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23 Aug 2010

Wisdom of Crowds 2010: RB Part II

by Bill Barnwell

First, a programming note. Because of a computer issue (namely, several keys on my previously-functional laptop keyboard -- important ones -- are not working), my computer is in the shop and the updated YAC+ data is there with it. That's pushed back the final article in the YAC+ series. Hopefully, I'll be able to get that taken care of and have the article available by the end of the week.

With that digression out of the way, we turn to this week's Wisdom of Crowds feature. Today we'll take a look at five more running backs, including potential breakout backs in New Orleans and Philadelphia.

For the uninitiated, every weekday, I ask my Twitter followers to project three statistics for a given player, assuming he'll play a full 16-game slate without suffering an injury that keeps him out of action for a full game. For running backs, those three statistics are rushing attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. You can check out the previous entries in this series here:

Monday: LeSean McCoy
Average: 245 carries, 1,047 rushing yards, 7 TD
Maximum: 320 carries, 1,387 rushing yards, 12 TD
Minimum: 175 carries, 632 rushing yards, 3 TD

The man Mike Tanier loves to call "Shady" is in a situation that reminds me of the one a similar back was in this time last year: Ray Rice. Rice had 8.2 carries per game as a rookie; McCoy was at 9.8, owing to the presence of the occasionally healthy Brian Westbrook. Rice averaged 4.2 yards per carry; McCoy averaged 4.1. Rice had a -2.5% DVOA, and McCoy was at -4.5%. Rice got 3.3 targets per game, McCoy got 3.4. Rice did have a much better receiving DVOA, though.

Of course, one good comp isn't enough to guarantee that McCoy will end up taking the huge step forward that Rice did. There are reasons to think that he could come close, though. While they may end up eating into his touchdown total, it's hard to imagine Mike Bell or Leonard Weaver really taking a serious number of touches away from McCoy. If the Eagles really do trade some big plays for more consistent yardage in the short passing game, McCoy should have more opportunities to run on first down and more chances by the goal line. And although it's anecdotal, a second offseason to digest the Eagles' complex offensive playbook and work on pass-blocking is a good thing.

McCoy's current ADP is 34.1. Among running backs, that's directly behind Pierre Thomas and Cedric Benson. Our panel is not asked to consider injury, but ADP does; factoring in Benson's history, I'd rather have McCoy than either of those two backs. Even if he doesn't turn into the next Ray Rice.

Tuesday: Steven Jackson
Average: 327 carries, 1,430 rushing yards, 10 TD
Maximum: 400 carries, 1,760 rushing yards, 18 TD
Minimum: 234 carries, 1,103 rushing yards, 5 TD

Normally, I'd take a 400-carry projection and just ignore it, assuming it was an attempt to get mentioned in this piece. And maybe that was the case with this projection.

But isn't it easy to carve out a plausible scenario where Jackson does get to 400 carries? He finally makes it through 16 games. The Rams start Sam Bradford in Week 1, and take advantage of a weak division to go 9-7 and stay in contention all year, but Bradford is erratic and there's just nobody on the roster behind Jackson to get touches.

I was going to suggest that Jackson's touchdown total seemed low, but he's been pretty awful at punching the ball in over the past few years; in 39 games, he has 16 touchdowns. That's 6.6 touchdowns per 16 games. Then again, Jason Brown and Jason Smith should be better this year. Explain to me why Smith is moving to the right side for Rodger Saffold, though, again? If a player is drafted to be a team's left tackle of the future -- and the Rams were not drafting Jason Smith to be a right tackle -- shouldn't he get more than a few games as a rookie before he gets moved?

Wednesday: Pierre Thomas
Average: 221 carries, 1,014 rushing yards, 7 TD
Maximum: 325 carries, 1,370 rushing yards, 10 TD
Minimum: 150 carries, 740 rushing yards, 5 TD

This was conducted in between the injury to Lynell Hamilton and the eventual signing of Ladell Betts, although I doubt that Betts will end up playing much of a role in the offense myself. Thomas has been dynamite on a per-play basis, of course, but as a player like Thomas moves further right on the usage curve, his performance invariably declines. The panel actually did build this in, relating a rise in Thomas's carry rate to what would be his worst rushing average as a professional.

Considering that Thomas had nine touchdowns in 2008, though, I think that our panel's underrating Thomas's touchdown potential. If he stays healthy and gets those 221 carries, 10 touchdowns seems totally reasonable.

Thursday: Adrian Peterson
Average: 325 carries, 1,529 rushing yards, 14 TD
Maximum: 354 carries, 1,835 rushing yards, 23 TD
Minimum: 260 carries, 1,180 rushing yards, 8 TD

The biggest concern with Peterson is always going to be injury (no, not fumbles), but he's in the right spot; Brad Childress has done a good job of keeping his workload manageable, and the Vikings have a competitive advantage with Eric Sugarman running the medical staff. Peterson has now played 16 games in two of his three seasons as a pro, which certainly would have surprised me when Peterson was coming out of school.

