29 Aug 2007
Tom Holley: In my KUBIAK projection - Shaun Alexander is the 95th player overall. Is this right? ESPN has him seventh and FOX has him second. I was just wondering if there was a problem. If not, why the low ranking? Thanks.
No, there's no problem. That's his ranking. He's probably the player where there is the biggest disagreement between KUBIAK and conventional wisdom -- other guys may have a larger difference between KUBIAK rank and average draft position, but we're talking here about a guy going in the top few picks.
I don't think people realize how rare it is for a running back to bounce back from the kind of decline Alexander had last year. In fact, I don't think people realize how rare it is for a running back to decline as much as Alexander did last year, period.
Here's the list of running backs since 1978, 29 or older, who declined by more than 1.5 yards per carry with a minimum 200 carries each season:
Shaun Alexander (2006)
Barry Sanders (1998)
That's it. Two guys. Of course, we have no idea what this drop meant for Sanders, because he retired after that season. Let's loosen the restrictions a bit. Here's the list of running backs since 1978, 28 or older, who declined by more than 1.25 yards per carry with a minimum 150 carries each season:
Alexander and Sanders.
James Brooks (1991): Brooks was done at that point, but he was also 33, so he's not really a good comparison for Alexander. He gained 44 yards on 18 carries in 1992 and then retired.
Randy McMillan (1986): McMillan averaged 4.42 yards per carry for the Colts in 1984-1985, then dropped to 3.22 yards per carry at the age of 28. He never played again.
We need a comparison list with more than three guys on it, so let's open it up some more. Here's the list of running backs since 1978, 28 or older, who declined by more than 1.0 yards per carry with a minimum 150 carries each season:
Alexander, Sanders, Brooks, and McMillan.
Mike Anderson (2001): Had a total of 154 carries the next three seasons, then had a reasonable 2005 season at the age of 32.
Jerome Bettis (2002): Bettis is a special player, the only guy in history to decline like this twice and come back from it twice. He was terrible in 2002 and 2003, then useful again in 2004 and 2005.
Marion Butts (1994): 71 carries and just 185 yards for the 1995 Oilers, then retired.
Corey Dillon (2005): Rebounded slightly in 2006, to 4.08 yards per carry, and was a useful touchdown guy, then retired.
Warrick Dunn (2006): Breaking down before our eyes.
Curtis Martin (2005): Never played again.
What about the touchdowns? Alexander dropped by 20 touchdowns last year, and obviously, that's not something that happens often, because players don't often have 20 rushing touchdowns to begin with. We'll loosen up our restrictions on this question too. Here's a list of running backs since 1978, 28 or older, who dropped by eight or more touchdowns compared to their average from the previous two seasons:
Terry Allen (1997)
Priest Holmes (2004)
Adrian Murrell (1999)
John Riggins (1985)
Emmitt Smith (1997)
Wendell Tyler (1983)
Herschel Walker (1993)
Curt Warner (1989)
James Wilder (1986)
Not counting Alexander, these running backs averaged 14.0 rushing touchdowns the year before, 4.4 touchdowns in the year listed, and 3.8 touchdowns the year after. Only Emmitt Smith had more than seven touchdowns the next year, and only Smith and Tyler had more than 700 rushing yards. Most of these guys never played another full season. This isn't looking so good for Alexander.
Let's hit one more list while we're at it. We've mentioned this a few times, but a drop in receptions is often a good indicator that a running back only has one or two good years left. Over the past five years, Alexander's reception totals go: 59, 42, 23, 15, 12.
Here's a list of running backs, 27 or older, who had a season with fewer than 25 receptions two years after a season with more than 40 receptions, and a minimum of 150 carries each year (we're looking for halfbacks here, not pass-catching fullbacks in decline):
Alexander (2004 and 2005)
Roger Craig (1991): This was the season he spent with the Raiders; he was pretty much cooked at this point but he went on a couple more years.
Corey Dillon (2004)
Pete Johnson (1983): We talk about him in the book; the next year, the Bengals sent him to the Chargers for James Brooks, and he gained 2.36 yards per carry in 87 carries, and his career ended.
Kevin Mack (1992): 10 carries in 1993, then his career ended.
Curtis Martin (2005)
Barry Sanders (1996)
Duce Staley (2004): 38 carries in 2005, then his career ended.
Fred Taylor (2005): Well, this isn't a good indicator for 2007 and 2008, is it?
Anthony Toney (1989): 132 carries in 1990, then his career ended.
Curt Warner (1988): 3.25 yards per carry in 1989, 2.84 yards per carry in 1990, then his career ended.
Lorenzo White (1994): 62 carries in 1995, then his career ended.
Ricky Williams (2005): Got high, then his career ended.
Again, not a good group to be in.
Alexander was a great player through 2005, and I'm sure he has worked hard to get back to that level, but the odds are stacked against him. We're probably underestimating how many touchdowns he'll score, but you can double his touchdown total and he still isn't a first-round fantasy pick. (Seriously; try it if you have the KUBIAK sheet.) The point of KUBIAK is to get a general idea of who is overrated and underrated by conventional wisdom, not to quibble with small statistical differences. Stay away from Shaun Alexander.
36 comments, Last at 30 Aug 2007, 2:21pm by Ashley Tate
In this week's Varsity Numbers, Bill Connelly revisits some measures and concepts: Adjusted Scores, Covariance, and momentum (or whatever you choose to call it).