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Lots of fantasy discussions focus around the idea that one RB might be a better 3rd down back than another RB. Another variation of the same discussion revolves around which RBs get the majority of their team’s goal line work. But like a lot of things football related, perception and reality aren’t always the same thing. Just because a running back catches a lot of passes doesn’t mean they play a lot on 3rd down. I wanted to see how close I could come to actually understanding RB usage, so I broke out opportunities into three groups (see below) and ranked all of the running backs. I was hoping to understand which RBs really are filling out the role of the “all-purpose back

The table below reflects my attempt to come up with three principal components of RB usage, namely: 1st/2nd down work, 3rd down work, and goal area work (inside the opponent’s 10 yard line). In the interest of keeping these things simple, I just equally weighted all three equally in order to arrive at a composite ranking (if you want a ranking where equal weighting doesn’t distort the rankings, you don’t need to go through the work I did, just go to last year’s stats and look at total touches).

The table below shows both raw usage in terms of opportunities per game in each split (opportunities = carries + targets) as well as the share of team RB opportunities per game. Note that because the calculation starts with a player’s opportunities per game and then divides by team opportunities per game, the numbers won’t always add up to 1.0 in the PCT columns. The reason this happens is that a player like Darren McFadden might get 1.33 Goal Area opportunities per game, while Oakland as a team averages slightly fewer than that 1.33 (because they saw slightly fewer opportunities in the games that McFadden didn’t play). Some thoughts:

  • This information is primarily offered for its descriptive value rather than it’s predictive value.
  • Chris Johnson and Darren McFadden are both available in the 2nd round of drafts and both handled most of the work for their teams in the games they played. Johnson may give up some work to Shonn Greene, but the good news is that he was a high usage player to start with, so he could give up some work and still be a high usage player.
  • Doug Martin has high touch potential, but remember that he did give up a good amount of 3rd down work to DJ Ware. Ware saw 58% of the Buccs’ 3rd down opportunities.
  • Marshawn Lynch’s value was derived primarily from 1st/2nd down work and his work around the goal line. Alfred Morris bested Lynch in terms of usage in all three components.
  • Michael Turner didn’t rank very highly in any of the three components, so if ATL really does give Steven Jackson the true workhorse touches, his value really could be off the chart.
  • The Law Firm would be an interesting name if not for the fact that it’s probably safe to assume that Gio Bernard takes some of the touches and the Law Firm isn’t efficient enough to make up the difference.
  • Mark Ingram’s usage was a big turd sandwich. He didn’t make any part of the Saints’ offense his own. How great is it that the Saints used a first round pick on a player that is giving them the equivalent of the Mike Bell role.
  • Note that Ryan Mathews didn’t need very much 3rd down work or Goal Area work in order to get his 20 opportunities per game. I feel like the forces of good and evil are having a battle for my soul right now as it relates to Mathews. I’m not sure how it’s going to end up. I’m sympathetic to all of the criticisms and yet I feel like the negative sentiment has gone far enough that there is upside in Mathews.
  • Even though I think people who drafted Stevan Ridley got more out of him last year than they expected, he still didn’t get true workhorse back touches. He gave up 3rd down work to Woodhead and then didn’t get all of the goal line work either. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t really know what to think about that.
