Game Log Positional Breakdown: RBs. A Database of Running Stats and Analysis.

It is no secret that Florida State plans to run the ball a lot this year.  The offensive line under Rick Trickett is much better at run blocking than pass blocking.  Also, keeping the other team off the field will help our questionable defense. Many Seminole fans are very excited about the RBs at Florida State. Although Antone Smith averaged a decent 4.5 YPC, many noticed that he was tackled easily, and that Jermaine Thomas hit holes harder. In one of the more popular Fanposts in a while MissouriNole pondered statistically if Thomas is the next Warrick Dunn.

Recently I read this fantastic article from Smartfootball, which opened my mind a little to evaluating the RB position. It is an excellent piece.

Keep reading because behind the jump you get to see how I went through every game log last year to break down our backfield...


So that article by Chris over at Smartfootball shows that regardless of YPC the median yards gained by a back are usually about the same (Note: Median numbers are often more reliable because it helps to eliminate the effect of outliers). While that is true in the homogenous NFL, the difference between RBs in college football is often greater. However the fact is still true, the medians will almost always be very close. This leads to two conclusions about the evaluation of RBs. (1) That players who can create homerun carries for large chunks of yards are much more valuable than those that cannot; and (2) that evaluating only on yards gained and yards lost is a little misleading because yards lost may not be as important as some researchers have led on. I personally do not know the perfect way to evaluate these players, but I believe that if you can get ALL of the statistics that matter, the picture becomes a little clearer.

For this article I am going to list all of the statistics for the 3 primary RBs who played last year, and try to draw some inferences about what this means for our team this year. I went through all of the Division 1A game logs from last season (because as much as I appreciate the fun of beating Chattanooga, the stats don't really tell us anything because of the poor competition level) to find this info.

One statistic some of you may not be fully comfortable with at this point is Success Rate. The fine people over at Football Outsiders developed it to measure success of plays for RBs. Obviously, if it is 3rd and 1 and you get 2 yards, it is much more valuable than if you get 2 yards on 1st and 10. Success Rate is the amount of "hits" a back gets out of their total carries. A "hit" is earned by gaining 50% of yards needed on 1st down, 70% of yards needed on 2nd down, or 100% or yards needed on 3rd or 4th down. Let's get going, shall we?

Antone Smith: 

-1,-1,-1,-1,-1,-1,-1,-1,-1,-2,-2,-2,-2,-3,-3,-3,-3,-3,-3,-3,-4,-5,-5-6,-7,-9,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,

2,2,2,2,2,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,4,4,4,4,4,4,4,4,4,5,5,5,5,5,5,

5,5,5,5,5,5,5,6,6,6,6,6,6,6,7,7,7,7,7,7,7,7,7,8,8,8,8,8,8,8,8,9,9.10,10,10,

10,11,11,11,12,12,13,15,18,19,20,20,26,27,39,41,60

Carries Success Rate (%)
155 Carries 1st Down 32.3%
Median Carry:  2 Yards 2nd Down:  41.5%
Average Carry: 3.3 Yards 3rd/ 4th Down:  75%
16.8% Negative Carries Total:  38.7%
599 Yards Gaines
84 Yards Lost


Jermaine Thomas:

-3,-1,-1,-1,-1,0,0,0,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,2,2,2,3,3,3,4,4,4,4,4,5,5,6,7,7,7,8,8,10,10,

11,11,12,12,12,13,21,22,30,62--10.6% negative runs

Carries Success Rate (%)
47 Carries 1st Down 38.4%
Median Carry:  4 Yards 2nd Down:  66.6%%
Average Carry: 6.6 Yards 3rd/ 4th Down:  100%
10.6 % Negative Carries Total:  55.3%
320 Yards Ganed
7 Yards Lost


 

Marcus Sims:

 -2,-1,0,0,1,1,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,3,3,3,3,4,5,5,6,7,15--8.6% negative runs

Carries Success Rate (%)
23 Carries 1st Down 33.3%
Median Carry:  2 Yards 2nd Down:  44.4%%
Average Carry: 2.8 Yards 3rd/ 4th Down:  60%
8.6 % Negative Carries Total:  43.4%
67 Yards Ganed
3 Yards Lost

Ok so first things first, the sample for Marcus Sims is obviously very small, so they should be taken with a caveat. However they do show you some things about how he was deployed, and how well he ran the ball when he was. He very rarely lost yards.However the good late down success rate can be deceiving, because he was put into the game in manageble situations. You can see by his median run, average, and carry log that he wasn't extremely effective. The 2nd and short, and occasional break for a gassed starter, role can be filled well by Tavares Pressley.

When talking about the starters the first thing that pops out to me is that Antone Smith's average drops from a decent 4.5 YPC on the season to a paltry 3.3 against D1 opponents. Also Antone was rarely putting his team into great situations, because he has a median run of just 2 yards and 26 negative plays for 84 yards. 

The opposite is true of Jermaine Thomas. Thomas' average stays at a healthy 6.6 YPC against the better teams (7.0 on the season). Beyond that, and we have talked about it before, is the fact that Thomas doesn't go backward. The result is that Jermaine sports a very nice 4 yard median run, double that of Antone Smith.     

One thing becomes strikingly clear. Jermaine Thomas is in almost every single way possible superior to Antone Smith. Our coaches were playing them backwards last year. From the starting RB position a team should be able to rely upon that person to put the team in positive situations on first and second down more often than not. Jermaine does this. A change of pace back should offer something different than the starter, such as being a homerun threat. Smith absolutely was that with 7 runs over 20 yards, 5 for touchdowns. Antone's numbers here do get a little undersold because of the homerun ability, but is anyone here sold that for 4-5 touches a game Chris Thompson can't offer the same type of big play ability? I went into this article hoping to do two things.The first is provide Nole fans with a one stop shop for running stats from last year, so they have a comparison model. The other was to find out more about our backfield, an exploratory study of the game logs if you will. What I came away with was a fundamental belief that our running game is going to be even better than I thought it was going to be yesterday.

Additional support for the Thomas being better than Smith crowd comes from the true experts.  Bill Connelly, of RockMNation.com (Missouri CBS Sports and SBNation site) and Varsity Numbers (footballoutsiders.com) recently introduced Points Over Expected (POE).  This is arguably the best and most advanced measure of a runningback, independent of his offensive line, available to the college fan.  Please visit that link and be blown away.  

I asked Bill to provide me with the numbers for FSU's backs.  He gladly obliged.  

EqPts Expected EqPts PPP+ (Explosiveness) POE
Smith 66.4 55.6 119.3 + 10.8 (45th Nationally)
Thomas 30.1 23.4 120.90 +6.8 (72nd Nationally)

So there's your answer. Smith was better. So was Thomas. Actually, I'd give the edge to Thomas with the better PPP+, but Smith had almost 3x more carries. Maybe Thomas' production would have gone down with a lot more carries, but he did have the edge.

I'll add that Thomas got a large number of carries against good defenses and didn't simply beat up on bad teams like some backups do.  

 

Finally, because Ty Jones (or C.Jones on the game logs to confuse me) will be a big factor in our running game as well I will post his stats, however, they have almost no statistical significance at all because of the small sample size.  They are pretty to look at though, and dream. 

Ty Jones: -1,1,1,2,5,5,14,15,31 --11.1% negative plays

Carries Success Rate (%)
9 Carries
Median Carry:  5 Yards
Average Carry: 8.1 Yards
11.1 % Negative Carries Total:  55%
73 Yards Ganed
1 Yards Lost

 

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