In-depth stats: Where the running backs rank

If the Vikings are looking for a running back in the first two days of the draft, the stats show why two are dominant favorites and where the others excel.

While the Minnesota Vikings aren’t expected to select a running back in the first round of the NFL draft, that might be dependent on what happens with Adrian Peterson, who is expected to be reinstated to the NFL sometime this month.

If the Vikings end up feeling forced to trade Peterson because of his apparent discontentment with the organization, all bets are off. But the top two running backs in the draft should both be available for the Vikings at No. 11 if that’s an option they want to consider if Peterson is traded before they are on the clock on April 30.

Even if they don’t trade Peterson, an eventual replacement for him is a possibilities in the ensuing rounds.

In an in-depth stats comparison of the top five running backs in the draft, Scout.com’s Dave-Te’ Thomas breaks down how they ranked in numerous rushing categories and the importance of the top five to their college offenses.

The numerous statistics show why Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon are at the top of a deep draft for the position, and who is next – taking into account the power and outside running game, negative plays and more.

Gordon is ranked at the top of Scout.com’s rankings at the position, but if not for a knee injury to Gurley he would rank at the top. The stats prove why Gurley, if healthy, is the best bet among running backs in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Gurley dominates the rankings in numerous categories, from the power running game to the outside running game and nearly everything in between.

Among the top five running backs in the draft – Gordon, Gurley, Jay Ajayi, Jeremy Langford and Ameer Abdullah – the Georgia running back ranked first in percentage of touchdowns 10 yards or longer, first in percentage of touchdowns 20 yards or longer, total offensive yardage in games he played (42.37 percent), first in total points scored by his offense (55.7 percent), and second in percentage of his team’s touchdowns (53.33). Gurley also ranked first in the outside running game, including every statistic contained within that category, and did well in the power running game, too.

Gordon represented well, too, ranking second in most of the categories that Gurley won. Whether it was in the categories mentioned above or figuring in the receiving game, too, Gordon also ranked second to Gurley.

Compiling all the running-game statistics, Langford ranked third, with Ajayi fourth and Abdullah fifth. Figuring in the receiving statistics, Ajayi overtook Langford for third, but the order of the other three remained the same.

Here are the in-depth statistics compiled by Thomas:

TOP RUNNING BACKS COMPARISON CHARTS
The charts below compare the performances of the five top-rated running backs eligible for the 2015 draft, using their 2014 season statistics for this project. Each of the players listed below are considered to be early-round draft selections. I examine each athlete’s performance in detailed categories, based on game averages or percentage of plays.

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RUNNING BACK TALE OF THE TAPE
PLAYERSCHOOL CLASSHEIGHT WEIGHT40-YD
AMEER ABDULLAHNebraska Senior5:08.6 2054.60
JAY AJAYIBoise State Junior5:11.6 2214.57
MELVIN GORDONWisconsin Junior6:00.5 2154.52
TODD GURLEYGeorgia Junior6:00.5 2224.54
JEREMY LANGFORDMichigan State Senior5:11.5 2084.42


2014 SEASON RUSHING STATISTICS
PLAYERGM ATTYARDS AVGTD SDS1ST 3RD4TH 10+20+ RZGL MT
ABDULLAH13 2641611 06.1019 23/04079 0600 4417 2715 058
AJAYI14 3471823 05.2528 30/01086 1001 3711 4423 074
GORDON14 3432587 07.5429 36/04108 1002 5733 3419 042
GURLEY06 1230911 07.4109 16/05047 0202 2609 1905 025
LANGFORD13 2761522 05.5113 33/04102 1801 3814 6024 090
READING THE CHARTS: GM indicates games played that season…ATT indicates amount of rushing attempts… YARDS indicates rushing yardage gained…AVG indicates average per carry…TD indicates touchdown runs…SDS indicates key non-scoring rushing attempts on drives that resulted in touchdowns/field goals…1st indicates rushing attempts that were good for first downs…3rd indicates successful third-down runs that were converted into first downs…4th indicates successful fourth-down runs that were converted into first downs…10+ indicates rushing attempts that gained 10-19 yards…20+ indicates carries for twenty yards or longer…RZ indicates rushing attempts inside the red zone…GL indicates carries on goal-line plays…MT indicates times runner was tackled by more than one defender on non-touchdown carries…TFL indicates times tackled behind the line of scrimmage on rushing attempts…NG indicates rushing attempts that were stopped for no gain.