Name TM Games 1st/2nd Opps 3rd Opps Goal Area Opps 1st/2nd PCT 3rd PCT Goal Area PCT 1st/2nd Rank 3rd Rank Goal Area Rank Average Rank
Chris Johnson TEN 16.00 18.50 1.69 0.69 .89 .77 .79 1.00 2.00 8.00 3.67
Arian Foster HOU 16.00 20.69 4.81 3.06 .72 .85 .88 11.00 1.00 3.00 5.00
Darren McFadden OAK 12.00 20.42 2.75 1.33 .74 .71 1.07 9.00 5.00 1.00 5.00
LeSean McCoy PHI 12.00 19.83 1.92 1.75 .83 .73 .76 5.00 4.00 13.00 7.33
BenJarvus Green-Ellis CIN 15.00 18.53 1.80 1.47 .81 .64 .81 7.00 11.00 5.00 7.67
Ray Rice BAL 16.00 18.63 2.38 1.56 .65 .76 .81 19.00 3.00 6.00 9.33
Trent Richardson CLE 15.00 20.20 2.07 1.53 .81 .53 .88 6.00 24.00 2.00 10.67
DeMarco Murray DAL 10.00 18.30 2.00 1.00 .76 .7 .7 8.00 7.00 17.00 10.67
Adrian Peterson MIN 16.00 22.94 1.81 2.19 .87 .51 .88 2.00 29.00 3.00 11.33
Steven Jackson STL 16.00 17.19 2.19 1.13 .68 .6 .78 15.00 14.00 9.00 12.67
Alfred Morris WAS 16.00 20.63 1.25 1.56 .85 .53 .76 4.00 26.00 12.00 14.00
Maurice Jones-Drew JAC 6.00 15.33 1.83 0.67 .7 .65 .53 12.00 9.00 30.00 17.00
Doug Martin TB 16.00 22.75 1.44 1.88 .86 .4 .79 3.00 45.00 7.00 18.33
Ahmad Bradshaw NYG 14.00 15.71 2.21 1.71 .62 .71 .53 23.00 6.00 31.00 20.00
Frank Gore SF 16.00 16.31 2.13 1.25 .65 .64 .54 21.00 10.00 29.00 20.00
Fred Jackson BUF 10.00 13.30 2.40 0.70 .5 .6 .7 34.00 15.00 16.00 21.67
Willis McGahee DEN 10.00 17.60 2.20 1.80 .61 .51 .74 24.00 28.00 14.00 22.00
Matt Forte CHI 15.00 18.13 2.33 0.93 .68 .56 .45 14.00 19.00 37.00 23.33
Alex Green GB 11.00 13.64 1.27 0.55 .55 .57 .58 31.00 18.00 23.00 24.00
Rashad Jennings JAC 10.00 11.00 1.60 0.80 .5 .57 .64 35.00 17.00 20.00 24.00
Marshawn Lynch SEA 16.00 20.31 1.19 1.56 .72 .36 .78 10.00 52.00 11.00 24.33
Ryan Williams ARI 5.00 12.00 1.60 0.80 .56 .54 .51 30.00 22.00 33.00 28.33
Vick Ballard IND 16.00 13.94 0.94 1.00 .58 .47 .55 25.00 33.00 27.00 28.33
Knowshon Moreno DEN 8.00 18.88 1.75 1.38 .65 .41 .56 18.00 44.00 26.00 29.33
Shonn Greene NYJ 16.00 18.00 0.94 1.75 .63 .33 .72 22.00 59.00 15.00 32.00
Mikel Leshoure DET 14.00 17.86 0.93 1.21 .65 .34 .61 20.00 58.00 22.00 33.33
Darren Sproles NO 13.00 9.46 2.00 1.15 .31 .64 .43 48.00 11.00 42.00 33.67
LaRod Stephens-Howling ARI 14.00 8.86 1.21 1.00 .41 .41 .64 41.00 43.00 20.00 34.67
C.J. Spiller BUF 16.00 14.69 1.81 0.44 .56 .45 .44 29.00 35.00 41.00 35.00
Jamaal Charles KC 16.00 19.19 1.50 0.50 .66 .35 .44 17.00 55.00 39.00 37.00
Daniel Thomas MIA 12.00 7.42 1.92 1.42 .27 .4 .78 60.00 45.00 10.00 38.33
Jonathan Stewart CAR 9.00 11.78 1.11 0.67 .52 .43 .38 32.00 39.00 46.00 39.00
