PFF Record Book: Running back signature stats

BH02GB Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings rushes

  • Adrian Peterson, unsurprisingly, takes home multiple categories: The former Minnesota Vikings great posted the best overall and rushing grade among RBs of the PFF era in 2012.
  • Zonovan Knight surprisingly takes home a category: The New York Jets running back's 0.34 missed tackles forced per attempt in 2022 represent the top mark in the PFF era among backs.
  • Derrick Henry‘s 99-yard represents the longest run during the PFF era: Henry's highlight reel run is especially impressive given that he broke four tackles and ran away from much smaller defenders for the long trot to the end zone.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

The PFF database is a vast expanse of grades and statistics that encompass nearly two decades' worth of NFL action. The goal has always been to help better understand the game of football and bridge the gap between the past and present generations. 

PFF data goes as far back as 2006, which may be a small sample size of the game’s entire history but serves as a tremendous asset in determining which performances truly stand the test of time. 

These are the official PFF records for running back signature stats.


RUSHING

PFF Overall Grade

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (2012) – 92.4

The highest-graded season by a running back understandably coincides with the last time a non-quarterback won MVP. That season, Peterson came just nine yards away from breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record.

PFF Rushing Grade 

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (2012) – 92.5

The former Vikings great is one of two players with three or more seasons earning a 90.0-plus rushing grade, the other being Marshawn Lynch.

Yards After Contact 

Volume: Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans (2020) – 1,490

You don’t need to play linebacker to know that bringing down the truck known as Henry is not a job for the faint of heart. Since entering the league, the former Tide running back has established a reputation as one of the toughest runners the game has ever seen, finishing with three of the top six rushing yards after contact seasons in the PFF era. In 2020 – on his way to breaking into the 2,000-yard rushing club – Henry managed nearly 1,500 yards after contact, accounting for over 73.5% of his total yardage. 

Per Attempt: Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks (2021) / Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys (2019) / Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns (2018) – 4.5

In the PFF era, there have only been eight seasons in which a back surpassed 4.0 yards after contact per carry. Henry and Nick Chubb account for five of those seasons, but the honor of highest average goes to the trio of Penny, Pollard and Chubb, who all managed a 4.5-yard average on 85-plus attempts. However, Michael Turner just barely missed the threshold of carries required to qualify for this list but does receive an honorable mention for his 2006 performance, as he averaged over 4.8 yards after contact on 80 carries.   

Missed Tackles Forced 

Volume: Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders (2022) – 90

Before last season, there was only one instance in the PFF era where a back broke 80-plus tackles in a single regular season, Marshawn Lynch’s 2014 (88). This past season saw a pair of backs surpass that mark – Jacobs (90) and Nick Chubb (83). With as many talented backs the league has produced over the past decade, this may be a record that changes hands a few times in the years to come.

Per Attempt: Zonovan Knight, New York Jets (2022) – 0.34

Making the most of limited touches is always the best way to get noticed in a crowded backfield, which is exactly what Knight did this past season. After Breece Hall missed time due to injury, Knight stepped in to supplement the Jets run game, and he did so impressively. On just 85 carries Knight managed to force 29 missed tackles, equating to a broken tackle in over a third of his attempts. 

Longest Rush 

Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans (2018) – 99

Back in 2018, King Henry put the entire football landscape on notice when he took a simple gap run from his own one-yard line all the way to the house. Using his patented stiff arm, Henry broke four tackles and barrelled down the sideline for six.  

Breakaway Runs 

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (2012) – 61

Explosive runs are a nightmare for defenses. In the PFF era, just five players have ever managed to hit 50-plus carries of 10 or more yards in a single season. Peterson’s phenomenal 2012 tops this list setting the record at 61, with no one coming even close in the decade to follow. Jonathan Taylor managed 50 in 2021 while Derrick Henry accumulated 48 in 2020.


ZONE CONCEPTS

PFF Rushing Grade 

Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks (2014) / C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos (2014) – 89.4

While no player has ever earned a 90-plus grade on zone concepts, a pair have come very close. In 2014, both Lynch and Anderson broke Fred Taylor’s zone rushing grade record (84.1) set back in 2006. While Anderson’s performance was impressive, Lynch’s ability in zone concepts is unmatched, as he is the only player to ever earn more than one 85-plus graded season. 

Yards 

Total: Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans (2019) – 1,253

In his time in the league, Henry has proven that he is a fit in any scheme, but he may be the most lethal zone runner the PFF-era has ever seen. Since 2006, just eight times has a back surpassed 1000 yards rushing exclusively on zone concepts,  and the Titans workhorse accounts for a pair of those. Henry’s 2019 and 2020 seasons are two of the top three zone rushing yardage seasons ever recorded by PFF. 

Per Attempt: Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints (2017) – 6.6

In his rookie season, Kamara exploded onto the scene as both a rusher and receiver. Although he hasn’t reached that ceiling since, his opening campaign was one for the record books. His 6.6 yards per carry on zone concepts is one of just four instances in which a back has finished above the 6.0 threshold.


GAP CONCEPTS

PFF Rushing Grade 

Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans (2020) – 92.3

Not only is Henry a record-holding zone rusher, but he is also the leader in the clubhouse gap concept rushing grade. In the PFF era, just five players have ever managed to earn a 90-plus grade on gap concepts. This past season Aaron Jones came just 0.1 grading points of tying Henry’s record.