On the other hand, Peterson -- or, perhaps, the play of his offensive line -- isn't getting better. His yards per carry have dropped from 5.6 to 4.8 to 4.4. Having a superior quarterback in the lineup should have made it easier to beat seven-man fronts, but that wasn't the case a year ago. Our panel suggests a slight uptick in carries and yards per carry, but with a decline in touchdowns from a year ago. I'm inclined to favor Peterson over Chris Johnson at the top of fantasy drafts, but I'm not so sure that I'd be satisfied if Peterson's line at the end of the season looked like that average projection above.

Friday: Maurice Jones-Drew
Average: 313 carries, 1,417 rushing yards, 13 TD
Maximum: 360 carries, 1,650 rushing yards, 17 TD
Minimum: 265 carries, 1,170 rushing yards, 6 TD

Last year's line for MJD was 312-1,391-15; that's just about a dead ringer for that average projection. I wonder if the lack of change has anything to do with the black hole of information that surrounds the Jaguars; while the factors that are going to affect the performance of someone like McCoy are all over the news, the Jaguars have what amounts to the smallest national profile of any NFL team. (The Bills might be ahead of them.)

The most obvious factor that comes to mind is that the Jaguars' pair of young tackles -- Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton -- will have a full season of experience underneath them. That should help. Mike Sims-Walker is a perpetual injury risk, but if he can stay healthy (and I'm not saying he will), it would drastically improve the passing game and keep Jones-Drew from having to serve as the team's only offensive playmaker.

With all that in mind, perhaps something between his average projection and his maximum figure might be the best projection.

We'll return this week on Twitter with five more running backs, including some of KUBIAK's more controversial choices. To join in, follow the @FO_BBarnwell account, and make sure to add the rest of the FO staff by checking out the names on the left side of this page.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 23 Aug 2010

24 comments, Last at 29 Aug 2010, 10:39pm by Shattenjager

Comments

1
by chemical burn :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 1:08pm

Having watched McCoy play for a season and then struggle this preseason, the Ray Rice comparison seems like a fantasy - McCoy simply does not look capable of being a starting RB in the NFL, especially if the Eagles continue to have o-line issues. He' added weight this year and it's only made him slower and unable to bounce to the outside without making him any more tenacious in between the tackles. I keep hoping Mike freakin' Bell will come back from injury and take his carries...

The average for McCoy seems about right, but I would imagine that it would be achieved with a pretty pitiful DVOA...

4
by bubqr :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 2:02pm

I thought McCoy was pretty bad last year too, but he does look much mroe decisive this year, and while I don't see any Ray Rice either, I do think he can be a solid back in this league.

10
by jklps :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 4:18pm

One difference to me is that the Eagles are pass first, and Ravens 2009 were more run oriented.

For some reason, looking for Ray Rice(2009) in 2010, or Miles Austin(2009) in 2010, is silly to me. Just because one surprise happened last year, doesn't mean it will again this year. It could, but not necessarily.

21
by BucNasty :: Tue, 08/24/2010 - 4:34pm

This is only my third year playing, but so far this has happened every year. Last year I hit on Rice, the year before it was Steve Slaton. I don't know where Peterson was being drafted as a rookie, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't top 10. Just don't buy high.

2
by dmb :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 1:34pm

"I was going to suggest that Jackson's touchdown total seemed low, but he's been pretty awful at punching the ball in over the past few years; in 39 games, he has 16 touchdowns. That's 6.6 touchdowns per 16 games."

Does Jackson's red-zone or goalline DVOA support this statement? According to FOA 2010, he wasn't one of 2009's "Top-5 End Zone Underachievers" ... and furthermore, the thesis of that essay was that high TD conversion rates don't seem to be a repeatable skill.

I think the far likelier explanation for Jackson's low TD totals has much less to do with his abilities than it does with his teammates' ability to give him ample opportunities to score.

6
by chemical burn :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 2:19pm

Yeah, how many of his TD's have come from inside the 20? the 10? It seems like he's probably doing most of the work himself...

3
by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 1:43pm

I think Leonard Weaver is by far the Eagles best back--it would please me if the organization doesn't see it that way, and gives the inferior McCoy 90% of the touches.

"Just look at that pumpkin."
-John Madden, looking at the moon.

5
by chemical burn :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 2:13pm

Yeah... I always why Reid and all don't think of Weaver as a #1 back. His numbers were great last year - is there any reason he couldn't carry the load. Does he just not have the training to start running plays as the HB? He's certainly better in blitz pick-up and pass protection and just as capable as a receiver. I don't see any downside. And as a FB, he's getting just as much wear and tear taking on LB's as he would be carrying the ball, so durability doesn't seem like it could be an issue. Hell, I think Eldra Buckley would be a better option than McCoy...

7
by Hank (not verified) :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 3:32pm

Why isn't a large, physical runner like Peterson able to block well? Is blocking for a rb an innate talent, something learned in college or something taught at the pro level?
And if 3- which teams are good at improving blocking skills for runningbacks?

8
by tuluse :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 3:37pm

Pass protection is much more about scheme and technique than raw power. You have to be in the right place and understand what your responsibilities are.

