Updated: Mar 14, 2022
What is Running Back Vision?
Running Back Vision (RBV) is a system to measure running back success and express that measurement in a metric called "Advanced Success Rate" (ASR). There are many ways that running back success is measured and expressed: yards per carry, yards after contact, broken tackles, etc. All of these metrics are useful, but they are often either a "bird's eye view" or a microscopic look at a running back's performance. Essentially, a key missing element is context.
RBV analysis bakes in the context to the ASR metric. This provides a high-level view of running back performance while including the context missing from most metrics out there. Not all big plays are equal, and small gains on paper can have massive implications on the outcome of the drive and play calling. Ten yards on a single rush sounds amazing, and we are all curious how it happened. Later you learn that same rush came against a light box on 3rd and 22. This context impacts how valuable those ten yards were to the game.
In addition to the ASR metric, RBV breaks this down into five basic run scheme categories: Inside Zone, Outside Zone, Power, Counter, and Gap. Similar to the motivations of ASR, analysis across these schemes provides us with additional context. With these metrics, you can now get a feel for a running back's fit in a given system. We have all seen the square peg, round hole approach to player usage. An added bonus is the breakdown of NFL team success across the schemes as well as the success rate allowed by the defense. This provides the ability to do matchup analysis and provides an additional layer of context for strength of schedule.
RBV: More Than Just Numbers
In the never-ending battle of film versus analytics, I would consider myself Switzerland. I am a firm believer that either approach alone is bound to fail. "Numbers don't lie", but they seldom tell the whole story. "The tape doesn't lie," yet do you know where to focus your limited hours watching the tape?
Given these seemingly diametrically opposed disciplines, I suggest a marriage. The film with analytics is where efficient success can be found. Analytics are great indicators to catch one's attention, and the tape allows you to understand the "why" behind the metric. In that same way, RBV uses ASR to determine where to look. From that, the RBV profiles pair film analysis with the metrics to provide you with the context.
A thought that may have come to mind is, "what inspired the creation of RBV?" Honestly, it is Matt Harmon's Reception Perception. That system for receiver analysis highlighted a vacuum to me as I did a painstaking search for a running back parallel. With that, the infographics displaying the success rates across the schemes are similarly inspired by Reception Perception. The hope is that RBV provides similar value and enjoys the same level of success.
It is here where I will express a heartfelt "Thank You" to Matt Harmon for his pivotal role in the existence of RBV. In 2016, back when Matt Harmon had the Backyard Banter, he responded with encouragement to an e-mail about chasing the dream of football journalism. While there was no discussion of this concept (I hadn't even thought about it at the time), the fact that he took the time to respond was one element of the inception of RBV.