Running Backs That Move the Chains

First Down Statistics courtesy of NFL.com

You can judge a running back's production in a number of ways. Generally, if a running back averages over 100 yards per game, he's productive. If a running back averages over four yards per carry with several carries per game, he's productive. If a running back has the ability to get the tough yards, on the goal line or on third/fourth and short situation, and he usually gets the touchdown or first down, he's productive. If a running back is named Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson, he's productive.

Another way is to judge how many times a running back moves the chains throughout the season. NFL.com recently wrote an article examining the top-10 running backs based on their yards in 2010 and how they fared at moving the chains to give their team first downs. Cedric Benson isn't on this list, of course, because he's not a top-10 rusher from 2010. He does however have a higher percentage of first downs than some of the other running backs on this list.

Here's what NFL.com found:

Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles came in first. His rushes resulted in first downs just over 30 percent of the time (230 rushes and 70 first downs for 30.4 percent).

Next is Houston Texans running back Arian Foster. His rushes resulted in first downs about 27 percent of the time (327 rushes and 89 first downs for 27.2 percent).

In third place is Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew. His carries resulted in first downs 25 percent of the time (299 carries for 75 first downs for 25.0 percent).

In fourth place is Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. His carries resulted in first downs just under 25 percent of the time (283 carries for 70 first downs for 24.7 percent).

Next, in fifth place is New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw. His rushes resulted in first downs just over 22 percent of the time (276 carries for 61 first downs for 22.1 percent).

In sixth place is Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner. His carries resulted in first downs just over 21 percent of the time (334 carries for 71 first downs for 21.2 percent.)

After Turner comes Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall. His carries resulted in first downs just under 19 percent of the time (324 carries for 61 first downs for 18.8 percent).

Then in eighth place came St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson. His rushes resulted in first downs just over 18 percent of the time (330 carries for 60 first downs for 18.1 percent).

In ninth place came Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson. His carries resulted in first downs just over 17 percent of the time (316 carries for 55 first downs for 17.4 percent).

Finally in tenth place came Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. His carries resulted in first downs just under 17 percent of the time (307 carries for 51 first downs for 16.6 percent).

Had the NFL ranked the running backs in order of percent of rushes that resulted in first downs, Benson still wouldn't have made the list, but he would have finished in eleventh place and ahead of Chris Johnson and Ray Rice. BenJarvis Green-Ellis and Peyton Hillis would have made that list, though.

Benson finished the 2010 season with an average of first down carries of 18.4 percent. He carried the ball 321 times and 59 of those carries moved the chains, giving the Bengals a first down. 

Hillis, his first down percentage was 21.1 percent (270 carries for 57 first downs). He should have finished in seventh place, if the list was based on first down percentages. Green-Ellis would have finished in third place with a first down percentage of 27.1 percent (229 carries for 62 first downs).

Had NFL.com ranked running backs on their ability to reach the first down markers instead of just judging the top-10 rusher's abilities to get first downs, the list would have looked like this:

Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster, BenJarvis Green-Ellis, Maurice Jones-Drew, Adrian Peterson, Ahmad Bradshaw, Michael Turner, Peyton Hillis, Rashard Mendenhall and Steven Jackson. At eleventh place would be Cedric Benson, who still wouldn't make the list but he'd be higher than Ray Rice and Chris Johnson, who did make the list.

So, does that mean Benson's productive?

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