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Sig Stats: Elusive Rating

2014-Sig-Stats-ERWith the 2014 NFL season in the books this week we are casting our eyes back on the year that was using PFF’s Signature Stats.

Signature Stats are advanced numbers, developed in an attempt to tell more of the story than raw numbers alone, and it’s time to look at the Elusive Rating.

Running back performance and blocking performance is a symbiotic relationship, but the Elusive Rating is an attempt to distill the actions and performance of the running backs from the blocking help they receive and the yardage that combination produces.

The Elusive Rating charts missed tackles forced by a running back – either by juking a guy out of his tackle attempt or simply by powering through it – and yards gained after contact. Both power runners and shifty runners can score high in this metric and it has proven to be one of the best indicators of the work done by runners but there is a specific type of player – pure speed backs – that can occasionally be disadvantaged in this methodology. There is simply no number we can track for beating a defender to space with speed for additional yardage.

To qualify, a running back needed to have touched the ball at least 99 times on offense. That eliminates two players in particular with impressive scores worthy of a consolation mention; Roy Helu (108.6) and Antone Smith (117.8).

Missed Tackles Forced

The Top Five

Name Team Att Rec MT Rush MT Rec Total Touches Total MTs Touches/MT
 Marshawn Lynch SEA 280 37 88 13 317 101 3.14
 Ahmad Bradshaw IND 90 38 21 16 128 37 3.46
 Jonathan C. Stewart CAR 175 25 40 16 200 56 3.57
 C.J. Anderson DEN 179 34 44 15 213 59 3.61
 Bobby Rainey TB 94 33 18 16 127 34 3.74

In case you didn’t already know, Marshawn Lynch is pretty tough to tackle. Lynch led all running backs this season in missed tackles forced, but even more remarkably also led the league on a per-touch basis. He heads a Top 5 in which he had 104 more touches than the next highest workload, and was still a significant distance clear at the top.

He became the first back to top 100 missed tackles forced during the PFF era (2007 onward) over a full season, and added another 29 on just 63 carries during the Seahawks' postseason run.

I’m no NFL coach, but maybe you give him a shot from the 1-yard line for the Lombardi Trophy…

Jonathan Stewart’s performance this high on the list was a big reason the Panthers were able to recover late in the season and earn a postseason berth in the woeful NFC south.

C.J. Anderson provided the Denver Broncos a similar boost late in the season and looks like Denver’s running back of the present and future.

The Bottom Five

Name Team Att Rec MT Rush MT Rec Total Touches Total MTs Touches/MT
 Andre Ellington ARZ 201 46 12 8 247 20 12.35
 Doug Martin TB 135 13 8 3 148 11 13.45
 Alfred Blue HST 168 14 12 1 182 13 14.00
 Latavius Murray OAK 82 17 6 1 99 7 14.14
 Isaiah Crowell CLV 148 9 9 1 157 10 15.70

The Arizona Cardinals did what many often ask teams with impressive role players to do – make him a feature back – and his productivity drove off a cliff. Andre Ellington had a fantastic season in 2013 in a far more limited role but struggled this season behind a largely poor offensive line. Most concerning was the struggle in the Elusive Rating where Ellington wasn’t able to make much happen on his own with the higher workload.

Doug Martin is another player whose place on this list will be concerning for a team who hasn’t seen the best of him since his rookie season.

Yards After Contact

The Top Five

Name Team Att Rec Yco/Att MT Rush MT Rec
 Marshawn Lynch SEA 280 37 2.96 88 13
 Ahmad Bradshaw IND 90 38 2.86 21 16
 Arian Foster HST 260 38 2.83 51 4
 Eddie Lacy GB 245 42 2.82 49 24
 Jeremy Hill CIN 222 27 2.80 28 8

Once again, Beastmode tops the list, gaining almost 3 full yards per carry after first contact. Seattle’s offensive line was not playing well this season. With the exception of Max Unger – who missed time – nobody else was going too much to open big holes for Lynch, and yet it didn’t matter. Lynch was a monster all season long and had his best games in the postseason which we are not even counting in this study.

