News & Analysis

The NFL's top running backs by point of attack

By William Moy
Apr 1, 2019

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Dec 9, 2018; Landover, MD, USA; New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) carries the ball as Washington Redskins strong safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (20) chases in the second quarter at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

This week we’re diving into our expansive database to look at which running backs performed best in 2018 when running through each point of attack (the gap they run through as they pass the line of scrimmage). Excluding trick plays, we have eight different gaps that we sort runs into: off left end, left tackle, left guard, middle left, middle right, right guard, right tackle, and right end. Today we’re going to look at which running backs performed the best by each gap, using PFF rushing grades and a minimum qualifier of 15 rushes through the given point of attack.

[Editor’s Note: To view more of Pro Football Focus’ advanced stats on point of attack, check out our Premium Stats 2.0. All ELITE subscribers already have access to these stats, and for those who don’t, you can subscribe today!]

Left End

Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers – 93.1 rushing grade

Gordon was one of 42 running backs last season to rush the ball off the left end at least 15 times, and he led that group with a total of 277 yards through that point of attack. Gordon ranked fourth among qualified running backs by averaging 0.41 forced missed tackles per attempt off left end, and the 13 combined first downs and touchdowns he picked up through that point of attack tied for the most among backs.

Left Tackle

Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts – 84.5 rushing grade

Despite seeing just 15 carries off the left tackle last season, Mack ranked third among all running backs with 139 rushing yards through that point of attack in 2018. Mack ranked fourth among backs with an average of 3.9 yards after contact per attempt on such runs, and he led all backs by picking up either a first down or touchdown on 53.0 percent of his attempts – no other running back had a conversion rate higher than 35.0 percent.

Left Guard

Saquon Barkley, New York Giants – 90.5 rushing grade

Barkley led 36 qualified running backs in terms of PFF rushing grade on runs that went between the left guard and left tackle, picking up 114 rushing yards along with three first downs and two touchdowns on 19 attempts through that point of attack. The rookie phenom ranked fifth among players at the position with an average of 6.0 yards per attempt off left guard, and he ranked second by forcing 0.26 missed tackles per attempt.

Middle Left

Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos – 89.4 rushing grade

Fifty running backs ran the ball at least 15 times through middle left this past season (between the center and left guard); Lindsay was one of just two running backs (fellow rookie, Nick Chubb being the other) to earn a PFF rushing grade north of 80.0 running through that gap. Lindsay averaged a whopping 8.8 yards per attempt on his 22 rushes through middle left, and he ranked second among backs by averaging 5.0 yards after contact per attempt going through that point of attack.

Middle Right

Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers – 80.4 rushing grade

Among the 49 running backs who rushed the ball through middle right in 2018 (between the center and right guard), Jones was the only running back to eclipse the 80.0 mark, and he was one of just nine backs even to pass 70.0. Jones was one of the most elusive backs in football when it came to running through middle right a season ago, ranking within the top six among backs in both yards after contact per attempt (4.0) and forced missed tackles per attempt (0.21).

Right Guard

Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens – 90.8 rushing grade

Edwards led 37 qualified running backs in rushing grade off right guard in 2018, as he picked up one touchdown to go with seven first downs and a league-leading 234 yards on 28 attempts through that point of attack. Edwards tied Nick Chubb for the lead among qualified backs with an average of 8.4 yards per attempt off right guard, and he ranked second with an average of 4.7 yards after contact per attempt.

Right Tackle

Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans – 82.6 rushing grade

There were only 22 running backs who saw at least 15 carries off right tackle in 2018; Henry was one of just three among that group to pick up at least seven combined first downs and touchdowns. The former second-round pick ranked fourth by picking up either a first down or touchdown on 28.0 percent of his carries on such runs, and he ranked sixth among the group by averaging 3.4 yards after contact per attempt.

Right End

Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos – 90.8 rushing grade

Good things seemed to happen last season for the Broncos when Freeman took the ball off right end, as the rookie led 45 qualified running backs by picking up either a first down or touchdown on 45.0 percent of his attempts wide to the right. The third-round pick ranked second among running backs by averaging 5.6 yards after contact per attempt off right end, and he tied for sixth by averaging 0.32 forced missed tackles per attempt through that point of attack.

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