Since 2010, running backs registered seasons of at least 1,760 yards from scrimmage 28 times. That’s an amazing fantasy football season. They averaged 110 yards and they reached an arbitrary amount of production that triggered my gorilla brain to be happy. 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 to see who might join the 2020 Mile From Scrimmage Club.
As I said, The Mile from Scrimmage has happened 28 times since 2010, or about 2.8 times a year. Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott have done it a combined five times since 2016, so they pretty much have two slots locked down. Derrick Henry came 14 yards shy of 1,760 yards, so he’s pretty much a shoo-in if he keeps up his play. Let’s see if we can recreate 2018, where four players pulled off the feat. Who has the best shot at it?
Of the 28 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 sixteen first-time Mile From Scrimmage seasons in the last decade.
What Makes For A Mile From Scrimmage First-Timer?
- All the players 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.
- 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 average was 25.2% yards from scrimmage coming from receiving yards.
- All the players but four averaged at least 14 touches per game the year prior. These are the aforementioned platoon backs.
- 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.
Running the Excel Machine through Pro-Football-Reference.com gives us…
2020 Mile From Scrimmage Club shortlist (again, excluding just-a-hair-short Derrick Henry):
- Dalvin Cook
- Miles Sanders
- Aaron Jones
- Austin Ekeler
- Alvin Kamara
- Kenyan Drake
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
If Dalvin Cook can stay healthy, he’s the biggest shoo-in to make the Yards From Scrimmage Club. He averaged over 118 yards from scrimmage in his fourteen games last season, which puts him on pace for 1,890 yards if he played all sixteen games. Playing all sixteen games is the problem with Cook, as he’s missed nineteen games in his first three seasons. Also, the loss of Kevin Stefanski might hurt the run game, though OC Gary Kubiak is no slouch (and the author of Stefanski’s offense, according to some).
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
Here’s the hotness, the guy everyone is pegging to take that sophomore leap. Miles Sanders had to work his way out from under Jordan Howard’s thumb and Doug Pederson’s love for committees. Everyone else around Sanders had to die for him to rise to prominence last season, though I doubt that happens again this year. After Jordan Howard went down for good last season following the week nine game against Chicago, Sanders didn’t quite get enough production to think that he will make the leap to the Mile From Scrimmage Club. The 1,568 yard ten-touchdown pace he played in the last seven games is nothing to sneeze at, but it doesn’t quite meet the threshold. And now we have rumors of Carlos Hyde jutting his nose into things to contend with.
It’s worth noting that Sanders kisses the efficiency criteria, getting 29.7% of his yards from receptions, and 4.92 yards per touch down the stretch in 2019. If the Eagles don’t gum all this up with Carlos Hyde, and Sanders takes a slight second-year leap, he could be the newest owner of a robin’s egg blue jacket (what I just decided is the official jacket of the Mile From Scrimmage Club).
Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
It’s hard to get excited about Aaron Jones for 2020. Of all the players on this list, he has the greatest chance of doing an about-face and watching his touches, yards and touchdowns shrink in 2020. Aaron Jones did a ton of his damage without Davante Adams around. Jones rushed for 67.75 yards in games with and without Davante Adams last year, but he really shined in his reception numbers without Adams. With Adams around, Jones averaged just over two receptions for 16 yards a contest.
Without Davante Adams, those numbers jump to 5.5 receptions for 70 yards per game. That vaults him from completely out of contention for the Mile From Scrimmage Club to well within the MFS Club. Well, Adams should be healthy this season. There’s also the little issue of rookie A.J. Dillon, who has the talent (my RB6 in a loaded class) and the capital (second-round pick) to force his way onto the field.
Of all the guys on this list, I feel most strongly that Aaron Jones will not join the Mile From Scrimmage Club this year.
Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
Ekeler is an odd case, because nobody else had more than 40.1% of their scrimmage yards from receptions last year, except Austin Ekeler. Ekeler turned in a whopping 64% of his yards from receptions, which is mind-boggling. Since 2000, 68 running back seasons ended with over 1,500 scrimmage yards. 2019 Austin Ekeler and 2017 Alvin Kamara are the only ones to do it with over 50% of their yards coming through the air. Kamara had just 53% of his yards from receptions in 2017, so the 64% is likely unsustainable.
That having been said, we got a good idea of Austin Ekeler: Lead Running Back in the first four weeks of 2019. Let’s hop into the Wayback Machine and see what he did in those four games: 56 carries for 220 yards and 24 receptions for 270 yards. He paced out to end the season with 880 yards rushing and 1,080 yards receiving, comfortably within the friendly confines of the Mile From Scrimmage Club. The Chargers didn’t add much in the way of players who would significantly challenge for Ekeler’s crown. Joshua Kelley is a decent enough back, but it’s not like they slammed their fist down and took D’Andre Swift or Jonathan Taylor.
