NFL.com’s Nick Shook posted a stat this week that may help separate running back performance from offensive line performance as it relates to rushing yards. As running backs give their best efforts these days to prove that they do matter, perhaps few will have a better argument than Josh Jacobs.
And no, you don’t have to catch 100 passes to be a valuable running back these days.
The stat is expected yards per carry and here’s the breakdown:
Taking into account defensive alignment, the number of defenders in the box versus number of blockers and other key factors, we now have a metric that will help provide quantitative proof of an offensive line’s effectiveness separate from rushing-yardage totals.
Sure, it still sounds as if the running back is tied to the metric, but it also reflects the performance of the run-blockers on an individual play, because it tells you how many yards the ball-carrier should have gained based on the situation around him on the field, including the positioning of the linemen in relation to defenders. Whether the ball-carrier reaches, exceeds or falls short of the xYPC mark helps reveal how effectively he plays his role in the symbiotic relationship between offensive linemen and running backs, while the mark itself tells us about the effectiveness of his supporting cast.
As a rookie in 2019, Jacobs rushed for 1,150 yards on 242 carries with 4.8 yards per carry. He ranked eighth in rushing yards and tied for fifth in yards per carry among backs with at least 200 attempts. But by expected yards per carry, Jacobs ranked third.
2019 stats: 4.8 YPC, 3.9 xYPC, +0.81 RYOE per attempt, 955 ERY, 195 RYOE
I’m of the opinion that Jacobs was robbed of serious consideration for Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019, and while you might shout “BIASED!!” here, the numbers support my opinion in a strictly numbers-driven piece. Jacobs was as good as his 1,150 yards demonstrated; in fact, he was better. Only one running back in this top 10 (Carlos Hyde) had a tougher go with his offensive line — Jacobs’ xYPC of 3.9 paints a picture of a rusher who shouldn’t be expected to do much of anything on a per-carry basis. Jacobs instead shattered those expectations, posting a RYOE per attempt of +0.81 and smashing through his expected ceiling of 955 rushing yards. The future is incredibly bright for Jacobs, especially if Las Vegas can block well enough to break the 4 xYPC threshold up front.
Jacobs was ranked ahead of Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley in the top five.
What’s good news for Jacobs is perhaps concerning for the offensive line. Can they do better than blocking for an average of 3.9 expected yards per carry in 2020? If they could even give Jacobs an extra foot next season, that alone could help push him into some elite production.
Even more so than expected.