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06 Jul 2009

Wisdom of Crowds: Projecting 2009 RB, Part III

by Bill Barnwell

Our final Wisdom of Crowds feature on running backs looks at a mix of players: Three backs whose 2008 failed to live up to expectations, one back who came out of nowhere to have a huge season, and finally, a back whose consistency has been relatively remarkable.

Monday: Reggie Bush
Average Prediction: 152 carries, 609 rushing yards, 5 TD
Maximum Prediction: 240 carries, 900 rushing yards, 9 TD
Minimum Prediction: 138 carries, 450 rushing yards, 2 TD

Yes, Bush derives a fair amount of value from his receiving totals, but I wanted to see what people thought of Bush's potential this year as a runner.

Assuming that Bush plays in all 16 games (as our panel is instructed to assume), 609 rushing yards is a downright pathetic total, coming in at just over 38 yards per game. Then again, Bush has averaged just under 41 rushing yards per game as a professional, so it's essentially status quo.

It's difficult to find a positive indicator for Bush's future in his 2008 performance, as well. He missed time with an injury for the second consecutive season. His yards per carry improved from 3.7 to 3.8, but he benefited from a weak schedule; his VOA was -6.8%, but his DVOA was at -9.0%. His fumble rate improved from once every 29 touches to once every 53 touches, which is probably the nicest thing I can say about him.

At this point, the argument in favor of Bush basically amounts to "He was the second overall pick, so he must be good." The mainstream tends to overrate boom-and-bust backs, but even they've picked up on Bush's impotence as an every-down back at this point. A successful career for Bush as a running back wouldn't be unprecedented -- Tyrone Wheatley comes to mind -- but it seems extremely distant at the moment.

Tuesday: Joseph Addai
Average Prediction: 194 carries, 837 rushing yards, 6 TD
Maximum Prediction: 330 carries, 1320 rushing yards, 12 TD
Minimum Prediction: 140 carries, 720 rushing yards, 5 TD

Here's one where I disagree with the perception that Addai's regressing. Yes, Addai had a poor 2008. A lot of that has to do with injuries; not only those suffered by Addai, but also by Peyton Manning and the offensive line. The timing of his injuries affected his raw numbers, as he missed part of a game against the Bengals and then tilts against the Lions, Jaguars, and a skeleton crew of Titans (although he did catch a 55-yard touchdown pass in the Titans game).

Unlike Bush, Addai had already established a level of successful performance before his poor 2008. Addai ranked in the top six in both DYAR and success rate in both 2006 and 2007, while his DVOA was fifth in 2006 and 16th in 2007 before falling to 26th a year ago. Bush has shown flashes of brilliance on individual plays; Addai's exhibited an elite level of performance over the course of an entire season.

I asserted in my comment regarding this prediction on Twitter that Donald Brown needed to learn how to pass block; I think that he'll eventually get good enough at it to usurp some of Addai's playing time, but I think that expectations of Brown splitting carries 50/50 with Addai this year are misguided. I'm bullish on the former LSU star, relative to what I've seen.

Wednesday: Derrick Ward
Average Prediction: 228 carries, 1022 rushing yards, 7 TD
Maximum Prediction: 306 carries, 1288 rushing yards, 10 TD
Minimum Prediction: 180 carries, 820 rushing yards, 5 TD

There was very little variance in Ward's predictions; only a handful of people had him below 900 or above 1100 rushing yards. One commenter asserted that Ward couldn't put up big numbers with Earnest Graham and Cadillac Williams around, but both are coming off knee injuries, and Graham might end up at fullback. That doesn't strike me as a huge concern.

I'm not that confident in Ward's ability to meet that prediction. That 5.6 yards per carry average last year is pretty gaudy, but it came in an elite run offense. Tampa Bay was 23rd in the league last year running the ball, and that was with much less confusion at quarterback than there is heading into 2009. While he plays ahead of injury-prone backs, Ward himself hasn't exhibited a consistent level of health as a pro, breaking his leg in 2007 and missing time in both 2006 with a foot injury and 2004 with both an ankle injury and a concussion. I'm concerned about his ability to make it through an entire season as the starting running back.

Thursday: Ryan Grant
Average Prediction: 291 carries, 1263 rushing yards, 9 TD
Maximum Prediction: 332 carries, 1460 rushing yards, 11 TD
Minimum Prediction: 220 carries, 1000 rushing yards, 7 TD

That's right --- not a single person predicted that Grant would end up below 1000 yards. (Although Grant is on Twitter, alas, he did not participate.)

