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Which NFL Rushing Attacks Do The Most With The Least?

Illustration for article titled Which NFL Rushing Attacks Do The Most With The Least?

Two years ago, sixth-rounder Alfred Morris held onto his roster spot with a strong preseason and went on to break the Redskins single-season rushing yards record. While steals like Morris are rare, they're also instructive. Some teams invest far fewer resources in their rushing attacks without losing much, if any, productivity. So which teams had the most and least cost-effective ground games last season?


Over this offseason, numberFire examined the NFL's most and least cost-effective rushing attacks. They paired Adjusted Rushing Net Expected Points Per Play (the number of expected points that's gained or lost per rushing attempt compared to league average) with the total amount teams spent on linemen and running backs.

The most cost-effective rushing teams had more success on average winning 49.4 percent of their games (they went 39-40) while the least cost-effective rushing teams only won 41.3 percent of their games (they went 33-47). But this doesn't tell the whole story. See, the metric here is telling you the expected points per play, not the importance of those points. As we know, teams run when they winning, they don't win when they run well. So there's a very good chance that these are merely artifacts of a strong passing game or a very good defense. That said, it's still interesting, because it will tell you something about how well teams are skimping on the running game while remaining successful.


Below are the most cost-effective NFL rushing attacks.

TeamAdjusted Rushing NEP Per PlayTotal Spent
Green Bay0.04$22,514,144

The Packers had the most cost-effective rushing attack, in large part due to Eddie Lacy putting up good numbers despite only costing $616,802 against the cap. Having cheap but productive backs isn't the only way to have a cost-effective ground game, as the Bears show. Rather than relying on a bargain back, Chicago's cost-effective ground game was bolstered by an offensive line that only cost $10 million. (Which can be seen in the clickable and sortable table at the bottom of this post.)

Below are the least cost-effective rushing attacks. The Giants had the least cost-effective running game. Despite spending the seventh-most money for running backs and offensive line, the Giants had one of the worst ground games in the NFL.

TeamAdjusted Rushing NEP per PlayTotal Spent
NY Giants-0.14$29,796,316
Tampa Bay-0.04$30,950,426

Although they ran the ball fairly well, the Titans and Seahawks had some of the NFL's least cost-effective ground games. But that's because Tennessee spent the most on running backs and lineman in the NFL and the Seahawks spent the third most. While their ground games did OK, they were not as dominant as one might expect given the resources each team put into running backs and linemen.


Here's the full table of RB and OL costs, and the ARNEP/P:



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