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.
NameTMGames1st/2nd Opps3rd OppsGoal Area Opps1st/2nd PCT3rd PCTGoal Area PCT1st/2nd Rank3rd RankGoal Area RankAverage Rank
Chris JohnsonTEN16.0018.501.690.
Arian FosterHOU16.0020.694.813.
Darren McFaddenOAK12.0020.422.751.33.74.711.
LeSean McCoyPHI12.0019.831.921.
BenJarvus Green-EllisCIN15.0018.531.801.
Ray RiceBAL16.0018.632.381.
Trent RichardsonCLE15.0020.
DeMarco MurrayDAL10.0018.302.
Adrian PetersonMIN16.0022.941.812.
Steven JacksonSTL16.0017.
Alfred MorrisWAS16.0020.631.
Maurice Jones-DrewJAC6.0015.331.830.
Doug MartinTB16.0022.751.441.
Ahmad BradshawNYG14.0015.712.
Frank GoreSF16.0016.312.
Fred JacksonBUF10.0013.302.400.
Willis McGaheeDEN10.0017.602.
Matt ForteCHI15.0018.132.330.
Alex GreenGB11.0013.641.
Rashad JenningsJAC10.0011.001.600.
Marshawn LynchSEA16.0020.311.
Ryan WilliamsARI5.0012.001.600.
Vick BallardIND16.0013.940.941.
Knowshon MorenoDEN8.0018.881.751.
Shonn GreeneNYJ16.0018.000.941.
Mikel LeshoureDET14.0017.860.931.
Darren SprolesNO13.009.462.
LaRod Stephens-HowlingARI14.008.861.
C.J. SpillerBUF16.0014.691.810.
Jamaal CharlesKC16.0019.191.500.
Daniel ThomasMIA12.007.421.921.
Jonathan StewartCAR9.0011.781.
Stevan RidleyNE16.0017.561.382.
Reggie BushMIA16.0015.382.
Bilal PowellNYJ14.008.861.570.
Jonathan DwyerPIT13.0012.691.
Michael TurnerATL16.0015.250.501.
Andre BrownNYG8.0010.500.881.
Jacquizz RodgersATL16.007.811.690.
Isaac RedmanPIT14.007.501.640.
Mike TolbertCAR16.004.251.560.
Michael BushCHI13.007.851.460.
Joique BellDET16.
James StarksGB6.0011.671.
Ronnie BrownSD14.004.712.790.
Montell OwensJAC5.008.801.400.
Bryce BrownPHI16.007.310.940.
Curtis BrinkleySD6.008.170.831.
Danny WoodheadNE15.006.202.401.
Felix JonesDAL16.008.380.810.
Jalen ParmeleJAC7.006.290.710.
Chris WellsARI8.0010.630.380.
Peyton HillisKC13.006.311.
DeAngelo WilliamsCAR16.0011.630.310.
Delone CarterIND7.003.710.860.
Phillip TannerDAL5.
Mark IngramNO16.009.630.750.
Pierre ThomasNO15.009.870.670.
Jackie BattleSD14.006.641.
Cedric BensonGB5.0017.
Daryl RichardsonSTL16.007.061.310.
Donald BrownIND10.0011.600.500.
William PowellARI12.005.501.420.00.26.48061.0032.0095.0062.67
Tashard ChoiceBUF8.005.751.
Ryan MathewsSD12.0019.500.500.
Kevin SmithDET9.004.891.
Jamie HarperTEN6.003.000.330.
Marcel ReeceOAK15.007.601.
Kendall HunterSF11.007.000.640.
Lance BallDEN10.003.601.700.
Shaun DraughnKC14.004.361.930.
Toby GerhartMIN15.003.331.800.
Brandon BoldenNE8.006.500.751.
Robert TurbinSEA15.005.601.
Danny WareTB14.
Montario HardestyCLE10.006.900.
John KuhnGB12.
Chris OgbonnayaCLE11.001.552.
Mewelde MooreIND9.001.780.560.
Evan RoysterWAS15.
Lance DunbarDAL6.004.830.670.
Brian LeonardCIN12.002.831.
Shane VereenNE11.006.090.640.
Anthony DixonSF8.002.250.380.
Bernard PierceBAL15.007.270.530.
Ben TateHOU11.006.180.640.
Rashard MendenhallPIT6.0010.
David WilsonNYG14.005.210.430.
LeGarrette BlountTB10.004.000.300.
Ronnie HillmanDEN14.006.070.790.
Jason SnellingATL16.002.380.880.
Chris RaineyPIT14.002.640.790.
Lamar MillerMIA9.005.780.780.00.21.16067.0082.0095.0081.33
Anthony AllenBAL6.002.830.500.
Michael RobinsonSEA11.001.550.730.
Mike GoodsonOAK11.003.910.730.
Baron BatchPIT8.003.130.500.
Cedric PeermanCIN10.004.000.300.
Armando AllenCHI9.002.670.440.

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