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Explosiveness vs. efficiency in rushing stats (a.k.a. Watch Jhurell Pressley and Matt Breida)

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Back in February, I posted 2014 college football rushing stats and tinkered with a rushing measure that combined efficiency and explosiveness.

So basically, I'm using two measures, unadjusted for opponent, to get at the heart of a running back's abilities/personality:

Opportunity Rate. This is the percentage of a runner's carries that gain at least five yards. Like, Success Rate, it is a decent measure of efficiency, though it is quite difficult to get at a runner's efficiency without in some way gauging the success and quality of the offensive line blocking for him.

Highlight Yards Per Opportunity. I use Opportunity Rate instead of Success Rate here because it meshes nicely with my explosiveness measure of choice: Highlight Yards Per Opportunity. Highlight Yards are the yards that aren't credited to the line per the Line Yardage formula; you divide that by highlight opportunities (i.e. the number of carries going at least five yards), and you get a pretty clean, easy way of looking at how big a runner's big plays are.

Combine these two measures, and you get a nice look at how frequently a runner was generating big-play opportunities and how big those big plays were. That's the essence of being a good running back, no? Granted, Success Rate would add an extra dimension to the discussion -- namely, how good someone is in shorter-yardage situations -- but we'll ride with this for now and in the 2015 previews.

At that point, I tinkered with a formula that basically multiplied these two numbers together, and it provided you with the following ranking of 2014 power conference running backs:

1. Melvin Gordon (4.14)
2. Tevin Coleman (4.06)
3. Nick Chubb (3.72)
4. Todd Gurley (3.58)
5. Aaron Green, TCU (3.47)

Certainly not a bad starting point.

I didn't use any sort of multiplier in this year's season previews, however, instead just providing both individual measures and leaving it at that.

Since I recently talked about the relationship between completion rate and yards per completion, however, I thought it might be interesting to do the same for these two measures, since in theory, it provides a similar look at efficiency and explosiveness.

Looking at the running backs who carried at least 75 times a year ago, here's what you get for the relationship:

The overall correlation is reasonably weak, but it exists, at least. But it isn't exactly what I expected. In discussing these stats in the preview series, I tended to think of certain guys as efficiency backs (guys with solid opportunity rates and no explosiveness) or all-or-nothing guys (huge highlight yards per opportunity and few opportunities). There are certainly guys who fit the bill in both of those categories...

Efficiency Backs (>44% Opp Rate, <4 Hlt/Opp)

  • Daniel Lasco, California (44.8%, 3.99)
  • Jarvis Cooper, Memphis (44.0%, 3.91)
  • T.J. Yeldon, Alabama (45.9%, 3.47)
  • Treyous Jarrells, Colorado State (44.8%, 3.37)
  • Xavier Johnson, South Alabama (49.4%, 3.32)
  • Kenny Hilliard, LSU (44.4%, 3.09)
  • Devin Chafin, Baylor (46.2%, 2.48)

All-Or-Nothing Backs (>7.5 Hlt/Opp, <35% Opp Rate)

  • Akeem Hunt, Purdue (7.91, 34.3%)
  • Derrick Green, Michigan (8.46, 34.1%)
  • Sherman Badie, Tulane (9.14, 33.9%)
  • Shaun Wick, Wyoming (9.13, 32.3%)
  • Nick Wilson, Arizona (8.33, 31.4%)
  • Christian Powell, Colorado (8.06, 28.2%)
  • Brian Hill, Wyoming (10.76, 24.1%)

...but the positive correlation tells us that, the better you are in one category, the better you probably are in the other. The categories above are just categories, but instead of "you're either more explosive or efficient," it's more "you're either good or not."

Again, this is far from earth-shattering stuff. Still, I was curious and thought it was worth sharing.

By the way, if you're wondering about who's in the upper quadrant of that chart above, here are the 40 running backs who had at least a 38 percent opportunity rate and averaged at least 6 highlight yards per opportunity. (Power-conference backs in bold.)

