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Consulting the Chart: 2018 UW Running Backs Review

Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed were good but what about the rest of the Husky backs?

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl Game-Ohio State vs Washington Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

In the last consulting the chart review we looked at the wide receivers but today we’re going to focus on the running backs.

2018 UW Running Back Rushing Stats

Player Carries Yards TDs 1st Downs Yds per Carry Yds Before 1st Contact Yds After Contact % Gaining Positive Yds % Missed Tackle Opportunity Rate Highlight Yds per Opportunity
Player Carries Yards TDs 1st Downs Yds per Carry Yds Before 1st Contact Yds After Contact % Gaining Positive Yds % Missed Tackle Opportunity Rate Highlight Yds per Opportunity
Myles Gaskin 260 1283 11 66 4.93 3.08 1.85 84.23% 17.69% 20.00% 2.84
Salvon Ahmed 104 608 7 30 5.85 3.52 2.33 82.69% 18.27% 30.77% 2.86
Sean McGrew 50 226 1 8 4.52 3.02 1.58 74.00% 16.00% 26.00% 2.04
Kamari Pleasant 42 214 2 11 5.10 3.24 1.86 80.95% 11.90% 23.81% 2.45
Malik Braxton 2 7 0 0 3.50 0.5 3 100.00% 50.00% 0.00% 0.00

2018 UW Running Back Receiving Stats

Player Targets Catches Yards TDs 1st Downs Yds per Catch Yds per Target Depth of Target Yds After Catch
Player Targets Catches Yards TDs 1st Downs Yds per Catch Yds per Target Depth of Target Yds After Catch
Myles Gaskin 30 21 77 1 6 3.67 2.57 -1.9 6.25
Salvon Ahmed 20 20 170 0 8 8.50 8.50 -1.79 10.3
Sean McGrew 6 6 110 0 3 18.33 18.33 4.7 13.83
Kamari Pleasant 3 3 18 0 2 6.00 6.00 0.66 5.33

Myles Gaskin

Washington’s offense will be vastly different without old reliable in the backfield. The all-time leading rusher in UW history was his usual fantastic self in 2018 as he led the team in every raw rushing totals statistic. For the first time in his career though Gaskin missed time with an injury and was held out of the Cal and Colorado contests because of his shoulder. There are a number of other variables that could be involved of course but the Huskies averaged 4.37 yards per carry in those 2 games and 5.08 in all other games.

Whether because of the injury or just the general dysfunction with the passing game, Gaskin had his worst statistical season in his senior year. His yards per carry was 0.8 below his previous career low and despite a career high in catches he had his fewest receiving yards since his freshman year when he was hardly involved in the passing game at all. Gaskin’s opportunity rate was the lowest on the team which means that he had the lowest percentage of carries where he gained 5 yards before being touched. This is either a sign that defenses consistently stacked the box when he was in there or the offensive line just didn’t block very well for him, or both.

Gaskin’s advanced stats were close to if not the leader on the team but they weren’t significantly above everyone else. Of the 4 primary running backs Gaskin was 3rd in yards before and after 1st contact and 2nd in missed tackle percentage.

Part of his value though comes in his reliability and that shown through by the fact he led the team in % of carries gaining positive yards. He was also repeatedly trusted to make the correct decision in the Myles-Cat formation getting the direct snap. Gaskin lined up in that formation 24 times and it resulted in 11 first downs. If you count the times Gaskin either ran it or threw it rather than handing it off to Ahmed then it converted a 1st down or touchdown on 10 of 20 attempts and only failed to gain positive yardage twice.

Despite the failings of the 2018 Washington Husky offense, Myles Gaskin was the team’s most reliable offensive weapon when he was on the field. He clearly played hurt at times and gutted through it. Husky fans will greatly miss Gaskin for everything he’s accomplished for Washington. But he’s leaving the RB position in good hands...

Salvon Ahmed

Myles Gaskin doesn’t have the size that you would expect to be the thunder in a traditional “thunder and lightning” running back style but by God does Salvon Ahmed fit the lightning designation. Ahmed’s yards per carry were also down from his sensational freshman campaign but he still led the team in that category at 5.76. I know that many fans are anxious about how Ahmed may fit when being shoehorned in Myles Gaskin’s role but let’s first talk about how he did in the Salvon Ahmed role before getting to that.

Ahmed was the most explosive Husky offensive player and the coaching staff did their best to get him the ball in space and let him do his thing. That meant less traditional runs between the tackles and more tosses, jet sweeps, and bubble screens. He was particularly effective as a part of the passing game. Ahmed caught every one of his 20 targets and averaged 8.5 yards per target which was almost identical to the three primary UW receivers (Fuller, Jones, and Baccellia).

It isn’t surprising that Ahmed led the team by forcing a missed tackle on approximately one of every 5.3 carries. And that doesn’t include a number of times when Ahmed simply outran a defender to the corner and so didn’t have to make him miss when any other back likely would’ve had to do just that. It’s a positive sign in Gaskin’s cap that Ahmed only barely had a greater highlight yards per opportunity number which means that both backs gained almost 8 yards per carry when the offensive line opened a hole.

