Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
23 Aug 2010
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.
24 comments, Last at 29 Aug 2010, 10:39pm by Shattenjager