2016 Yards Created Landing Page

Rookie Profiles:

CJ Prosise

Kenneth Dixon

Kenyan Drake

Derrick Henry

Ezekiel Elliott

Breakdowns: 

2016 Rookie RBs – Rotoworld

Podcasts: 

Dynasty RedZone

Dynasty League Football

Numbers Game Podcast

DFS Power Hour

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PPR Re-Draft Tiers (Updated: 9/4/16)

Over the past three months I have completed dozens of drafts and built numerous teams from different angles.

Last year, a good deal of my MFL10 (best ball) teams faltered because I hammered running backs early in literally the worst year ever to do so. I’ve learned from my poor diversification this year and have decided to take multiple approaches in team building. I have drafted balanced teams, full-on zero running back squads, TE-early rosters, TE-heavy teams and one QB-early squad.

However, I keep running into one common theme in draft rooms: Tight ends are very mispriced. Over the past three seasons, 6.7 tight ends on average outscore the cumulative WR30 in PPR points. Just 2-3 tight ends are off the board before the WR30 in MFL10s (PPR scoring). I have taken two tight ends in the first seven rounds multiple times to expose this inefficiency.

While these tiers do not have specific overall ranks attached to them, I like to group players in pockets based on market value.

Here is a download link if you would prefer to print out the Tiers sheet. 

Note: If multiple players are in the same tier, it means I value them similarly. All of the tiers below are with PPR-scoring in mind. The positional number on the right-hand side is the consensus FantasyPros’ ADP. Finally, a red highlight on a particular player means I am much lower on him than the consensus; a green highlight shows I am a lot higher on him than the market is.

I will update the link embedded below a few times leading up to September 8th:

Derrick Henry: The Exception To Every Rule

Some things in life are outliers. Not only do these things randomly and sporadically occur, they make us humans feel, well, rather human. Outliers make us feel uncomfortable and we constantly search for reasons or lessons to explain them.

What does football, data, evolution, biology all have in common? They are all prone to outliers. Everything can not be explained. We can’t escape the unexplainable, no matter how hard we try. The thing is, not all outliers are bad. Just because we can’t fully justify an event — or in this case, a player — does not automatically make the event (or player) abominable.

Titans’ rookie running back Derrick Henry is an outlier.

To be honest, I have been sitting on this article, unfinished, for nearly three weeks. I was searching for a direction to take the piece and a way to fully interpret Henry’s data. Now that some time has passed since the Titans surprisingly took Henry in the second round, it’s time to take a plunge into Henry’s Yards Created data.

Note: If this is your first time reading Yards Created, please check out the introductory piece where I lay out the entire process in detail here.

Games Sampled 

Gm Att. ruYds ruTDs Rec ReYds reTDs
Auburn 46 271 1 0 0 0
Tx AM 32 236 2 1 18 0
UGA 26 148 1 0 0 0
Ole Miss 23 127 1 5 39 0
Mich St. 20 75 2 1 -6 0

With 2,219 rushing yards in 2015, it’s pretty hard to find a hole in Henry’s traditional game logs. He carried the rock 18 or more times in 12 of the Crimson Tide’s 15 games and had 10 games of 100-plus yards rushing. Henry’s 28 rushing touchdown’s tied Terry Metcalf, Willis McGahee, Toby Gerhart and Jay Ajayi for the eighth on the single-season rushing touchdown list. In a true “video game-like” fashion, Henry scored at least one touchdown in every game in 2015.

Alabama’s Yards Blocked and Derrick Henry’s Yards Created

Per Att. Data Yards Blocked/Att. Yards Created/Att.
Total Attempts: 150 1.14 4.02

Of the eight running backs in the 2016 rookie class I have completed for Yards Created so far, Derrick Henry’s Yards Created per attempt is the lowest:

Name Yards Created/Att.
Kenyan Drake* 6.11
Ezekiel Elliott 5.98
C.J. Prosise 4.90
Jordan Howard 4.70
Paul Perkins 4.61
Devontae Booker 4.43
Kenneth Dixon 4.14
Derrick Henry 4.02

Because this project is still in it’s infancy, I don’t have a great leaping point to explain Henry’s low data point. Alabama’s offensive line owns the fourth highest Yards Blocked per attempt in the eight finished samples and the Crimson Tide’s offensive line ranked above average (24th of 128) in Football Outsiders’ Opportunity Rate statistic that measures “the percentage of carries that gain at least five yards”.

However, Henry is third in this class (so far) only to Ezekiel Elliott and Kenyan Drake in something that may be unexpected: Yards Created on outside runs per attempt.

Run Type Data

Inside% Outside% Counter% Toss% Other%
74.0% 19.3% 0.0% 6.0% 0.0%

And here is Alabama’s formation type on Henry’s rush attempts:

Shotgun/Pistol Under Center
71.3% 28.7%

While Henry ran nearly 3-of-4 runs inside, he was incredibly productive on outside attempts. Alabama’s offensive line averaged more Yards Blocked per attempt on outside runs, too (1.08 on inside runs versus 1.72 on outside runs).

