Rushing QBs Effect On Their Team’s RBs
(Photo Credit: Gail Burton / AP)
We’ve all heard it. “Running back X won’t see the volume, especially around the goal line because they play with quarterback Y.”
This is a common assumption in the fantasy football community. Rushing quarterbacks sap some value from their running back counterparts because they are taking away valuable rushing attempts and have the ability to run the ball into the end zone. For example, Cam Newton has been his team's de facto goal-line back for the majority of his career.
While all of this is true, we never hear the specific correlation between a rushing quarterback and the running backs on his team. It has become somewhat of a hollow argument, as we don’t see real data to back up these claims. I’m here to change that.
Before we dive into the data, let’s sort a few things out. First and foremost, keep in mind that it can be subjective to determine who qualifies as a rushing quarterback and there are unique circumstances for each one. For example, Jalen Hurts, who I would label as a rushing quarterback, only started a handful of games for his team while the rest of the season ran through a non-rushing quarterback in Carson Wentz. And what do we do with the Saints? Taysom Hill is a surefire-rushing quarterback but only played in specific packages, until getting an extended run in 2020.
Answering those questions and collecting data for this exercise became somewhat daunting, so I had to break the numbers down into different categories. As I started, I set a benchmark of 300 QB rushing yards in a season, going back three full seasons. As I sorted through the data I wondered if the QB rushing attempts would change the data much. Due to my wandering mind, I also sorted the data out by teams with 70+ QB rush attempts and teams under 70.
Let’s start with the three-year averages in the statistical categories I looked at. As you can see, QB rushing averages 263 yards on 61 attempts with nearly 3 touchdowns, thanks to Cam Newton’s 1 million rushing touchdowns in 2020 skewing the data. For RB’s, we saw an average of 348 attempts with 1,508 yards and 11.4 touchdowns.
These three-year averages provide a benchmark as we compare them to the teams with more or less than 300 QB rushing yards and 70+ QB rush attempts. Over the past three seasons, there have been 30 teams that provided QB rushing yards at 300 or above. The most we have seen in this timespan is 1,277 QB rushing yards from the 2019 Ravens to go with seven rushing touchdowns. The RB’s on that squad saw 393 rush attempts for 1,954 yards and 14 touchdowns. These numbers absolutely smash the three-year averages shown above. So, in summary, a rushing QB has a positive effect on his RB’s, right? Case closed? Not so fast. Let’s take a closer look.
The RB’s on the 2019 Ravens offense saw just 49 receptions on 62 targets for 409 yards and six receiving touchdowns. The three-year averages above are good for just about 84 receptions on 110 targets, 652 yards, and 3.4 touchdowns. Obviously, those Ravens backs eclipsed the average touchdown receptions, but that was a bit of a fluke. You can see just how much the receiving totals were hurt by Lamar Jacksons' legs. So, is it possible that a rushing QB hurts his RB’s receiving numbers but boosts their rushing numbers? Let’s look at some of the other top QB rushing teams.
The 2020 Ravens boasted 1,115 QB rushing yards with seven rushing touchdowns. The RB’s saw 363 rushing attempts, 1,886 rushing yards, and 17 rushing touchdowns, again blowing away the three-year averages. This Ravens RB group produced 47 receptions on 62 targets for 364 yards and one touchdown. Here we see the touchdown total fall back down to earth, and obviously, the receiving numbers overall are well below the averages. The Ravens, however, are a bit of an outlier as most rushing QB’s do not have the ceiling of Lamar Jackson.
The next highest QB rushing total comes from Kyler Murray and the 2020 Cardinals with 834 yards and 11 touchdowns. Here we saw the Cardinals RB’s register 338 rushing attempts for 1,405 yards and 11 touchdowns. Interestingly enough, these totals are just a smidge behind the averages of 348, 1,508, and 11.4. The receiving numbers for the 2020 Cardinals RB’s are a bit further below average, as they registered 79 receptions on 99 targets, adding 546 receiving yards and five touchdowns. It would appear that without the elite, high-end rushing production from a QB that boosts the entire rushing offense, the RB totals begin to swing below average.
(Photo Credit: Josie Lepie / AP)
Before we reveal the complete averages of teams with over/under 300 QB rushing yards, let’s first look at some of the Bills and Patriots totals, as Josh Allen and Cam Newton are also premier rushing QB’s. The highest rushing totals from the Bills QB group, in the last three seasons, came in 2018 when Allen and company rushed for 678 yards and nine touchdowns. The RB group saw 350 rush attempts for 1,237 yards and just four touchdowns. It’s worth noting that Josh Allen, because of his size, is a better goal-line runner, thus limiting the RB touchdown potential more than somebody like Kyler Murray. The Bills RB’s produced just 64 receptions on 97 targets for 552 yards and zero touchdowns. Not great.
