This article is an installment of a series in which I use my Observational Rushing Numbers (ORNs) to shed light on just how good the 2017 rookie running backs were at carrying the ball. You can find each previous article about these numbers on the series’s hub. If this is your first time reading one of these, please, read a different article. You’ll have a better time there.
I just, I can’t do it. I’ve spent this summer writing up the findings that came from tracking each and every rookie running back with at least 75 carries to their name (in addition to many more veterans)… and I’ve run out of gas. In order to create excitement around the series, I chose to detail basically all of the good and interesting backs first. The upshot of that decision, unfortunately, is that I’d eventually have to slog through the boring people. Among said “boring people” are D’Onta Foreman, Wayne Gallman, Elijah McGuire, and Matt Breida.
Ultimately, there’s just not much to say about these guys. Derrius Guice’s injury made at least one of these sorts more interesting, as I got to put together a surprisingly interesting set of tweets on Samaje Perine last week. Still, we are left with four backs, all who have quite the lackluster or insignificant statistical profile. At least there are different things to say about each of them?
Because it’d feel like a waste of time to write 1000 words about each of these dudes individually, we’re going to switch things up a bit this time and hit on each in one article, rapid-fire style.
(I’ve taken these tracking stats from Weeks 1-14 for each rookie running back with at least 75 carries. If you’re wondering what any of the stats mean in a fuller sense, check the series glossary.)
At a glance, shotgun approach
Four Big Stats and Class Radar
If you like data presented with a heavy dose of sarcasm, stick around.
Matt Breida: Well buddy, you worked hard for your spot on the roster, your place on the field, and you even got 105 carries. However, there is not much film-based evidence to suggest you really deserved those carries… no matter the stat. Okay, okay, I’ll lay off for a second; to be fair to Breida, I did not track his Week 16 and 17 games (as is the case for every back I track, primarily for starter-resting purposes), which apparently were two of his better games (according to Pro Football Focus’s player grading). Also, rushing isn’t the only thing that determines a back’s skill level! Still, running the ball is probably an important part of being a running back (maybe? more on this in the future), and uh, Breida didn’t do that well in at least 14 of the 16 games he’s played in.
Elijah McGuire: OH THE HIGHS AND LOWS. The former: His Broken Tackles per Hit mark (self-explanatory) was second only to small-sample superstar Marlon Mack. Also, his 96.8% Identification Rate (how often a back finds a hole that the offensive line opens) was third-best in class. The latter: His SGY/C (which measures how many yards a back generates on carries where there is no hole to run through) was just indescribably bad. Like… man. Here’s a graph to illustrate:
Wait, shoot, I forgot a data point. Fixed it:
There we go. Look at where LeSean McCoy is on the first graph, and compare that to where he is on the second one. In case you were wondering, the gap between McGuire (35th) and Shady, the next worst mark (34th), is the same as that between McCoy and 23rd. When it comes to limited space, McGuire is the Todd Gurley of being bad. As a result, he barely finished better than Breida overall (measured by RB Composite), despite nice scores elsewhere.
D’Onta Foreman: Solid. Boring and probably replaceable, but solid. He got the job done by making it through the holes his blocking opened (measured by Success Rate) pretty well, but he didn’t really offer much upside outside of that. Also, he’s fairly well behind Lamar Miller in Houston’s pecking order. Aaaand he’s coming off the dreaded Achilles rupture.
Wayne Gallman: Nearly the same case as Foreman, except (a) his SGY/C numbers were misleadingly good and (b) he didn’t rupture his Achilles. Like Foreman, he did his job well, but was, for all intents and purposes, pretty replaceable. Also like Foreman, there’s probably a better rusher in that backfield now, in the form of a scrappy upstart named Saquon Barkley.
Breida: We have stumbled upon this Niner’s single above-class-average stat — Identification Rate. Of course, he made up for it with a poor Hit Rate (how often a back makes it to and through a hole he has found), and salvaged a similarly poor overall Success Rate.
McGuire: The former Ragin’ Cajun is simply too small, at this point, to pass through the trenches unencumbered. His frail frame led to a lowly Hit Rate, which essentially cancelled out a great ID Rate.