Henry created a robust 7.03 yards per attempt on outside runs (third best) versus 3.28 yards per attempt on inside runs (2nd worst). Below is a full breakdown of Yards Created on inside and outside runs for the running backs I have finished. It’s sorted by charted attempts:

Name Attempts YC In/Att YC Out/Att
D. Henry 150 3.28 7.03
D. Booker 145 4.81 3.14
J. Howard 110 4.36 5.88
E. Elliott 108 5.98 7.63
K. Dixon 92 3.02 5.54
P. Perkins 85 4.59 4.71
C.J. Prosise 84 3.70 5.36
K. Drake 37 5.77 7.53

Henry’s down numbers on inside attempts are a little worrisome, but I do think the sheer number of times Alabama’s forced Henry up the middle has something to do with the low point. If anything, this should dispel qualms that Henry is “limited” to just being an inside runner.

Missed Tackles Forced (Rushing)

MT Power/Att. MT Elusiveness/Att. MT Speed/Att.
0.19 0.05 0.07

And here are Derrick Henry’s missed tackles forced receiving on a per target and opportunity (targets plus carries) basis:

Missed Tackles Forced (Receiving) and Missed Tackles Forced Per Opportunity

MT Power/Tgt MT Elusive/Tgt MT Speed/Tgt MT/Opp.
0.25 0.13 0.25 0.316

There are no surprises here. Henry’s 96th percentile weight-adjusted Speed Score makes him a one man demolition team in the open field. Any attempt to tackle him above the waist after he gets a head of steam is completely and utterly futile.

The best way I can describe Henry’s running style is through my favorite childhood game, Mario Kart. Henry is essentially a mix of Bowser’s brute force, speed and strength paired with the “star” power up that allows you eviscerate your opponents without batting an eye.

Derrick Henry is an outlier, but he also tests the limits of human physics. 84% of Henry’s total missed tackles forced came from either power (60%) or speed (24%).

Route/Target Data plus Average Depth of Target

Routes/G Targets/G aDOT
4.40 1.60 -1.88

And here is where Henry ran his routes from:

Backfield Route% Split Wide%
100.0% 0.0%

We don’t have to spend much time here. Every scouting report and pre/post-draft article on the internet mentions Henry’s lack of pass catching prowess at Alabama. It’s not a secret that Henry only caught 17 balls in 39 career games with the Crimson Tide. Instead, we’ll spend a little time more time on what he was acutally asked to do at Alabama below.

Route Type

Route Occurrences
Check/Release 40.9%
Flat 27.3%
Screen 31.8%

My main concern on Henry isn’t if Henry can catch passes out of the backfield (he can) but whether or not he’s a natural receiver. Alabama did not ask Henry to run routes often (4.4 times per-game) and did not ask him to run many different types of routes. As you can see from the table above, all of Henry’s routes were near the line of scrimmage and essentially demanded him to run a few yards and turn around.

He’s a rookie and no running back is without flaws, but Henry’s main source of improvement in his first two seasons must be on passing downs. He’s a solid pass blocker (more on that below), but I imagine he’ll be a two-down back if he can’t diversify his skill-set in the passing game.

To be clear, Henry is not a liability as a receiver and I am sort of willing to take his lack of production with a grain of salt. Alabama did not ask him to run many routes in their offense, but that does not mean he can’t ever become a proficient pass catching back.

Pass Protection

Pass Pro Att. Pass Pro Execution %
28 71.4%

Henry’s Pass Protection Execution percentage (PPE%), ranks tied for fifth (of 8 so far) in the class. He’s obviously a stonewall of a human being and his massive frame gives him the ability to stop blitzing linebackers or defensive ends in their tracks. Like most running backs coming into the NFL, this is still an area that needs minor improvement.

The Terminator

The Tennessee Titans selecting Henry in the second round two months after trading for and giving DeMarco Murray $12.5 million in guaranteed money was, at the very least, not expected.

However, Murray is 28 and has nearly 1,400 career touches on the odometer. The Titans are also committing to an “exotic smashmouth” style of offense that could only be dreamed up by a coach with the name of “Mike Mularkey”.

In any event, I really don’t know how the Titans will split the running back workload in Tennessee. Murray could very well start the season as the No. 1 with Henry mixing in for 10-12 carries per-game. It’s also May. Teams don’t start minicamps until mid-June.

I do know that even in a prestigious college conference like the SEC, Henry was a man amongst boys on nearly every carry. Even though he is an outlier and doesn’t fit the typical NFL mold of running backs, Henry’s rushing ability is a welcomed addition to the league. His career arc — through success or failure — will be one to admire.

Like RotoViz and FantasyLabs’ Matthew Freedman has mentioned, regardless of what transpires in the coming years, Henry’s college career was nothing short of a missing scene from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator series. Henry is the machine.

Ezekiel Elliott is Primed For Success in Dallas

There is no such thing as a “generational talent” at running back.

Perhaps I’m being shortsighted, but a “generational” event infers that it happens so infrequently, that it only happens once every 20-35 years.

Reggie Bush was a “can’t miss” prospect in 2006. Adrian Peterson was considered a “generational talent” literally one year later. Darren McFadden got the same treatment one year after Peterson. We had to wait a few more years, but then we finally got another “generational” back in 2012 with Trent Richardson. Three years after Richardson, Todd Gurley was hailed as “the most talented player in the 2015 draft“.

