My lovely employer PFF has angered many football fans over the years with a simple phrase: Running backs don’t matter. The thesis of the argument centers around the idea that you don’t need to establish the run in order to set up the pass, and production from the position tends to be rather unstable from year to year.
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Obviously every football team that has ever existed would prefer to have the best running back at their disposal; it’s why Nick Saban and company actively attempt to recruit the best player at the position instead of simply letting anybody run the ball. Still, the rather short career span of the position, combined with the reality that a 52-man roster must be squeezed under the confines of the salary cap, makes it at the very least reasonable to suggest that running backs probably shouldn’t be prioritized ahead of many other positions when building a team.
Whatever. F*ck that. Let’s focus on the here and the now by figuring out who is the best rusher of the football remaining in the NFL playoffs. It’s 2022, so we’re not going to discriminate against positional designation and ignore the Deebo Samuels of the world.
The following graph shows the 1.) missed tackles forced, and 2.) yards after contact per carry for every remaining player with at least 50 rush attempts this season (including playoffs).
Missed tackles forced + yards after contact per carry (min. 50 carries, including playoffs, PFF)
Deebo Samuel is pretty, pretty, pretty good pic.twitter.com/1oqRM3eFUM
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 19, 2022
Woah, buddy: Samuel has been something special this season. The 49ers’ walking-talking jackknife of a football player moonlighted as a true running back during the first two seasons of his career, but it wasn’t until Week 10 of this season that he ever spent more than four snaps in the backfield during a single game.
All Samuel has done as the 49ers’ de facto No. 2 running back has been function as arguably the single-most efficient rusher in the NFL:
- PFF rush grade: 83.9 (No. 9 among 93 players with at least 50 carries this season)
- Yards per carry: 6.3 (No. 2)
- Yards after contact per carry: 4.4 (No. 2)
- Missed tackles forced per carry: 0.33 (No. 1)
- Rushing touchdowns of at least 10 yards: 7 (No. 1)
The man is objectively a stud.
91 seconds of Deebo Samuel at running back pic.twitter.com/gmGbGGnI8y
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) December 21, 2021
Intriguingly, Josh Allen also finds himself in the upper stratosphere of rushing options. Fantasy football's back-to-back, reigning, defending, undisputed QB1 of the world posted career-high marks in rush attempts (122) and rush yards (763) while chipping in six scores on the ground this season.
Having a 6-foot-5, 240-pound monster of a quarterback like Allen under center gives the Bills flexibility to embrace run schemes that others simply can’t. This is especially apparent out of empty formations: Allen has carried 15 times for 105 yards (7.0 yards per carry) as the only man in the backfield on designed runs this season. He’s a perfect 3-for-3 on designed carries out of empty on third or fourth down this season and 6-for-7 in his career: Good luck slowing down the Bills’ $258 million star with a light box to work with.