I was very skeptical of Grant's gaudy KUBIAK line last year, and I was right, although my logic ended up being a little faulty. (My prediction of Seattle making it to the Super Bowl was slightly faultier.) He stayed healthy and accrued enough carries to gain 1203 yards, but his four touchdowns ended up being a disappointing total.

When I see such a low touchdown rate -- Grant scored once every 78 carries -- my immediate thought is "fluke". Instead, though, it was less fluke and more lack of opportunity. Last year, Grant only had ten carries inside the five; with those ten carries, based upon historical rates of conversion from each yard line, he would've been expected to score 3.53 touchdowns. He scored two. That's below-average, but it's not unreasonable, especially considering the undersized line in front of him (Edgerrin James was above-average only once as a Colts player inside the five, while Joseph Addai was only above-average last year).

This year, with the Packers bulking up on the offensive line and changing their blocking scheme, I'd expect Grant's touchdown totals to improve.

Friday: Clinton Portis
Average Prediction: 317 carries, 1320 rushing yards, 10 TD
Maximum Prediction: 372 carries, 1650 rushing yards, 12 TD
Minimum Prediction: 212 carries, 1100 rushing yards, 7 TD

I was tempted to throw out that 372 carries total as someone trolling us, but I suppose that Portis could have that big of a year.

Past performance isn't always indicative of future results, but Portis' career is getting to be pretty impressive at this point for fantasy purposes. Outside of his injury-riddled 2006, Portis has accrued more than 1262 rushing yards in each of his pro seasons. He's declined since leaving Denver, sure, but he nearly hit 1500 rushing yards last year.

My concern about Portis is that touchdown total from a year ago. He only scored nine, but seven of them came from inside the five, and it was far above both what we'd expect him to do and his career level of performance:

Year Offense Player ActTD ExpTD Diff
2002 DEN C.Portis 9 5.89 3.11
2003 DEN C.Portis 6 6.09 -0.09
2004 WAS C.Portis 4 5.72 -1.72
2005 WAS C.Portis 5 6.84 -1.84
2006 WAS C.Portis 4 5.22 -1.22
2007 WAS C.Portis 7 6.80 0.20
2008 WAS C.Portis 7 3.75 3.25

Was there anything special about the Redskins offensive line last year that would've made Portis a significantly better goal line back relative to previous years? Not really. Washington was 14th in the league in Power situations. It wasn't schedule, either, as his ten carries inside the five didn't exactly go down the way you might think by looking at the teams they came against:

  • Arizona: 1-for-1 (scored on his lone carry, from the 3-yard line)
  • Cleveland: 1-for-1 (scored from the three)
  • Dallas: 0-for-1 (gained one yard from the three)
  • Detroit: 0-for-1 (lost five yards, somehow, on a carry from the 2-yard line)
  • Philadelphia: 2-for-2 (scored on carries from the 4-yard line and 1-yard line, both on third downs)
  • Seattle: 0-for-1 (gained two yards from the three)
  • San Francisco: 1-for-1 (scored from the four)
  • St. Louis: 2-for-2 (scored on carries from the two and the three)

So he succeeded against a great run defense and an awful one, but couldn't push it through against Detroit or Seattle. Right.

Truthfully, I'm not sure what to think for Portis' 2009. If he has actually lost a step, it's heading way downfield -- he hasn't had a single carry of 40 or more yards since 2005. If Portis can't break off long touchdown runs, and he regresses to his career level of performance inside the five, the result would be closer to seven touchdowns than the ten our followers on Twitter were predicting.

Of course, you can join in the fun by following us on Twitter at @fb_outsiders. This week, we'll be starting our predictions for wide receivers, starting today with Terrell Owens.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 06 Jul 2009

21 comments, Last at 15 Jul 2009, 11:50am by Bowl Game Anomaly

Comments

1
by JasonK :: Mon, 07/06/2009 - 2:49pm

Interesting that Bill's theory about the potential workload split in Indy isn't in tune with the thinking (presumably Aaron's) in the FOA KUBIAK teaser, which had a roughly 50/50 Addai/Brown split.

Also, no Steve Slaton?

2
by James-London :: Mon, 07/06/2009 - 3:44pm

I'd have been keen to see what people expected from Ronnie Brown this year.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

3
by dbostedo :: Mon, 07/06/2009 - 3:46pm

Is it really meaningful to look at something like Portis's carries inside the 5 and try to glean anything from them? Or does the small sample size outweigh any possible conclusions? I'd guess the latter...