All of this is to say: Ezekiel Elliott is a very good running back capable of dominating at the NFL level. Perhaps you will be further convinced of that after reading this article.

But, as a football community, let’s stop acting as if these very talented running backs don’t come around often. They do. In fact, by my math, we get a “generational” talent at running back a little more than once every two years in the NFL. And Ezekiel Elliott is one of them.

On to the fun stuff.

The economics of drafting a running back in the first round aside, there is no denying the Dallas Cowboys desperately want to pound the rock behind their stellar offensive line. The Cowboys’ line has ranked 6th, 1st and 4th in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards metric in the past three seasons and have fostered 9th and 2nd place finishes in total team rushing yards in the past two years.

We know the draft capital that was spent. We know the hype is in place. We know that Dallas sets up well to have an incredible running game. What does the Yards Created data say about “Zeke”?

Note: If this is your first time reading Yards Created, please check out the introductory piece where I lay out the entire process in detail here.

Games Sampled 

Gm Att ruYds ruTDs Rec ReYds reTDs
VT 11 122 1 2 16 0
PSU 27 153 1 4 21 0
Mich. 30 214 2 2 7 0
ND 27 149 4 1 30 0
Mary 21 106 2 6 47 0

I grant you that there aren’t really any “bad games” in Elliott’s Yards Created sample. It wasn’t for a lack of trying to find holes in Elliott’s game log. In 2015, he became the eighth player since 2000 to have 12 or more games of 100+ yards rushing and became one of five running backs since 2000 to have 10 games with 100+ yards rushing, one rushing touchdown and at least one reception in a single season.

Elliott’s final season production is actually probably better than most are selling.

Ohio State’s Yards Blocked and Ezekiel Elliott’s Yards Created

Per Att. Data Yards Blocked/Att. Yards Created/Att.
Total Attempts: 108 1.34 5.98

Let’s take a step back here.

For all the glory Elliott deservedly gets, Ohio State had one of the best offensive lines in college football in 2015. They ranked seventh (of 128 programs) in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards and — of the running backs I have completed for Yards Created — have the best average Yards Blocked per attempt in the 2016 class.

In the same vein, Elliott’s Yards Created per attempt numbers are lightyears above the 2016 class. How good are they? Here’s a breakdown of every running back I have completed so far (note: Kenyan Drake‘s sample was only 37 carries large):

Name YC/Att.
Kenyan Drake* 6.11
Ezekiel Elliott 5.98
C.J. Prosise 4.90
Paul Perkins 4.61
Devontae Booker 4.43
Kenneth Dixon 4.14
Derrick Henry 4.02

Excluding Kenyan Drake, Elliott’s 5.98 Yards Created per attempt is a full yard more than the next closest running back in the 2016 draft class. That speaks for itself about the breed of player Elliott is — even against the backdrop of this year’s average rookie running back class.

Run Type Data

Inside% Outside% Counter% Toss% Other%
79.63% 14.81% 0.93% 2.78% 1.85%

And here are the Buckeyes’ formation type on Elliott’s rush attempts:

Shotgun/Pistol Under Center
100.0% 0.0%

Ohio State’s spread offense predicates on inside zone concepts that play perfectly to the tune of Elliott’s aggressive running style.

Per NFLSavant, 37.4% of Dallas’ runs over the past two seasons went either up the middle or behind the left or right guard and the remaining 62.6% went off-tackle or off-end.

While Elliott is accustomed to inside-zone at Ohio State, he created a preposterous 7.63 yards per attempt on his 16 charted outside runs. That is the best yards created per outside attempt in the class to-date. Elliott’s 5.98 yards created on his 86 charted inside runs was also the best in the class.

Whether Dallas continues running off-tackle consistently (namely the left side of the offensive line), Elliott demonstrated simply unmatched ability to create on his own behind a powerful offensive at Ohio State.

Missed Tackles Forced (Rushing)

MT Power/Att. MT Elusiveness/Att. MT Speed/Att.
0.15 0.14 0.09

And here are Ezekiel Elliott’s missed tackles forced on a per target and per opportunity (targets plus carries) basis:

Missed Tackles Forced (Receiving) and Missed Tackles Forced Per Opportunity

MT Power/Tgt MT Elusive/Tgt MT Speed/Tgt MT/Opp.
0.07 0.20 0.00 0.366

Ezekiel Elliott might not have the extreme elusiveness of Kenneth Dixon but his 93rd percentile weight adjusted Speed Score gives him massive strength on his 225lbs frame. However, his vertical (22nd percentile) and broad (48th percentile) jumps from the NFL Combine leave a bit to be desired.

If anything, Elliott’s burst score (weighted vertical and broad jumps) is his lone attribute that isn’t above average. I’m not willing to completely cast it off completely, but his stellar weight-adjusted speed and ability to create yards on his own shrugs aside any combine related burst concerns.

Route/Target Data plus Average Depth of Target

Routes/G Targets/G aDOT
4.60 3.00 -1.36

Here is where Elliott ran his routes from:

Backfield Route% Split Wide%
91.30% 8.70%

Objectively, Elliott did not put up massive numbers as a receiving back at Ohio State but his somewhat limited sample of routes and targets per-game points to a running back that must only be described as superb:

Route Type

Route Occurrences
Check/Release 21.7%
Flat 47.8%
Curl 13.0%
Swing 17.4%

Of the seven completed Yards Created samples in the 2016 class to-date, Elliott (5.26) finished just behind Kenyan Drake (5.74) and Kenneth Dixon (5.36) in yards gained per pass route.

