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The case for yards before contact as a running back stat

“Running backs don’t matter” has become the slogan of the football analytics community — an ad nauseam rallying cry in the eyes of many. It has branched off into different interpretations, but at its roots, it is the idea that investing big money in a running back long term is a losing strategy given the value and replaceability of the position.

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Even the running back’s primary job — carrying the football — is more reliant on offensive scheme, defensive alignment and blocking than the talent level of the back themselves. Here at PFF, we’ve picked out a runner’s ability to create for themselves as their biggest contribution on the ground. That means metrics such as yards after contact per rushing attempt and missed tackles forced get thrown into the spotlight. In essence, how well does a runner perform beyond what is blocked and schemed up for them?

However, if you look at some of the best running backs in the NFL — backs like Christian McCaffrey — those numbers aren't all that impressive. Where McCaffrey excels is generating yardage before contact.

Most yards before contact per attempt since 2017 | Min. 300 attempts
Player Yards Before Contact Avg.
1. Lamar Jackson 3.1
2. Matt Breida 2.4
3. Phillip Lindsay 2.4
4. Christian McCaffrey 2.1
5. Aaron Jones 2.0

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