Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

27 Jun 2012

Walkthrough: Sneak Peeks

by Mike Tanier

The NFL has gone dark for a month, and I am taking a little time off. To hold you over, here are sneak peeks at three of the six* chapters I wrote for Football Outsiders Almanac 2012:

(*Ed. Note: Actually six-and-a-half, as Mike and Danny Tuccitto split the Baltimore Ravens chapter.)

Atlanta Falcons: Our projections like the Falcons this year, and I do too. Looking back on the Thomas Dimitroff-Mike Smith era, it is hard to find many missteps. The Falcons are a team built on a firm foundation, with a viable franchise quarterback, skill position talent and depth, a pretty good peripheral cast, and a strong organization. They have been in the Super Bowl hunt for four years and will be there again this year.

When a team keeps losing in the playoffs, fans and experts are quick to apply blame. You guys know that much of that blame game is just second guessing, and that very good teams sometimes just lose to slightly better teams, or even slightly worse teams with a better gameplan (and/or better luck). There is not much in the Falcons chapter about fourth-and-one gambles, because telling you that going for it is almost always the mathematically correct decision is preaching to the choir. Yes, I questioned the fourth-down gambles in January, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are mathematically the correct move. I sometimes buy lottery tickets. That doesn’t make doing so a good financial decision.

There’s no criticism of the Julio Jones trade in the Falcons chapter either; that became a popular second-guesser’s topic after the Giants loss. Instead, I look forward and try to determine just how long the Falcons championship window is going to remain open, and just what Dimitroff and Smith can do to win before several core players get too old to rock ‘n’ roll.

Asante Samuel is one of the big stars of the chapter. When the Eagles traded him, many of our local sports-talkers in Philly piled on him as if the guy who said the nastiest, least-supportable thing about him got a free frozen yogurt. Eagles fans should read the Falcons chapter to get a more balanced take on his role in the 2011 debacle.

Carolina Panthers: Here’s something you don’t see every day in the sports pages: a 1,700 word apology for being wrong.

We flopped pretty badly on our Cam Newton projections last year. I also flopped, writing negative preseason articles about Newton for other outlets. In this business, standard operating procedure is to pretend that those projections and articles never happened. But we don’t follow standard operating procedure, so the Panthers chapter acknowledges our mistakes while exploring what made Newton’s season so unique. It also explores what the Panthers have to do to improve in 2012: not have a historic amount of injuries on defense, get much better on special teams, and not give back much of their 2011 offensive gains.

New York Jets: One does not anticipate Jets coverage so much as brace for it. Many of you probably pre-cringe when the Jets are mentioned, so I do my best to steer the Jets chapter away from the various whirlpools and jetties. Tim Tebow deification is annoying, snippy finger-waggling about Tebow deification is worse, and by now even the best Rex Ryan jokes are two years past their freshness date.

So our Jets chapter strives to be as analytical as possible. We run through Darrelle Revis’ charting stats and provide the latest statistics on how Wildcat-like plays are working in the NFL. Wayne Hunter gets picked on a bit. The Jets are treated like a team, not a soap opera or morality play.

While bracing for the Jets, keep this in mind: there is a very good chance that they will win a bunch of 17-14 games and remain in the Wild Card hunt. The DVOA projections aren’t bad. Their Great Experiment has a solid chance of succeeding up to a point, thanks to Revis, the rest of the defense, and the offensive linemen not named Hunter. If you hate the peculiar brand of hype this team produces at 120 decibels, things may get worse before they get better.

If you are looking for comedy in the Jets chapter, stick around for the unit comments. Our unit comments are usually straightforward, but nothing is straightforward about the Jets. All of the ranting and raving by Jets coaches and strange public appearances by players can be found in the unit comments.

Next week, I will preview my other three chapters. Now, let’s rock a couple of running back Top Fives.

Browns Top Five Running Backs

1. Jim Brown

I normally run through the divisions in alphabetical order, but it made no sense to make you wade through Willis McGahee and Pete Johnson to get to Jim Brown.

It is hard to say anything new about Brown. If the Pro Football Hall of Fame were limited to ten players, he would be in. If it were limited to five, he would probably be in. He has a legitimate claim to being the best football player in history.

Had Brown not retired to pursue a movie career at age 29, he might still be the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, though it is more likely that he would be second, third, or fourth. Emmitt Smith passed him by more than 6,000 yards. Brown probably did not have five more All-Pro seasons in him after the amount of carries he thumped out early in his career. Between his popularity and his personality, Brown was going to get fed up with the football life and do something else at some point, just as Barry Sanders did. Brown left us with a career that had no ramp-up and no decline, just a decade of running guys over. It’s like the middle of Babe Ruth’s career, carved out and stuck on a platter.