He is again joined in the Top 5 by Ahmad Bradshaw, once more the best back in Indianapolis while healthy. Bradshaw sadly broke down once again before he could put together a real season. We can only imagine how much more dangerous the Colts would have been in January if they had Bradshaw to lean on.

Arian Foster is not usually known for his work after contact, but he finished the season in the third position on this list, topping all other runners usually seen as more powerful or dominant after contact.

The Bottom Five

Name Team Att Rec Yco/Att MT Rush MT Rec
 Darren McFadden OAK 154 36 1.85 12 5
 Shane Vereen NE 96 53 1.83 12 11
 Andre Ellington ARZ 201 46 1.78 12 8
 Ben Tate CLV 106 9 1.76 16 1
 Ronnie Hillman DEN 106 21 1.69 15 5

Ellington again appears at the wrong end of the table, further highlighting his struggles in the desert this season. Shane Vereen is another interesting name to show this far down, given the big things that have been expected of him. The emergence of Jonas Grey (however brief) and resurgence of LeGarrette Blount have somewhat masked the fact that Shane Vereen’s running has been something of a disappointment.

Elusive Rating

The Top Five

Name Team Att Rec Yco/Att MT Rush MT Rec Elusive Rating
 Marshawn Lynch SEA 280 37 2.96 88 13 94.3
 Ahmad Bradshaw IND 90 38 2.86 21 16 82.5
 Jonathan C. Stewart CAR 175 25 2.60 40 16 72.8
 Eddie Lacy GB 245 42 2.82 49 24 71.6
 C.J. Anderson DEN 179 34 2.54 44 15 70.4

Having topped the components that go into the Elusive Rating it won’t shock anybody except those struggling with math that Marshawn Lynch also tops the Elusive Rating proper in 2014. Lynch’s season was one for the ages and the Seahawks' offense was riding his coattails for much of it. Lynch is the single most unstoppable force in football with the ball in his hands, skittling (get it?) would-be tacklers as he powers thorough contact snap after snap.

We have mentioned Bradshaw, Stewart and Anderson earlier in this article but the last member of the Top 5 to feature is Eddie Lacy, a player who has more than a passing similarity to Lynch in his play. Lacy is similarly tough to tackle one-on-one and is a huge reason the Packers' offense has been as dangerous as it has been.

The Bottom Five

Name Team Att Rec Yco/Att MT Rush MT Rec Elusive Rating
 Doug Martin TB 135 13 2.16 8 3 16.0
 Andre Ellington ARZ 201 46 1.78 12 8 14.4
 Alfred Blue HST 168 14 1.98 12 1 14.2
 Latavius Murray OAK 82 17 1.96 6 1 13.9
 Isaiah Crowell CLV 148 9 1.87 9 1 11.9

About the only good news for this group at the foot of the table is that at least they kept their ER in double-digits, avoiding the worst of the worst over the past few seasons (Thomas Jones posting an ER of 4.3 in 2011 remains the standards by which all running back futility is measured).

Four of the five players were significant factors in offenses this year, with three topping 150 touches over the year and Doug Martin following just behind with 148.

As we have said previously, Ellington’s performance was arguably the most disappointing of all after finishing tied for fifth overall a year ago with Chris Ivory, and just behind Lynch.

Ellington’s workload was ramped up because of what he showed a year ago but he couldn’t continue his run, struggling in the face of poor blocking and going nowhere fast before eventually going down hurt.

As always, good as the  Signature Stats are, nothing can quite compare to the play-by-play totality of the PFF grades. The grades do take into account things like players beating a man to space with pure speed or running backs gaining great chunks of yardage with little challenge to stop them. A PFF membership gives you access to the grades as well as all of the various Signature Stats for just $26.99 for 365 days of access. Jump aboard.


Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam

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