Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

08 Aug 2008

FO on ESPN: Does Preseason Success Matter?

This week's ESPN piece discusses a particular preseason stat -- yards per carry -- which indicates first-year success for lesser-known (third-round or lower, or undrafted) rookie running backs. If you want to be ahead of the pack on the next Ahmad Bradshaw or Pierre Thomas, YPC over the average seems to be a good way to go. At the end of the preseason, I'll post a list of the qualifying rookie backs whose YPC is highest over the average.

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 08 Aug 2008

19 comments, Last at 30 Aug 2008, 5:24am by Miguel

Comments

1
by MR_TIGGUMS (not verified) :: Fri, 08/08/2008 - 10:27am

I was going to say Ray Rice would be the next Ahmad Bradshaw, especially considering the strength of the Ravens' interior line and laughable quarterback situation.

But then he carried 6 times for 12 yards against New England.

2
by Brian (not verified) :: Fri, 08/08/2008 - 10:28am

Neat article. However, I don't get the "over average" part of the analysis. You're making linear comparisons anyway, so what's the difference between comparing a guy with 5.0 YPC to a guy with 4.5 YPC, and comparing a guy who is 1.0 YPC-OA and one who is 0.5 YPC-OA?

It seems like you're just adding unnecessary complexity to the analysis. The average YPC in the NFL has been about 4.0 for decades. Unless you're doing a very long-term longitudinal analysis, such as comparing players from different eras, using over-average stats doesn't seem to add much. Or am I missing something?

3
by Jon (not verified) :: Fri, 08/08/2008 - 11:25am

Bradshaw was absolutely the star of Giants minicamps and camp last year, and he dazzled on the practice field every week. The problem is that Tom Coughlim, being Tom Coughlin, preferred the "veteran presence" of Reuben Droughns, and insisted on playing him until the season was literally on the line vs. Buffalo.

I've been closely following the reports on Rice out of Baltimore camp, and they've been absolutely glowing. Beatwriters are suggesting that he could take major carries away from McGahee, and eventually the starting jobs. Unfortunately, as you may have seen last night, the Baltimore OL is a shell of its former self without Ogden.

4
by Chris (not verified) :: Fri, 08/08/2008 - 11:37am

If you could find me a worse back than RD, I will mail you money.

5
by Joseph (not verified) :: Fri, 08/08/2008 - 12:32pm

This is why Saints fans are and were high on Pierre Thomas. It seemed like every time he touched the ball last preseason (and reg. season), he did something exciting with it. Although his stats from last night's game aren't anything, he had 1 KR for 58 yds. where he broke a couple of tackles. On the 4th and goal play from the one yd line, he broke 2 tackles before going down--and the home radio announcers thought he would get thru that one for the TD.

6
by The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly (aka SJM) (not verified) :: Fri, 08/08/2008 - 1:07pm

I wonder what the preseason rookie YPC rates were for some recent 1st round disappointments, such as Cedrick Benson and Reggie Bush. Or would this analysis not apply to 1st rounders?

7
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Fri, 08/08/2008 - 2:04pm

#4 - Try Sam Gado. When you are much worse than Ron Dayne, behind the same line, you truly suck.

8
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 08/08/2008 - 2:40pm

Hey, don't abuse Ron Dayne--be shredded the Colts D the year they won it all.

(chugs beer) Still having problems understanding that one.

9
by Marko (not verified) :: Fri, 08/08/2008 - 3:24pm

6: Cedric Benson didn't have a preseason rookie YPC because he never appeared in a preseason game his rookie year thanks to his lengthy holdout.

10
by scott (not verified) :: Fri, 08/08/2008 - 10:42pm

8: That was the year Bob Sanders was God. These things happen.

11
by Pat (not verified) :: Sat, 08/09/2008 - 4:59am

#2: The "over average" part is just binning. Simplest way to explain to people how strong an effect is: you split the sample down the middle, and average either side of it.

Completely normal. You can also figure out how statistically relevant it is by looking at how far apart the two samples are in terms of the standard deviation of the two groups. It's an easy two-minute analysis.

I'm just happy to see more people realizing that preseason stats do mean something. You just have to figure out when the teams or players are actually trying hard.

If NFL head coaches use it for evaluating players, there have to be statistics that are usable.

12
by Keith Cockrell (not verified) :: Sat, 08/09/2008 - 5:43pm

Second thread I've posted this on because I can't find a "right" one. Eagles owner Jeff Lurie dissed Lito Sheppard using a Footballoutsiders stat, YPA. Pretty cool. FBO on the rise!

13
by socctty (not verified) :: Sat, 08/09/2008 - 6:39pm

Football outsiders using yards per carry as a legitimate stat? Whaaaaaaaaaat?

It would be cool if this was fleshed out more. As it is, I don't know if there is necessarily a correlation here between preseason success and regular season success. Might even be a red herring. It's something that makes you go "hmm...", and that's about it.

