Air Force Football: What Does Losing Cole Fagan Mean For The Falcons Running Game?
The Falcons’ leading rusher is no longer with the team, but how significant is his loss for the Air Force running game?
Does losing a big-time runner mean as much for a team like Air Force?
After releasing their post-spring football prospectus, the Air Force Falcons didn’t officially follow up on one of its most glaring omissions for quite a while.
Cole Fagan, the team’s leading rusher in 2018, was nowhere to be found on the depth chart, and it wasn’t until this morning that the program confirmed he was no longer a part of the Falcons roster. Given the helium that Air Force has received as a candidate to bounce back into contention for a bowl and perhaps more, Fagan’s removal would seem to be a very big deal.
Is it, though? I dove into a decade’s worth of numbers to try and come up with an answer.
1. By traditional measures, Fagan’s overall contribution was almost exactly average.
Air Force, of course, isn’t a typical team because they run the ball so often, and speaking strictly in terms of carries and raw rushing yards, Cole Fagan was right in line with what other leading rushers have done since 2009.
On average, the Falcons’ lead runner has averaged 178 carries and almost exactly 1000 yards, good for 5.72 yards per carry, which means that Fagan’s 5.39 YPC comes in slightly under what Air Force has typically received from its lead back.
2. In terms of team share, Fagan did do more work than the typical Falcons workhorse.
If you reframe the numbers by how production stacked up amongst the whole team, Fagan’s efforts do look a lot more critical.
Without adjusting for sacks, Fagan’s 185 carries and 997 yards represented 25.9% and 29.3% of Air Force’s totals, respectively. The former figure is the second-highest of the last decade, surpassed only by Jared Tew in 2009, while the latter sits behind Jacobi Owens’s 2014 (29.7%) and Chris Getz’s 2012 (30.4%).
It also happened to reverse a recent trend from the last two seasons, when the share of lead back carries fell to 17.2% and 16.7% in 2016 and 2017, the two lowest figures in the ten-year sample. Owens ends up being a fairly decent comp as a result, especially in the 2015 season where Air Force won the Mountain division crown; Fagan was a shade less explosive by Highlight Yards per Carry (how many yards earned after the first five yards) but had a better Opportunity Rate (52.4% vs. 39.6%), meaning he found himself in the second level more often than pretty much any Air Force back of note in the past four seasons.
Furthermore, when you consider that, per Pro Football Focus, Fagan was one of the conference’s best at either moving the chains or finding the end zone, that narrowly defined but critical contribution could be tougher to replace.