2. Leroy Kelly

Kelly stepped right into Brown’s role and was almost as good as Brown for three seasons, gaining 1,100-1,300 yards with over five yards per carry from 1967 to 1969. Kelly was more of a slasher than Brown, and as good as his numbers were, they look like second-tier seasons if you stick them into the middle of Brown’s career. The Browns of this era typically had good teams that were led by coach Blanton Collier. They were capable of going 9-5 or 10-4 in a typical season, but those teams are forgotten because they are not the Lombardi Packers or Landry Cowboys, and they did not have Brown.

3. Marion Motley

The great Doctor Z once called Motley the best player in the history of pro football. As great as Motley was, and giving him credit as a two-way player, that is pushing it. His signature seasons came in the AAFC, which was a big punching bag for the Browns and does not look like a "major" league when you start scrutinizing its history and statistical record. He had a tremendous post-merger season in 1950, but then the injuries started to mount. It is hard to tell whether age or the level of competition were taking their tolls as Motley’s yards-per-carry dropped from the low 6.0-range down to 4.5. Motley was an incredible player and a pioneer, but he fits well as the third-best back in this storied franchise’s history.

4. Greg Pruitt

Now, here’s a great back who has been mind-wiped out of existence. Pruitt had three 1,000-yard seasons in the mid-1970s, when defenses ruled the earth. They were loud 1,000-yard seasons, with yards-per-carry rates in the high fours and 35-45 catches. Pruitt was a shifty all-purpose back, and when the Browns drafted bruiser Mike Pruitt (no relation) to be the focal point of their offense, Greg Pruitt reinvented himself as an early-80s third down back.

The 70s Browns were pretty mediocre, and by the time they became the Cardiac Kids in the late 70s they had two Pruitts in the backfield, which would have made for some great fantasy football bungles if the game was played then. As we often lament around here, NFL history tends to funnel into a handful of stories, erasing whole eras of great players on pretty good teams. Pruitt was a great back for several years, but you will rarely hear him mentioned on a list of 70s greats.

5. Mike Pruitt

The other Pruitt was very good as well. A solid featured back from 1979 through 1983 who usually cracked the 1,000-yard barrier, along with plenty of receptions. He was a poor man’s William Andrews in his best seasons, a power back who could also catch the ball and who fit the evolving offensive style of the time, which was slowly moving away from two-back offenses. Put the Pruitts together and you have a Hall of Famer, though one who would still finish second on this list. Mike Pruitt went on to own a Honda dealership in Akron.

Earnest Byner only had one great season with the Browns; in his other years, he was a change-up back. Kevin Mack also only had one truly great year (1986, same as Byner) but hung around the roster forever as the Browns tried to recapture what Mack lost to drugs. Dub Jones was an excellent all-purpose player in the early days. This is a hell of a list, and it will take years for a contemporary Browns player to crack it. In fact, the top two Ravens would have a hard time making it, though if pressed I would clear away some Pruitts for them.

Ravens Top Five Running Backs

1. Ray Rice

Rice is the first current starting running back to rank at the top of a list, right? Adrian Peterson ranked second, and while that may have been me being stubborn and nostalgic, you guys didn’t string me up on the message board. The Ravens have not been around very long, and Rice’s ranking at the top of this list is not without controversy, but still, this is a pretty good list to top.

2. Jamal Lewis

The 2,066-yard 2003 season was magnificent, of course. DVOA started hating Lewis in 2005 and never stopped. In his last two seasons in Baltimore, Lewis was hurting the Ravens offense according to DVOA and DYAR, though we all know that there were complicated factors called "Ravens quarterbacks."

From a total value standpoint, Rice’s 2009 and 2011 seasons were about the equals of Lewis’ 2003 season, and 2010 was better than any other season Lewis had. It’s a close call, with Lewis outgaining Rice by over 3,000 rushing yards. Perhaps I should have done the Vikings thing and said that Rice will assume the lead on Halloween. Aw heck, this is good as is.

3. Priest Holmes

We will see more of Priest in a few weeks. For the Ravens, he was a surprise 1,000-yard rusher in 1998, then an important change-up runner for a Super Bowl team. When you remember just how terrible the Ravens passing game was in 2000, you realize just how important Holmes was on screens and draws to provide some sort of counterpunch to Lewis.

4. Willis McGahee

McGahee had a 1,200 yard season in 2007 that DVOA hated (-8.2%, with the same caveats as Jamal Lewis had about a team with a gaping void at quarterback). He then had a few change-up seasons that were much better, from a percentage standpoint. McGahee was useful as a short yardage back and innings eater in place of Rice. Sometimes, getting an older back for that role makes sense, assuming he accepts his role and the price is right.

McGahee had a big year in Denver last year. He has had a weird, fractured career, starting with the injury in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2002 season. He is considered a disappointment, but he has had 1,000-yard seasons for three different franchises and has now rushed for over 7,000 yards. Curt Warner of the Seahawks was similar in the broad sense, except that Warner stayed in one place and played for a coach who was happy to just grind out three-yard runs.

