Targeting the three least efficient rushing teams in the NFL might seem like an odd place to start in your search for a league winner at running back. We remember these backfields being so bad just a few months ago, we tend to think they’ll continue to be bad. That recency bias means that the RBs from these teams have been largely written off. But since RB efficiency is often a drunk staggering randomly across the graph, this is exactly where we want to start our RB quest.
2017’s Least Efficient Rushing Offenses
Here’s a look at the three teams who were at the bottom of the pile in terms of Rushing Points Over Expectation.
One could argue that Seattle is trending in a downward direction, but that also could just be a coincidence, because if you actually charted every team’s rushing efficiency over the past four years, most would look like these lines we see from Tampa Bay and Washington. That is, it’s mostly random; up one year and down the next — always regressing to the mean.
Seattle’s RB Black Hole
Seattle is the most obvious candidate to regress to the mean in 2018, if for only one reason – it will be hard to be anywhere near as bad as they were in 2017.
The 2013 Baltimore Ravens set the low-water mark in recent years with a ruFPOE of -90. Seattle’s -67.1 mark in 2017 was the second worst in that five-year period. With a backfield that bad, the Ravens must have been brutally inefficient again the following season, right? Nope, the Ravens followed up with a ruFPOE of 25.4, the fifth-best mark in the league that year.
In fact, the top-12 least efficient team rushing seasons of the past five years show exactly why we want to take advantage in 2018.
|OFF||SEAS||ruFPOE||ruFPOE N+1||YOY Change|
Every single team got more efficient the following year. But they didn’t just improve – the average year-over-year increase was 59.3 ruFPOE.
Seattle would have to buck a major trend in order to be any worse than they were in 2017. Mike Davis, Chris Carson, and C.J. Prosise are currently atop the depth chart, and Seattle will almost certainly bring in bodies via the draft. If a winner emerges from this committee, he’s going to be a screaming value.
Bucs Need Backs
The Buccaneers are another team with nowhere to go but up, as their -37.7 ruFPOE was second worst only to Seattle in 2017.
At the moment, it looks like a wasteland in Tampa Bay, with Peyton Barber and Jaquizz Rodgers atop the depth chart and the team having done nothing in free agency to address poor offensive line play. With plenty of playmakers elsewhere on offense, and the defense bolstered through free agency and trades, the Bucs are free to spend significant draft capital addressing the run game.
Tampa Bay has already had visits with most of the top backs in the class, including Derrius Guice, Nick Chubb, and Rashaad Penny.
Of the these three teams at the bottom of the efficiency barrel in 2017, the Buccaneers stand the best chance of remaining there in 2018. They’ve been in negative numbers for three of the past four seasons, and unlike the other teams here, they haven’t even had one high-end season with their best ruFPOE mark in that time being 8.5 in 2015.
The flip side is that the Buccaneers run a surprisingly swift offense, having generated the 11th-most offensive plays in the league last year.
It may look like an ugly situation now, but if the team drafts a rookie back in the early rounds, efficiency be damned; that RB should see a ton of opportunity in 2018.
Waiting on Washington
Washington is another candidate to draft an RB early. They were the second-least efficient running team in the league last year, thanks in large part to a poor stretch of play from Samaje Perine.
Perine trailed only Chris Ivory when it came to points over expectation, a mark all the more damning considering it came on a solid sample size of 175 carries. Perine probably won’t get the chance to prove his critics wrong, as there is almost no chance he gets that many carries again in 2018. Chris Thompson is back, and Washington has already been connected to Ronald Jones and Rashaad Penny in the draft.
In 2016, Washington was fifth overall in ruFPOE. They bottomed out the following year, but at least we know a Jay Gruden team is capable of an effective run game.