2020 Breakaway Rush Scores: Why You Shouldn’t Sleep on Ke’Shawn Vaughn
Image Credit: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Ke'Shawn Vaughn

Nothing tilts a fantasy matchup 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 Breakaway Rush Scores for the 2020 RB class.

I’ve always wondered if a correlation exists between NCAA breakaway rush ability and NFL success. Does having the ability to explode down the field for 20, 30, 40 or more yards signal talent, burst, explosion or any other abilities? Having gathered breakaway rush data from 2014 through 2020, I can now answer this question. For the purposes of this article, a breakaway rush is a rushing attempt in which an RB gains 15 or more yards.

Does A Penchant for Breakaway Rushes Carry Any Signal?

Before we discuss my findings, I have a tiny disclaimer. I didn’t have an abundance of data available to work with as I needed players who recorded three NFL seasons and had available college data — keep in mind, I only had data going back to 2014. This limited the analysis I could perform and methodology employed. I don’t think that the availability of more data would drastically change my conclusions, but it prevents me from considering this the definitive study on the topic.

So how did I approach answering this question? I popped into the RotoViz Screener and searched for all RBs with careers starting in 2014 or later and queried average half PPR points per game during their first three seasons. With this list of RBs in hand, I filtered out those that didn’t or are yet to have played three seasons. I also removed backs that recorded negligible activity in these seasons. I then compared their raw breakaway rushes and breakaway rush percentages to their half PPR points per game for the given time period. This left me with just 46 players — a smaller group than I would have liked.

After playing with the numbers, the most predictive data point I could find was a combination of a player’s total rushes of 20 or more yards plus his total rushes of 40 or more yards. Let’s call this “Breakaway Rush Score.” When these totals are combined and plotted against average half PPR points per game, we see that there is a relationship between the two variables.

Here are the top-20 Breakaway Rush Scores since 2014.1

 
runner Attempts Breakaway Score
Bryce Love 565 72
Donnel Pumphrey 884 70
Darrell Henderson 424 66
Nick Chubb 740 66
Larry Rose 738 63
Travis Etienne 479 62
Ray Lawry 637 62
Dalvin Cook 657 61
Jonathan Taylor 884 60
Rashaad Penny 474 60
Saquon Barkley 649 60
Royce Freeman 937 60
Matt Breida 534 59
Ty Johnson 343 53
Ito Smith 780 53
Melvin Gordon 343 52
Devin Singletary 666 52
Justin Jackson 1153 52
Samaje Perine 650 51
Ronald Jones 582 50

 

Explosion In Context

While this plots a strong relationship — stronger than speed score of the included cohort in fact — I wouldn’t recommend placing outsized emphasis on Breakaway Rush Score when evaluating players.2 The sample is small, and the methodology includes a bias, as it is only looking at players that made it to the NFL and then accumulated some level of usage.  Still, I do think breakaway rush totals can be considered when comparing similar players, and I was really surprised to see their relationship with fantasy scoring. As a result, for players that we feel comfortable projecting as NFL backs and foresee earning substantial usage, it can be used as a barometer while developing expectations. Breakaway rush percentages, that control for volume, carry a similar relationship but don’t appear to provide a better explanation of NFL fantasy scoring than do raw totals.

So to some extent, this is telling us that volume is important. Naturally, the more opportunities a back has, the more likely he is to break off a long rush. But on top of this, if he can produce long rushes with this volume, it’s an added bonus and might be a signal of other traits that translate to NFL success. This is pretty intuitive. On the flip side, perhaps a back that recorded a high percentage of rushes over 40 yards but saw low overall volume, thus low breakaway rush totals, isn’t a back that can be used in common game situations and is more of a gadget type player.

Whatever the reality is, breakaway rushes are a useful way to evaluate whether or not the scouting reports we read on a player are accurate. For example, we’d want to push back on a report that questioned Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s explosion or touted Clyde Edwards-Helaire as the most combustible back in the class.

