Daniel Jones and Josh Jacobs: First Down Kings

Jason Pauley
3 min readJan 16, 2023

Jason Pauley

Daniel Jones ran for seven first downs against the Vikings in the 2022 Wild Card game. If it seemed like a lot, it is. This was tied for the second most first downs Jones has run for in a game behind the eight he had in his last game of the regular season against the Colts. Some quick math says that’s 15 running first downs in his last two games. Jones didn’t lead the NFL in total first down runs for a quarterback this year, that would be Jalen Hurts (his opponent next week) with 67, then Justin Fields (no one’s opponent next week) with 65, and D.Jones coming in at 3rd with 57.

But nearly one out of every two times Daniel Jones runs the ball, he gets the Giants a first down with a league leading 47.5% rate. Josh Allen at 44.4% and Trevor Lawrence at 43.5% round out the top three.

When looking at this rate, you really need to separate the QBs and RBs. Quarterback runs are often opportunistic runs as they take off when they see daylight as opposed to running backs who get the handoff and run regardless of the situation in front of them. So even the QBs with the worst rates, are above running backs with the best rates. For QBs with at least 50 rushing attempts, Justin Herbert is at the bottom with a 31.5% first down rate. Surprisingly, 2nd to last is Kyler Murray with 34.3%. Keep in mind the minimum carries of 50+ adds selection bias to the group. Being at the bottom of this list, puts someone at the bottom of quarterbacks who are generally more mobile. Guys like Tom Brady, Derek Carr and Jared Goff have really bad rates, but aren’t getting many carries either.

Josh Jacobs leads Running Backs in first down rate and total first downs running. In terms of volume, Josh Jacobs is a dominating outlier. There is more distance between Jacob’s 93 rushing first downs and Nick Chubb (69, nice) than there is between Chubb at #2 and the 26th highest on the list. Although 93 is quite dominant this year, it’s not a historical outlier. Just last year, Jonathan Taylor ran for 107 first downs, and the all-time record is 109 by Shaun Alexander in 2005. Jacob’s total is the 18th best dating back to 1994 when this data begins.

Jacob’s rate of 27.4 just edges out Cordarrelle Patterson (27.1%) and James Conner (26.2%) to lead all running backs in first down rate. It’s also interesting to see both Packers running backs, Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon very high at #5 and #6. Are they both equally great at getting first downs? Is it the scheme/play calling? Packers fans probably have some insight here.

There are some surprises at the bottom, like Derrick Henry (18.6%) and Jonathan Taylor (20.3%) who ran for first downs at a 32.2% rate last season.

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Jason Pauley

Passionate about Analytics (Football, Sports, Marketing, Sales, Demographics)