Mike Gillislee’s efficiency hasn’t gone underdiscussed since he signed two-year, $6.4 million offer sheet with the New England Patriots in April. Nor should it.
The ex-Buffalo Bill averaged a touchdown every dozen carries, a first down on 38.5 percent of his carries, and gained 10 yards or more on 16 of his carries last season. He did so in a complementary role behind five-time Pro Bowler, two-time first-team All-Pro and former NFL rushing yards and touchdowns champion LeSean McCoy.
But Gillislee also managed to do something else in 2016 – and you’ve probably heard it by now.
He matched his yards per carry from the season prior on double the volume, qualifying for the league lead.
Gillislee’s torrid 5.71-yard pace saw him tally 577 yards on just 101 attempts by the time he’d played his final snap in Orchard Park. By then, well-traveled Florida product and 2013 fifth-round pick had placed himself on a short list of names from past and present.
According to Pro Football Reference, only 11 running backs with north of 100 attempts in a single season have gone on to post a higher per-carry average since the 1970 merger.
One accomplished the feat consecutively. A couple others are in the Hall of Fame. And another is fated to follow.
TOP AVERAGES AMONG QUALIFIED BACKS SINCE MERGER
- Mercury Morris – 1973: 6.40 on 149 attempts, totaling 954 yards and 10 touchdowns
- Jamaal Charles – 2010: 6.38 on 230 attempts, totaling 1,467 yards and five touchdowns
- Barry Sanders – 1997: 6.13 on 335 attempts, totaling 2,053 yards and 11 touchdowns
- Adrian Peterson – 2012: 6.03 on 348 attempts, totaling 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns
- O.J. Simpson – 1973: 6.03 on 332 attempts, totaling 2,003 yards and 12 touchdowns
- Ted McKnight – 1978: 6.03 on 104 attempts, totaling 627 yards and six touchdowns
- Hokie Gajan – 1984: 6.03 on 102 attempts, totaling 615 yards and five touchdowns
- C.J. Spiller – 2012: 6.01 on 207 attempts, totaling 1,244 yards and six touchdowns
- Jerious Norwood – 2007: 5.95 on 103 attempts, totaling 613 yards and one touchdown
- Felix Jones – 2009: 5.91 on 116 attempts, totaling 685 yards and three touchdowns
- Jamaal Charles – 2009: 5.89 on 190 attempts, totaling 1,120 yards and seven touchdowns
- Napoleon Kaufman – 1996: 5.83 on 150 attempts, totaling 874 yards and one touchdown
That makes Gillislee’s ground work last season the 13th-most efficient for a running back since the NFL and AFL became one.
And, given the fact Charles eclipsed 5.7 yards per carry twice, it also makes Gillislee just the 12th back in the last 47 years reach such a milestone after surpassing the century mark in carries.
Granted, Gillislee’s sample size checks in as the smallest of the stable. His 101 runs in 2016 stand as the fewest of the 1970-to-present assortment, followed by Gajan’s 102 with the New Orleans Saints, Norwood’s 103 with the Atlanta Falcons and McKnight’s 104 with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The reality that he started only one game falls along the same lines, seeing how more than half of the backs in the ranks were full-time starters during their most resourceful campaigns.
But it is a feather in Gillislee’s cap as he looks ahead to what’ll likely be his most expansive workload to date. The 26-year-old, who appeared in only a handful contests through his first three seasons, has learned how to make more out of less. In turn, he’s earned an opportunity to make more out of more in Foxborough.
There’s carries to be had there.
After all, 299 of the backfield’s 410 from last season are now in Philadelphia.