All-22 Week 7: Receivers getting more carries

Last Updated: Jan 9, 2021

Every week, Marcus Mosher will contribute a review for All-22 Week 7 NFL film study and observations

Over the last few years, the football stats and analytics community has stressed the value of passing in the NFL. Teams are becoming more pass-happy than ever because that’s what makes sense from a mathematical standpoint. I

t’s tough to argue against the numbers. Teams in 2020 are averaging 7.3 yards per passing attempt this season, versus 4.38 yards per carry. Again, this isn’t a new trend; the league has become a heavier passing league for several years now.

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In turn, we have seen the league devalue running backs. While there are a few teams that still spend high draft picks and top free-agent dollars at the position, most of the NFL has come around to the idea that rushing production is easily replaceable.

The running back-by-committee approach isn’t new, either, but it’s the new way of the league. The old “workhorse" back who received 375 carries throughout the 16-game season has come and gone.

Now, a “bell-cow" back on a team is lucky to see 250 carries on the year. (Hello, fantasy football players.)

But offensive coordinators have found another way to run the ball consistently in 2020. They are starting to use receivers as ball carriers more often.

This isn’t a new concept. We have seen the NFL use wide receivers in the run game in the past. Players like Tavon Austin, Percy Harvin, and Brad Smith made careers in the NFL by being used in both the run game and passing game despite being labeled as a “receiver.”

But what is new is just how frequently teams are using receivers to carry the ball.

WR Carries Catching On

Consider this: During the 2007 season, there were 195 carries by “wide receivers” as Josh Cribbs and Steve Smith led all receivers in carries with 9.

By the year 2013, that number rose to 226.

Through Week 6 of the 2020 season, there have already been 174 carries by wide receivers.

That means the league is on pace to have nearly 500 wide receiver carries this season. It’s also worth mentioning that four receivers already have double-digit carries on the season: the Chicago Bears’ Cordarrelle Patterson; the Carolina Panthers’ Curtis Samuel; the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Laviska Shenault; and the Los Angeles Rams’ Robert Woods).

All-22 Week 7: Robert Woods is one of the most frequent rushers among wide receivers.
Rams WR Robert Woods has been one of the WR leaders in carries. (USA TODAY Sports)

Part of the reason teams are using receivers more in the run game is due to its effectiveness.

According to SportRadar, wide receivers are averaging 5.81 yards per rush, compared to 4.31 for running backs. Teams are hitting more big plays and are consistently churning out yardage on the ground.

If yards per carry isn’t your cup of tea, then maybe success rate is.

According to the Football Outsiders stat, success rate measures a ball carrier’s consistency based on the percentage of carries where the player gains 40% of needed yards on first down; 60% of needed yards on second down; or 100% of needed yards on third or fourth down.

  • Wide-receiver runs currently have a success rate of 59.2%.
  • Running back carries have been successful only 51.8% of the time this season.

All-22 Week 7 Review

The Sunday Night Football matchup between the Rams and San Francisco 49ers featured two teams that use their wide receivers as ball carriers more than anyone else.

Both teams have designed their offense to get the ball to their playmakers in space, partially to cover up for their quarterbacks’ faults and weaknesses.

Using an All 2 Review, here is a great example of Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams giving the ball to Robert Woods on a misdirection play as the entire 49ers defense flows to the other side of the field.

Is this a big, splashy play that will be highlighted on SportsCenter after the game? Of course not.

But this is the type of run by Woods that allowed the Rams to move the chains with relative ease.

Here is another example by the Rams earlier this season with slot receiver Cooper Kupp. Going against the Eagles, Los Angeles attacked their linebackers as they knew they had problems running from sideline to sideline.

Instead of running at them, between the tackles, this forced them to make plays in space. As you can see in this other All 22 Review, the result was pretty spectacular.

But it’s not just the Rams and 49ers who are using these types of runs. Old-school offenses such as the Pittsburgh Steelers are starting to implement more wide-receiver runs into their offense.

Rookie receiver Chase Claypool already has 2 rushing touchdowns on the season on six carries. Here is an All-22 Week 7 example of a successful run near the goal line to get the Notre Dame product into the end zone.

Winning in the red zone can be incredibly difficult, especially when running down near the goal line. One missed block can result in a big loss or a failed rush.

But on this play, the Steelers ask Claypool to beat just one defender. Claypool has two options: He can try to run over the defender between the two blockers or race him to the pylon. And as you can see above, the defender never had a chance to make that play given the angle.

All-22 Week 7 Takeaways

Running the ball in 2020 is still essential. It’s a vital part of the game and is still needed to have a balanced offense. However, the way teams are running the ball now is just a smarter, more efficient way to do so.

They don’t have to put a ton of mileage on a single back, and they aren’t forced to pay him buckets of money, either. The organization can get the same rushing production out of six different players, rather than one.

This further diminishes the value of those midrange fantasy backs you’re counting on this season.

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Indeed, the Steelers and Rams have decent options in James Conner and Darrell Henderson, respectively, but they’re hardly worth counting on week-to-week.

The increase in offensive creativity for wideouts does add more intrigue to those wide receivers’ “to score TD" or “to score first" bets.

As the NFL game continues to evolve and look more like college and high school, expect more players to get opportunities to run the ball than ever before.

The league is starting to become more “positionless” by the week, and the utilization of wide receivers in the run game is a perfect example of that.

More Week 7 NFL tips


Marcus Mosher

Marcus Mosher is an NFL analyst at The Game Day, residing in Erie, PA. He covers the NFL from a betting and fantasy perspective, producing written and video content. Marcus currently hosts multiple football-related podcasts and is a managing editor at USA Today’s Sports Media Group covering the Las Vegas Raiders. He has previously worked at The Athletic and Bleacher Report.

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