READING BETWEEN THE LINES
In the NFL, teams expect their ball carriers to average at least four yards per attempt (AVG). In college football, that level is increased to five yards per rush, as a lot of teams use the spread offense, giving those runners an extra step to build their acceleration. Gurley and Gordon operate more in a pro-style offensive scheme, making their average per carry figures even more impressive, while Ajayi’s numbers came from getting most of his opportunities between the tackles, rather than on sweeps and end-around runs.

To find out the table-setters, look at the TD/DSS numbers. Ajayi ran for 28 touchdowns (TD), but managed to set up just two other touchdown drives and one field goal (SDS) from his big plays as a ball carrier. On the other side of the coin, Langford scored 13 times but had big runs that led to 20 more Michigan State touchdown drives, and on four possessions that led to field goals. Moving the chains is a critical factor for tailbacks. Usually, I look for those runners to record first downs on at least 30% of their carries. Both Gurley (38.21%) and Langford (36.96%) were very good at getting the chains moved, but Ajayi brought in the lowest figure (24.78%), followed by Abdullah (29.92%). Gordon pulled in a number of 31.49%.

Big runs always excite the fan base and Gordon more than quenched Badger fans’ thirst, converting 16.62% of his runs into gains of at least 10 yards (10+), but the best numbers recorded there were by Gurley, reaching 10 yards on 21.11% of his runs. Ajayi was the least successful at 9.8%, leading to his lowest number within the group with a 3.17% mark for gains of 20 yards or longer. The 20-plus yard champ was Gordon, as 9.62% of his carries reached that level.

Power runners are those usually getting the call inside the red zone, and 21.74% of Langford’s carries came in this area, with Gurley making 15.45% of his chances within 20 yards of the goal line. Gordon was the least successful (9.91%), the only one of the five with less than 10 percent of his attempts in that area. Ajayi (23) and Langford (24) had the most carries for positive yardage on goal-line snaps.

POWER RUNNING GAME COMPARISONS
PLAYERATT MTPCT RK1st 3rd4th PCTRK RZPCT RKTD PCTRK PTSTOT
ABDULLAH245 05823.67 2079 0600 29.924 2710.23 413 4.924 104
AJAYI319 07423.20 3086 1001 24.785 4412.68 324 6.921 122
GORDON314 04213.38 5108 1002 31.493 3409.91 517 4.963 085
GURLEY114 02521.93 4047 0202 38.211 1915.45 205 4.075 122
LANGFORD254 09035.43 1102 1801 36.962 6021.74 115 5.432 181
NOTES: ATT indicates amount of non-touchdown rushing attempts…MT indicates times runner was tackled by more than one defender on non-touchdown carries…PCT indicates percentage of multiple-tackled runs compared to total amount of carries…RK indicates rank in that category…1st indicates rushing attempts that were good for first downs…3rd indicates successful third-down runs that were converted into first downs…4th indicates successful fourth-down runs that were converted into first downs…PCT indicates percentage of runs converted into first downs compared to total amount of carries…RZ indicates rushing attempts inside the red zone…PCT indicates red zone rushing attempts compared to total amount of carries…TD indicates total touchdown runs of 1-to-19 yards (inside the red zone)…PCT indicates touchdown runs of 1-to-19 yards compared to total amount of carries…PTS for each ranking category, players receive points based on their finish-5 points for first, 4 for second, 3 for third, 2 for fourth, 1 for fifth…TOT indicates that running back’s final ranking vs. the other players listed…Note-categories are based on average per game.

