When Mike Garafolo tweeted that the Jaguars were releasing Leonard Fournette, Eagles twitter went crazy. Cries to, “Sign him to a vet minimum deal!” were abundant, as if every vet in the league is waiting on nothing more than a minimum deal from the Eagles. People longed for the short yardage production that LaGarrette Blount provided for the 2017 Super Bowl team and convinced themselves that Leonard Fournette was the missing piece for a repeat run in 2020.
Well, that didn’t last long. However, the thing is that the Eagles don’t need a “short-yardage” running back and they never have.
How Important was LeGarrette Blount to the Super Bowl Run?
People love to talk about the impact the Blount made on the Super Bowl run. They claim that a short-yardage back is crucial in, you know, short-yardage situations, the red zone, and grinding out the clock at the end of games. A cursory look at the stats shows otherwise.
In 2017 the Eagles called run plays in a short-yardage situation (3 or fewer yards to go) 96 times. Of those 96 carries, 42 were given to Blount, more than double the next closest player. How did he perform in those situations? Worse than anyone else on the team. Blount’s success rate of 43% was lower than Corey Clement’s (53%), Wendell Smallwood’s (63%), and Jay Ajayi’s (64%). Do you know who had the highest success rate on short-yardage situations? Carson Wentz, who was successful on 15 of 16 attempts.
Hot Take: Leonard Fournette isn’t a good NFL running back and he never has been. His addition in Tampa doesn’t move the needle at all.— Shane Haff (@HAFFnHAFF_TPL) September 3, 2020
What about the red zone?
Surely Blount shined in the red zone, right? Wrong. Blount’s success rate on all red zone running plays was even lower at 38%, despite being given more than double the opportunities of anyone else on the team. So did Blout really make the 2017 team better? Or, was he actually horribly inefficient nearly every time the ball was placed in his hands?
What About 2019? How did the Eagles do in short-yardage situations last season?
Their worst rusher in short-yardage situations was Miles Sanders. That sounds antithetical to my argument, doesn’t it? This is why the Eagles need a short-yardage back, right? Well, I forgot to mention that Sanders’ worst on the team success rate was 70%. That’s right, Miles Sanders 70% success rate in short-yardage situations was the worst on the team in 2019, and it was still 27% higher than Blount’s 2017 rate.
What About The Rest of the League?
I wonder if teams with a 100-yard rusher have a higher win % because they are running the ball a lot in the 2nd half once the lead has been established…. hmm…. https://t.co/de4st6NaiT— Shane Haff (@HAFFnHAFF_TPL) September 1, 2020
Surely short-yardage backs are a big factor in the rest of the league right? When you apply the same filters to the NFL as a whole (minimum of 10 attempts on plays with 3 or fewer yards to gain) 7 of the top 8 players are quarterbacks. The QB sneak has always been the most effective short-yardage play in the NFL and teams are finally beginning to catch on. The ability to run QB sneaks on 3rd and 1 has largely negated the need for a power running back.
Removing quarterbacks from the equation, the top 5 running backs were Kenyan Drake, Damien Williams, Latavius Murray, Nyheim Hines, and Rashaad Penny. Is anyone in that group considered an elite power back? Some of them aren’t even considered power backs at all.
I get it. I really do. There is something sexy about chasing every vet that hits the market. There is nostalgia around how the 2017 team was built and a thought that if it could just be replicated then the results would be replicated too. However, chasing the past is a great way to ruin the future. That’s how you draft a backup quarterback in the 2nd round because you have convinced yourself you are a QB factory. That’s how you talk yourself into bringing back Jay Ajayi so he can rush for 214 yards in 2 years.