PFF Analyst: Star Running Backs Overvalued

George Chahrouri explained why elite running backs make far less of an impact on a game than you might think

Taz and the Moose
July 23, 2019 - 9:56 am
Ezekiel Elliott Cowboys

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Ezekiel Elliott wants a new contract, and if the Dallas Cowboys are smart, they won’t give it to him.

Yes, you read that sentence correctly.

According to Pro Football Focus – which grades every player on every play in every game – the running back, quite frankly, isn’t all that important.

“We are predisposed to value what has been valued for a very long time,” PFF analyst George Chahrouri said on Taz & The Moose. “In history, the star running back is the guy that gets you over the goal line, and we tend to value that. But if you look at it from a macro level, how impactful are these star running backs on a per-play basis, it just doesn’t show up. There isn’t that big of a difference between Ezekiel Elliott running the ball for the Cowboys and Rod Smith or Darren McFadden.”

So if running backs are essentially all the same, why are some teams great at rushing the ball while others aren’t? 

“The most important component of your run game is your run blocking,” Chahrouri explained. “I can take running back 1 and running back 32, and if it’s blocked well, they’re going to pick up that 3rd-and-short. So we tend to overvalue the Herculean effort of a Saquon Barkley or a Zeke Elliott breaking a couple of tackles behind the line of scrimmage on those one-off plays when, on balance – when I look at the thousands of run plays that happen throughout a season – it’s really the run-blocking that is most important.”

Another interesting tidbit about the run game? It doesn’t affect play-action nearly as much as you would think.

“Teams running the ball successfully aren’t actually better at play-action,” Chahrouri said. “There’s no hard evidence that establishing the run has to be done.”

According to Chahrouri, rush defense isn’t all that important, either.

“The funny thing about (rush defense) is it gets you jacked up. It gets you pumped,” he said. "You stop a couple runs here and there, but really what you’re doing is you’re stopping the part of the game that doesn’t matter nearly as much. You might actually be enticing the team to throw more, and that’s what you want to do as an offense. 

“Throwing the ball is just so much more advantageous on a per-play basis, especially on those early downs,” Chahrouri said. “Run defense is just something that, to be quite honest, being very good at is not all that advantageous. Teams like the Rams and the Chargers have been notoriously terrible at stopping the run and have managed to be very successful teams overall the past couple of years.”

Click below to listen to Chahrouri’s interview in its entirety.