Yards 

Total: LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers (2006) – 1,106

Gap running schemes may have fallen out of the meta in modern NFL offense, but in the mid-2000s, it was nearly every franchise's bread and butter. In 2006, three backs rushed for over 1000 yards on gap concepts, with Tomlinson leading the way. Since then only one back has managed to gain over 1,000 yards on gap runs – Adrian Peterson (2015).

Per Attempt: Lamar Miller, Houston Texans (2018) – 7.7

Miller is the pace car for this record by a wide margin. Not only is Miller the only back to average over 7.0 yards per carry on zone concepts, but he is also more than a full yard above the next-best season – Mike Gillislee’s 2016.

RECEIVING

PFF Receiving Grade

Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions (2015) – 94.1

With a backfield comprised of Riddick, Ameer Abdullah and Joique Bell, the 2015 Lions weren’t exactly a powerhouse toting the rock. However, Riddick emerged as a serious receiving threat out of the backfield with defenses focused on trying to contain Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate.

PFF Pass Blocking Grade

MAURICE JONES-DREW, Jacksonville Jaguars (2013) – 93.1

In his final season in Jacksonville, MJD was asked to do it all. At 28 years old, Jones-Drew finished as the only running back in PFF history to allow no pressures on 100 or more pass-blocking snaps.

Targets

Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers (2019) – 135

Receptions

Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers (2019) – 116

Yards

Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers (2019) – 1,005

Without a doubt, McCaffrey has established himself as the greatest receiving back of the PFF era — his five PFF signature stat records are the most of any offensive player. McCaffrey’s 2019 may be the best receiving season from a back in NFL history, as he captured the targets, receptions, yards, and yards after the catch records. Since 2006, a back has amassed 100-plus receptions just four times, of which McCaffrey accounts for half of those. 

More impressively, McCaffrey stands as the third player to ever record 1000 rushing yards and 1000 receiving yards in a single season, joining Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk. 

Drops

Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (2013) / Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints (2012) / BRIAN WESTBROOK, Philadelphia Eagles (2007) – 10

It's almost impressive to see a back reach double-digit dropped passed, as it takes a special talent out of the backfield to keep getting targets after dropping just a few. So it makes sense that this record is actually held by a few of the most talented backs of the PFF era. Charles, Sproles and Westbrook may share this unfortunate record, but they also each surpassed 90 targets, 65 receptions, 650 yards and five scores in their respective seasons.

Drop Rate

Worst: Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers (2011) – 41.2%

The 16-year veteran was never known as much of a receiving threat out of the backfield, instead carving out a reputation as an effective pass blocker, so it’s understandable that he may have not had the most sure hands. Even still, this is an abnormally high drop rate considering no other back has ever exceeded a 33% in the PFF era. Gore had an unusually tough stretch in 2011 where he dropped seven of his 17 catchable targets. 

Best: Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers (2018) – 0.0%

Similarly to the receiver drop rate record, many backs have finished with a clean 0.0% drop rate – 63 in the PFF era alone – yet none have managed to pull it off as impressively as McCaffrey. In 2018, CMC totaled zero drops on 112 catchable targets, becoming the only back to accumulate 100-plus receptions without dropping a single ball. To put this feat into perspective just four backs have finished with 50-plus receptions and no drops.  

Yards After Catch

Total: Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers (2019) – 997

In McCaffrey’s historic 2019 season, he was unstoppable with the ball in his hands, nearly eclipsing the 1000-yard receiving mark all after the catch – a feat that no player has ever accomplished in the PFF era. 

Per Reception: DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers (2013) – 15.2

McCaffrey isn’t the only Panthers back of note to make this list. In 2013, Williams was incredibly explosive with the ball in his hands, with over 10 plays of 15-plus yards after the catch. He stands as the only player to ever surpass 15.0 YAC/Rec, while also ranking a full 1.1 yards over the next highest season. 

Yards Per Route Run

Darren Sproles, San Diego Chargers (2008) – 3.41

It’s no surprise that Sproles finds his way onto this list as one of the most efficient receiving backs of the PFF era. Since 2006, just three backs have ever managed to surpass 3.0 YPRR (yards per route run), yet those come from lower total volume producers. A possibly more impressive feat may fall to the likes of Alvin Kamara (2017), Austin Ekeler (2019) and Darren McFadden (2010), who stand as the only backs to exceed 2.5 YPRR on over 200 receiving snaps. 

Missed Tackles Forced

Total: Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions (2015) – 36

One reason why Riddick holds the PFF receiving grade record is due, in large part, to his innate ability to break tackles after the catch. His 36 missed tackles forced is more than even elite receiving backs like Saquon Barkley, McCaffrey and Austin Ekeler. Since 2006, just three backs have ever surpassed 30 in a single season.

Per Reception: Dion Lewis, New England Patriots (2015) – 0.67

In his first season in a Pats uniform, Lewis carved out his first significant role in the league by becoming Tom Brady’s favorite passing-down back. Although Lewis didn’t see significant targets, he managed to make the most of every touch, breaking a tackle on two out of every three receptions.

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