Stevan Ridley NE 16.00 17.56 1.38 2.19 .57 .31 .49 27.00 60.00 34.00 40.33
Reggie Bush MIA 16.00 15.38 2.06 0.50 .57 .43 .28 28.00 38.00 57.00 41.00
Bilal Powell NYJ 14.00 8.86 1.57 0.64 .31 .55 .26 47.00 21.00 59.00 42.33
Jonathan Dwyer PIT 13.00 12.69 1.23 0.85 .48 .35 .52 38.00 57.00 32.00 42.33
Michael Turner ATL 16.00 15.25 0.50 1.81 .58 .16 .66 26.00 83.00 19.00 42.67
Andre Brown NYG 8.00 10.50 0.88 1.88 .41 .28 .58 40.00 64.00 24.00 42.67
Jacquizz Rodgers ATL 16.00 7.81 1.69 0.69 .3 .55 .25 51.00 20.00 62.00 44.33
Isaac Redman PIT 14.00 7.50 1.64 0.57 .29 .46 .35 53.00 34.00 50.00 45.67
Mike Tolbert CAR 16.00 4.25 1.56 0.63 .19 .61 .36 76.00 13.00 49.00 46.00
Michael Bush CHI 13.00 7.85 1.46 0.92 .29 .35 .45 52.00 54.00 38.00 48.00
Joique Bell DET 16.00 8.25 1.19 0.56 .3 .43 .28 50.00 40.00 54.00 48.00
James Starks GB 6.00 11.67 1.00 0.17 .47 .44 .18 39.00 37.00 70.00 48.67
Ronnie Brown SD 14.00 4.71 2.79 0.50 .16 .68 .26 79.00 8.00 60.00 49.00
Montell Owens JAC 5.00 8.80 1.40 0.20 .4 .5 .16 42.00 31.00 75.00 49.33
Bryce Brown PHI 16.00 7.31 0.94 0.88 .31 .36 .38 49.00 53.00 47.00 49.67
Curtis Brinkley SD 6.00 8.17 0.83 1.33 .28 .2 .69 55.00 76.00 18.00 49.67
Danny Woodhead NE 15.00 6.20 2.40 1.20 .2 .53 .27 73.00 24.00 58.00 51.67
Felix Jones DAL 16.00 8.38 0.81 0.50 .35 .28 .35 44.00 62.00 51.00 52.33
Jalen Parmele JAC 7.00 6.29 0.71 0.57 .29 .25 .46 54.00 68.00 36.00 52.67
Chris Wells ARI 8.00 10.63 0.38 0.75 .49 .13 .48 36.00 89.00 35.00 53.33
Peyton Hillis KC 13.00 6.31 1.15 0.62 .22 .27 .55 65.00 67.00 28.00 53.33
DeAngelo Williams CAR 16.00 11.63 0.31 0.75 .51 .12 .43 33.00 90.00 43.00 55.33
Delone Carter IND 7.00 3.71 0.86 0.71 .16 .43 .39 80.00 41.00 45.00 55.33
Phillip Tanner DAL 5.00 5.00 1.00 0.60 .21 .35 .42 70.00 55.00 44.00 56.33
Mark Ingram NO 16.00 9.63 0.75 0.75 .31 .24 .28 46.00 71.00 55.00 57.33
Pierre Thomas NO 15.00 9.87 0.67 0.80 .32 .21 .3 45.00 75.00 52.00 57.33
Jackie Battle SD 14.00 6.64 1.00 0.86 .23 .24 .44 63.00 70.00 40.00 57.67
Cedric Benson GB 5.00 17.00 0.20 0.20 .69 .09 .21 13.00 96.00 67.00 58.67
Daryl Richardson STL 16.00 7.06 1.31 0.25 .28 .36 .17 56.00 51.00 71.00 59.33
Donald Brown IND 10.00 11.60 0.50 0.30 .49 .25 .17 37.00 69.00 73.00 59.67
William Powell ARI 12.00 5.50 1.42 0.00 .26 .48 0 61.00 32.00 95.00 62.67
Tashard Choice BUF 8.00 5.75 1.13 0.25 .22 .28 .25 64.00 63.00 62.00 63.00
Ryan Mathews SD 12.00 19.50 0.50 0.25 .67 .12 .13 16.00 91.00 82.00 63.00
Kevin Smith DET 9.00 4.89 1.00 0.44 .18 .36 .22 77.00 50.00 66.00 64.33
