Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

11 Aug 2017

The NFL Position That Everyone's Talking About In 2017

Michelle Bruton of OZY.com looks at an offensive tactic that teams around the league are stealing from Atlanta: the rise of the H-back. First made popular by Joe Gibbs' Washington teams in the 1980s, the H-back is similar to a tight end, but lines up just off the line of scrimmage or even in the backfield and often goes in motion.

Bruton examines how H-backs can be used as blockers in the run game but also as effective targets in the passing game. She makes particular note of Kyle Juszczyk, a fullback who just signed a four-year, $21 million contract with San Francisco. 49ers general manager John Lynch was sure to note that Juszczyk was not a fullback, he as an "offensive weapon." In other words, he won't just be smashing dudes between the tackles, he'll be frequently used as a receiver too.

This kind of thing can be hard to measure, but I thought I'd try and find 2016's top H-backs by taking all players with at least 20 targets out of the backfield, and sorting them by ratio of backfield targets to runs. (Arizona's David Johnson led the league with 76 targets out of the backfield, but with 293 runs, that dude obviously is no H-back.) The result is mainly a list of "receiving backs" more than H-backs, though Juszczyk is way ahead of almost everyone else. It's interesting that two Indianapolis players made the list -- but if Frank Gore is getting all the carries, the Colts' other running backs had to find another way to make an impact. If Bruton is right about this trend growing across the league, this table might look a lot different next year.

Top "H-Backs," 2016
Name Team Backfield
Runs BT/R
Travaris Cadet NO 30 4 7.5
Kyle Juszczyk BAL 37 5 7.4
James White NE 63 39 1.6
Josh Ferguson IND 23 15 1.5
Bobby Rainey NYG 23 17 1.4
Chris Thompson WAS 61 68 0.9
Duke Johnson CLE 62 73 0.8
Robert Turbin IND 33 46 0.7
Damien Williams MIA 25 35 0.7
Theo Riddick DET 57 92 0.6
Highest ratio of backfield targets to runs, minimum 20 backfield targets

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 11 Aug 2017

5 comments, Last at 14 Aug 2017, 11:25am by Tomlin_Is_Infallible


by jtr :: Sat, 08/12/2017 - 11:14am

Oakland used Marcel Reece in the receiving FB role from 2010-2015 to some success. He only played a handful of games for Seattle last year, not sure why.
I'm personally not a big fan of the terminology used here. To me, H-back is a specific player alignment in the backfield wider than the guards and closer to the line than a traditional fullback. Ask in, aligned somewhere in between the traditional FB and TE assignments. Bruce Miller of the 49ers (a free agent since early in the 2016 season) is the only guy I remember in recent years to be used primarily in that alignment. In my limited viewing of Ravens games last year, I don't recall seeing Juszczyk used primarily in that role. I would just call these guys receiving fullbacks personally.

by mrt1212 :: Sat, 08/12/2017 - 2:43pm

Seahawks' RB stable was an injury plagued and discombobulated mess. Reece was in and out of the lineup as dictated by injuries and return from injuries to all the backs ahead of him. It was very frustrating.

by The Ninjalectual :: Sat, 08/12/2017 - 6:12pm

"And the stats support it; per Dubin, plays in which a tight end, running back or H-back splits out wide “generate more yards on a per-play basis than those featuring multiple backs or tight ends.”

This is the wrong stat to use. The relevant question is how flex-players split out wide do compared to a 3rd WR. I don't see how their stat supports anything

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Sun, 08/13/2017 - 4:42pm

H-backs are hybrid FB/TEs. Your stat doesn't capture either.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Mon, 08/14/2017 - 11:25am

i don't see a chris cooley in that bunch

The standard is the standard!