NFL

4 Unlikely RBs Who Will Reach 1000 Yards Rushing

Yes there's a rookie pushing him, but too many people have forgotten about The Law Firm in Cincy.

I don't often do this, but take a look up at the URL of this article. Yes, that thing with all the slashes and such. See that number? That means this is article No. 1000 - the one-thousandth piece of (semi-)brilliant work that numberFire has put out since establishing a content section just last summer.

Naturally, I'm happy about this. But not just because it's proof I haven't spent my entire time at work browsing Reddit - it's also a symmetrically beautiful number that means something in the NFL. The quadruple-digit yardage club is the ultimate goal for all starting running backs and wide receivers in the NFL. It means you haven't just been productive; you've been a star.

It takes an extraordinarily blend of efficiency and longevity to reach 1000 yards rushing, as I'm sure DeMarco Murray (who has never done it) could tell you. However, there are some players you may not expect who are likely to hit that milestone. That's why I'm here: to give you a sneak peak behind the preparations being made in the 1000 Club.

These numbers are based off of numberFire's full-season statistical projections for 2013. If you're looking for the full sheet of stats, head over and check it out.

4. Steven Jackson

Odds He'll Reach 1000 Yards: 52.0%

I've been a tiny bit critical of Atlanta picking up Steven Jackson in the past, but that doesn't mean he's not a 1000 yard rusher. On the contrary: with the amount of carries he's likely to receive in the Atlanta backfield, there is a slightly better than average chance he'll reach the 1K mark. It'll just be uglier getting there than you might have thought.

Our favorite metric for determining a player's efficiency is Net Expected Points (NEP). Our beloved NEP measures how many expected points would result from a drive containing the current play, then we determine whether a player's contribution on that play rose or lowered the drive's expected point value. Once the totals are added up from each play, we can find a player's overall NEP score as well as their average NEP score per play.

And according to NEP, unlike many of his top RB counterparts, Jackson has never been particularly efficient running the ball. Jackson hasn't registered a positive expected point total in any single season since 2006. Last year with the Rams, Jackson lost St. Louis 11.46 expected points total, or 0.04 NEP per rush. That -0.04 NEP/rush average ranked just 17th of the 22 backs that attempted over 200 carries last season.

However, there's something to be said for consistently not breaking down while running the ball. His 257 carries last year made it five straight seasons (and seven successes in eight seasons) with over 250 rushing attempts. While we project him for slightly fewer carries this year, that high, consistent load lends itself to muscling his way to 1000 yards eventually. We just see him as a lower-second round back than a high-second round fantasy selection due to that inefficiency.

3. Maurice Jones-Drew

Odds He'll Reach 1000 Yards: 80.5%

I'm not sure if they make an asterisk big enough, but let's make one thing clear right off the bat: This is assuming Maurice Jones-Drew plays a full season. You'd likely be better off assuming that Bill Belichick will spend Week 1 dressed in a full suit and tie or Tim Tebow will lead all tight ends in fantasy points this season.

But with that said, even the vague prospect that MJD may be healthy gives a positively tantalizing chance that MJD will not only break 1000 yards, but he'll smash it to pieces. His 1143.4 projected rush yards are the 10th-highest total of any back, slotting in right between Marshawn Lynch and Matt Forte on our overall charts. That's not half bad company.

The reasoning is, despite being injured more often than Tonya Harding in Nancy Kerrigan's dreams, MJD has actually been a highly-efficient back in limited time. Only once has he averaged negative expected points per rush in a season, and that was only a -0.01 mark behind Jacksonville's absurdly poor offensive line in 2011. In 2009, he was all the way up at 0.07 expected points per rush. For reference, only 11 backs with at least 200 rush attempts last season finished with a positive NEP per rush mark, and only C.J. Spiller and Adrian Peterson finished above 0.07 NEP per rush.

Odds He'll Reach 1000 Yards: 53.7%

Here's another guy that nobody's quite sure what to do with: Darren McFadden. Just like MJD, he's one of our three running backs that qualifies as a high risk. Just like MJD, he's got the injury problems of Cooper Manning (you know, the forgotten one). But unlike MJD, McFadden hasn't been consistent when healthy. He's the definition of a wildly variable player.

In 2010, the one season he was actually somewhat fully healthy and made 13 starts, he finished with 1157 yards rushing. Unsurprisingly, he also finished with a 0.02 NEP/rush average that season, gaining the Raiders points above the league average play. But if we look outside of that season for answers, there aren't many to be found.

YearCarriesNEP/Rush
2012216-0.19
20111130.06
20102220.02
2009104-0.24
2008103-0.03

What in the blue blazes am I supposed to do with those stats? I can't really call last season's single-worst-starting-back NEP total a fluke, because he managed the same type of numbers (albeit in less attempts) in 2009. I also can't completely dismiss his efficiency, though, because he was above-average in both 2010 and 2011 as the starter.

However, given JJ's analysis of the Raiders' zone blocking scheme from the other day, we're tending more towards the 2010 and 2011 figures. They seem more sustainable numbers than the extreme outlier produced last season. And given enough carries, McFadden may see 2010 happening all over again.

1. BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Odds He'll Reach 1000 Yards: 64.0%

His current average draft position sits at No. 74. He's being completely discounted as a starting fantasy back before the season even starts. He's facing off in his own backfield against a rookie back while he's a six year veteran and 28 years old (which might as well be Queen Elizabeth's age in terms of running backs).

And with all that said, by our current preseason predictions, the Law Firm has one of the most solid chances of reaching 1000 yards of any running back out there.

Yes, we know all about Giovani Bernard's influence in the backfield; we have Bernard projected to eat up about 84 carries and 30 receptions as a third-down back, after all. As of now, though, all signs point towards Green-Ellis taking the majority of snaps in the Cincinnati backfield, and that could mean great tidings for fantasy owners who take him late.

Last season, BJGE managed only -0.02 NEP per rush, a below average figure among backs. But that small sample size can't be fully trusted considering his strong play from his New England days: he held a 0.03 NEP/rush in 2011 and an extraordinarily high 0.14 NEP/rush on 229 attempts in 2010. If he can come even close to that 2010 form, maybe 250 rushing attempts won't even be fully needed.

As it stands, we have Green-Ellis with 1045.8 rush yards on 245 attempts. And that figure is assuming a drop of about three rushes per game given to Bernard. If Green-Ellis gets off to a hot start, it wouldn't surprise us at all to see him near 1100 or maybe even 1200 yards when all is said and done.