The Most and Least Efficient Short-Yardage Running Backs of the 2015 NFL Season

Which running backs were able to consistently convert for first downs and put their team in better scoring position this past season?

While it may not translate directly to fantasy points, successfully converting first downs and extending drives leads to more opportunities for players to remain on the field.

Adversely, routinely falling short of the sticks could force a coaches' hand to go with another running back, subsequently cutting into a player's snaps and opportunities.

In this study, we're looking for which running backs were able to convert short-yardage attempts -- specifically, those that were able to convert for first downs (or touchdowns) from two yards away or less.

In order to compare these running backs on a more level surface, only running backs that had at least 10 or more of these types of rushing attempts were selected in this study.

Which running backs were able to consistently convert for first downs and put their team in better scoring position?

Most Successful Running Backs

The top 10 most successful short-yardage backs produced an interesting list with quite a few surprises.

Running Back Team Short Conversions Short Attempts Short %
Jeremy Langford CHI 13 14 92.86%
Darren Sproles PHI 9 10 90.00%
Danny Woodhead SD 17 20 85.00%
Ameer Abdullah DET 10 12 83.33%
Charcandrick West KC 19 23 82.61%
Thomas Rawls SEA 14 17 82.35%
DeMarco Murray PHI 21 26 80.77%
Mike Tolbert CAR 12 15 80.00%
Duke Johnson CLE 8 10 80.00%
Darren McFadden DAL 26 33 78.79%

2015's most efficient running back at converting short yardage situations was Chicago's Jeremy Langford. The fourth-round rookie out of Michigan State ended up starting several games in lieu of injured Matt Forte. Despite an inefficient 3.6 yards per carry, Langford finished with the best Rushing NEP among Chicago running backs, and was able to convert 13 of his 14 rushing attempts from two yards out or less.

Pass-catching dominant backs paced the way, with Darren Sproles and Danny Woodhead finishing within the top three. Linebackers often played off these two given their penchant for making plays in the passing game, providing running lanes to convert for first downs regularly. Duke Johnson will quickly force his way into the casual fan's top receiving backs list. Johnson was one of eight rookies in the history of the league to surpass 60 receptions -- and he did it while converting 80% of his short yardage opportunities. 

Injuries granted significant snaps to Charcandrick West and Thomas Rawls this season, and both thrived in their respective spotlights. They both converted over 82% of their short conversion attempts and finished similarly ranked in fantasy points per game.

The oft-maligned DeMarco Murray fared better in this exercise than most would have guessed. After watching him bounce run after run to the outside, it should be a positive sign that when Chip Kelly wasn't getting cute with his play design, he had a very efficient Murray to move the chains.

Left for the wolves, Darren McFadden was one of the most successful running backs in this category with a high volume of opportunities. Dallas may have hit a surprising home run with last year's cheap offseason signing. 

Least Successful Running Backs

Here's a look at the least successful backs:

Running Back Team Short Conversions Short Attempts Short %
T.J. Yeldon JAX 4 15 26.67%
Andre Williams NYG 5 12 41.67%
Chris Ivory NYJ 15 35 42.86%
LeSean McCoy BUF 8 18 44.44%
Tevin Coleman ATL 5 11 45.45%
Chris Johnson AZ 8 17 47.06%
Frank Gore IND 14 29 48.28%
Antonio Andrews TEN 11 22 50.00%
LeGarrette Blount NE 12 23 52.17%
Matt Jones WAS 11 20 55.00%

The least successful running backs had some more obvious names, but the leader -- T.J. Yeldon -- was not one of them. Yeldon failed to pick up first downs with any shred of consistency, despite seeing 61.7% of the team's running back carries. Fellow rookie Tevin Coleman had a tough time converting as well (45.45%), while his teammate Devonta Freeman thrived in these situations (74.19%).

Andre Williams has failed to be the short-yardage back that some had hoped he would be coming out of Boston College. Failing to grow as a chain-moving type back and in the red zone (7 touchdowns in 51 red zone touches), it's fair to question if he'll see even fewer looks in 2016 after Coughlin's departure.

Chris Ivory and LeSean McCoy were two interesting names to make this list. Both were big time performers when healthy, but both struggled to convert for first downs. Their roller coaster seasons have extended into the offseason, with Ivory rumored to have played his last days as a Jet and McCoy facing legal troubles.

Veterans Chris Johnson and Frank Gore both underwhelmed in their first years with new teams. Gore was a shell of his former self and despite making it through the entire season, he only had two top-12 performances.

Free agents this offseason, Antonio Andrews and LeGarrette Blount converted 50% and 52.17%, respectively, on their short yardage attempts. Both could be looking for new homes after mediocre years that were covered up by volume. 

Washington's rushing attack was all over the map this year. After a hot start, Matt Jones struggled significantly in his last five games of the year averaging just 2.7 yards per carry. After converting just 55% of his short yardage attempts this year, the Redskins may want to look to add another chain mover with Alfred Morris likely leaving town. 

Volume Running Backs

Take a look at the highest-volume short-yardage backs -- the ones with the most short conversions in the league last year -- and how they panned

Running Back Team Short Conversions Short Attempts Short %
Darren McFadden DAL 26 33 78.79%
Jeremy Hill CIN 26 35 74.29%
DeAngelo Williams PIT 25 38 65.79%
Latavius Murray OAK 23 30 76.67%
Devonta Freeman ATL 23 31 74.19%
Adrian Peterson MIN 22 30 73.33%
DeMarco Murray PHI 21 26 80.77%
Doug Martin TB 21 27 77.78%
Matt Forte CHI 21 29 72.41%
Rashad Jennings NYG 20 28 71.43%

McFadden was not only one of the most successful chain movers, he was also one of the most heavily relied on running backs in these situations. He and Jeremy Hill both converted 26 of their opportunities while Hill's teammate, Giovani Bernard, was less successful converting 13 of 21 (61.9%). Both Bengals running backs have carved out significant roles moving forward, but it looks like Hill (6'2", 236 pounds) has laid claim to the top chain mover on the ground.

While DeAngelo Williams had the third-most successful short yardage conversions, he did so at a rather inefficient pace. His 65.79% mark ranked 29th out of the 53 running backs to have at least 10 opportunities. 

Latavius Murray proved to be rather adept at converting short yardage situations. The 6'3", 230-pound Raider rushed for 23 first downs from two yards out or less bulldozing ahead to move the chains. Adrian Peterson proved some in both the fantasy and metric crowds that he was still able to get it done at 30 years old converting for 73.33% of his short-yardage attempts. 

Free agents to be Doug Martin and Matt Forte were both reliable sources for their teams converting for 21 first downs. Both should have no problems finding major roles to play in 2016. Rashad Jennings was a surprising candidate on this list given the Giants rushing woes this year. There may be a little more to Jennings' game than originally perceived. 

There we have it. A look at some of the most successful, least successful, and most volume-laden running backs that were able to rush for first downs in short-yardage situations. 

This is by no means a barometer of how well each of these running backs performed last year, but rather a small slice of the pie from which to analyze each back. When put together with the rest of the pie, we can get a much clearer image of what each of these running backs brings to both the grid iron and your fantasy squads moving forward into 2016.