The 2020 Patriots, lead by former MVP Cam Newton, tallied 607 rushing yards and 12 QB rushing touchdowns. Here is another example of an elite goal-line QB rusher. The Patriots RB’s saw 341 yards for 1,645 yards and eight touchdowns. The attempts are just below average, while the rushing yards are a bit above and touchdowns are a bit below. Those same Patriots RB’s corralled 95 receptions on 122 targets with 772 receiving yards and six touchdowns, all above average.
It seems the biggest factor here comes from those QB’s who are capable of scoring rushing touchdowns, thus limiting the RB’s ability to do so. Of course, this is largely dependent on the skill set of the QB but also the RB group and the offensive scheme.
In some cases, we see the RB receiving totals go down as the QB is simply taking off with the ball rather than dumping it off. However, that’s clearly not the case with the Patriots. They historically have utilized the RB’s in this fashion, however. Especially with James White in the backfield. On the other hand, we do see the receiving production fall off dramatically with the Ravens, Cardinals, and Bills.
300 & Over QB Rushing Yard Averages
Under 300 QB Rushing Yard Averages
Three Year Averages For All Teams
As you can see, when the QB rushes for 300 yards or more, the RB rush attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns all take a slight dip compared to the three-year averages, but it’s not as significant as you might think. The attempts drop by 13, the rushing yards by 54, and the rushing touchdowns by one.
In terms of receiving stats for RB’s, targets drop by 12, receptions by 10, receiving yards by 77, and receiving touchdowns by just .2. Again, they are impacted but perhaps not as much as you would think.
Now, comparing the averages for teams with QB’s over 300 rushing yards versus those below is where we see a wider gap. There is a difference of just over 17 carries, 65 rushing yards, 1.5 rushing touchdowns. The difference in receiving stats are 18 targets, 15 receptions, 119 yards, and about .5 touchdowns. All of these are obviously in favor of the teams with QB’s rushing for less than 300 yards.
To be fair, I also looked at the numbers when we consider the number of QB rushing attempts rather than the yardage. This is more likely to eliminate outlier teams where a QB broke off a long run or two. However, the teams that stand out are the same as when we looked at yardage. We have the Ravens, Bills, Cardinals, and Patriots under Newton all taking these numbers to the extreme. With that in mind, let’s jump to the averages.
70 & Over QB Rush Attempt Averages
Under 70 QB Rush Attempt Averages
Three Year Averages For All Teams
The numbers are here are similar in the exercise above, but let’s run through them anyway. The effect on RB’s in an offense with a QB who rushes for 70 times or more versus the three-year averages for all teams is that they see 16 fewer rushing attempts, 76 rushing yards, and about 1.5 touchdowns. In terms of receiving, the RB’s see 11 fewer targets, nine fewer receptions, 91 fewer receiving yards, and about the same receiving touchdowns.
For teams that see below 70 QB rushing attempts, the RB’s see 4 more rush attempts than average, 21 more rushing yards, and .4 more rushing touchdowns. For receiving, the RB’s see four more targets, three more receptions, 22 more receiving yards, and about the same receiving touchdowns.
Now, comparing the 70 QB rushing attempt threshold we see a difference in 21 RB rushing attempts, 97 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns, 14 targets, 12 receptions, 91 receiving yards, and roughly the same amount of receiving touchdowns. Again, all in favor of the teams under 70 QB rush attempts.
We’ve sorted through all kinds of numbers and stats here, but the point is that every single RB stat favors the ones on a team with less QB rushing production, except for receiving touchdowns. With that being said, it’s not as significant as one would assume.
It’s also worth noting that these are averages, and teams with prolific rushing QB’s require more digging, like the Ravens. The Ravens RB’s don’t seem to be hurting as far as rushing production goes and in fact, they are well above average. This is most likely because Lamar Jackson garners so much attention on the ground that defenses key on him even when he hands it off. They are very efficient in that regard, but their offense is also completely built on the foundation of running the football.
On the flip side, the receiving production for Ravens RB’s falls off dramatically. This might be because Lamar takes off with the ball more often than dumping it off to his RB. In this case, the uber-efficient rushing metrics more than balance out the lack of receiving work (hint, hint buy J.K. Dobbins).
The overarching lesson in this article is that RB numbers may not be hurt as much as you think, but more so, it varies based on each individual team and QB. For the most part, RB numbers are hurt a little bit across the board, but more so on the receiving side. Touchdowns also dip quite a bit when the team boasts a bigger running QB who can stretch over the goal line with ease.
Because of the variance from team to team, it requires you to dig into the specific team when considering how an RB will be affected by his QB’s rushing or lack thereof. I know, right, who would have thought you should do some research before making a broad assumption?
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