The 2022 Eagles Backfield Breakdown is part of an offseason series in which I take a deep dive into one NFL team’s backfield and examine the respective rushing performances of the players in it. In doing so, I hope to gain insights into key players from a talent evaluation standpoint, and using that evaluation as a baseline, from a dynasty valuation standpoint. The first installments in the series can be found here.
I’ll start by taking a quick overview of each team’s raw rushing volume and propensity to run the ball in general, and then dive into the player evaluation portion. Before we start, let’s define the metrics I’ll use as part of those evaluations:
Yards per Carry+ (or YPC+)
The degree to which a player’s raw yard per carry average exceeds or falls short of the collective yard per carry average of all other running backs on his team. Meant to be an overview of a player’s team-relative efficiency.
The degree to which the average amount of defenders in the box that a player faces on his runs exceeds or falls short of the collective average faced by the other running backs on his team. Considering that the outcome of any given rushing attempt is largely dependent on the amount of defenders in the box pre-snap, Box Count+ describes the relative degree of difficulty of a running back’s carries.
Breakaway Conversion Rate (BCR)
Quantifies performance in the open field by measuring how often a player turns his chunk runs of at least 10 yards into breakaway gains of at least 20 yards.
Box-Adjusted Efficiency Rating (BAE Rating)
Improves upon YPC+ by accounting for the box counts that a player carried the ball against. Looks at team-relative yards per carry against each individual box count, then uses a weighted average (based on total carries against each box count) to generate an overall score. A score of 100-percent indicates that a player is producing exactly the per carry output of his teammates, a score above 100-percent indicates that he is outdoing their per carry output to whatever degree, and vice versa for a score below 100-percent.
Relative Success Rate (RSR)
Measures player consistency using Success Rate, but relative to his teammates and adjusted for the box counts that he faced in the same way that BAE Rating is. “Success” on a given carry is defined by gaining 40-percent of yards needed on first down, 70-percent of yards needed on second down, and 100-percent of yards needed on third or fourth down. A score of 0.0-percent indicates that a player is succeeding on exactly the same percentage of his carries as are the other backs on his team, a positive score indicates that he is succeeding more often than his teammates are, and vice versa for a negative score.
Team Rushing Volume
The Philadelphia Eagles were one of the highest-volume rushing teams in the NFL last season. They finished 97 carries above league average and only one short of the league-leading Tennessee Titans.
According to rbsdm.com, the Eagles were a bit above the league mean in early-down run rate in neutral Game Script situations (when win probability for either team did not exceed 80-percent). They finished No. 11 in that metric in the first year of the Nick Sirianni era in 2021. They also ran the ball more than expected (based on league-wide play-by-play data) in almost every down-and-distance situation, and 5-percent more often than expected overall.
Regardless of where the carries are coming from, the Eagles are one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL and have plenty of opportunity to go around.
Along with Miles Sanders, there was a steady group at running backs for Philadelphia last season. Here are the complete rushing efficiency profiles for each of the five guys who saw work in the backfield:
Sanders gets a bad rap as an unnatural pure runner. But he has been an efficient producer relative to his teammates in every season of his career. His yearly BAE Ratings have been in the 69th, 82nd, and 89th-percentiles, respectively (2019-21).
There is credence to those criticisms of Sanders, though. Despite high overall efficiency numbers, he’s posted sub-50th-percentile Relative Success Rate marks in two of his three years; proving to be one of the most volatile running backs in the league on a per-touch basis.
Behind Sanders, Boston Scott lacked dynamism in the number-two role, while Jordan Howard was very efficient as the two-down pounder. His 78.1 (out of 100) Composite Efficiency Score represents the average between the percentile ranks of his BAE Rating and RSR marks. And it puts him at No. 11 among all running backs with at least 50 carries a year ago.
So Now What?
Miles Sanders has been just fine for the kind of player he is through three seasons. Though he’ll probably always be more athlete than technician. He’s proven effective within the context of his limitations. But it’s likely the Eagles look to add running back talent, if not in this draft than in the next. Howard is no longer under contract, so a hole exists in the backfield now.
Boston Scott will likely remain a thorn in the side of the production that the team’s fan-favorites could hypothetically post. He’s not fantasy relevant on his own, but affects the fantasy relevance of the other Eagles backs quite a bit.
Kenneth Gainwell is one of those fan favorites, and no one liked him better as a prospect than me. He commanded a high Target Share on a limited Snap Share, but was just bad on the ground as a rookie. He was uber-efficient in college, so I’m holding out for another year. I don’t like to pivot very far based on small efficiency samples from young players. But it’ll be time to cut loose on my three-down Gainwell hopes if he can’t pull it together in 2022.
Jason Huntley is a 193-pound running back who is no better than the third-best pass-catching back on his own team. He is not fantasy relevant.
Miles Sanders is likely to become a post-hype sleeper following this season. I’ll be in at cost if interest is unexpectedly low during his impending free agency.
Kenneth Gainwell has one more chance, and his prospect profile hints at tantalizing upside. He’s one of the highest-upside zero RB targets in 2022. It would not shock me if he just outplayed Sanders this season.
There’s a decent chance that the most valuable fantasy running back for the Eagles is not currently on the roster. Gainwell is mostly insulated from sudden value dips. I would not be investing heavily in Sanders until after the NFL Draft. He’s only going at RB30 in startups right now (according to DLF). But his trade value will crater if the Eagles draft a running back. That’s when you pounce.