 

Results of the 2020 Class

 

Breakaway Score

NameHeightWeightAtt20 and 40 Plus
Jonathan Taylor7022688460
KeShawn Vaughn7021456948
JK Dobbins7021767047
AJ Dillon7024784445
LeVante Bellamy6919258645
Darrynton Evans7020344443
DAndre Swift6821243737
Zack Moss6922367732
JJ Taylor6518558431
Patrick Taylor7321751630
Benny LeMay6822152529
Cam Akers7021758628
Raymond Calais6818822528
Eno Benjamin6920757626
Anthony McFarland6820824424
Joshua Kelley7121248124
Rico Dowdle7121342024
Javon Leake7221514523
Salvon Ahmed7119734521
Scottie Phillips6820927820
Clyde Edwards-Helaire6720733620
Darius Anderson7020843220
DeeJay Dallas7021726518
Lamical Perine7121647818
JaMycal Hasty6820537517
Tony Jones7022035712
Sewo Olonilua752323469
Brian Herrien712092606
James Robinson69219353

 

– No surprise here. Jonathan Taylor leads the pack in the most predictive of breakaway rush metrics.

– If Vaughn can manage his way into NFL playing time, he could surprise. Approximately 82% of the backs that fit my criteria and combined for a Breakaway Score of 35 or more averaged more than 10 half-PPR points per game in their first three NFL seasons.

A.J. Dillon’s strong score is just another feather in the cap of his burgeoning hype.

– While D’Andre Swift is bested by the likes of LeVante Bellamy and Darrynton Evans, his score still falls in the 90th percentile among collegiate backs.

– Edwards-Helaire has generated some intrigue as a well-rounded back but has the lowest score of all backs dynasty drafters are looking forward to selecting this spring.

 

Raw Totals

NameAtt15+20+30+40+50+
Jonathan Taylor8849143261710
AJ Dillon8445533201210
Cam Akers58639191396
Darrynton Evans4444229181411
Anthony McFarland24430171076
DAndre Swift43746301374
JK Dobbins670543719108
Joshua Kelley4813019854
KeShawn Vaughn5694330221810
Rico Dowdle42033211030
Patrick Taylor51635231475
DeeJay Dallas2652914744
Raymond Calais22526201286
Sewo Olonilua346209400
Scottie Phillips2782618621
JaMycal Hasty3753114832
Zack Moss67759261465
Eno Benjamin57645211050
Lamical Perine4782914544
James Robinson3542111
LeVante Bellamy586613120148
Clyde Edwards-Helaire3362815752
Darius Anderson4322616843
Javon Leake14521161175
Brian Herrien260155210
Tony Jones3572511710
Benny LeMay52537221275
Salvon Ahmed3452516854
JJ Taylor58445221197

 

Percentages

NameAtt15+20+30+40+50+
Jonathan Taylor88410%5%3%2%1%
AJ Dillon8447%4%2%1%1%
Cam Akers5867%3%2%2%1%
Darrynton Evans4449%7%4%3%2%
Anthony McFarland24412%7%4%3%2%
DAndre Swift43711%7%3%2%1%
JK Dobbins6708%6%3%1%1%
Joshua Kelley4816%4%2%1%1%
KeShawn Vaughn5698%5%4%3%2%
Rico Dowdle4208%5%2%1%0%
Patrick Taylor5167%4%3%1%1%
DeeJay Dallas26511%5%3%2%2%
Raymond Calais22512%9%5%4%3%
Sewo Olonilua3466%3%1%0%0%
Scottie Phillips2789%6%2%1%0%
JaMycal Hasty3758%4%2%1%1%
Zack Moss6779%4%2%1%1%
Eno Benjamin5768%4%2%1%0%
Lamical Perine4786%3%1%1%1%
James Robinson3511%6%3%3%3%
LeVante Bellamy58610%5%3%2%1%
Clyde Edwards-Helaire3368%4%2%1%1%
Darius Anderson4326%4%2%1%1%
Javon Leake14514%11%8%5%3%
Brian Herrien2606%2%1%0%0%
Tony Jones3577%3%2%0%0%
Benny LeMay5257%4%2%1%1%
Salvon Ahmed3457%5%2%1%1%
JJ Taylor5848%4%2%2%1%

 

  1. Keep in mind, my data starts in 2014 so players that logged collegiate games in prior seasons are short-changed.  (back)
  2. By this I mean don’t let the metric override a prospect’s entire profile. Like other metrics, it’s just an input in a larger equation.  (back)

Dave Caban

Senior Fantasy Analyst, app developer, hosts the RotoViz Radio Flagship, auction draft enthusiast.
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