Our friends at Football Perspective spend a lot of time taking unique looks at statistics in professional football. Recently, they came up with an interesting look at running backs and the sensitivity of YPC to outlier rushes.
Yards per carry is a frequently mentioned statistic, but in reality, it is not the best indicator of success. Our man Danny Tuccitto even came to the conclusion that YPC is a "bunkum stat." Even when you have a workhorse running back, a few big runs can be enough to swing it considerably. And for some running backs, it only takes on such run to throw off YPC to some extent.
FP took a look at the running backs with at least 100 rushing attempts in 2015, who also averaged greater than the league average in YPC (4.16 yards). They then looked at their individual rushes, and figured out the minimum number of attempts that needed to be removed to lower their YPC to the league average.
Justin Forsett led the group with 5.39 yards per carry, and we have to remove nine of his top carries to bring that down to 4.16. San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore averaged 4.33 yards per carry, but you only have to remove his 52-yard carry against the San Diego Chargers to lower it down to 4.14 yards per carry.
Obviously we cannot take away that run because it was part of Gore's entire body of work. But even still, other advanced measures indicate a decent enough year from Gore. Football Outsiders ranked 13th in DVOA, 10th in DYAR and 11th in success rate. He certainly was not the best running back in the NFL, but he did some good things. And we have to remember, he found a lot of success off right tackle when Anthony Davis was in the lineup. Davis missed a lot of time, which likely had some kind of notable impact on Gore's performance in 2014. In the final two games when Davis was in the lineup, Gore averaged 8.3 yards per carry off right tackle. There might be other factors in play, but that says something of note.
As we head into 2015, we'll get to find out what Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush and Kendall Hunter can do behind this line. The change from Mike Iupati is notable, and we don't really have anything to project yet with Brandon Thomas. He is a talented offensive lineman, but we have not seen him play in a year, and he is looking to replace a strong run blocker in Iupati.
Beyond that change, we'll just be looking for some kind of stability on the line. Whether it be Daniel Kilgore or Marcus Martin at center, getting the same five guys in place the entire year would be a huge boost. Carlos Hyde is a talented running back, but if he has to deal with any in-season shuffling of the line, it would be problematic. So as usual, we end up just hoping people can stay healthy. Considering last year's numerous injuries, fingers are crossed for some kind of return to the mean.