When people talk (or argue) about running backs, there’s really only one stat you hear: yards per carry. It’s an okay stat and it’s easy enough to calculate. But it doesn’t tell you anything about how the guy got to that number. Adrian Peterson has the same career YPC as Barry Sanders. Reggie Bush has a higher career YPC than Emmitt Smith. But all of these guys are vastly different. You hear the argument all the time that Emmitt Smith was more consistent, while Barry was kind of an all-or-nothing home run hitter. But average yards per carry doesn’t tell you anything about that. And maybe you value those aspects of a guy differently. Maybe you’d rather have the consistency of a guy that will keep churning out first downs. Maybe you would prefer the guy that can change a game and get you on the scoreboard in an instant. So I had the idea to make a histogram out of the distances of each run from a guy’s career. Considering I couldn’t find a database with such information and it takes a while to sift through box scores, I chose to stay away from the combined 7471 carries between Barry and Emmitt and instead look at a more topical comparison: Jahvid Best vs. Reggie Bush.
As you may know, the Lions just recently signed Reggie Bush to fill the gaping hole in their offense vacated by Jahvid Best. While a large part of this deal hinges on the pass-catching ability of both guys, the Lions could also use a big boost in their running game. Last year, the Lions had just 4 runs of 20 or more yards, tied for worst in the NFL, and less than an 8th of the total of 33 by the league leading Minnesota Vikings. The Lions could use some juice. They could use some Jahvid Best juice. So does Reggie Bush have it? Let’s go to the data.
I’ve collected the distance of every run from both Jahvid Best and Reggie Bush’s careers to this point and organized them by distance (for example, Best has had 27 runs of 0 yards in his career). I then divided these totals by the total number of carries to get a frequency (Best has a run of 0 yards on 11.2% of his carries). That way, I can compare apples to apples despite Reggie having way more carries in his career than Best. So here’s what I came up with…
We see a few interesting things here. The first is that Best has wayyy more carries of -3 to +2 yards than Reggie does. Reggie seems to fill out his distribution a little more symmetrically by dominating the +3 and +4 range. And while Bush has more -9 to -4 yard runs (2 runs of -9 yards in a career? yikes), he makes up for it by outshining Best in the 7 to 13 range. Above that, the data is pretty sporadic, but they both seem to have a similar number of explosive runs. I think it’s fair to call Reggie Bush a far better runner at this point.
By combing through the box scores, I’m also intrigued by Reggie Bush’s usage throughout his career. In his first 3 years with the Saints, Reggie Bush was used in tandem with Deuce McAllister with a little bit of Aaron Stecker and Pierre Thomas sprinkled in. Over that time span, he averaged 11.0 rushing attempt per game and 5.6 receptions per game. In 2009 and 2010, Reggie took a back seat to Mike Bell, Pierre Thomas, and Chris Ivory. His stats dropped to 4.8 rushes per game and 3.7 catches per game. Since moving on to Miami, he’s taken on a more traditional running back role, with 14.3 rushing attempts per game and 2.5 receptions per game.
Since his signing, there have been reports that the Lions offered Reggie the role of being a feature back and, of course, he was also brought in to fill Jahvid Best’s role. Considering that, I don’t think it would be out of the question for Bush to see something close to the 14.0 carries per game and 4.5 receptions per game that Best saw in 2011. Hopefully, that would combine his most successful rushing years from Miami (14.3 rushes per game at 4.7 YPC) with his most successful receiving years from New Orleans (5.6 receptions per game at 7.5 yards per catch).
Before this trade, I was all-in on the Reggie Bush bandwagon. After looking at the data, I think it’s safe to say I’m driving the bandwagon. A rich man’s Jahvid Best in an offense that never sees 8 man boxes is a recipe for plenty of offense.