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2018 RB Class: Breakaway Runs

Nothing tilts a fantasy matchup quite as quickly as one of your starting running backs breaking off a long touchdown run. And little matches the excitement of a new class of elite RBs joining the NFL. Dave Caban combines the best of both worlds as he presents the breakaway run percentage for the 2018 RB class.

This morning I got my hands on college play by data.1 I’ve always wondered if a correlation exists between long rushes in college and NFL success. Does having the ability to break away and race down the field for 40 or more yards signal talent, burst, explosion or any other abilities? While I’m yet to answer this question, I did have some fun looking at the results of the 2018 running back class.

For this exercise, I counted the number of times that the players included in version 4.0 of the RotoViz Scouting Index broke off rushes of varying thresholds. Currently, I have data going back to 2014, so the results span each player’s full collegiate career. I can’t yet say whether or not the results matter, but they’re interesting nonetheless. I’m in the process of compiling historical results pre-dating 2014, and will report my findings after I’ve had a chance to dig into them.

RSI Rank Player Att 15+ Yards 20+ Yards 30+ Yards 40+ Yards 50+ Yards
1 Saquon Barkley 675 64 45 23 14 12
2 Derrius Guice 466 46 32 19 12 5
3 Sony Michel 582 50 30 16 10 4
4 Nick Chubb 752 73 47 25 14 8
5 Royce Freeman 941 86 47 18 8 4
6 Kerryon Johnson 517 26 15 6 4 2
7 Ronald Jones 589 51 32 17 14 10
8 Rashaad Penny 492 57 45 23 16 13
9 Mark Walton 377 31 18 6 5 3
10 Nyheim Hines 253 16 9 7 5 2
11 Kalen Ballage 451 21 12 8 4 3
12 Josh Adams 478 38 30 19 16 13
13 Akrum Wadley 533 37 24 9 5 4
14 Bo Scarbrough 261 20 10 5 3 2

A couple of things stand out. Nick ChubbDerrius Guice, Sony Michel, Ronald Jones, and Royce Freeman posted impressive results that may signal big-play ability.2 All of them posted at least 45 runs of 15 or more yards and 30 or more jaunts of 20-plus yards.

It’s also impressive to see Rashaad Penny and Josh Adams tied for the most rushes of 40 or more yards despite having some of the lower attempt totals. Which brings us to look at the above based on percentages of total attempts.   

RSI Rank Player % 15+ % 20+ % 30+ % 40+ % 50+
1 Saquon Barkley 9% 7% 3% 2% 2%
2 Derrius Guice 10% 7% 4% 3% 1%
3 Sony Michel 9% 5% 3% 2% 1%
4 Nick Chubb 10% 6% 3% 2% 1%
5 Royce Freeman 9% 5% 2% 1% 0%
6 Kerryon Johnson 5% 3% 1% 1% 0%
7 Ronald Jones 9% 5% 3% 2% 2%
8 Rashaad Penny 12% 9% 5% 3% 3%
9 Mark Walton 8% 5% 2% 1% 1%
10 Nyheim Hines 6% 4% 3% 2% 1%
11 Kalen Ballage 5% 3% 2% 1% 1%
12 Josh Adams 8% 6% 4% 3% 3%
13 Akrum Wadley 7% 5% 2% 1% 1%
14 Bo Scarbrough 8% 4% 2% 1% 1%

This is where we really see Penny separate himself from the pack. He outpaces all other backs by three percent when looking at rushes of 15 or more yards, and was significantly ahead of his peers at the 20 plus threshold. Given how clustered the rest of the RBs are, I think it’s fair to conclude that these variances are significant.

Further, he and Adams are the only players to go for 50 or more yards on three percent of carries. Penny played in the Mountain West and faced lesser competition than the majority of other backs but was dominant. His 111 Speed Score was also No. 3 in a very loaded class and fits with these on-field results. While it’s important that we don’t read into these results too much, as we are yet to know their significance, it’s fair to place another check in Penny’s “pro” column.

  1. You have no idea how excited I was.  (back)
  2. At this point, there’s really no reason to identify Barkley. He just dominates everything.  (back)
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