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Broken Tackle Leaders

September 30, 2016
With the baseball postseason less than a week away and the football season now three weeks in, it’s one of the most enjoyable sports times of the year.  This year, we are particularly interested in what is going on in the NFL because of new data from Sports Info Solutions.  Sports Info Solutions (SIS), the new company name for Baseball Info Solutions, is in its second year of collecting in-depth NFL data similar to what has been done in baseball for the past 15 years.
The major challenge of football analysis is sorting out which players on a team are responsible for the things that happen on the field.  Running backs are a perfect example.  On some attempts, their speed, power, or elusiveness earn them yards that other backs would likely fail to gain in similar circumstances.  However, on other plays, the offensive line or the play design could result in a relatively uncontested 10 or more yards.  One way that charting at SIS attempts to isolate the ability of specific backs is by recording broken tackles on carries and receptions.
Here are the backs with the most broken tackles over the first three weeks of the NFL season:
Broken Tackle Leaders, Weeks 1-3, 2016
Player Broken Tackles Touches Broken Tackle Pct
David Johnson, Cardinals 21 57 37%
DeAngelo Williams, Steelers 18 79 23%
Todd Gurley, Rams 17 66 26%
Carlos Hyde, 49ers 14 64 22%
Matt Forte, Jets 14 76 18%
Eddie Lacy, Packers 13 45 29%
Theo Riddick, Lions 13 44 30%
DeMarco Murray, Titans 13 58 22%
Charles Sims, Buccaneers 13 38 34%
Ezekiel Elliot, Cowboys 11 76 14%
Shane Vereen, Giants 11 39 28%
David Johnson leads the NFL with 21 broken tackles.  The Cardinals’ sophomore back quickly emerged as one of the best all-around backs in the game after he took over for the injured Chris Johnson last December.  DeAngelo Williams is second with 18 broken tackles, which is amazing when you consider that he is the oldest back in the league at 33 years old and isn’t even the Steelers normal starter.  It’s a pretty great luxury to have a back of Williams’ caliber behind Le’Veon Bell.  Matt Forte is another back on the "wrong side of 30" near the top of the list.  However, take note that both Williams and Forte have reached the top of the leaderboard in part because of their heavy workloads.  With 79 and 76 touches through three weeks, they’re both in the top three for most work in the league.
Broken tackles percentage shows which backs have been the hardest to bring down on a per touch basis, and, interestingly, Buccaneers teammates Doug Martin (33 percent) and Charles Sims (34 percent) are both in the top five in that stat among backs with a minimum of 10 touches so far in 2016.  Since both players have been so successful, one might assume that the defenses of the Bucs’ opponents over the first three weeks—the Falcons, Cardinals, and Rams—were disproportionately responsible for those broken tackles.  However, check out the 2015 leaders in broken tackles per touch (with a minimum of 150 total touches):
Broken Tackle Pct Leaders, 2015, Min. 150 Touches
Player Broken Tackles Touches Broken Tackle Pct
Duke Johnson, Browns 47 165 28%
Charles Sims, Buccaneers 36 158 23%
Doug Martin, Buccaneers 63 321 20%
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers 49 258 19%
Antonio Andrews, Titans 31 164 19%
Martin and Sims were again in the top three.  Atlanta, Arizona, and Los Angeles may have contributed, but the Buccaneers are blessed with two of the best backs in the game in their backfield.  That should prove especially critical for the team following news that Martin could miss the next few weeks with a hamstring injury.
Fans of Stat of the Week and fans of football analytics in general should definitely check out Football Outsiders . Football Outsider’s website now offers aPremium Charting subscription which features a variety of the in-depth data collected by SIS.  In addition to the Premium Charting data subscription, they also have a subscription for weekly fantasy football projections developed jointly by SIS and Outsiders.  Football Outsider’s founder Aaron Schatz and SIS’s Scott Spratt co-host a weekly football podcast called Off the Charts Football Podcast. that discusses the advanced charting data and their analysis of it, including Outsider’s famous DVOA statistic.  Check it out on iTunes. 

COMMENTS (3 Comments, most recent shown first)

337: if you'd like an analogy from baseball for breaking tackles and avoiding tackles, wild pitches and ground-rule doubles would be a poor one, in my judgment.

A better baseball analogy--though far from perfect--would be stolen bases and caught stealing. Like breaking tackles and avoiding tackles, SB and CS separately only tell part of the story. Together, however, they form a more complete picture.

Similarly, breaking tackles and avoiding tackles form a more complete picture than just breaking tackles--which was the point of my original comment.
2:15 PM Oct 2nd
337: I assume your cryptic (and condescending) comment is posed at my critique, so I'll clarify. Your comment implies that breaking tackles and avoiding tackles are as unrelated as wild pitches and ground-rule doubles. I disagree.

An implication of the stat "breaking tackles" is that it is a good thing to break tackles and, thus, the runners who break more tackles are better than runners who break fewer tackles. By that logic, however, Larry Csonka was a better running back than Gale Sayers because Csonka broke more tackles than Sayers (yes, I'm dating myself). However, most every football analyst would argue that Sayers was a much better runner than Csonka even though he broke fewer tackles than Csonka.

And the reason Sayers was a better runner than Csonka is that HE AVOIDED MORE TACKLES than Csonka and, consequently, gained more yards per carry.

Can you explain to me again how wild pitches and ground-rules doubles are as closely related as breaking tackles and avoiding tacklers. 337?
1:16 PM Oct 2nd
Thanks for the article, John. I do think that this is an important stat category to keep track of. It does give us information.

My only critique would be the obvious one: What about runners who avoid tackles, thus alleviating the need to break them?
1:55 PM Oct 1st
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