Again, his 2.1 receptions and 15.8 receiving yards per-game is directly tethered to seeing just 3 targets per-game (on 4.6 routes) — but he did have at least one reception all but two of the Buckeyes’ 13 games in 2015.

The floor as a receiver is clear and Elliott should be more than able to handle Dallas’ passing game work early on. It’s worth noting that in the last two seasons Tony Romo played 15 or more games (2013 and 2014), DeMarco Murray averaged 4.36 targets per-game as a member of the Cowboys.

Pass Protection

Pass Pro Att. Pass Pro Execution %
17 94.12%

During the early stages of this Yards Created project, I have noticed that the main weakness of nearly every running back coming out of college and transitioning into the NFL is in pass protection.

Except for Ezekiel Elliott.

On his 17 charted pass protection attempts, Elliott allowed just one quarterback pressure/hurry. The 2016 class average to-date among completed Yards Created samples is 76.3% and the next closest back in pass protection execution percentage (PPE%) is Devontae Booker (85.7%). No other back besides Elliott and Booker have PPE percentages above 75%.

Conclusion

Outside of slightly below average jumping ability, I struggle to find any warts in Elliott’s overall game. He has uncanny ability to create yards on his own paired with elite field-vision to read blocks and generate extra yardage off of them. In terms of team fit, Elliott’s match in Dallas is unparalleled.

In this running back class, each player has their own set of unique issues, sans Elliott. No prospect is a proverbial unicorn, but granted everything goes well in his development this summer and in OTAs the sky for the soon-to-be 21-year-old is limitless in Dallas.

Making Sense of Kenyan Drake’s Small College Sample

I was a little surprised when the Dolphins selected Kenyan Drake as the third running back off of the board in the 2016 NFL Draft at No. 73 overall.

It’s not that Drake wasn’t worthy of the pick, but it was the fact that the ‘Fins took him over the likes of Kenneth Dixon, C.J. Prosise, Paul Perkins, Jordan Howard and Devontae Booker that made me turn my head. Maybe Drake’s selection at that point in the draft highlights how the NFL values prospects from the SEC (or top-5 programs in general), no matter the short- or long-term production. The SEC lead all college conferences in total players selected for the 10th straight year in 2016.

Kenyan Drake had just 233 career college carries in his four years at Alabama, thanks in large part to an injury shortened 2014 season (broken leg). To put that in perspective, former ‘Bama teammate Derrick Henry had an absurd 395 carries in 2015 alone.

So, we’ll be working with an incredibly small sample for the first time in Yards Created’s very short history. Nevertheless, what can we learn from Kenyan Drake’s five game sample from 2013 to 2015?

Note: If this is your first time reading Yards Created, please check out the introductory piece where I lay out the entire process in detail here.

Games Sampled 

Unfortunately, due to Kenyan Drake’s overall small career workload and limited game selection on DraftBreakdown, we have to settle for five games over the past three collegiate seasons (2013-2015).

Gm Att ruYds ruTDs Rec reYds reTDs
WIS ’15 10 77 1 2 48 0
UF ’15 4 14 0 3 16 0
MSU ’15 4 60 0 3 5 0
UF ’14 4 15 0 1 87 1
Ole Miss ’13 12 99 1 1 -1 0

Alabama’s Yards Blocked and Kenyan Drake’s Yards Created

Per Att. Data Yards Blocked/Att. Yards Created/Att.
Total Attempts: 37 1.26 6.11

First, a word of caution: 37 rush attempts is by far the fewest amount of carries I have used to-date in Yards Created. Overall, we just don’t have much of a sample to work with for Drake and this small sample will illuminate his big plays.

For illustration, 58.4% of Drake’s total Yards Created came on just three (8.1%) of his carries in these five games. While his 6.11 Yards Created per attempt looks very good on paper, it needs a major dose of context.

On the flip side, 45.9% (17) of Kenyan Drake’s 37 carries created one or fewer yards on his own. While Drake’s 82nd percentile weight-adjusted Speed Score allows him to rip off explosive runs, he also had quite a few plays with little to no creation.

Run Type Data

Inside% Outside% Counter% Toss% Other%
37.84% 43.24% 8.11% 5.41% 5.41%

And here is Alabama’s formation type on Drake’s rush attempts from 2013-2015:

Shotgun/Pistol Under Center
64.9% 35.1%

Despite his boom-or-bust running style, one positive in Drake’s corner is his blanket versatility as a player. We’ll talk more about this below, but Lane Kiffin (Alabama’s offensive coordinator from 2014-present) found creative ways to get Drake in space to utilize his 4.45 wheels on his 6’1″, 210 lbs frame.

Drake ran jet sweeps (other), tosses, counter runs or outside-zone’s primarily focused on one thing: using his speed to get in space. 62.2% (23) of Drake’s 37 carries were designed to go off-tackle.