4
by Bobman :: Mon, 07/06/2009 - 4:07pm

Even if Addai/Brown start the year splitting carries 70/30, they are likely to be much closer to 50/50 in the last couple weeks, or depending on if mgmt wants to conserve a little gas in Addai's tank for the playoffs, maybe Brown gets 60% the last few weeks. (or vice versa) Overall, a 55/45 split would not be crazy. And if they put up 1,600 yards between them, Indy can pencil in 13 wins. (all of this is assuming 16 games and no injuries....)

900 yards for Addai and 700 for Brown does not sound too aggressive to me. I could easily see Addai at about 200-240 carries (12-15 a game). With a healthier OL, three OL rookies from last year fully seasoned, and a healthier QB, his YPC should rebound. Remember, the Indy OL had subs (mostly rookies) in for over 20% of its starts. Hard for a healthy back to excel in that situation, needless to mention one who was dinged up.

7
by shake n bake :: Mon, 07/06/2009 - 5:53pm

I hope Donald Brown is ready to pass block and take 40ish percent of the carries right away. Addai being the featured back for the first half of the season didn't work out so well the past two years.

5
by ken (not verified) :: Mon, 07/06/2009 - 4:35pm

I kept waiting to see the Steve Slaton write-up. What gives?

6
by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Mon, 07/06/2009 - 5:41pm

Interesting that I was a suspected troll. I will point out that I would guess Portis will really only play 7-9 games, so I'm not just some lunatic (I think). I'm sure many of you will enjoy ridiculing me below.

I was waiting for Slaton as well, and Steven Jackson.

8
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Mon, 07/06/2009 - 7:20pm

Well, Zorn has been quoted as saying he wants to use Ladell Betts more and keep Portis' carries down, so I really don't see how he will get that many. Betts has struggled the last couple of seasons but the coaching staff seems optimistic for this year. A lot rides on the "second year in the same offense" factor for Betts, the WRs, Campbell, the coaching staff, etc. Back before Betts' struggles he was a highly effective backup.

10
by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Tue, 07/07/2009 - 12:40am

I don't think Zorn will be in charge after about week 7 and a new coach, knowing that his owner is unhappy with the QB and keeping an eye on the permanent gig, will (health assumed, which is completely unrealistic but part of this feature) lean on Portis heavily.

I also really don't believe in Betts. I know how effective he was 2 years ago--I rode him to a couple of fantasy titles when he started in place of Portis at the end of the season. However, at this point, I think of that spike as an anomaly for an otherwise pedestrian player (minus that season, he has averaged 3.8 ypc and he has averaged under 4.0 ypc in 4 of his 7 years in the league) who is in decline age for his position (he will turn 30 August 27). Even if the coaching staff really tries to get Betts involved more (And who can believe a coaching staff's public statements, really?), I think they'll quickly discover that he's not worth it.

15
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Tue, 07/07/2009 - 10:32am

"I don't think Zorn will be in charge after about week 7..."

That's your prerogative. Just know that in the 10 years Snyder has owned the Redskins, he's fired a coach mid-season only once.

As to Betts, I share your concerns but behind him the Skins have Rock Cartwright, who is mainly used as a kick returner but is not bad as a RB sub (or at least he wasn't bad in 2005, for whatever reason he's barely had a carry since then).

19
by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Wed, 07/08/2009 - 9:58am

Al Davis has only fired one coach mid-season in the last 19 years and 2 in the last 20. Before last season, he had not done so at all in 18 years, and yet there was rampant speculation that Kiffin would be fired mid-season and I didn't hear anyone saying, "Al hasn't fired a head coach midseason in 18 years" or "Al has only fired one coach mid-season in 42 years." In fact, Al has only fired 2 coaches mid-season in 43 years now, which is a rate far, far lower than Snyder's once in 10 years, but I don't think anyone is going to say that it's ludicrous to think he would do it.

And perhaps I'm wrong and you did make those arguments about Davis/Kiffin last season and I just didn't see them, but your point about Snyder's patience just doesn't hold up otherwise.

21
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Wed, 07/15/2009 - 11:50am

OK, how about this:

In the 10 years Snyder has owned the Redskins, he's only fired 2 coaches (Norv and Marty). Robiskie was an interim coach, and Gibbs and Spurrier resigned. Technically Spurrier probably would have been fired, but the fact is that he resigned. That's an average of 1 firing per every 5 years (and concentrated toward the early part of his tenure)- how does that compare to Davis?

