Bill Connelly takes a look at the early-season S&P+ outliers and whether his eyeballs agree or disagree with the stats. Spoiler: Alabama is underrated. Alabama! Underrated!
06 Jul 2009
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:
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:
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.
21 comments, Last at 15 Jul 2009, 11:50am by Bowl Game Anomaly