Missed Tackles Forced (Rushing)

MT Power/Att. MT Elusiveness/Att. MT Speed/Att.
0.11 0.14 0.11

And here are Kenyan Drake’s missed tackles forced on a per target and per opportunity (targets plus carries) basis:

Missed Tackles Forced (Receiving) and Missed Tackles Forced Per Opportunity

MT Power/Tgt MT Elusive/Tgt MT Speed/Tgt MT/Opp.
0.09 0.27 0.27 0.417

Again, I’m cautiously toeing the lines of a biased small sample. Taken at face value, Drake seems like a back capable of making defenders miss not only with his burst and acceleration, but with a touch of elusiveness.

His calling card remains his long speed, but 40% of Kenyan Drake’s missed tackles forced came via elusiveness in his Yards Created sample. This comes short of Kenneth Dixon’s ultimate start-and-stop balance/shiftiness (51.1% of Dixon’s total missed tackles came via elusiveness), but Drake demonstrated his finesse-style can make defenders grasp at air.

Route/Target Data plus Average Depth of Target

Route/Target Data Routes/G Targets/G aDOT
Total Targets: 11 5.4 2.2 1.67

Here is where Drake ran his routes from:

Backfield Route% Split Wide%
88.9% 11.1%

Per Pro Football Focus, Drake ran 25% of his routes split out wide in 2015 which would place him right ahead of C.J. Prosise (22.1%) for the most running back routes lined up outside the hash-marks of the Yards Created samples I have completed so far. Keep in mind PFF has access to more data/film than I have and this sample above spanned three different seasons.

I’m most excited about Kenyan Drake’s unquestionable versatility in the passing game:

Route Type

Route Occurrences
Check/Release 11.1%
Flat 40.7%
Screen 18.5%
Wheel 11.1%
Nine Route 7.4%
Seam 7.4%
Curl 3.7%

Alabama asked Drake to run a myriad of routes while with the Crimson Tide and he did not fail to produce. Not only did he run seven different routes on 27 charted passing plays, he created seven missed tackles on his 11 targets and gained 5.74 yards per route run.

Drake gained more yards per route in his five game Yards Created sample than Kenneth Dixon (5.36 yards per route), Ezekiel Elliott (5.26 yards per route), Paul Perkins (3.04), C.J. Prosise (2.65) and Derrick Henry (2.32).

Now, to be clear, I’m not calling Drake a better receiver than any of those backs. We’re dealing with a player that simply does not have the career production — or sample size — of those aforementioned backs, but his major strength as a new Dolphin comes in the passing game. That’s irrefutable.

Here are some sample statistics from RotoViz’s Box Score Scout App showing how Drake’s career receiving production (receiving yards, yards per game and market share) stacks up against the college careers of Dixon, Elliott, Perkins, Prosise and Henry:

drake.png

Pass Protection

Pass Pro Att. Pass Pro Execution %
3 66.7%

With just three pass protection attempts in Drake’s sample, I’m not willing to draw any meaningful conclusions here.

Conclusion

There was no doubt that the Miami Dolphins needed to add another running back to their roster in the draft or via free agency this offseason. They let Lamar Miller walk in March and had so little behind now starter Jay Ajayi, they brought back Fumblin’ Daniel Thomas heading into the offseason.

I’m not convinced his boom-or-bust style as a runner bodes well in the NFL at this early stage of his career and am genuinely scared of his poor final season production at Alabama. He was obviously supplanted by Derrick Henry as the starter, but still had below average rush efficiency marks despite a small workload (77 carries):

Name 1st Down% 10+ Yd% 20+ Yd% TD%
Drake 24.7% 11.7% 3.9% 1.3%
2016 Class Average 26.5% 15.0% 4.0% 5.4%

Those concerns aside for a moment, I do know one thing is for certain: there is a place for Drake on the Dolphins in the passing game and quite possibly as a kick returner.

Drake returned 19 kicks for 505 yards (one touchdown) in his final season at Alabama in yet another attempt by the Crimson Tide to get the ball in Drake’s hands. RotoViz’s Jon Moore penned an interesting study looking at the hidden value of special team statistics for running backs in 2015.

While I may have been taken aback by Drake’s early selection, I can’t automatically scoff at the No. 3 running back off the board in 2016. The draft round a running back was selected in correlates strongly with career fantasy production.

For fantasy purposes, it’s tough to quickly see where Drake stands in terms of opportunity on the Dolphins. It seems Jay Ajayi is entrenched as the starter and it’s quite possible Drake can immediately mix in on passing downs either out of the backfield or split out wide. At 6’1″, 210lbs, Drake serves as a multi-purpose player with a surplus of speed and enough functional athleticism to perhaps become a difference maker in Miami in the future.

Kenneth Dixon: The Magician

Before I began this Yards Created process, I went back and analyzed the final collegiate season of every running back in the class. Of course I looked into the “big names” in the class first — but something about Kenneth Dixon immediately caught my eye. And, oddly enough, it had nothing to do with the 2015 season.

Kenneth Dixon is one of very few NFL prospective running backs to have a breakout age of younger than 19. When Dixon was 18-years-old, Dixon posted a 200-1,194-27 rushing line and added 10 receptions in 12 games. His 27 rushing touchdowns set an NCAA freshman record for most rushing touchdowns in a single season.

