Editor’s Note: One running back, Jonathan Taylor, joined the Running Back Mile From Scrimmage Club in 2021. If you read this piece in 2021, you can skip to the candidates for the 2022 Mile From Scrimmage Club.
Since 2010, a running back registered seasons of at least 1,760 yards from scrimmage 32 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 2.7 times a year. Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott have done it a combined five times since 2016, but injuries to both prevented them from rejoining last year. 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 21 first-time Mile From Scrimmage seasons in the last decade, and a pattern emerges when you look at their prior campaigns:
- 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.
- 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.
- All the players but four averaged at least 14 touches per game the year prior to their Mile From Scrimmage breakout. These are the same four players who worked their way into the lineup from platoons, which drove down their per-game averages.
- All players but in 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.
Unfortunately, this year is relatively boring, with just three candidates for the list, and one (Christian McCaffrey) getting disqualified for already getting a Mile From Scrimmage. That leaves us with two:
- Austin Ekeler
- Aaron Jones
If these guys seem familiar, it’s because they were two-of-five candidates for the list last year, alongside Alvin Kamara, Jonathan Taylor (cha-ching), and… Myles Gaskin?! These are two players who are going in opposite directions, with Austin Ekeler (supposedly) answering the injury question last year and Aaron Jones getting paid and subsequently seeing a chunk of his production dumped off to A.J. Dillon.
Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
My trepidation surrounding Ekeler entering the Mile From Scrimmage Club came from his injuries and his new coaching staff. Both of those seemed to not be an issue (missing one game with COVID notwithstanding). He’s also my favorite to make the list for the first time this year, given his dual-threat skill set has led him to the upper echelons of fantasy football running back tiers. Ekeler thoroughly smashed the ancillary portions of the criteria, averaging 5.6 yards per touch on 17.25 touches per game in 2021, while getting 41.5% of his total yards through receiving. But here’s the problem… he doesn’t run enough. He had all the yardage in the world because he led running backs with 94 targets, but he ended up with just 206 rush attempts. If he can get that up to 240 in 2022, then I have full faith that he can push past the 1,760-yard threshold.
Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
Aaron Jones is still an incredible running back, but the Packers heavily downshifted his usage in 2021, something that I worry will cause problems going forward. Jones averaged 533 touches in 30 games between 2019 and 2020, or about 18 touches per game. The Packers pulled him back down to 223 touches in 15 games or a hair under 15 touches per game. He also saw a significant drop him his yards per carry from the first four years of his career to last season, as he went from a career 5.2 YPC runner to gaining 4.7 yards per carry. Jones went in the wrong direction in 2021, which makes me worry about his prospects for 2022.
That leaves us with just Ekeler as our likely first-timer in the Mile From Scrimmage Club in 2022. But here’s the thing, we had just one guy hit the number in 2021, and we had just two runners hit the criteria. The increasing prevalence of running back by committee (RBBC) tells me that the Mile From Scrimmage Club will have fewer and fewer active entrants as the years progress. The most-used running backs have averaged under 80% snap share in consecutive seasons, a fact that limits their ability to join the club.
I fear that the Mile From Scrimmage Club, even with the additional game, will become a thing of the past as teams move away from bell cows and toward specialized backs.