12
by Mr Shush :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 8:18pm

Well, I'm sure that natural skills come into it to some extent, and some RBs (not necessarily big, powerful ones) come out of college as good blockers (Matt Forte and Joseph Addai stand out, off the top of my head, in recent years). By and large, though, it's a skill that's learnt at the pro level. I don't know if I can give you specific examples of teams that are good or bad at teaching it (I suspect that in general it's more a case of backs who are good enough to play pro seldom being asked to block much by their colleges when they could be running routes, and simply getting any real experience of it is a big step forwards) but I can certainly tell you that, while Steve Slaton's running in 2009 was catastrophically awful, his blocking was much improved, which is no small part of the reason that he will still get extensive use as a THIRST back in 2010, while Foster takes on the regular down work.

9
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 3:44pm
11
by Flounder :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 6:40pm

You don't back up your data? It's on your laptop and nowhere else? Seriously? Craziness.....

13
by Big Johnson :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 8:59pm

eesh steven jackson???? I get the feeling only his relatives made projections. If he hits his average i will eat dirt. The max is just absurd. If he hits the max i will jump off a cliff. Thats gotta be the collective worst projection this year on the wisdom of the crowds. He has hit his average yardage projection once in his career, carries projection once, and td projection once. Hes only reached his yardage minimum projection TWICE in his 6 seasons. I get the feeling his minimum yardage projection is still a little high even if it was the average projection.

14
by tuluse :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 9:15pm

The people predicting are supposed to assume the player plays 16 games.

His per game averages seem fine to me.

22
by Big Johnson :: Tue, 08/24/2010 - 8:41pm

Im failing to understand how a projection for 400 yards isnt a joke. Its happened how many times in nfl history? i think its happened twice. He has never came close to that many carries. It would be similar to someone projecting jones drew at 400 carries. Neither has sniffed that many carries so why make that projection? projecting chris johnson or adrian peterson at 2000 yards isnt ridiculous, but projecting shonn greene at 2000 yards is just absurd.

Steven jackson is so vastly overrated its getting funny. Lots of runningbacks go into bad situations and make it work.... micheal turner, chris johnson, tomlinson, peterson and then some. Turner had a rookie, chris johnson had vy and collins, tomlinson had flutie(?) or brees, and peterson had tarvaris jackson. None of those teams were good at running the ball the year before they went to the team. Turner being the exception, the other three runningbacks are hands down better players than jackson. He isnt good enough to make the difference. He is one of the few players around the league that is given a free pass to be above average and still get the respect of everyone. If hes an elite player, he needs to prove hes an elite player once in a while.

15
by cisforcookie (not verified) :: Mon, 08/23/2010 - 11:41pm

what will the loss of mcnabb do for mccoy? we saw how guys like vick and young have propped up mediocre running games by being a decoy and forcing defenses to give RBs an extra second that turns into greater production. Now that kolb is the man, do we see a decline in philly rushing performance?

16
by Mr Shush :: Tue, 08/24/2010 - 6:27am

McNabb hasn't rushed for more than 10 yards a game, on an average of around 2.5 attempts, the last couple of seasons. He's not really a running threat any more - certainly not the way he was early in his career. I don't think it makes much difference in that respect. What may be important for the backs is that Kolb will probably throw more short/intermediate stuff and fewer deep balls than McNabb did, which may mean safeties can cheat up into the box a little more.

17
by Sophandros :: Tue, 08/24/2010 - 10:36am

Thomas has never had more than ~150 carries, and I don't see him getting more than 170 this year. I can see Thomas and Bush each getting around 150, with the other backs on the roster having 100-120 carries. If Thomas replicates his per carry production from last year, he'll be at about 850 yards on the season with 170 carries, which would also be his largest workload since high school.

-------------
Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

20
by chemical burn :: Tue, 08/24/2010 - 3:33pm

I was surprised to see Thomas' projections as well - I just thought "huh, I guess I haven't been following New Orleans' off-season that closely."

23
by MarkT (not verified) :: Thu, 08/26/2010 - 3:24am

I too am surprised at the Pierre Thomas averages. The 150 ATT / 740 YDS minimum were both my projections. He was the full-time starter last year, and only amassed 147 carries in 14 games, so I'm not sure why people are expecting a massive jump in touches. In hindsight, maybe I would predict 170 or so carries, but nothing more.

24
by Shattenjager :: Sun, 08/29/2010 - 10:39pm

I did 160/750 as well. If there are two of us that low, it's even more amazing where his averages ended up.

18
by pazz (not verified) :: Tue, 08/24/2010 - 11:50am

"Just because one surprise happened last year, doesn't mean it will again this year. It could, but not necessarily."

I think if you're looking for a surprise this year your guy is ryan mathews:
-GM with a man crush
-Norv's work with lead backs (terry allen 21 tds?)
-elite qb preventing 8 in box
-easy schedule

I know about the injuries in school but i would bet on him over mendy as the top 5 surprise entry.

19
by Mr Shush :: Tue, 08/24/2010 - 12:07pm

I'm just not sure Matthews would be much of a surprise, for all the reasons you mention. Loathe as I am to agree with Peter King, I think he should probably be a first round pick in most leagues.