Of our Signature Stats at PFF, I’m particularly engrossed by a running back’s breakaway percentage — or, the percentage of a back’s rushing yards that come on runs of 15-plus yards.

I find it a fascinating number, not only because it’s open to interpretation. If a percentage is high, is the back so explosive that you want to invest in him, or did he stumble into a handful of runs that aren’t repeatable? If it’s low, is he a plodder who relies on quantity over quality, or does that prove that his team trusts him even if an offensive line isn’t giving him great lanes?

The truth is that it depends. Leonard Fournette had the longest run of 2017, at 90 yards, and tied for the third-longest, at 75. His third-longest run? 28 yards. Fournette had a productive rookie year, finishing as the No. 10 PPR back even having missed three games, but he only topped 4.0 yards per carry in three of his 13 games, and two of those were only on the backs of those two longest runs. By contrast, Kareem Hunt’s rookie year featured 16 games — and more than 4.0 yards per carry in 11 of them.

Below, I’m just having some fun with the history of breakaway percentage, back to 2006. Some tidbits and interesting takeaways:

  • In 2007, Chris Johnson had 30 runs of 15-plus yards. That’s the second-most since 2006. The most? Adrian Peterson in 2012, with 40. He had a full 10 breakaway carries more than the second-best of the last 12 years. By contrast, Hunt had the most 15-plus-yard carries in 2017, at only 19.
  • Year-over-year changes: In 2016 with the Bills, Mike Gillislee had 100 carries, including 10 of 15-plus yards. In 2017 with the Patriots, he had 104 carries, including one of 15-plus yards. Of Gillislee’s 383 rushing yards, 16 came on that single “breakaway” run. The only qualified running backs with fewer breakaway yards since 2006 were:
    • Fred Jackson, 2012 (1 run for 15 yards)
    • Danny Woodhead, 2013 (0 breakaway runs)
    • Kevan Barlow, 2006 (0 breakaway runs)

  • As a combined entity, DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry were fairly steady from 2016 to 2017. Together, they had 14 breakaway carries for 374 yards in 2016, then 12 for 402 last year. But how they got there really helps illustrate why Henry is now the Titans starter and Murray is unemployed:
    • Murray, 2016: 9 breakaway carries for 286 yards
    • Murray, 2017: 4 breakaway carries for 134 yards
    • Henry, 2016: 5 breakaway carries for 88 yards
    • Henry, 2017: 8 breakaway carries for 268 yards
    • Interestingly, they both averaged exactly 33.5 yards on those carries in 2017.

Source: Pro Football Focus
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