Football 101: DeMarco Murray & The Running Back Position

DeMarco Murray - Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Is 1,000 yards for a running back still an accomplishment? The Dallas Cowboys have a big decision on whether to re-sign DeMarco Murray because of his injury concerns.

The running back position has greatly evolved over the years. As mentioned in an earlier post of mine, the running back started out as a big bruising back that would run over people and carry the ball a ridiculous number of times.

The bench mark that represents a large number of attempts to many of those of us that look at stats seems to be 300 plus attempts per year. But with teams using more and more dual duty running backs, we need to think anew about this position and the 1,000 yard rusher.

With 16 games a year, dividing that into 1,000, you get only 62.5 yards per game to reach that supposedly magic number.

If the primary running back only gets about 20 carries a game, then he only needs to average 3.1 yards per attempt per game to reach 1,000 yards and I think that can be done by any average running back, and my evidence is presented below.

I might point out that in doing this article I found out some interesting things and one of them was what we have in DeMarco Murray. Read on to see what I mean.

GRADING THE POSITION

Yards per carry may not be the most fair way to grade a running back, but it is the one that seems to equate to the best of all time. (Meaning if your considered a great running back, shouldn't you have a great average?) And with the limited number of attempts that running backs get with the running back by committee approach and the new emphasis on the passing attack, we have even more reasons to reevaluate.

Grade Yards Per Attempt
Elite 5-6 yards
Excellent 4-5 yards
Good 3.5-4 yards
Average 3-3.5 yards

Now, you may ask where I got those numbers. Well, if you take a look at the next table, the elite category should become readily apparent. And the rest I got from my own deduction. Maybe you will agree with me and maybe you won't, but I present the evidence for you edification none-the-less.

THE BEST OF ALL TIME

Num Name YPA When
1 Marion Motley 5.7 1946-1955
2 Jamaal Charles 5.6 2008-2013
3 Jim Brown 5.2 1957-1965
4 Mercury Morris 5.1 1969-1976
5 Joe Perry 5 1948-1963
6 Gale Sayers 5 1965-1971
7 Barry Sanders 5 1989-1998
8 Adrian Peterson 5 2007-2013
9 Napoleon Kaufman 4.9 1995-2000
10 Paul Lowe 4.9 1960-1969

BACK TO THE CATEGORIES

So, now what about the other categories?  Well, I admit the others are purely my own grading numbers, but let me show you where I got them.

First of all, teams want to get a first down on three tries maximum, so that on fourth down, they can punt rather than risk turning the ball over if they did not get the first down. If a running back got three yards per attempt, then after three tries, the team would be short one yard for a first down. If the running back got three and a half yards per attempt for the first three downs, then the team would get a first down.

Looking at the top 75 running backs last year, the lowest yards per attempt were around three yards per attempt and the highest, (excluding quarterbacks, and they certainly had less than 150 attempts), the highest was 5.2 yards.

So, having said that lets look at the average yards per carry for last year. You will find the stats that I used here.

Again, looking at the top 75 running backs last year, and going with at least 150 carries, guess who had the highest yards per attempt in the NFL?

DeMarco Murray  5.2 Y.P.A.

Yep, slightly more than LeSean McCoy, who was at 5.1 yard per attempt.

For their careers, Emmitt Smith and Calvin Hill averaged 4.2 yards per attempt.

Here are the top six running backs from last year and their stats.  Remember, I took out quarterbacks and running backs with less than 150 attempts.

Rank Name Team Pos Attemps Yards Avg Yards Per Game Rush TDs
1 DeMarco Murray DAL RB 217 1,121 5.2 80 9
2 LeSean McCoy PHI RB 314 1,607 5.1 100 9
3 LeGarrette Blount NE RB 153 772 5.1 48 7
4 Jamaal Charles KC RB 259 1,287 5 86 12
5 Matt Forte CHI RB 289 1,339 4.6 84 9
6 Alfred Morris WAS RB 276 1,275 4.6 80 7

Keep in mind that a big part of how these running backs get their yards is due to the offensive coordinator calling good plays and the offensive line doing a great job blocking.

Having said that, there are a couple of things we can take away from these stats. First Jamaal Charles is a great running back and second, DeMarco Murray certainly might become one, running behind this line if he stays healthy.

So, what do you all think?  Should we think about extending Murray? Next year he will be an unrestricted free agent (here), and he only counts about $1.5 million on our cap this year.

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