 12 85.7% 76 5.4
Florida Mack Brown 1 25 13 52.0% 102 4.1
Georgia Todd Gurley 1 12 7 58.3% 154 12.8
Georgia Keith Marshall 1 16 5 31.3% 43 2.7
Kentucky Raymond Sanders 1 14 7 50.0% 98 7.0
Missouri Henry Josey 1 14 9 64.3% 111 7.9
South Carolina Mike Davis 1 12 6 50.0% 115 9.6
Tennessee Rajion Neal 1 16 14 87.5% 141 8.8
Vanderbilt Wesley Tate 1 17 7 41.2% 39 2.3

So first off, let's give out some awards. The "Workhorse" award goes to Florida's Mack Brown, who had 25 carries. The "Dat's some good runnin'" award goes to Tennessee's Rajion Neal, as he had an 87.5% success rate (Corey Grant had the same rate, but didn't even have 10 carries). The "Good Lord that's a lot of yards per carry" award goes to Corey Grant. He didn't have a lot of carries, so his 75 yard scamper really boosted his average, but he had several other longer runs to bolster that number, including runs for 19, 11, 8, and 15 yards.

And for our final weekly award, the "Flip of a flipping coin" award goes to LSU's Terrence Magee. Magee managed to rack up over 7 yards per carry, but had a sub-500 success rate. Anytime you see a player with a high YPC and a relatively low success rate, the implication is that the player is operating in a "boom or bust" mode. Sure enough, when you look closer you see that his numbers bear that out, as you'll find odd successions such as: 0 yards, 2 yards, 9 yards, 1 yard, 3 yards. You'll also find that he had a long run of 52 yards, which significantly inflated his YPC from 3.58 to 7.3.

Now that we've gotten all of the rest of the conference out of the way, let's focus on the players that we truly care about. On Sunday, in our initial impressions thread, I mentioned that I really wasn't anticipating doing this analysis because of the "terrible" performance we witnessed against Virginia Tech. Well, numbers are a funny thing, and circumstances like this really drive home the value of empirical evidence. Numbers are cold, hard, and unfeeling. And in this case, they are softer than our own fanbase (at least where T.J. Yeldon is concerned).

Our running game was, in fact, bad. But only when T.J. Yeldon wasn't in the game. The other four backs that got in the game combined to go for a paltry 37 yards on 15 carries (2.46 YPC). Furthermore, they had a combined success rate of only 20%. In layman's terms - that's bad. Like "Charles Barkley golf swing" bad.

The biggest surprise of the whole analysis, though, was Yeldon's numbers. Despite a relatively disappointing 4.4 yards per carry, Yeldon managed a pretty impressive 58.8% success rate. To put that into perspective, Eddie Lacy had a 55.56% success rate against Michigan in last year's opener. That means that despite the struggles of the offensive line, Yeldon was putting us in solid position to move the chains nearly 60% of the time. That's WAY higher than I would've guessed in the immediate aftermath of the game. Factor in that Virginia Tech may have the second best defense we'll see in the regular season, and suddenly the picture for our offense isn't so bad.

--

The plan is for this to be a weekly piece. I'll present the weekly results for the conference's major rushers, as well as the cumulative results for the entire group. Once everyone starts to get into the meat of the schedule and strength of schedules start to normalize, we should have a pretty good idea of which backs are ahead of the pack, and which backs are more fluff than substance.

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