What Are We Seeing?: Running Back Yards After Contact

The fact is, our eyes fail us. Research published in the Journal Of Usability Studies found in their specific case study that during discussions, involving their control group, people omitted important details of intricate systems 47% of the time during an explanatory process. Think of how troubling that is in relation to football film study. While it may be possible to recognize 50% of what is going on, there are just too many plays to watch from too many angles with too many individual processes at work to believe that we can form a fully representative opinion from simply watching tape. Some of the greatest studies about how our eyes and human memory are radically inaccurate come from the legal system, in relation to the reliability of eyewitness testimony. The American Bar Association writes that “decades of research show that memory is neither precise nor fixed”, and Farhan Sarwar, a Swedish professor, wrote in his doctoral dissertation on eyewitness testimony that his “results showed that…confidence tends to increase when a person asserts the same statement many times”. In relation to fantasy football, Sarwar’s findings are particularly troubling.


That featured quotation is from a piece I did for Rotoviz about objectivity in fantasy football. Something that came to light after posting my recent piece on Vincent Brown is that there is inherent distrust of statistics in relation to football, and I get it. I really do. There is an intuitive element to football that will never be able to quantify, and there are so many individual elements interacting on each and every play that it is hard to determine exactly what a true skill level of a player is from stats.

I obviously do not have that mindset. I’m going to trust combine numbers, advanced production measurables, and accumulated data at the NFL level over my eyes. There are a myriad of reasons why, and most of them are pretty simple. My eyes are not trained well enough to know exactly what I’m seeing and create the most meaningful outcomes possible. I’m not Greg Cosell. I’m not Matt Waldman. I’m not Rumford Johnny. Film evaluators are people that I respect. I read their work and digest as much of it as possible. Anyone who finds my work unpalatable has the right to do so, but to suggest that I trash the concept of film study or don’t respect those who are good at it is just flat wrong.

It is precisely because I don’t have the skill of these gentleman that I rely on numbers to help me create my evaluations. With numbers, I can find a sense of truth and reason that I am unable to with film. The meat of this post is a list of guys who have a reputation as soft-runners, plodders, or are perceived to be generally unathletic; but they all actually average a solid amount of yards per contact per Pro Football Focus premium statistics database.

Player Vision Yards Average Yards After Contact Average Total Carries Rank Amongst RB’s with >25% of Teams Snaps
Andre Brown 1.9 3.4 73 4
Issac Redman 0.7 3 110 8
Mark Ingram 1.1 2.8 156 11
Daryl Richardson 2 2.8 98 11
Ryan Mathews 1.2 2.6 184 19

Andre Brown- Brown has settled into continual comps as the thundering plodder next to David Wilson. However, Brown averaged 3.4 yards after contact on average, compared to David Wilson’s 2.7. Wilson is clearly the more talented runner, as he beat Brown down in vision yards, but this is a cautionary tale about believing a running back can only ‘get what is blocked’.

Issac Redman– At this point, Redman is not even guaranteed a roster spot. Fantasy owners have all but forgotten about Redman, and they are right to do so. However, if the larger fantasy football community were to guess the top 10 running backs in yards after contact average, exactly 0 people would guess that Redman was there. He is a great case in showing to us that our player evaluations aren’t always correct, and that some of the things that we value in a running back could maybe not be that valuable.

Mark Ingram– This is for stats AND film guys. All of the people who are supporting Mark Ingram as a value aren’t doing so because they believe in his talent, but because they think he offers value at his current ADP. Well, here is a direct indicator of his skill on the field. Over 156 carries last year, Ingram was tied for 11th with 2.8 yards after contact on average. Ingram serves as a great reminder that even if we were right about a player once, we need to be open to changing our minds and reevaluating players once indicators tell us that we should.

Daryl Richardson– Admittedly, I had basically written Richardson off as a change of pace guy. That’s what I saw from the coaching staff, and what I saw on twitter. However, the numbers blatantly say that over his 98 carries, Richardson had the exact same yards after contact average as Steven Jackson, who we all regard as a strong, physical runner. I’ve long held that I think Zac Stacy is going to be the best performer on the roster in 2013, this stat gives me pause. If Richardson can really run that tough, with his speed on the outside, it’s possible that he really is the best option.

Ryan Mathews- Who doesn’t hate Ryan Mathews? Honestly. He’s just the worst. The worst ever. He probably represents a value where he is being taken in fantasy drafts right now, but you aren’t going to feel good about it. Despite his awful, disappointing, no touchdown season last year, he is still in the top half of the league in yards after contact average which just blows my mind. When I watch Mathews, I see a sluggish guy who runs directly into a defender and makes no effort to avoid them. The 1.2 vision yards certainly back that up. However, the 2.6 yards after contact average gives me some optimism for his 2013 prospects.