Jamie Harper TEN 6.00 3.00 0.33 0.50 .14 .15 .57 83.00 85.00 25.00 64.33
Marcel Reece OAK 15.00 7.60 1.07 0.20 .28 .28 .16 58.00 66.00 75.00 66.33
Kendall Hunter SF 11.00 7.00 0.64 0.55 .28 .19 .24 57.00 77.00 65.00 66.33
Lance Ball DEN 10.00 3.60 1.70 0.50 .12 .39 .21 86.00 47.00 68.00 67.00
Shaun Draughn KC 14.00 4.36 1.93 0.14 .15 .45 .13 82.00 36.00 83.00 67.00
Toby Gerhart MIN 15.00 3.33 1.80 0.27 .13 .51 .11 85.00 30.00 86.00 67.00
Brandon Bolden NE 8.00 6.50 0.75 1.25 .21 .17 .28 68.00 81.00 56.00 68.33
Robert Turbin SEA 15.00 5.60 1.27 0.20 .2 .38 .1 74.00 49.00 87.00 70.00
Danny Ware TB 14.00 0.14 2.07 0.00 .01 .58 0 99.00 16.00 95.00 70.00
Montario Hardesty CLE 10.00 6.90 0.10 0.50 .28 .03 .29 59.00 99.00 53.00 70.33
John Kuhn GB 12.00 2.17 1.17 0.08 .09 .52 .09 94.00 27.00 90.00 70.33
Chris Ogbonnaya CLE 11.00 1.55 2.09 0.00 .06 .54 0 97.00 23.00 95.00 71.67
Mewelde Moore IND 9.00 1.78 0.56 0.44 .07 .28 .25 96.00 65.00 64.00 75.00
Evan Royster WAS 15.00 2.07 1.00 0.20 .09 .42 .1 95.00 42.00 88.00 75.00
Lance Dunbar DAL 6.00 4.83 0.67 0.17 .2 .23 .12 72.00 72.00 84.00 76.00
Brian Leonard CIN 12.00 2.83 1.08 0.08 .12 .39 .05 87.00 48.00 94.00 76.33
Shane Vereen NE 11.00 6.09 0.64 0.82 .2 .14 .18 75.00 86.00 69.00 76.67
Anthony Dixon SF 8.00 2.25 0.38 0.88 .09 .11 .38 93.00 92.00 47.00 77.33
Bernard Pierce BAL 15.00 7.27 0.53 0.13 .25 .17 .07 62.00 80.00 92.00 78.00
Ben Tate HOU 11.00 6.18 0.64 0.55 .22 .11 .16 66.00 93.00 77.00 78.67
Rashard Mendenhall PIT 6.00 10.17 0.17 0.00 .39 .05 0 43.00 98.00 95.00 78.67
David Wilson NYG 14.00 5.21 0.43 0.50 .2 .14 .15 71.00 88.00 78.00 79.00
LeGarrette Blount TB 10.00 4.00 0.30 0.60 .15 .08 .25 81.00 97.00 61.00 79.67
Ronnie Hillman DEN 14.00 6.07 0.79 0.14 .21 .18 .06 69.00 79.00 93.00 80.33
Jason Snelling ATL 16.00 2.38 0.88 0.25 .09 .29 .09 92.00 61.00 89.00 80.67
Chris Rainey PIT 14.00 2.64 0.79 0.21 .1 .22 .13 89.00 73.00 81.00 81.00
Lamar Miller MIA 9.00 5.78 0.78 0.00 .21 .16 0 67.00 82.00 95.00 81.33
Anthony Allen BAL 6.00 2.83 0.50 0.33 .1 .16 .17 91.00 84.00 72.00 82.33
Michael Robinson SEA 11.00 1.55 0.73 0.27 .06 .22 .14 98.00 74.00 80.00 84.00
Mike Goodson OAK 11.00 3.91 0.73 0.09 .14 .19 .07 84.00 78.00 91.00 84.33
Baron Batch PIT 8.00 3.13 0.50 0.25 .12 .14 .15 88.00 87.00 78.00 84.33
Cedric Peerman CIN 10.00 4.00 0.30 0.20 .17 .11 .11 78.00 94.00 85.00 85.67
Armando Allen CHI 9.00 2.67 0.44 0.33 .1 .11 .16 90.00 95.00 74.00 86.33

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