The best running backs in different situations: Tyler Allgeier thrived on zone runs, Austin Ekeler dominated in the red zone

2KNPHCR Landover, MD, USA. 27th Nov, 2022. Atlanta Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier (25) runs the ball during the NFL game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Washington Commanders in Landover, MD. Reggie Hildred/CSM/Alamy Live News

Tyler Allgeier thrived in the Falcons system: Allgeier finished second at the position in yards from zone runs, but he produced a league-best 42 conversions. The Falcons ran outside zone at the highest rate in the league (58%) and finished second in rushing expected points added (EPA) per play on zone plays (0.056).

Josh Jacobs running tough: The Raiders back ran for 1,102 yards on man/gap plays, 414 yards more than the next closest back. He turned 220 attempts into 737 yards after contact, nine touchdowns and 54 first downs.

Dallas Cowboys grinding it out in the red zone: The Cowboys generated positive EPA on 46.5% of their red-zone rushes to lead the NFL. Ezekiel Elliott moved the chains on 41.0% of his attempts, the best rate among the 31 qualifying backs.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes


The running game may play second fiddle to the passing game in today's NFL, but the ability to find an edge on the ground can still make a difference.

Here, we look at how the NFL's best running backs performed on zone runs, man/gap runs, late-down runs and runs inside the red zone. We used data from the 2022 regular season.

Zone Runs (Min. 50 attempts)

Derrick Henry ran for 888 yards on zone runs to lead all players at the position in 2022. He moved the chains 32 times, finding the end zone three times and forcing 37 missed tackles across his 197 zone attempts. His 77.5 rushing grade on zone runs comes in at 12th among the 42 eligible backs.

Tyler Allgeier finished right behind Henry with 886 yards, but the Falcons back produced a league-best 42 conversions. This is unsurprising, as the Falcons ran outside zone at the highest rate in the league (58%) and finished second in rushing expected points added (EPA) per play on zone plays (0.056).

Latavius Murray accounted for 105 zone attempts last season — 76 on inside zone and 29 on outside zone — and racked up 473 rushing yards. He averaged 2.2 yards before contact per attempt on those zone runs, leading all qualified running backs.

Najee Harris ranked eighth in rushing grade on zone plays (80.4) and generated the most EPA per play (0.655) among running backs. He turned 181 attempts into 750 rushing yards, with 511 of those yards coming after contact. He scored four touchdowns, generated 31 more first downs and ranked third at the position in missed tackles forced (33).


Man/Gap Runs (Min. 50 attempts)

The Las Vegas Raiders produced the highest rushing grade (91.1) but ranked seventh in EPA per play (0.054) on gap runs, which include man-blocking, power, counter, draw and trap concepts.

Raiders back Josh Jacobs ran for 1,102 yards on these plays, 414 yards more than the next closest back. He turned 220 attempts into 737 yards after contact, nine touchdowns and 54 first downs. He forced 58 missed tackles in the process.

The NFC South loves to run man plays. The Panthers ran man schemes at the highest rate in the league (31%), and the Buccaneers were next at 29%. The Panthers were somewhat successful, producing a seventh-ranked rushing grade (77.5), but none of their running backs made it into the top 10. On the other hand, the Buccaneers posted a 22nd-ranked rushing grade on man plays (61.7).

Late downs (min. 25 attempts)

The Steelers were wildly successful running the ball on third and fourth down, producing a league-best 77.5% success rate. The Cowboys were next best, producing positive EPA on 69.0% of their attempts.

Although Ezekiel Elliott earned an above-average rushing grade on late downs, the Cowboys generated just -0.776 EPA per play with Elliott on late downs, 10th out of the 10 backs who attempted 25-plus late-down rushes.

As a team, the Bills led the league in rushing grade on late downs (90.9), with the Bears (90.7) and Cowboys (90.1) right behind them. The Bears came out on top in rushing EPA per play on late downs (0.544).

Red Zone (min. 25 attempts)

Austin Ekeler led the position in PFF rushing grade in the red zone, but the Chargers finished just 12th in the same metric as a team. Ekeler recorded 51 attempts, scored 11 touchdowns and brought up seven more first downs. No back forced more missed tackles in this situation.

The Cowboys generated positive EPA on 46.5% of their red-zone rushes to lead the NFL. Ezekiel Elliott moved the chains on 41.0% of his attempts, the best rate among the 31 qualifying backs.

The Titans led the league in red-zone rushing grade (83.0), and Derrick Henry finished fifth among this group of backs in EPA per play (0.592).

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