What may be more surprising for the average fan that views Ahmed as simply a really fast change of pace back is that he had very comparable numbers to Gaskin in between the tackles running stats. Anecdotally I think most fans would picture Gaskin falling forward for an extra 2 yards while Ahmed, when he doesn’t juke a defender, gets dropped immediately. There is some truth to that but it’s not a great difference. Gaskin gained an average of 1.26 yards after contact when he didn’t break a tackle while Ahmed averaged 1.03 yards after contact in that situation.

And despite a number of times when Ahmed lost yardage, his percentage of carries gaining at least 1 yard is only 2% behind Gaskin’s total. Ahmed’s median yards per carry on runs up the middle (which strips away outliers) was 3.5 compared to Gaskin’s 3 which suggests that he is definitely capable of running between the tackles. And those totals are essentially equal to the yards before contact numbers for each where Ahmed’s speed allows him to get an extra half yard before being hit and therefore makes up for some of his issues moving forward versus side to side.

From a pure athleticism standpoint Salvon Ahmed is more talented than Myles Gaskin. We all know that there is more to the running back position than pure athleticism but it’s a nice starting point. Ahmed may not have Gaskin’s vision but he has the tools to be just as effective, if a different kind, of a back. We can expect to see Ahmed take on a lesser workload than Gaskin traditionally did over his 4 years and there may be a few more outside runs but there’s no reason not to expect Ahmed to average better than 5.5 yards per carry again next year.

Sean McGrew

McGrew is another UW back who is constantly doubted because of his size but is a much tougher runner than you might expect. There were a number of McGrew runs when he showed impressive burst and ability to slip through holes between the tackles. But his raw and advanced numbers when he touched the ball were generally lower than the rest of UW’s backs.

McGrew was last among the 4 main backs in all of the advanced stats except forced missed tackle percentage where he was still 3rd behind Ahmed and Gaskin. In particular it stands out that he gained positive yardage on 10% fewer carries than Myles Gaskin and was the only Husky back below 80% in that regard.

Where he really made a positive impact though was as a receiver and pass blocker. McGrew was targeted on the only two passes to running backs all season that went further than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage and he caught both of them for 62 yards. I would expect that he’ll continue to get a lot of work in this role as the 3rd down back next season where he can be effective catching passes out of the backfield. It should also be noted that he ran the wildcat snaps rather than Ahmed while Gaskin was out of the lineup so we may see more of that in 2019.

Kamari Pleasant

Pleasant had a very solid sophomore season for the Huskies after extremely limited use in his freshman year. His yards per carry total was second on the team behind Salvon Ahmed and he averaged essentially an identical yards after contact total as Myles Gaskin. The one area where Pleasant clearly lags behind the rest of the running backs is in his ability to break or evade tackles. His forced missed tackle percentage was about 40% less than the rest of the primary backs and as a bigger back he’ll likely need to rely more on his ability to break tackles than his wiggle.

Next season Pleasant will be in the mix to serve as the backup running back and can expect his carries to probably double. My expectation is that, pending freshmen Richard Newton or Cameron Davis surpassing folks on the depth chart, Salvon Ahmed will be the primary back although with fewer carries than Gaskin, Pleasant will be the secondary back and will see a few drives per game where he’s featured, and McGrew will be the 3rd down back with some use on the first two downs as well.

This is where I note that Malik Braxton had 2 carries.

2018 UW Running Back Success Rate Stats

Player Total Snaps Total Success Rate Pass Play Snaps Pass Play Success Rate Run Play Snaps Run Play Success Rate
Player Total Snaps Total Success Rate Pass Play Snaps Pass Play Success Rate Run Play Snaps Run Play Success Rate
Myles Gaskin 455 46.15% 249 43.37% 206 49.51%
Salvon Ahmed 290 46.55% 138 40.58% 152 51.97%
Kamari Pleasant 107 45.79% 40 40% 67 49.25%
Sean McGrew 103 55.30% 43 67.44% 60 46.67%
Malik Braxton 5 80% 0 N/A 5 80%

The one major outlier here that sticks out is Sean McGrew’s exceptional success rate in passing situations. That means that a pass play was successful approximately 67% of the time when McGrew was on the field and that number was closer to 40% for any other running back. The coaching staff has said that they like McGrew as a pass blocker despite his size and the numbers appear to bear out that this is a legitimate effect. Jake Browning was pressured on 12.5% of dropbacks and sacked on 2.5% of them when McGrew was in at running back. Those numbers were 19.6% and 4.9% in all other passing situations. The sample sizes aren’t tremendous but the difference is dramatic enough to suggest that the need for McGrew as the main 3rd down back is real.

Other than that there aren’t a lot of juicy nuggets in the data. Salvon Ahmed, Myles Gaskin, and Kamari Pleasant were all fairly interchangeable regardless of run plays or pass plays when you use success rate. Although the fact that Ahmed had the highest run success rate is further evidence that he isn’t just a boom or bust back given that the offense achieved its goal more than half the time he was on the field for a running play. Similar to the comment I made in the wide receiver analysis, there is a real effect for the jet sweep motion and Ahmed ran that plenty of times and didn’t get the ball. You could argue that Ahmed would cause more concern for linebackers than most players when he fakes the sweep but I don’t have the data to support that anecdotal conclusion. But to provide a bit more context, Ahmed’s success rate when he actually carries the ball is 48% versus 60% when he is merely on the field for a run play but doesn’t get it.

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