A serious fantasy owner will agonize over various statistics. Even seemingly irrelevant data is fair game if it connects to the player at hand. Conversely some owners may turn a blind eye to certain statistics, particularly if they are negative.
For example, fumbles lost and interception categories might be dismissed from significance because they may be minimal or sporadic. They reason that a couple of fumbles per season, or even double digit interceptions thrown are minimized by the sheer volume of touches or passes attempted.
However, what if there were a negative statistic that was more common than fumbles lost? More frequent than even interceptions thrown? The category is Negative Yards Lost.
Thanks to our research friends at ProFootball Reference, I queried offensive plays that gained zero yards or less.
Last season there were 2,798 offensive plays that resulted in zero yards gained or less.
Those 2,798 plays represent nearly 9% of all offensive plays called in the NFL.
Put another way – a negative play occurred once about every 11 plays. Here’s where it gets interesting.
Of those 2,798 plays, 2,232 of them involved the RB position. This means that a whopping 16% of RB touches (rushing attempts and receptions) lost yards or gained zero – or roughly every 6 touches by a running back. This was a staggeringly shocking statistic.
Perhaps some coaches expect negative yardage? After all, not every designed play gets executed as planned. Yet, would you drive a car that wouldn’t go forward every sixth trip? Would you be annoyed if a light bulb wouldn’t glow every sixth time you used it? Would you want to change your toilet if it backed up every sixth flush?
Admittedly these idioms are an exaggeration just to make a point.
It may be speculative, yet I can’t imagine that coaching staffs would continue to use certain running backs if they were more susceptible to negative yards. Especially since the unofficial goal of NFL coaches is, “You play to win the game,” quoting legendary coach Herm Edwards.
Are some RB more susceptible to negative yards?
The chart below shows RB that recorded 100 touches or more in 2018. It then lists the total number of negative (and/or no gain) plays, along with the total negative yards lost.
The chart is sorted by worst offenders to the best.
|RB||Tm||Neg Plays||Yards Lost||Touches||Loss % per Touch|
Just to pick on a few who are relevant in the 2019 draft rankings:
- Nick Chubb does not gain positive yards every 4.4 touches on average.
- Peyton Barber every 4.5 touches.
- Dalvin Cook every 4.7 touches.
- Saquon Barkley every 5.2 touches.
- Joe Mixon every 5.3 touches.
- Tarik Cohen and Leonard Fournette every 5.5 touches.
On the other side of the spectrum, some of the better backs included Gus Edwards, who had the best average, only losing yardage a rare 13.9 touches.
- Alvin Kamara is next every 9.5 touches.
- James Connor and Derrick Henry every 7.7 touches.
Maybe this is interesting?
After all, it seems that every RB will not always gain positive yardage. Some may also argue, justifiably, that these negative gains reflect on the offensive line, the offensive coordinator or even the quarterback’s effectiveness.
While I agree it is a little unfair to pin this all on the running back position, every April we are reminded that most draft-worthy running backs earn a spot in the NFL because, as their scouting reports will boast, they have a propensity to gain positive yards and break tackles.
Well, what happens when they don’t break tackles and gain positive yards under the microscope of the NFL?
It’s very possible this data has absolutely no impact on how coaches will distribute touches to their running backs? But if you were the coach, would you ignore it, or would you give more touches to the backs that do it less frequently?