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Running back Personality Types, part one

Posted by Chase Stuart on August 31, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, Jason wrote two interesting posts on Passer Personality Types. If you haven't read them, be sure to check out Part I and Part II of that series. I decided to steal his idea and do something similar for running backs.

I looked at all RBs who:

  • had rushed for at least 2,000 yards since 1950.

There are 134 running backs who meet those descriptions. I then split the sample into two groups of 67 runners for each of the following four categories:

Exciting or Plodding?: Does the player average greater or fewer yards per carry than the average RB? To measure this, I compared each runner's YPC average to the league average for each season of his career. I then computed a weighted, career average for each RB. If a RB's career average was 4.8% above league average, he gets the label "exciting." Anything under that, and he gets the label of "plodding." Why 4.8%? As you might expect, on average, the 134 runners in this sample were better than average in most things, including yards per carry. To make sure I had an even number of high and low YPC guys, I chose to split the group in half as opposed to simply seeing who was above or below average. There were sixty-seven running backs who averaged 4.8% yards per rush above average for their careers, and 67 who had career averages below 4.8% more yards per rush than average.

Vulture guy or Yardage guy?: For each season, I compared the percentage of league rushing yards (by RBs) each RB had to the percentage of league rushing TDs (by RBs) that RB had. Seventy of the 134 RBs had a larger percentage of league rushing TDs for their career than league rushing yards, so the cut-off rate was 2% above average to be a vulture, and anything below that makes you a yardage guy.

Catcher or a Runner?: Just like above, I compared the percentage of league receiving yards (by RBs) each RB had to the percentage of league rushing yards (by RBs) that each RB had. As you can imagine, most good RBs get a larger percentage of league rushing yards, since a lot of fullbacks and third down backs pile up the receptions. Only 39 of the 137 RBs had a higher percentage of league receiving yards than league rushing yards, so as long as you had 69% as high a percentage of league receiving yards as you did league rushing yards, you got labeled a catcher.

Big or Small?: This one was a little bit trickier. To compute the league average, I calculated the average weight of the runner on the average carry in the NFL for each season. So a RB with 300 carries gets his weight counted twice as heavily as a RB with 150 carries. This broke down well in our sample; as long as you were heavier than league average (weighted, for your career), you were labeled big. If you were lighter, you were labeled small.

If the descriptions of these categories are confusing, don't worry; the results are intuitive. I'm not trying to come up with an exotic formula, but just matching the descriptions we should expect to see. In general, I think teams have to choose between the Rudi Johnsons of the world -- a plodder, a vulture, a runner and a big guy -- and the Charlie Garners of the world -- an exciting runner, a yardage guy, a catcher and a small guy. But is there an ideal?

I think of the best 16 categories, there is an aspirational group. Reasonable people will disagree about what style the ideal RB would play, but for me, I'd want him to be exciting and to be a good pass catcher -- those things come with almost no downside. And while I think yardage/vulture could be a toss-up -- if a guy has 1800 yards and 6 TDs that's usually not his fault -- I suppose on balance, the scales tip towards the vulture. And while we could argue size vs. speed all day, if a guy puts up a good YPC average while being a big back, I'm not too worried about his speed. That makes me think the E-V-C-B is the ideal type.

It turns out that this aspirational group contains only four players. One of them is LaDainian Tomlinson. Can you guess the other three E-V-C-B runners? What about the polar opposite -- the plodding guy who doesn't score touchdowns, who doesn't have good hands, but isn't even big? One guy with the P-Y-R-S profile had an exemplary career, proving that you can succeed with any personality type.

To help keep the personality definitions in mind, here are the most extreme players for each characteristic:

Exciting: Dan Towler (Gale Sayers comes in second)
Plodding: Bill Brown (Eddie George in second)
Vulture: Pete Johnson
Yardage: Joe Washington
Catcher: Lenny Moore
Runner: Michael Turner
Big: Pete Johnson (Christian Okoye comes in third)
Small: Warrick Dunn

Finally, I'll close with what the most neutral personality type. Ricky Watters was not in the top 50 on any of the eight categories. That means he was in the middle band of 34 (of 134) on all four personality groups. Yes, I guess that's what we'll all remember Ricky for; being as normal as can be.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 31st, 2009 at 6:00 am and is filed under Totally Useless. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.