9
by Nathan :: Mon, 07/06/2009 - 7:47pm

How much of Addai's decline can be attributed to Peyton on his weakened knee not being able to get out and make the handoff point for the stretch run?

12
by DrewTS (not verified) :: Tue, 07/07/2009 - 9:08am

Between 11.3% and 17.2%, depending on which method you use to calculate it.

13
by Nathan :: Tue, 07/07/2009 - 10:02am

Ok, obviously I wasn't looking for an arbitrary number I just thought it was interesting discussion point because, the way I understand it, much of the Colts offense is predicated upon the stretch run and the stretch action with Manning being so good at play fakes.

Maybe it's overblown but there's a sense that the Colts really don't do that much offensively - they just do a few things extremely well and their signature play is one that requires the quarterback to get almost to the tackle before making the handoff.

Offhand, I can't think of another team who's offense would be hampered as much by having to remove a single play from the playbook. It's like if the Lombardi Packers suddenly had to stop using the Sweep.

16
by DrewTS (not verified) :: Tue, 07/07/2009 - 11:03am

My impression last year was that the inability to use the stretch play was the least of Addai's problems. The Colts have had good rushing seasons in the past with Edge and Rhodes, prior to implementing the stretch play. So the system is obviously capable of functioning without that play. I can see that the toss paly is more predictable for the defense than the stretch, but the Colts also use a good amount of draws and off-tackles, and those weren't working last year either.

I felt like the injuries and discontinuity on the line played a much bigger part, along with Addai's own injuries. It probably also didn't help that the Colts made a habit of falling behind in games during the first half of the year.

18
by Bobman :: Wed, 07/08/2009 - 3:12am

I felt the lack of a stretch play hurt both the passing game and the run game in that it removed a standard amount of uncertainty for the D. They hesitated less, reacted faster to either the R or the P. The stretch makes them pause, even for a half-second, and a guy who can cover 40 yards in under 5 seconds, can certainly squeeze out an extra yard or two with that hesitation.

It's true that just about nothing in the run game worked last year. Which more or less made the play-action fakes much less effective. However, if there was a viable stretch as in the past 5-6 seasons, it would logically have helped the play-fakes both in the stretch and in other run-look formations (because the D is trying to guess--sometimes they guess right, sometimes wrong, and sometimes they hesitate). And when the play fakes work, the D is on its heels again, making both the run and pass better. For me, seeing only about 6-7 games, it was one of the most identifiable differences last year. I really missed it.

17
by Bobman :: Wed, 07/08/2009 - 3:03am

Hey, I thought that was funny.

11
by ammek :: Tue, 07/07/2009 - 4:03am

Ryan Grant was held out of a number of short-yardage scoring opportunities last year, presumably because the coaches had no confidence he would convert them. Also he is a dreadful blocker, can't catch a cold, and has fumbling issues.

Grant's offseason program is focused on learning how to avoid falling down at first contact: if he doesn't improve instantly on this, McCarthy might (finally) move to a committee at running back. If that happens, Grant won't get close to 1000 yards.

Unconvinced of the crowds' "wisdom".......

14
by mrh :: Tue, 07/07/2009 - 10:03am

The last two years Grant has caught a higher percentage of his targets than the other rbs routinely involved in the Packer passing game. He was over 80% both years, well above the league average of around 73%. That looks like he's a pretty good pass catcher.

The Packers gave 83% of their RB rushes to Grant, the highest in the league. If they were so unhappy with his performance, why did they keep giving him the ball? If they didn't trust the other backs on the roster to replace him last year, why would they this year? They didn't seek an upgrade to Grant in the draft or FA, so I'm not certain what their RBBC options would be.

They do seem to have given Kuhn more than his share of short yardage carries (6 of 8 total carries came on 3rd or 4th down and less than 3 yards to go. Grant had 15, Jackson had 3, and Wynn had 1, so it doesn't look like they liked any of the tailbacks better than Grant for short yardage. Inside the 5, Grant had 10 carries, Kuhn 3, and Jackson 2. I know Grant's success rate on short yardage wasn't great, but without combing the game logs, I can't tell if the staff took short yardage carries away from him as the season went on or they just like to use the fullback in those situations.

20
by Nathan :: Wed, 07/08/2009 - 5:26pm

I thought it was funny too - I just wanted to discuss it cause watching the Colts try to get away with just running that toss (as Drew mentioned) was kind of depressing. And I'm a Pats fan.