I get what you’re probably thinking: the competition in the Conference USA at Louisiana Tech isn’t fantastic. But that type of production, at that age, at any level of college football is simply staggering. For perspective, roughly 4% of NFL Draft-eligible running backs “breakout”at 18-years-old.

The 22-year-old Kenneth Dixon is next up under the Yards Created microscope.

NoteBefore we get to the data, I want to urge anyone reading Yards Created for the first time to read the introductory piece where I give a detailed breakdown of my process. By no means is it perfect, but I am extremely excited to share what I feel is important bits of information.

Games Sampled 

Gm Att RuYds RuTDs Rec ReYds ReTDs
WKU 22 168 2 5 41 0
Ark St. 21 102 2 6 113 2
OU ’14 16 42 0 3 14 1
Ill. ’14 13 63 1 4 79 1
Marsh. ’14 20 156 3 0 0 0

Unfortunately, DraftBreakdown only offers two games from Kenneth Dixon’s 2015 season but they do have multiple games from 2014 (versus Oklahoma, Illinois and Marshall). For context, I’ll tease out the differences below.

Louisiana Tech’s Yards Blocked and Kenneth Dixon’s Yards Created

Per Att. Data Yards Blocked/Att. Yards Created/Att.
Total Attempts: 92 0.59 4.14

You may immediately notice that Louisiana Tech’s offensive line is considerably worse than Notre Dame’s (Yards Blocked: 1.26) from the introductory piece on C.J. Prosise.

The Bulldogs’ offensive line wasn’t much better in 2015, either. It’s just a two game sample, but the splits for the 2015 season were: Yards Blocked (0.84) and Dixon’s Yards Created (4.47).

It certainly helps that those two 2015 games in the sample were two of Dixon’s best of the season, but the 2015 data is not wildly different from his sample averages.

Run Type Data

Inside% Outside% Counter% Toss% Other%
64.13% 30.43% 3.26% 2.17% 0.00%

And here is LA Tech’s formation type on Dixon’s attempts:

Shotgun/Pistol Under Center
79.3% 20.7%

I added formation type to the data set to get a better feel of where the particular back is most comfortable or what he’s “used to” coming out of college.

Dixon shredded opposing defenses on outside runs creating 5.54 yards per attempt versus just 3.02 yards created per attempt on inside runs. I have to believe the difference here is due to poor interior line play overall and should not be used as a data point against Dixon as an inside runner.

The Yards Blocked data bears this out. The Bulldogs’ offensive line blocked 0.46 yards on inside runs versus 0.75 yards blocked on outside attempts. Anyway you slice it, the Louisiana Tech offensive line did not do Kenneth Dixon any favors and — as you will read below — Dixon has exceptional qualities as a pure runner.

Missed Tackles Forced (Rushing)

MT Power/Att. MT Elusiveness/Att. MT Speed/Att.
0.11 0.16 0.10

And here are Kenneth Dixon’s missed tackles forced receiving on a per target and opportunity (targets plus carries) basis:

Missed Tackles Forced (Receiving) and Missed Tackles Forced Per Opportunity

MT Power/Tgt MT Elusive/Tgt MT Speed/Tgt MT/Opp.
0.08 0.33 0.04 0.388

Dixon’s combine metrics are a bit up-and-down — he owns a 57th percentile Agility Score per PlayerProfiler — but that data point does not capture Dixon’s suddenness and balance as a runner. An incredible 51.1% of Dixon’s total missed tackles came via elusiveness in his five game sample.

All of these missed tackles forced by elusiveness may make you think Dixon is just a “small” back, but as evidenced by his missed tackles forced by power scores (0.11 per attempt), I’m not sure that is the case. Just as a note here, Dixon played his final season at 215lbs and beefed up to 222lbs at his Pro Day.

Overall, Kenneth Dixon checks the box for ability to force missed tackles in a big way. We’ll see if he can continue to make defenders look silly with his elusiveness in the NFL, but there is a real chance those concerns may be a wash once he gets behind his first ever talented offensive line.

Route/Target Data plus Average Depth of Target

Route/Target Data Routes/G Targets/G aDOT
Total Targets: 24 9.20 4.80 -0.13

And here is where Dixon ran his routes from:

Backfield Route% Split Wide%
91.30% 8.70%

Aside from Dixon’s ability as a runner, the biggest selling point for an NFL team is his ability as a pass catcher. If he fails to progress or his rushing ability does not translate in the NFL for whatever reason, he will always have a role on a team as a pass catcher.

His ability to make people miss in space by elusiveness and general feel for receiving out of the backfield make him one of the best pass catching back in the last two draft classes.

Below is a breakdown of final-season receiving production of some of the top prospects from the 2015 and 2016 NFL Draft classes. Kenneth Dixon leads every major category (receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns): dixonrec

Again, level of competition has something to do with this equation. To me, all of these data points line up: Dixon’s field vision, balance and overall production at the position points to a fantastic receiver.

Pass Protection

Pass Pro Att. Pass Pro Execution %
30 70.0%

For context, C.J. Prosise owned a 75% pass protection execution in his five game sample. At the time this article was written, Prosise and Dixon are the only two running backs that I have full Yards Created samples complete for.

Dixon’s pass pro numbers aren’t abysmal by any means, but he does need some polishing as a pass blocker once he gets to the next level. That is nothing out of the ordinary for young running backs at this early stage of their career.