READING BETWEEN THE LINES
Power runners are the workhorse types, usually dragging multiple defenders before they are brought down. One way of judging those big producers is by tallying up the times the player was tackled by multiple defenders before being stopped on non-touchdown carries (ATT/MT). Even though he is not as big as the other runners, Langford was the best producer here, as 35.43% of those carries required that he would need to be gang-tackled. The worst was Gordon – known for his speed, but not really one that can bounce back after the initial hit. In that category, I expect the ball carrier to record at least 20%.

Converting those carries (1st/3rd/4th), I look for at least a 30% rate, with Gurley and Langford recording the best numbers. For a 205-pound player, Langford proved to be highly productive working inside the red zone, where he produced 15 of 18 of his touchdown runs. Ajayi also had a good nose for the end zone in the short area, scoring 24-of-28 times near the goal line.

OUTSIDE RUNNING GAME COMPARISONS
PLAYERGM ATT10+ 20+PCT RKTD LTDPCT RKTDS FGSPCT RKPTS TOT
ABDULLAH13 26444 1716.67 219 0631.58 423 0410.23 408 4
AJAYI14 34737 1110.66 528 0414.29 530 0108.93 503 5
GORDON14 34357 3316.62 329 1241.38 236 0411.66 310 2
GURLEY06 12326 0921.14 109 0444.44 116 0517.07 115 1
LANGFORD13 27638 1413.77 422 0731.82 333 0413.41 209 3
NOTES: ATT indicates amount of rushing attempts…10+ indicates rushing attempts that gained 10-19 yards…20+ indicates carries for twenty yards or longer…PCT indicates percentage of long runs compared to total amount of carries…RK indicates player’s ranking in that category…TD indicates total amount of touchdown runs…LTD indicates touchdown runs of 20 or more yards…PCT indicates percentage of long runs (20 yards or longer) compared to the player’s total touchdown runs…TDS indicates big running plays by the player that set up touchdowns scored by other teammates…FGS indicates big running plays by the player that set up team field goals…PCT indicates percentage of carries that set up touchdown drives/field goals compared to the player’s total amount of carries...PTS for each ranking category, players receive points based on their finish-5 points for first, 4 for second, 3 for third, 2 for fourth, 1 for fifth…TOT indicates that running back’s final ranking vs. the other players listed.

READING BETWEEN THE LINES
Breaking for the big gains is another important area for a tailback. Gurley and Gordon were the most successful in converting their carries into big gains, as the Badger reached the end zone 12 of 29 times on carries of 20 yards or longer. Ajayi was the worst, managing just 14.29% of his touchdowns from long distances. Ajayi was also the worst in being involved on scoring drives, as just 8.93% of his attempts were on drives that led to either field goals or touchdowns for the Broncos.

NEGATIVE RUNNING PLAY COMPARISONS
PLAYERATT TFLNG PCTRK GMPEN FUMPCT RKTO PCTRK PTSTOT
ABDULLAH264 1617 12.503 1300 031.14 302 66.674 083
AJAYI347 3027 16.434 1401 072.31 404 57.142 083
GORDON343 4521 19.535 1401 072.33 504 57.142 065
GURLEY123 1002 09.761 0600 000.00 100 00.001 151
LANGFORD276 1116 09.782 1300 031.09 202 66.674 102
NOTES: ATT indicates amount of rushing attempts…TFL indicates rushing attempts that the ball carrier was tackled for a loss…NG indicates amount of carries that the ball carrier was stopped for no gain… PCT indicates percentage of tackles for loss/no gain compared to total amount of carries…RK indicates player’s ranking in that category, based on lowest percentage…GM indicates total amount of games played…PEN indicates amount of times ball carrier was penalized…FUM indicates amount of times ball carrier fumbled the ball…PCT indicates percentage of penalties/fumbles by the ball carrier per rushing attempt…RK indicates player’s ranking in that category, based on lowest percentage…TO indicates player’s fumbles that the opposition converted into scoring drives…PCT indicates percentage of fumbles the opponent converted into scoring drives… RK indicates player’s ranking in that category, based on lowest percentage…PTS for each ranking category, players receive points based on their finish-5 points for first, 4 for second, 3 for third, 2 for fourth, 1 for fifth…TOT indicates running back’s final ranking vs. the other players listed.