My expectations for Ekeler hitting the Mile From Scrimmage Club are tempered a bit by the quarterback situation. The Chargers have Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert, with Taylor likely starting the year as QB before they transition to Herbert when Taylor wets himself. This worked out well for Cleveland and Baker Mayfield in 2018, but if the Chargers stubbornly hold on to Taylor in the starting lineup, then Ekeler could find himself in a messy, non-prolific offense. Then again, that’s the type of offense that ends up with plenty of dump-offs to the running back.
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
It’s somewhat shocking that Alvin Kamara did not already make it into the Mile From Scrimmage Club. He’s been one of the best all-around backs in the league since 2017, but he topped out his yardage at 1,592 in 2018. Last year, an ankle injury derailed Kamara’s season, and bad touchdown luck left his pre-injury season with a bad taste in our mouths. But, we aren’t concerned with touchdowns, just yardage. Was Kamara en route to entering The Club when he injured his ankle and threw his whole season out of whack?
Alvin Kamara injured his ankle in week six against the Jaguars. He did not play again until week ten, but was not the same player. From week ten through the end of the season, Kamara averaged “only” 85.125 yards per game. Since Kamara injured his ankle in week six and was impaired, let’s throw that game out. In weeks one through five last year, Alvin Kamara was on pace for 1,094 rushing yards and 771 receiving yards. Those 1,865 yards put him well within the Mile From Scrimmage Club. It’s not shocking to see Kamara on this list; Kamara, like Dalvin Cook, is a slam dunk first-round fantasy football running back, and those players are always knocking on the door of the Mile From Scrimmage Club, if they haven’t entered already.
Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals
It was the best of seasons, it was the worst of seasons. Kenyan Drake started the year in Miami, where he did mostly… nothing. That’s not entirely his fault; the Miami offense was such a mess that it would have been hard for pretty much anyone to get significant yardage on that team. Ryan Fitzpatrick led the team in rushing. I mean, my God. In six games with Miami, Drake had 174 rushing yards and 174 receiving yards, packing out to just about 928 yards over the course of the whole season. Drake hit the ground with a bang in Arizona, putting up 110 rushing yards on San Francisco. He then went insane at the end of the season, rushing for 363 yards in three games in weeks 15 through 17.
All told, Drake paced out very well with the Cardinals, averaging over 100 yards per game with the Cardinals (80.4 rushing, 21.4 receiving). He did not pace out to hit the 1,760 mark, but a lot has changed in Arizona. The DeAndre Hopkins-for-David Johnson swap clears out a running back room headache and gives the defense something else to consider. That, plus growth from sophomore Kyler Murray, could get Kenyan Drake his ten or so additional yards per game that would put him in the Mile From Scrimmage Club. Shockingly, despite three massive games in eight contests, Drake did not pace out to those lofty heights with Arizona.
Mile From Scrimmage Odds
Those six guys match the profile of players who broke through the 1,760-yard, completely arbitrary threshold over the last decade. They don’t all profile in such a way to get them over the threshold, and some might fall further away from it. Here are the guys covered in the order of the most likely to enter the Miles From Scrimmage Club to the least likely.
Needs to stay healthy and play a full sixteen-game season, that’s it. He has the talent and profile to pull it off.
If it weren’t for an ankle injury costing him multiple weeks and his explosiveness in the second half of the season, Kamara would have joined CMC and Ezekiel Elliott in the hallowed halls of the MFS Club. Instead, he’s down here with these guys (who are, in all honestly, at least a shade behind Kamara, if not well behind him). He’s the favorite to pull this off this year for me. He has all the talent, he just hasn’t hit the numerical thresholds. Like Ekeler, his game is built around getting the high-efficiency targets in the passing game that help boost his numbers.
The majority of Ekeler’s production is based on receiving yards, which is far more efficient than running the ball. Should Joshua Kelley and Justin Jackson fail to threaten Ekeler as the #1 in the Chargers’ offense, he is a shoo-in to hit this threshold in 2020. He was on pace to do it before Melvin Gordon returned from hold out, and has no true competition to stop him from pulling it off in 2020.
The Eagles need to leave the committees for the government. Miles Sanders has the talent and opportunity (if Philly doesn’t screw it up) to vault into the Miles From Scrimmage Club. I’m not entirely confident that Doug Pederson doesn’t blow this for Sanders and give Carlos Hyde or Lamar Miller like 150 touches this year.
The Cardinals look to be building their team around the pass. This is blasphemous in the Run Establishing NFC West, but here we are. They added DeAndre Hopkins to Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, and a bunch of WRs they drafted last year that did nothing in 2019. Their offensive line is atrocious, and they spent just a third-round pick to try to address this in the draft. Things aren’t getting much better for Drake in terms of the portion of the offense he receives. However, a step forward from the offense as a whole would create more opportunities for Drake, allowing him to step through the entryway of the Miles From Scrimmage Club.
All signs point to Jones taking a step back in 2020, not getting closer to the Miles From Scrimmage Club. The best chance for him to pull off hitting 1,760 yards is A.J. Dillon taking a massive back seat and Jones really hitting with some home run plays.