Conclusion

Ironically, C.J. Prosise and Kenneth Dixon may be the two running backs I am most excited to see drafted come April 28th-30th. I may be biased because I began this whole process with these two players, but we know Ezekiel Elliott is going to go fairly early and Derrick Henry should be a top-50 pick.

Dixon’s ability to create yards behind a genuinely awful offensive line, capability to routinely make defenders miss and prolific receiving production places him near the top of the class. I went into Dixon’s Yards Created sample with no expectations whatsoever and came out convinced he’s an absolute magician amongst running backs.

Introduction to Yards Created: C.J. Prosise

I believe the future in football analysis is converting the things we see on the field on a routine basis into consumable data.

I’m attempting to do just that for running backs.

Before I get started, I want to give Matt Harmon a huge shout out for his Reception Perception process which gave me the idea to start charting running backs. Harmon is a true pioneer in football analysis and without him paving the way with Reception Perception, I definitely would have never thought to try my hand at this.

Alright, here is a quick background on my general feel of the position: I find watching running backs to be very fluid. I know “fluid” may seem like an odd word usage, but first consider everything that has to go right for a running play to be successful. Initially, the quarterback-running back exchange has to go as designed. Next, the offensive line has to “do their job” and correctly execute the blocking scheme. Then, the back has to choose the right hole, get to the second level, make someone miss, just to gain extra yardage.

Running the ball clearly isn’t as binary as passing. Multiple variables have to go according to plan for a run to be successful. The same is somewhat true with passing, but more variables — most notably blocking — are simply out of the control of the running back on a routine basis.

All of this is to say: it’s extremely hard to divorce running back play and outside variables from one another using a statistic like yards per carry (YPC). This process that I’m attempting to create doesn’t fully separate offensive line play from running back skill, but it is certainly a data point that needs significantly more work in the football analysis community. Hopefully this process will eventually clear some of the fog.

Thanks to the awesome guys who edit cut-ups on Draftbreakdown, my goal with the 2016 draft prospects is to chart a total of five games (preferably two good games, two bad ones and one mediocre game) with all of the prospects. Since the college season ranges anywhere from 11-13 games played, charting a total of five games should represent just under half to 40% of games played during the season.

Yards Blocked and Yards Created Explanation

The purpose of the creation and need for Yards Blocked and Yards Created is simple: a running back is highly dependent on offensive line play. The thing is, there aren’t many fantastic mechanisms to parse out how much of the success — or the failure — of a play is on a running back’s shoulders. Yards before contact does a decent job of this (i.e. the average amount of yards gained before a back is touched) but it does a poor job of indicating one main point: was the yardage before contact gained because, 1. the offensive line did an exceptional job blocking? or, 2. did the running back “create” the yards for himself?

That’s the line I’m attempting to clear.

So Yards Blocked, as we’ll call it, is the amount of yards the offensive line creates for a running back. I grant you that this can fluctuate greatly — a guard can pull through the gap eight yards up field or get completely blow back three yards behind the line of scrimmage. The typical range of outcomes that happen on a given run play varies greatly. Still, everything that happens after what is blocked is the running back’s responsibility and everything before is largely out of the running backs control.

Here’s an example of what I’m referring to:

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On this play versus Temple, the defense immediately blows up the play at the point of attack while the offensive line left a free blitzer unblocked on the outside. The right tackle gets beat quickly, leaving the blocking scheme in shambles. I charted this specific play as -4 yards blocked and the result of the play (a four yard loss) was not C.J. Prosise’s fault.

Yards Created is a little less ambiguous. Here, I just want to know what happens after the offensive line has or has not done their job.

A running back can create his yards after blocking a myriad of ways. Be it through speed, power or elusiveness, a running back’s vision is something extremely hard to quantify.

Let’s go through a Yards Created example.

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In the GIF above, the blocking is a bit messy and there are Massachusetts defenders in the backfield almost immediately. The pulling Notre Dame right tackle executes his block on the defensive end (creating two yards blocked) and Prosise explodes through the crease. In this instance, Prosise “creates” 55 yards rushing and forced two missed tackles with speed making the crashing safety miss and blowing past the Massachusetts cornerback (No. 1).

Since this process measures what is taking place snap-by-snap, the goal is to actually minimize the cognitive biases we humans have when we see plays like the one in the video above. We have a natural tendency to latch on to either positive or negative events strongly, and the routine, non-flashy events — like a three yard gain — are rarely remembered. The main goal of “Yards Created” is to measure what happens on every down and give equal importance to positive, negative and routine events.

Alright, now the fun stuff. I promise.

C.J. Prosise isn’t as “sexy” of a prospect as Ezekiel Elliott, but that’s not the point. I found Prosise to be incredibly intriguing before I even thought about attempting to create this process. An absurd 23.6% of Prosise’s 2015 carries went for 10-plus yards, which was miles above the 2016 class average (15.03%) and the best in the class (of 15 prospects in the sample). Naturally, he’s my starting point.

Games Sampled 

Games ruATT ruYds YPC ruTDs Rec ReYds Y/R reTDs
GT 22 198 9 3 1 5 5 0
UMass 15 149 9.9 2 0 0 0 0
USC 19 143 7.5 2 5 32 6.4 0
CLEM 15 50 3.3 0 4 100 25 1
Temple 14 25 1.8 0 5 43 8.6 0

Everything else from this point on is charted data from the above five game sample.

