Offensive Linemen are often overlooked, but without them, no offense can survive. All linemen in the NFL are expected to win their 1-on-1 matchup on the frontside of plays (where they are lined up on the same side as the direction of the run), but one big difference between a good blocker and a great blocker is often how well they perform on backside blocks.
Brandon Thorn, an OL Scout for Bleacher Report and OL/DL Expert, said: “A good backside run blocker seals the backside to create cutback lanes if the frontside is closed off. They increase the options for runs to hit in the zone run game if the runner has to ‘bend’ or ‘bounce’ their read.”
Applying PFF data to the Top 10 Offensive Lineman selected in the NFL Draft, we can see who performs best on the backside of run plays using the “Impact Run Block Percentage” metric — positively graded backside run block snaps/total backside run blocking snaps.
Most Impactful Backside Run Blockers (among Top 10 OGs and OTs selected in 2022)
- Ikem Ekwonu, OT – 30.5%
- Trevor Penning, OT – 28.9%
- Zion Johnson, OG – 22.3%
- Luke Goedeke, OT – 21.1%
- Tyler Smith, OT – 20.8%
- Kenyon Green, OG – 20.2%
- Cole Strange, OG – 19.4%
- Charles Cross, OT – 16.4%
- Ed Ingram, OG – 12.3%
- Evan Neal, OT – 9.6%
Relating to the technique required for a successful backside block, Thorn said: “I’m looking for them to come out of their stance with burst and not ‘step-under’ themselves, gain ground laterally and get their hat and hips across their target. This creates a seal on the backside and hand placement and torque come into play to generate leverage and gain control too.”
Not only does PFF provide snaps on the positively graded plays on the backside run plays, but there is data on “Defeated Run Block Percentage” — Negatively Graded Backside Run Block Snaps/Total Backside Run Blocking Snaps.
Defeated by Defender on Backside Run Block (from Top 10 OGs and OTs selected in 2022)
- Ed Ingram, OG – 18.5%
- Kenyon Green, OG – 16.2%
- Charles Cross, OT – 13.1%
- Cole Strange, OG – 12.7%
- Ikem Ekwonu, OT – 12.6%
- Evan Neal, OT – 10.8%
- Trevor Penning, OT – 8.3%
- Tyler Smith, OT – 7.5%
- Zion Johnson, OG – 5.1%
- Luke Goedeke, OT – 4.8%
Filtering out 4th Down and RPO plays to achieve this dataset aids a much more accurate evaluation, as play-calling is significantly altered on 4th Down, while RPO offenses pull defenses in different directions and also are not called as often at the NFL level. Therefore, we see a true reflection of how players may compete at the next level of competition on the backside of run plays, and whether they will make a big difference to a rushing attack. As always, stats and data are secondary to the film, but they are invaluable to confirm what the film has shown.
The average Impact Run Block Percentage on Backside Run plays (min. 100 snaps) was 10.7%, and the Defeated Run Block Percentage was 12.2%.
On film we saw that Patriots No. 29 overall pick Cole Strange was an absolute mauler, flying around and contributing well on the backside of plays on film. He ranked out at OG3 for us on the big board.
The same applied for Tyler Smith to the Cowboys, who many claim was a reach at No. 24 overall. The film and the supplementary data backs up the thought process by the Cowboys Front Office.
No one is denying that winning on the frontside of run plays is the first and foremost task of an NFL Offensive Lineman, but against modern defensive fits, establishing a successful running game is much easier behind a strong-backside-blocking team. Great backside blockers can help good runs become great runs. Good plays win games, and great plays win championships.