14
by Zac (not verified) :: Sat, 08/09/2008 - 8:51pm

So basically what it's saying is that even though you may be dealing with 3rd string offenses going against 3rd string defenses, given a large enough sample size, the runners YPA is a meaningful measure of his ability.

Not mind blowing, but interesting (and useful for fantasy football purposes, if a person's draft is late enough). Obviously the thing a backup RB most needs is opportunity, but the ability to recognize the Selvin Youngs from the Garrett Wolfes is an advantage.

15
by wr (not verified) :: Mon, 08/11/2008 - 10:46am

Like #6, I think it would be interesting to see if this same measurement can be used as a predictor of being a bust.

16
by jimmo (not verified) :: Sat, 08/30/2008 - 1:32am

re:1 good call, despite the bad game you mention...26-146-5.6 for the preseason.
Except he's not the next Bradshaw, as he'll be playing early and often.

17
by jimmo (not verified) :: Sat, 08/30/2008 - 1:41am

re:6- the article is looking at late-round guys having success, excludes first and second-rounders.

For fun, Reggie Bush was 19-102-5.4 in '06, with one carry of 44 yards. Joe Addai was 21-32-1.5, so go figure.

18
by jimmo (not verified) :: Sat, 08/30/2008 - 2:06am

sorry for the multiple posts, but I'm just having fun going over this now as another preseason ends...
re:14- "but the ability to recognize the Selvin Youngs from the Garrett Wolfes is an advantage"
I'm not sure this stat is really all that telling though. One (like me) may have just as easily tabbed Jason Snelling (39-172-4.4) or Thomas Clayton (45-200-4.4) instead of Young last year.
Jerome Harrison was insane in '06 (25-155-6.2) and Wali Lundy was strong as well (26-143-5.5).

The more time I'm spending with it (albeit only the last three years), the more random it looks to me. Some guys get 25+ carries with high YPC in the preseason and have some success, some guys don't.

Not many contenders this year though. Justin Forsett pops out, but that's before another mediocre game tonight; Ray Rice as mentioned; Lance Ball of the Rams put up 31-137-4.4. Its quite possible neither Forsett nor Ball make the final roster.

This was a good read and interesting enough to make me look further. Not sold on the results.

19
by Miguel (not verified) :: Sat, 08/30/2008 - 5:24am

In my humble opinion, Doug makes a strong case in his article, but, average per carry alone is overrated. I think you still have to use the parameters of wins (45%-1st, 60%-2nd, and 100%-3rd) as a standard.

Furthermore, HOW does the back performs on different run plays? Does he get everything he can on each run? Can you decipher a distinct style from the said player that impresses upon opponents, as well as us fans?

Let's start with Ray Rice. YPC excluded, he's already displayed a knack for busting through small holes and getting yardage where there was none. Also, he avoids losses in the backfield. Whether his average is good or not, you know Ray will get his touches because of McGahee's penchant for getting hurt. Moreover, his teammate and lead blocker Le'Ron McClain has also shown his ability to tote the rock, despite carrying the ball only 8 times as a rookie last season. Don't fret about the Ravens line, Lorenzo Neal lead blocking and an improved Jared Gaither at the tackle should keep them respectable.

Another impressive example for me is Anthony Alridge of Denver. Now obviously, many will tout the Broncos famed blocking scheme, but, this guy hits holes, has the burst and open field speed to play in any run scheme. Whether Alridge makes the Broncos or not, I'm convinced he'll play for someone this year.

The thing that sticks out to me this preseason is the bevy of small backs (5'8 or shorter) making strong showings, killing yet again the myth that small guys can't handle the load.

Lastly, I wish to point out two things. First, two under the radar contributors last season not mentioned in the article were Green Bay's DeShawn Wynn (2.1 pre/4.0 reg) and Brandon Jackson (3.3 pre/3.6 reg). Both guys competed last year with eventual starter Ryan Grant (5.0 pre/5.1 reg)for the top spot. Grant didn't take off until after midseason. Moreover, Jackson is averaging 4.3 ypc this preseason, only behind injury prone Noah Herron (5.8 ypc). Ironically Wali Lundy, another habitual in-patient, (1.2 ypc this year) is also in this crowded backfield along with rookie Kregg Lumpkin (4.0 ypc this year). So what does all of that signify, besides the obvious?

Second, injuries and playing time are a major factor as described with Lundy and Herron. Lundy, seemed on the verge of competing with Ahman Green in Houston for the number one spot. A healthy Herron may have stopped GM Thompson from drafting Wynn and Jackson.

Kenny Watson (3.7 this preseason) of Cincinatti has always been productive....every other year, because of injury. He finally put two good years together. We know he won't get the bulk of the carries, even if Rudi is traded. Sorry for the long block text, HTML editing is not my strong suit.

Thanks,
Miguel