C.J. Prosise’s Yards Blocked and Yards Created

Per Att. Data Yards Blocked/Att. Yards Created/Att.
Total Attempts: 84 1.26 4.90

Objectively, because this process is still very new, I don’t have much to compare this data to. Notre Dame’s offensive line was pretty fantastic in 2015 and Prosise certainly benefited from an incredibly deep rotation at the position. In the five game sample, the Notre Dame offensive line allowed just 20 runs (of 85) that had negative yards blocked. Nine of those 20 negative plays were just for negative one yard blocked.

Furthermore, FootballOutsiders Adjusted Line Yards metric pegged the Irish as the second-best offensive line in the country in 2015.

Prosise certainly benefited from stellar offensive line play in 2015, but as you will continue to read below, he was electric and a masterful creator for a converted wide receiver playing  his first ever season at running back.

Run Type Data

Inside% Outside% Counter% Toss% Other%
52.38% 34.52% 3.57% 2.38% 3.57%

Notre Dame’s 2015 offense predicated on inside and outside zone-read concepts out of shotgun and Prosise was very comfortable running off-tackle.

Prosise was actually more productive on outside runs, creating 5.36 yards per attempt on such carries versus 3.71 yards created per attempt on inside runs. The difference can be partly attributed to offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley — who is considered a 1st round draft prospect in 2016.

Notre Dame’s offensive line as a whole was better running to the outside in the five sampled game’s as well. I charted the Irish line with an average 1.37 yards blocked on outside runs versus 0.88 yards blocked on inside runs.

Even though he didn’t carry the ball 289 times like Ezekiel Elliott, Prosise was very productive and efficient on his carries in 2015. The thing is, I’m not sure he should be “knocked” as a prospect because he ran behind a great offensive line and one of the best offensive tackle’s in the country. It’s not like just any running back could average 102.9 rushing yards per-game, have the long speed to rip off 20-plus yard runs on 7.01% of his carries (highest of the 2016 prospects) and force missed tackles.

Missed Tackles Forced (Rushing)

MT Power/Att. MT Elusiveness/Att. MT Speed/Att.
0.18 0.12 0.11

And here are C.J. Prosise’s missed tackles forced receiving on a per target and opportunity (targets plus carries) basis:

Missed Tackles Forced (Receiving) and Missed Tackles Forced Per Opportunity

MT/Target & Opp MT Power/Tgt MT Elusive/Tgt MT Speed/Tgt MT/Opp.
Targets: 17 0 0.18 0.12 0.386

One of the greatest strengths in Prosise’s game is his sheer power as a runner. His 87th percentile weight-adjusted Speed Score gives him excessive strength on his 220lbs frame and perfectly coincides with the amount of times he finished runs aggressively with force and burst.

Prosise forced a missed tackle through power on 18% of his carries in this five game sample and forced a defender to miss on 38.6% of his total opportunities (rush attempts and targets).

The one major qualm some have about C.J. Prosise is his agility. He posted a three cone time at his 2016 pro day that was in the 15th percentile for all qualifying NFL running backs since 1999. It’s not a complete landmine, but it is one of the weaknesses Prosise has a runner. Again, I will only be able to compare Prosise’s missed tackles forced by elusiveness numbers once I have a larger sample.

Route/Target Data plus Average Depth of Target

Route/Target Data Routes/G Targets/G aDOT
Total Targets: 17 13.6 3.4 5.0

And here is where Prosise ran his routes from:

Total Routes Backfield Route% Split Wide%
68 77.94% 22.06%

In terms of NFL project-ability, Prosise’s biggest selling point is his passing game chops. Not only can he run screens, check-and-releases, dart routes and wheel routes out of the backfield, he can move out wide into the slot with ease.

Not totally dislike Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson, C.J. Prosise’s experience as a former wide receiver actually works for him instead of against him. He can immediately become an asset on passing down’s on an NFL squad and showed more than enough as a runner to eventually work on all three downs.

If a team is looking for a back not named Ezekiel Elliott that has a diverse enough game to become a three down back in the future, Prosise could be the remedy.

Pass Protection

Pass Pro Att. Pass Pro Execution %
28 75.0%

Finally, we get to the skill that the majority of NFL-ready backs need work on: protecting the quarterback. Since I don’t have a large enough sample yet, I can’t make any objective comparison’s for how Prosise checks out in pass protection relative to other backs in the class.

However, I do think the fact he was asked to pass block 5.6 times per-game at Notre Dame and executed his assignment more than seven out of ten times only bodes well for a first year running back.

C.J. Prosise Is Not Just a Complimentary Back

Due to his skill set in the pass game and his clear ability to run the ball with power and speed, C.J. Prosise sets up very well to be a future fantasy football asset. He’s currently going at the end of the first round in Dynasty rookie drafts and is one spot behind fellow Irishman Will Fuller in DynastyLeagueFootball’s April average draft position.

Landing spot will be important as it always is for running backs, but if given the opportunity to work as more than just a passing down back, the 21-year-old Prosise could be a steal in all 2016 fantasy drafts. The NFL will decide on his future soon enough.