READING BETWEEN THE LINES
No ball carrier will be successful on every rushing attempt, but you’d like to have one with minimal chances for failure. I want a player who will gain positive yards on at least 90% of their rushing attempts (TFL/NG), and, based on the numbers above, Gurley (9.76%) and Langford (9.78) met that goal. Gordon is either a game-breaker or a heart-breaker. He was caught behind the line of scrimmage for losses of 45 carries and stopped at the line of scrimmage 21 other times. Ajayi was not much better, with 30 attempts for negative yardage and 27 more that yielded no results.

Gurley was a model for ball security last year. In fact, he’s been that way his entire career, turning the ball over just twice via fumbles through 510 carries in college. Both Gordon and Ajayi have had a history of fumble issues. In addition to both recording seven last season, the duo share another thing in common – 12 turnovers via fumbles for each of their careers.

OFFENSIVE IMPORTANCE COMPARISON CHART-PART ONE
PLAYER10TD PCTRK 20TDPCT RKTDR TMPCT RKR/YD TMPCT RKPTS TOT
ABDULLAH08 42.114 0526.32 419 3554.29 31611 312351.59 409 4
AJAYI11 39.295 0414.29 528 3971.79 11823 299460.89 112 3
GORDON16 55.172 1241.38 229 4663.04 22587 448257.72 216 1
GURLEY05 55.561 0444.44 109 2339.13 50911 173352.57 314 2
LANGFORD10 45.453 0731.82 322 4450.00 41522 305749.79 509 4
NOTES: 10TD indicates player’s touchdown runs for 10 yards or longer…PCT indicates percentage of player’s 10-yards or longer touchdowns vs. total touchdown runs…RK indicates rank in that category… 20TD indicates player’s touchdown runs for 20 yards or longer…PCT indicates percentage of player’s 20-yards or longer touchdowns vs. total touchdown runs…RK indicates rank in that category…TDR indicates total touchdown runs by player…TM indicates total touchdown runs by team…PCT indicates percentage of the player vs. team’s touchdown runs…RK indicates rank in that category…R/YDS indicates amount of rushing yardage by the player…TM indicates rushing yardage by the team…PCT indicates percentage of the player’s rushing yardage vs. his team…RK indicates rank in that category…PTS indicates points for each ranking category, players receive points based on their finish;-5 points for first, 4 for second, 3 for third, 2 for fourth, 1 for fifth…TOT indicates that running back’s final ranking vs. the other players listed… Note-This category is based on percentage of plays involved in to break any ties.

OFFENSIVE IMPORTANCE COMPARISON CHART-PART TWO
PLAYERAPY TTOPCT RKPTD TTDPCT RKPRF TPTPCT RKPTS TOT
ABDULLAH2272 588038.64 323 5938.98 5173 45837.78 505 5
AJAYI2358 692034.08 430 6645.45 4213 51041.76 406 4
GORDON2740 656441.74 236 6159.02 1264 48454.55 213 2
GURLEY1147 270742.37 116 3053.33 2127 22855.70 114 1
LANGFORD1584 651024.33 533 7047.14 3243 52846.02 307 3
NOTES: APY indicates player’s all-purpose yardage…TTO indicates team’s total offense yardage (only in games played by the ball carrier)…PCT indicates percentage of yardage player gained vs. that of his team…RK indicates rank in that category…PTD indicates total touchdowns/drives responsible by the player…TTD indicates total touchdowns registered by the team’s offense (only in games played by the ball carrier)…PCT indicates percentage of the team’s offensive touchdowns registered by the player…RK indicates rank in that category…PRF indicates amount of points player scored or helped set up via rushing attempts (led to touchdowns/field goals)…TPT indicates amount of points scored by the team’s offense (only in games played by the ball carrier)… PCT indicates percentage of the player’s points responsible for vs. points scored by his team’s offense…RK indicates rank in that category…PTS indicates points for each ranking category, players receive points based on their finish;-5 points for first, 4 for second, 3 for third, 2 for fourth, 1 for fifth…TOT indicates that player’s final ranking vs. the other four running backs listed…Note-This category is based on percentage of plays involved in to break any ties.