Offense Player Position Ht Wt Class Rushes Yards Yds/Carry Hlt Yds/Opp Opp Rate
New Mexico Jhurell Pressley RB 5'10 200 JR 114 1083 9.50 12.78 47.4%
Georgia Southern Matt Breida RB 5'10 185 SO 171 1485 8.68 10.91 44.4%
Indiana Tevin Coleman RB 6'1 210 JR 270 2036 7.54 9.79 41.5%
Wisconsin Melvin Gordon RB 6'1 213 JR 345 2606 7.55 9.29 44.6%
Marshall Devon Johnson RB 6'1 243 JR 206 1767 8.58 8.92 51.0%
Old Dominion Ray Lawry RB 5'10 192 FR 134 947 7.07 8.91 40.3%
Arkansas State Michael Gordon RB 5'9 187 JR 159 1100 6.92 8.84 42.1%
Duke Shaun Wilson RB 5'9 180 FR 78 598 7.67 8.61 44.9%
Middle Tennessee Reggie Whatley RB 5'7 179 SR 113 767 6.79 8.44 42.5%
New Mexico State Larry Rose III RB 5'11 180 FR 186 1102 5.92 8.03 38.2%
Marshall Steward Butler RB 5'9 185 JR 107 798 7.46 8.03 44.9%
UL-Lafayette Elijah McGuire RB 5'11 198 SO 166 1264 7.61 7.93 47.6%
Georgia Nick Chubb RB 5'10 228 FR 219 1547 7.06 7.92 45.7%
Georgia Todd Gurley TB 6'1 226 JR 123 911 7.41 7.86 45.5%
TCU Aaron Green TB 5'11 202 JR 130 922 7.09 7.78 44.6%
Western Kentucky Anthony Wales RB 5'10 190 SO 82 518 6.32 7.34 41.5%
Toledo Kareem Hunt RB 5'11 215 SO 205 1631 7.96 7.25 52.7%
Oklahoma Samaje Perine RB 5'11 243 FR 263 1713 6.51 7.17 41.1%
Miami-FL Duke Johnson RB 5'9 206 JR 242 1652 6.83 7.14 44.2%
Ole Miss Jaylen Walton RB 5'8 166 JR 106 586 5.53 7.13 40.6%
East Carolina Breon Allen RB 5'8 190 SR 134 869 6.49 7.08 44.0%
Fresno State Marteze Waller RB 5'11 209 JR 226 1368 6.05 7.03 39.4%
Colorado State Dee Hart RB 5'9 190 SR 194 1275 6.57 6.99 43.8%
Troy Brandon Burks RB 5'9 203 JR 96 584 6.08 6.98 40.6%
Texas A&M Trey Williams RB 5'8 195 JR 82 560 6.83 6.95 46.3%
San Diego State Donnel Pumphrey RB 5'9 170 SO 277 1873 6.76 6.94 43.0%
Houston Ryan Jackson RB 5'10 190 JR 112 610 5.45 6.86 39.3%
Wisconsin Corey Clement RB 5'11 217 SO 147 949 6.46 6.83 42.9%
Florida State Dalvin Cook RB 6'0 200 FR 170 1008 5.93 6.72 39.4%
Cincinnati Mike Boone RB 5'10 205 FR 101 650 6.44 6.72 40.6%
Nebraska Ameer Abdullah RB 5'9 195 SR 263 1618 6.15 6.72 41.1%
Ohio State Ezekiel Elliott RB 6'0 225 SO 273 1878 6.88 6.64 46.5%
Oregon State Storm Woods RB 6'0 212 JR 121 766 6.33 6.49 42.1%
Northern Illinois Joel Bouagnon TB 6'2 222 SO 97 558 5.75 6.38 39.2%
Mississippi State Josh Robinson RB 5'9 215 JR 190 1203 6.33 6.28 44.7%
Army Larry Dixon RB 5'11 239 SR 190 1102 5.80 6.25 38.4%
UCLA Paul Perkins RB 5'11 198 SO 251 1575 6.27 6.23 43.4%
West Virginia Dreamius Smith RB 6'0 217 SR 81 451 5.57 6.13 39.5%
Houston Kenneth Farrow RB 5'10 218 JR 186 1037 5.58 6.12 39.8%
Arizona State D.J. Foster RB 5'11 205 JR 196 1081 5.52 6.09 39.3%

(One more semi-obvious note: these measures are indeed unadjusted for opponent. So a back like Jaylen Walton, who did most of his damage in a small handful of games and otherwise struggled, probably benefits from that.)

In Tevin Coleman and Melvin Gordon, we lost the two most well-rounded, noteworthy backs in the country. But if you get a chance to watch Jhurell Pressley or Matt Breida play (New Mexico plays Arizona State on the Pac-12 Network on Friday, Sept. 18; Georgia Southern starts the season with West Virginia on FSN on Sept. 5), you probably should take advantage of it. Both play in option attacks with exciting option quarterbacks, but still. They're fun. For example: