Running Back Mile From Scrimmage Club 2021 Candidates

Aaron Jones Green Bay Packers running back
Editor’s Note: Two Running Backs, Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook, joined the Running Back Mile From Scrimmage Club in 2020. If you read this piece in 2020, you can skip to the candidates for the 2021 Mile From Scrimmage Club]

Since 2010, a running back registered seasons of at least 1,760 yards from scrimmage 30 times. That’s an amazing fantasy football season. It means they averaged 110 yards per game, and that meant that they reached an arbitrary amount of production that triggered my gorilla brain to be happy that they totaled a mile’s worth of production. A lot of these players took a bona fide leap, meaning they were true breakouts that season. Let’s take a look back at these guys and then let’s make a shortlist of players who match the criteria to join the Mile From Scrimmage Club.

As I said, The Mile from Scrimmage has happened 32 times since 2010, or about 2.9 times a year. Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott have done it a combined five times since 2016, so they pretty much have two of those slots on lockdown. Let’s see if we can recreate 2018, where four players pulled off the feat. Who has the best shot at it? Let’s take a look at the prior first-time members of the Mile From Scrimmage Club.

Mile From Scrimmage Club Indicators

Of the 32 player seasons since 2010 that qualify for the Mile From Scrimmage Club, four of them were rookies (Doug Martin, Ezekiel Elliott, Kareem Hunt, and Saquon Barkley). Eight of the remaining players were repeating performers, so let’s strip out those seasons, as well. Obviously, hitting the Mile From Scrimmage Club is the best indicator that you’ll hit it again. What about guys who haven’t hit it yet? There were 20 first-time Mile From Scrimmage seasons in the last decade, and a pattern emerges when you look at their prior campaigns:

  1. All the running backs but four in the Mile From Scrimmage Club averaged at least 75 yards per game the year prior. The four who did not hit this threshold did not start all 16 games or worked their way into more work from platoons (Nick Chubb, Christian McCaffrey, David Johnson, and Arian Foster), driving down their per-game averages. The average first-time Mile From Scrimmage Club member averaged 92.8 yards from scrimmage the year prior.
  2. All the players but four (Adrian Peterson, Nick Chubb, Jamaal Charles, and Marshawn Lynch) had at least 19% of their yardage from receiving yards the year prior to their Mile From Scrimmage. The average was 24.2% yards from scrimmage coming from receiving yards.
  3. All the players but four averaged at least 14 touches per game the year prior to their. These are the same four players who worked their way into the lineup from platoons, which drove down their per-game averages.
  4. All players but 2017 Todd Gurley averaged at least 4.35 yards per touch the year prior. They averaged 5.12 yards per touch in the year prior to their breakout.

Due to the addition of the seventeenth game, instead of looking at 1,760 yards, instead, we will keep the spirit of the club: reaching 110 yards per game.

Running the Excel Machine through Pro-Football-Reference.com gives us our 2021 Running Back Mile From Scrimmage Club shortlist:
  1. Alvin Kamara
  2. Aaron Jones
  3. Jonathan Taylor
  4. Austin Ekeler
  5. Myles Gaskin

These five guys match the profile of players who broke through the 1,760-yard, completely arbitrary threshold since 2010. They don’t all profile in such a way to get them over the threshold, and some might fall further away from it. But, here are the guys in the order of the most likely to enter the Miles From Scrimmage Club to the least likely.

Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

Alvin Kamara came extremely close to not making this list. Any other year, and he likely wouldn’t have been here. Why? Because due to COVID-19 protocols, he finished the year on the sidelines, just 72 yards short of reaching the Mile From Scrimmage Club. Undoubtedly, in a normal season, we would have seen Alvin Kamara breakthrough into the Mile From Scrimmage Club. But, it wasn’t a normal year, so the MFS Gods deny him entry for at least one more season.

It’s an interesting case to see if the changeover from Drew Brees to Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston ends in happiness or tears for Alvin Kamara. We also have to see if losing Michael Thomas has a positive or negative change on Kamara’s values. In 2020, Kamara absolutely dominated without Michael Thomas, averaging 148.2 yards per game in the games without Michael Thomas. That would give him 1,760 yards in about week 12, with some room to spare. Kamara sat on the precipice of the Mile From Scrimmage Club last season and should fall into it pretty easily this year.

Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers

Last year, I doubted Aaron Jones. I won’t do that again this year. We saw that A.J. Dillon is no threat to his supremacy, and with the news that Aaron Rodgers will return to Green Bay, it’s wheels up for Jones in 2021. I was incredibly wrong to doubt Jones’ potential inclusion in the Mile From Scrimmage Club, though he came second-closest to making it in without actually making it in. He averaged 104 yards per game last year, just 6 per game shy of making it into the MFS Club. Unfortunately, he also missed two games.

But, I no longer doubt Aaron Jones. A.J. Dillon no longer frightens me, and his splits with and without Davante Adams are barely different now (in 2019, he feasted without Adams, in 2020, he had six fewer yards per game without Adams). I put Aaron Jones as the running back not named Alvin Kamara most likely to make it to the Mile From Scrimmage Club.

Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts

Jonathan Taylor has a ton of acolytes in a lot of fantasy football circles. They see him as the next big thing in fantasy football. Unfortunately, I see a guy who is hemmed in by Nyheim Hines when it comes to entry into the Mile From Scrimmage Club. Taylor had an incredible rookie year, don’t get me wrong. But, he definitely benefitted from some bad defenses down the stretch. In five of his last six games, he played bottom-five rush defenses. Against bottom-five rush defenses, he hit the mile from scrimmage club numbers easily, averaging 95.3 rushing yards and 23.7 receiving yards (119 yards per game). Outside of those games, things were a bit… messier. He averaged 66.3 rushing yards and 17.4 receiving yards per game (83.7 yards per game).

I think that Nyheim Hines will cut into Jonathan Taylor’s workload too much for him to reach the Mile From Scrimmage Club. Also, the fact that he only gets to face the Jaguars’ run defense twice will certainly hurt matters.

He has to take a step forward against good defenses to do it. He barely scraped not the requirements for receiving yardage (20.4% of yards from receptions) and yards per touch (5.4). Taylor has a pretty good chance to make the Mile From Scrimmage Club, but I don’t think that he has an overwhelming chance of strolling into it.

Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers

If Austin Ekeler could stay healthy, I would love his chances to make it to the Mile From Scrimmage Club in 2021. The depth behind him in Los Angeles is a complete mess. Justin Jackson is good enough, but Larry Rountree and Joshua Kelley are not. That leaves the vast majority of opportunity will go to Ekeler this season, and he absolutely smashes the Mile From Scrimmage metrics. He had 43.2% of his yards through the air last season, as well as 17 touches per game and 5.5 yards per touch. He also averaged 93.3 yards per game last year.

I love Austin Ekeler, and I am unapologetic about it. But, with a new coaching staff, and a predilection for missing a game or two here and there, I can’t in good faith advocate for Austin Ekeler to join the Mile From Scrimmage Club. But, I am sure excited to watch him try.

Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins

This bad boy is the true Dark Horse Mile From Scrimmage candidate. Nobody wants Myles Gaskin on their fantasy football squad this year. I know, Aaron Jones didn’t go there, and neither did Travis Etienne. And I know that hurts your feelings because you really wanted to that to happen (or predicted it would happen). Personally, I never thought that made much sense. Gaskin was extremely efficient last year, averaging 5.3 yards per touch, and finishing with about 40% of his yardage through the air. Unfortunately, he would need to take a step forward to really reach the heights of Alvin Kamara and Aaron Jones. I doubt Gaskin makes the Mile From Scrimmage Club in 2021 but making this shortlist bodes well for his 2021 prospects.

It also makes him going after running back 20 in most fantasy football drafts an absolute steal.

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[Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aaron_Jones_(43964183845).jpg, cropped, under CC BY-SA 2.0]

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