READING BETWEEN THE LINES
Of course, a running back needs to contribute in other areas. The more ways that athlete can provide yardage, the better chance the team has for scoring. While most college tailbacks are relegated to just first-unit carries, others add to their resumes as efficient receivers or on special teams as a returner. You want your featured back to be responsible for at least 35% of the offense generated (APY). You also would like to see them involved in 45% of the team’s scoring drives (PTD/TTD). Gordon and Gurley went well beyond the threshold for this area, but Abdullah was often replaced when the field shortened, thus for his low PRF/TPT numbers.

RECEIVING STATISTICAL COMPARISON CHART
PLAYERGP NOAVG RKYDS AVGRK TDAVG RKSP AVGRK PTSTOT
ABDULLAH13 221.69 3269 20.692 030.23 206 0.462 152
AJAYI14 503.57 1535 38.211 040.29 105 0.363 181
GORDON14 191.36 4153 10.933 030.21 305 0.363 114
GURLEY06 122.00 2057 09.504 000.00 403 0.501 133
LANGFORD13 110.85 5062 04.775 000.00 403 0.235 055
NOTES: GP indicates games played…NO indicates amount of receptions…AVG indicates average receptions per game…RK indicates rank in that category…YDS indicates yards gained receiving…AVG indicates average yards gained receiving per game…RK indicates rank in that category…TD indicates touchdown receptions…AVG indicates average touchdown receptions per game…RK indicates rank in that category…SP indicates amount of big plays via receptions that led to the receiver’s team capping that possession with either a touchdown or field goal…AVG indicates average big plays via receptions per game…RK indicates rank in that category…PTS indicates points for each ranking category, players receive points based on their finish;-5 points for first, 4 for second, 3 for third, 2 for fourth, 1 for fifth…TOT indicates that player’s final ranking vs. the other running backs listed.

 

READING BETWEEN THE LINES
Not all great running backs are great receivers. Few come out of college with the pass catching pedigree of a Steven Jackson, Arian Foster or Matt Forte. That is where Ajayi sees his stock greatly elevated, as he has proven to be a great safety-valve receiver for dump-offs and on controlled routes. It looks like Big Ten runners are just a mere afterthought in the passing game (Gordon and Langford), with Adbullah at least showing enough skills to possibly play in the slot, if needed.

 
THE FINAL REPORT CARD GRADES (RUSHING ONLY)
PLAYERSCHOOL GMPRG ORGNPC OIC1OIC2 PTSRK
ABDULLAH, AmeerNebraska 1310 0808 0905 0535
AJAYI, JayBoise State 1412 0308 1206 0554
GORDON, MelvinWisconsin 1408 1006 1613 0672
GURLEY, ToddGeorgia 0612 1515 1414 0761
LANGFORD, JeremyMichigan State 1318 0910 0907 0663
AVERAGE  12.012.0 09.009.8 12.009.0 63.4
THE FINAL REPORT CARD GRADES (RECEIVING INCLUDED)
PLAYERSCHOOL GMPRG ORGNPC OIC1OIC2 RECPTS RK
ABDULLAH, AmeerNebraska 1310 0808 0905 15068 5
AJAYI, JayBoise State 1412 0308 1206 18073 3
GORDON, MelvinWisconsin 1408 1006 1613 11078 2
GURLEY, ToddGeorgia 0612 1515 1414 13089 1
LANGFORD, JeremyMichigan State 1318 0910 0907 05071 4
AVERAGE  12.012.0 09.009.8 12.009.0 12.475.8
NOTES: This chart lists the statistics compiled by each running back during their respective seasons… PRG indicates points scored in the above Power Running Game Comparison Chart…ORG indicates points scored in the above Outside Running Game Comparison Chart…NPC indicates points scored in the above Negative Play Comparison Chart…OIC1and OIC2 indicates points scored in the above Offensive Importance Comparison Chart…REC indicate points scored in the above Receiving Statistical Comparison categoy…PTS indicates total points scored from all of these categories…RK indicates final ranking, based on total points scored.

SCOUT.COM DRAFT RANKINGS

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