The fumble percentage is not something you will find on NFL websites or in any stat section that I've found (if you have found it please let me know). This surprises me, since the math is so simple and the other statistics needed to calculate the percentage are readily available.
In this blog, I will evaluate fumble percentage per touch for NFL running backs. I will discuss the position as a whole and look at individual players. Specifically, I will be looking at all running back statistics from the 2010 regular season through the 2012 regular season. For the NFL running back averages, all players categorized has a RB have been factored in. When I look at individual players it will be focused on those with the majority of the touches, like starters and third down backs.
Before we go any further, let's define the fumble per the NFL Rulebook:
Article 4 A Fumble is any act, other than a pass or kick, which results in loss of player possession. The term Fumble always implies possession. (8-7-3).
It's something most of us know, but I want to be sure we are all on the same page before we begin.
Here are the total running back fumble statistics from 2010 to 2012 (Regular Season only):
The first thing you should notice is that NFL running backs as a whole don't fumble very often. A 1% fumble rate is pretty darn good and it's why these players are in the NFL. That said, as with any statistic some players will be above or below the average (we'll look at that a little later).
Running backs fumble at a slightly higher rate when catching the football versus taking a hand off, but it's a very small difference (0.077%). Due to having a higher number of rushing touches, the combined average of 1.048% is more in line with the "Rushing Only" statistics.
When looking at individual running backs, I will be using the combined fumble percentage.
Some of you may ask why I excluded kick and punt return touches. The answer is simple. Kick and punt returners fumble at a much high rate than running backs and I don't want to penalize a player for participating in that "high risk" role.
Here are the fumble statistics for ALL kick and punt returners that last 3 seasons:
You can see that the role of kick returner has a fumble percentage twice has high as the running back average. Even worse, punt returners fumble 6 to 7 times more than a running back (carries & receptions).
This is why I excluded the return touches and fumbles from the running back analysis. It's simply not fair to players who participate in the those roles.
Let's take a look at individual running backs. I broke them into three groups by number of total touches (carries + receptions).
Group 1 (700+ touches):
Bold indicates below the 3-year NFL average for the RB position.
Take note of Adrian Peterson. He had a fumble issue early in his career, but over the last three seasons he is one of the best at securing the pigskin.
Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch is one of the worst in this group. His extremely aggressive running style could be partially responsible for his below average ball security.
Group 2 (400 to 699 touches):
Are you surprised to see Darren Sproles so high on this list? He may be a small running back, but he knows how to protect the football.
How about Colts running back Donald Brown? In most respects, he's an average NFL running back, but he hasn't fumbled the football ball since his rookie season in 2009.
Both Peyton Hillis (UFA) and LeGarrette Blount (RFA) are free agents entering the 2013 season. All I have to say is, "BUYER BEWARE." These two are horrible at protecting the football.
Blount is similar to Lynch in his aggressive running style, but is even worse at securing the football. His aggressive style is a key attribute, but a team must decide if the positives outweigh the negatives before giving him valuable touches. Remember, fewer turnovers typically equals more wins in the NFL
Group 3 (<400 touches):
While the above group of running backs haven't had many touches over the last three seasons (many are rookies), I believe you can still spot potential trends.
Take Bryce Brown for example. He had some very good games while filling in for the injured LeSean McCoy, but those fumbles are costly and if he wants to continue having a job in the NFL he will need to significantly improve how he carries the football.
Other likes Jackie Battle and Justin Forsett have shown they can be trusted with the football. Battle often receives goal line touches, while Forsett has been a trusted third down back over the years.
Last, but not least. I have to address the issue of running backs fumbling in the playoffs. Some players perform better under pressure, while other crumble under it.
Here are the running back fumble percentages from the playoffs the last three seasons:
The sample size for the playoffs is much smaller than the regular season, but it clearly show a higher fumble rate for running backs in the playoffs.
Ray Rice might be the best example of a player buckling under the pressure of the playoffs. He has a regular season fumble percentage of 0.284% (3 fumbles on 1055 touches)has produced a horrible playoff fumble percentage of 2.778% (5 fumbles on 180 touches). Granted, three of those playoff fumbles came this post-season, but the difference is staggering.
Lucky for Ray Rice, the Ravens won the Super Bowl. If they hadn't won, we might be hearing more about his playoff fumbles and whispers of Bernard Pierce receiving more playing time.
I really enjoyed putting together this blog post and hope you enjoyed reading it. I plan to do other positions in future blogs.
Feel free to comment below and thank you for spending your time reading my blog.
* Statistics gathered from NFL.com