News & Analysis

Premium Content Sign Up

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.

[Editor’s note: Subscribe to PFF ELITE today to gain access to PFF’s Premium Stats and new Player Grades experience in addition to the 2020 NFL Draft Guide2020 Fantasy Rookie Scouting ReportPFF Greenline, all of PFF’s premium article content and more.]

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

Subscribe to PFF Edge to continue reading

Already have a subscription? Sign In

NFL Featured Tools

  • Our exclusive database, featuring the most in-depth collection of NFL player performance data.

  • PFF's exclusive metrics provide matchup previews, position rankings, grades, and snap counts.

  • In-depth analysis and PFF metrics for NFL quarterbacks from the 2019 season.

  • 250+ three-page scouting profiles - advanced stats, 3-year grades, player comps, combine data and Senior Bowl grades - for the 2020 draft class.

  • NFL free agent rankings with analysis, projected salaries, PFF grades and PFF WAR.

PFF Edge
Unlock Player Grades, Fantasy & NFL Draft
Learn More
$39.99 / yr
$9.99 / mo
PFF Elite
Unlock Premium Stats, PFF Greenline & DFS
Learn More
$199.99 / yr
$34.99 / mo