Foreman: Nearly the same story as McGuire: A great ID Rate (spotless at 100%, in fact) somewhat spoiled by an inability to hit the holes he found. Fortunately, Foreman’s vision was much better than his agility and balance were bad, so his Success Rate was still well above average.
Gallman: One of my former favorites, Gallman was pretty good both at finding and consequently, hitting, holes. Logically, he was pretty good at taking what his OL gave him, overall.
Hit Generated Yards
Breida: Holy moly, this guy couldn’t make defenders miss. Breaking just 0.10 tackles per hole hit, he relied almost entirely on getting around second-level defenders with quickness, speed, and craftiness with angles. Because he’s a savvy runner, and has decent athleticism, he did, indeed, create a fair amount of gashes (runs where he generated at least 10 yards after hitting a hole), finishing 11th (read: not last) in the class in Gash Rate. Still, the burden was too much to bear, and Breida finished the year dead last in HGY/C (the average amount of yards a back generates on carries where he has hit a hole).
McGuire: I think the gap between McGuire’s tackle-breaking (2nd in class) and gash-creating (14th) abilities is the biggest I’ve seen for any 2017 back, rookie or veteran. I like to use those two supplementary stats as more accurate indicators of how a back will play in space in the future, but in this case, they tell two very different stories. Perhaps HGY/C gets it right here, as it split the difference between the two extreme supplementary finishes, and McGuire slid into 8th in the class.
Foreman: The Texan might have gotten a bit unlucky in 2017, finishing a decent bit better at Gash Rate than HGY/C. Still, he didn’t really shed tacklers that well, and qualitatively, he doesn’t add much in any facet of open field running, so I wouldn’t count on him stepping his game up too much (before considering the Achilles injury).
Gallman: He was similar to Breida, but not quite as bad; he couldn’t shake tacklers, had trouble creating big plays by other means, and sure enough, didn’t put up good space numbers. Consider me disappointed. I heard his new teammate was just a bit better in this department.
Stuff Generated Yards
Breida: As Christian McCaffrey (among others) has shown, little guys can do just fine running between the tackles, without much space to maneuver. But, that doesn’t mean that they all will do so. Breida was a little engine who couldn’t.
McGuire: Same as Breida, but deceptively much worse. Either refer back to the first section touching on his SGY/C or consider that he was the only one of 35 backs who failed to generate a single chunk (a carry in which the back generates at least three yards when the OL fails to open a hole) across all his stuffed carries.
Foreman: He entered the 2017 draft, lauded for his size and alleged power. Although I didn’t really buy into this excitement (my best receipt for this past take is a set of otherwise-trash rankings), I did expect much better from a six-foot, 235-pounder than Foreman’s lowly SGY/C mark. While Breida is 190 lbs. and McGuire is “214” lbs. (ha! haha!), Foreman gets no such excuse. He should have been better.
Gallman: Hey, on the surface, he was actually good at something that I expected him to be good at! Unfortunately, his Chunk Rate (the Gash Rate of SGY/C, without an equivalent BTK/Hit) indicates that he wasn’t actually that good in limited space:
The graph shows that we’d expect Gallman’s SGY/C to be much lower in the future, based on such a Chunk Rate.
Three Big Stats
I will go in similarly-little depth for these units, (a) because this is already a long article and (b) because I only have large carry samples for the 49ers and Texans.
49ers: Pretty good. They provided holes (measured by Hole Rate) particularly well… a collective skill that is much more complimentary to Carlos Hyde or Jerick McKinnon, Backs That Can Do Okay In Space, than it is to Breida.
As for 2018, my mind isn’t totally made up about the unit. First, four guys (Daniel Kilgore, Brandon Fusco, Laken Tomlinson, and Joe Staley) logged at least 89% of the team’s snaps in 2017 — a level of health that’s almost certain to be worse in 2018. Of those four, the first two are gone, as well as their fifth-highest snap-getter, Trent Brown.
After reading one (1) Ted Nguyen article about Weston Richburg — Kilgore’s replacement — I feel good about the new center. After Mike McGlinchey was taken ninth overall in the 2018 Draft, I feel fine about the new right tackle. After reading Joshua Garnett’s blurbs on Rotoworld, I don’t feel great about right guard.
Make whatever takeaway you like from all that. My guess? Shanahan figures it out with the new personnel.
