This article is the second in a two-part series covering the Miami Dolphins additions at running back. Last week, I covered Jordan Howard and discussed how he will need to improve if he wants to be the Dolphins primary running back. This week, I will be evaluating Howard’s primary competition for that role: Matt Breida, who the Dolphins acquired in a mid-draft trade with the San Francisco 49ers.
Much like Howard, Breida suffered an injury in 2019 and subsequently lost his spot in the rotation to his backup. Although, in Breida’s case, his replacement was the result of the emergence of veteran running back Raheem Mostert, rather than a young rookie like Miles Sanders. With Miami, the two players will compete to see which of them will earn back their starting roles. The question is, which one will succeed?
Using OSM to determine Breida’s value to San Francisco
Breida had a relatively successful 2019, especially prior to his injury, totaling 623 rushing yards. However, because of that injury and his subsequent benching, we didn’t get to see how he would perform over an entire season. Fortunately, using PFN’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM), which measures how responsible a player was for their statistics, we can evaluate how valuable Breida was to the 49ers in 2019 as a rusher (as I mentioned last week, the OSM does not take into account running back receiving statistics).
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Breida’s season-long OSM grade of 17.31 ranked reasonably highly among running backs. That is a solid grade, ranking 13th out of 48 qualifying players, indicating that Breida had a high degree of influence over his statistics relative to other running backs. More importantly, for our purposes, though, it was significantly higher than Howard’s grade of 13.71. So, at least when looking at their seasons overall, Breida was the more valuable rusher.
Explaining Breida’s high season-long OSM grade
In order to find out why Breida graded highly, we need to look at the advanced metrics that make up a player’s OSM grade. One of the most important in Breida’s case was what is called the “efficiency rating”, which is calculated by the NFL. Simply put, it represents the number of yards a running back traveled in terms of physical distance for each rushing yard they gained on the field.
The higher the rating, the less efficient the running back. Breida’s efficiency rating of 4.06 was the 14th highest out 48 qualifying running backs, meaning that he was less efficient with his movements than most of the other players at his position.
However, the story is more complicated than that one statistic would indicate. Another prominent metric involved in calculating the OSM for running backs is how often they faced eight or more defenders around the line of scrimmage. In Breida’s case, he was in that situation 30.08% of the time, the eleventh highest percentage in the NFL last season.
That high percentage should be relatively unsurprising given how run-heavy San Francisco’s offense was in 2019. In fact, two of the players above him on the list were Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman, Breida’s teammates with the 49ers.
Due to the incredibly challenging situations Breida often found himself in, his lack of efficiency is more understandable. He had less room to operate in and was therefore forced to take a more indirect path in order to reach the same level of statistical production.
A more in-depth look at Breida’s week-to-week grades
Based solely on the above statistics, you might think that Breida will easily beat out Howard for the starting role. However, looking at Breida’s grades from individual weeks paints a more nuanced picture. The chart below shows how his grade varied from week to week.
The black dots represent his grade during the weeks in which he qualified, which became less frequent as the season progressed, and the yellow line represents the average grade for running backs during the regular season.
As you can see, Breida’s grades were wildly inconsistent, ranging from Breida’s grades ranged from an exceptional 30.02 in Week 2, down to a 5.83 in Week 6. That is a massive swing in effectiveness, and in some ways, it makes his relatively high overall grade less impressive.
While there were some weeks in which he excelled, there were others in which he contributed almost nothing to the team’s success, which is not generally what you want from your starting running back.
Breida’s role with the Dolphins will likely depend on his consistency
Breida has a number of advantages over Howard in the battle for the starting role. He’s younger and showed higher peak performances last season than his new teammate. However, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores is the kind of coach that demands consistency out of his players, something that Breida struggled heavily with last season.
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If he is unable to improve in that respect, he might find himself sidelined in favor of the more consistent, if less spectacular, Howard. On the other hand, if Breida can play at his peek on a more regular basis, he could become a potent threat in the Dolphins offense.
Lucas Ellinas is a writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter @Lucas_Ellinas.