Not Your Average Running Back
Analytics Study: New RB Swift Primed For More Usage, Breakout Season
Led by roster architect Howie Roseman, the Philadelphia Eagles made a slew of moves during the 2023 NFL Draft, selecting prospects who the Eagles hope will make an instant impact.
But their most significant addition on Day 3 wasn’t a draft pick. The trade for fourth-year running back D’Andre Swift, a 2020 second-round pick, brought the Philadelphia native back home and armed the team’s backfield with another dynamic standout.
Swift might have enjoyed his best season in 2021 in terms of opportunities (151 carries/62 receptions) and yards (1,069 yards from scrimmage) but he was most efficient in 2022, averaging almost 5.5 yards per attempt while paired with Jamaal Williams, a more physical ball-carrier who often was used in short yardage and goal-line situations.
The Eagles hope to continue that efficiency by pairing Swift with a complementary piece Rashaad Penny, who was signed in free agency earlier this offseason, or in Trey Sermon, a 2021 third-round pick.
The chart below shows Swift, on average, compares to other NFL running backs in his career so far:*
*For rushing statistics, RBs needed at least 75 rushing attempts and for receiving statistics at least 21 receptions. Both of these thresholds are 20% of the respective maximum values in the 3-year period.
Swift averaged less attempts and yards than the average NFL running back over the last three seasons, but averaged a better yards-per-attempt average, along with more rushing touchdowns, receptions, receiving yards, yards-per-reception average , and receiving touchdowns than the three-year league average.
Z-Scores standardize a value’s distance from the average. A positive Z-score indicates that a value is greater than the average, a negative Z-Score indicates that value is less than the average.
Z-Scores that are greater than 1 or less than -1 are statistically significant as they are outlier values.
For example, Derrick Henry’s 17 rushing touchdowns in 2020 would have a Z-Score of 3.09, compared to the 3-year league average of 3.77 touchdowns. This performance is atypical within the 3-year average and, therefore, a significant outlier.
The same is true for a player who scored no touchdowns, like Miles Sanders in 2021, which would have the Z-Score of -1.42, another statistical outlier.
Percentile Rank Explained:
Percentile ranks measure the data point relative to all other data points in the population. A percentile rank of .75, means the value point is higher than 75% of all the other data points (top 25%). A percentile rank of .25, on the other hand, means the value point is only higher than 25% of all other data points (bottom 25%).
Swift Rushing Profile:
On average, Swift has fallen below league average on attempts and yards. His Z-Score for attempts was -0.61 and -0.48 for yards. This show he’s within a normal amount below the mean – not an outlier.
Swift is also in the 35th percentile rank and 38th percentile rank, respectively, for attempts and yards. In the past three years, on average, 65% of running backs had more attempts than Swift and 62% of running backs gained more yards. This 3% difference is showcased in his efficiency statistics.
For instance, Swift’s efficiency (measured by yards per attempt) has a Z-Score of 0.35 and is in the 69th percentile rank. This means Swift is in the top 31% of running backs in efficiency, despite 65% of running backs having more opportunities.
This efficiency statistic projects that if the Eagles give Swift more opportunities than he had in Detroit, he would likely have a career season in 2023.
Finally, Swift’s rushing touchdowns have a Z-Score of 0.17, which is close to the average. However, his percentile rank is 62nd. This means that he’s in the top 38% of running backs in the last three seasons for touchdowns – another statistic that should increase, assuming his usage increases.
Swift Receiving Profile:
Swift’s receptions and receiving yards both have a Z-Score of 0.88, which is close to being significant.
His receptions are the 83rd percentile rank, which means he is in the top 17% of running backs over the last three seasons. His receiving yards are the 85th percentile rank, which means he is in the top 15% of running backs over the last three seasons.
Swift’s efficiency was only slightly above average within the last three seasons, with a Z-Score of 0.19 and in the 62nd percentile. This means that Swift is in the top 38% of running backs in terms of receiving efficiency.
Finally, Swift’s receiving touchdowns have a Z-Score of 0.48 and are within the 79th percentile, placing him in the top 21% of running backs in terms of receiving touchdowns.
Overall, Swift’s receiving upside will add a completely different dynamic to an Eagles offense that last year lacked the same trait.
– Sam Finkel is a staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com who focuses on analytics.
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