Jets: The line put up pretty pedestrian numbers when clearing the way for McGuire — and beyond McGuire’s carries, both Football Outsiders and PFF would suggest that the unit was even worse than pedestrian, overall, in 2017. Because the Jets dodged injury about as well as the Niners (three players over 90% of snaps, two more over 67%), and given that unit’s collective age and experience, that personnel group was probably producing at its ceiling last year. In order to pull out of mediocrity, it seems that the Jets just need better players up front. Pretty simple.
To that end they added… almost nobody? The only new projected starter is Spencer Long, an interior lineman who had a hand in Washington’s disappointing 2017 blocking. New York also avoided drafting a single offensive lineman in the 2018 Draft. Hell, for that matter, it’s been five (!!!) entire draft classes since the Jets took an offensive lineman before Day 3. (They took Brian Winters in 2013, in the third round. You have to scroll down to 2010 to find an offensive lineman taken in the first two rounds.)
Evidently, the likely ceiling here is a slightly-below-average run blocking unit. But, because there’s nobody really worth paying attention to in the backfield this year (and thus, not much talent to be spoiled behind a bad OL), I’m more interested in seeing the floor.
Texans: A high OLGY/C (Offensive Line Generated Yards per Carry — the baseline amount of yards an OL blocks, per carry, that any back could gain) combined with a poor Hole Rate tells me that, despite an inability to provide their backs with opportunities in daylight, the Houston OL got good push and wasn’t particularly leaky.
This was another crew with pretty solid health, but the experience it accrued in 2017 largely gets thrown out the window, as the Texans bring in three new projected starters in 2018. I feel: good about Senio Kelemete, a guard who contributed to about half of the Saints’ masterful run blocking in 2017; wishy-washy about Jeff Fulton, a guard who did fine as a hole-plugger in Kansas City; not great about Seantrel Henderson, who’s started one game since the start of 2016. Perhaps 2018 third-round pick Martinas Rankin could help out too, but he doesn’t appear to be seeing playing time very soon.
Giants: Despite one of the worse reputations in football, this unit was legitimately strong at run blocking in 2017. It provided New York’s backs with a healthy amount of baseline yardage from play to play, evidenced by the solid OLGY/C mark, as well as the fact that it allowed both Gallman and Orleans Darkwa to match or exceed 4.3 yards per carry on the season.
And that’s probably enough discussion of that unit, since the Giants look to be re-shuffling and slotting in three brand-new O-linemen into the starting lineup — as well as Jon Halapio, who logged just 37% of their offensive snaps. Nate Solder and Will Hernandez are well-regarded by PFF and #DraftTwitter, respectively, and Patrick Omameh has had solid years, from PFF’s point of view, too. Positive infrastructure seems to be there, so I’m reasonably optimistic about this unit in 2018.
If you want to stop reading now, here’s the recap: All of the above players are probably either not good enough to maintain huge ball-carrying roles in the NFL (in Breida and McGuire’s cases), or have been rendered insignificant by (1) injury (in Foreman’s case) or (2) changing surroundings (in Gallman’s case). I made a lot of jokes to smile through the pain and dread of writing 2,500 words about them.
Breida: His sample size is small and apparently he turned it (relatively) on at the end of the season, but qualitatively and quantitatively, he offered so little as a rusher in (at least) 14 of 16 games. I’d be quite surprised to see him turn it around to a meaningful degree.
McGuire: He can break tackles and find holes with the best of ’em, but he can barely do anything else… especially with bigger bodies around him. The same small-ish sample size caveat applies here, but I feel similarly confident, nonetheless.
Foreman: On paper, he has the physical tools to offer a higher upside as a rusher, but (a) he has never actually put them to full use on the football field, (b) he really didn’t do that last year, and (c) sadly, his ruptured Achilles probably means his fate is sealed. Playing behind Lamar Miller, who continues to log many many carries despite not being very good (I’ll probably tweet about this at some point), also means that Foreman probably won’t ever see that many touches anyway.
Gallman: I saw some pretty great things in him heading into the draft last year, but unlike Samaje Perine, I don’t really feel hope in Gallman’s positive traits coming to fruition in the league anymore. He can do his job pretty well, but little else. And when you add Saquon dadgum Barkley to the backfield, for a much higher price than reasonable (again), why on Earth would you settle for a guy who merely does his job?