5. Chester Taylor

There is no great choice for fifth place, but the Ravens did pretty well on the first four considering they had just two decades of history. Taylor made a great career out of being a change-up back, here and in Minnesota. Behind him are the likes of Bam Morris, who got caught with six pounds of weed in the back of his car once, and Le’Ron McClain, a fine all-purpose fullback who revitalized the !-formation key breaker for a few magical weeks.

Bengals Top Five Running Backs

1. James Brooks

Brooks was a 180-pound change-up back who was lucky enough to be on the Bengals when Sam Wyche arrived and opened up their offense. Even in Don Coryell’s Chargers system, Brooks was relegated to the traditional scatback role: kick returns, pitches, screens, and draw plays, with Chuck Muncie taking more of the traditional work. It took Wyche’s iteration of the West Coast Offense to open things up to the point that a little speedster could consistently have a 250-touch per season offensive role.

Brooks and Thurman Thomas were similar in many ways: dangerous runner-receivers in offenses that were revolutionizing concepts like the no-huddle attack. Thomas was better, of course, but not by an incredible amount.

2. Corey Dillon

Ricky Watters in reverse. Watters won a Super Bowl with a great performance for a great team that could probably have won without him, then went on to a long career of racking up tons of yards while being a pain in the butt to his coaches on other teams. Dillon racked up a lot of yards while being a pain in the butt to his coaches, then won a Super Bowl with a great performance for a great team that could probably have won without him.

Watters has a quiet Hall of Fame drumbeat rattling around the football universe. Dillon will need a ticket to get in. Their careers are really not that different. Dillon gets this high because he did not split his productive work among three teams, two of which had very solid lists. Also, he didn’t cause me as many angry memories.

3. Pete Johnson

Johnson rushed for 64 Bengals touchdowns, 19 more than Dillon, who has a 3,000-yard edge on Johnson on the franchise leaderboard. The 252-pound Johnson had a reputation as a goal-line back and was used as a specialist late in his career. The goal-line back strategy does not appear to be productive in modern football, and we have spent years tracking the more-or-less random performances of players who "have a nose for the end zone" on short-yardage carries. Thirty years ago, when the game was more grinding, the situation was probably different: a guy like Johnson really could push a pile forward an extra yard.

4. Rudi Johnson

DVOA liked Johnson at the start of his 2004-06 peak, when he cranked out 1,300-1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns every year. He went from 17th to fifth in the league in a stat that, as you well know, can be unkind to a back who is asked to soak up low-percentage carries up the middle. In 2006, he dipped to 24th and fell below average, mostly because his Success Rate dropped. Johnson had little big-play ability or receiving value, so his ability to crank out three-to-six yards per rush was his only calling card. For a few seasons, he was able to make a living off of it. If he played in the 1970s, he would have been the fullback in a two-back system, gained about 700 yards per year, and been productive for the whole decade.

5. Essex Johnson

Johnson was a proto-West Coast Offense running back who teamed with Boobie Clark and others in the early Ken Anderson backfields. He was a productive all-purpose back from 1971-73, catching 25-30 passes in his best seasons while rushing for 800-900 yards in a Dead Ball era. But really, I wanted to end this list with three straight Johnsons.

Ickey Woods had exactly one good year, joining Greg Cook on the Bengals’ Lovable One Year Wonder All Stars. The Bengals have a long history of drafting truly great college running backs and watching them churn through injury-plagued or disappointing careers: Charles Alexander, Archie Griffin, Ki-Jana Carter. Cedric Benson hammered out three hard working years that deserve mention. Boobie Clark was a 245-pound fullback who caught over 40 passes in his best seasons, a sign that the young Bill Walsh (working for Paul Brown) had some innovative ideas up his sleeve.

Steelers Top Five Running Backs

1. Franco Harris

When I clicked onto Harris’ Pro Football Reference page on Friday morning, it was the first time I had looked at his career record since I read the backs of his football cards in the mid-1980s. Back then, Harris did not look all that special to me. He had a bunch of 1,000-yard seasons, and he was chasing Jim Brown (as were Tony Dorsett and Walter Payton) for the all-time rushing title, but by the mid-1980s, 1,000-yard seasons were common, Harris was pretty washed up, and the 1970s Steelers were already this shiny black monolith that you could throw mastodon bones at but could not analyze logically.

Part of my brain has always kept Harris among the second-tier superstars at running back. Some of it may have been residual absorption of the "he couldn’t hold a candle to Jim Brown" rhetoric which was current at the time. Some of it was watching him grind in the early 80’s, when Dorsett soared and Payton appeared to get better and better because the guys around him got good.

So I clicked Harris’ record with fresh eyes on Friday, and oh my word. Averaging 4.8 yards per carry over 262 carries in 1975 is a feat. Blasting out five 1,000-yard seasons during the height of the Dead Ball 1970’s was another feat. Harris’ hang-around years were very productive, as hang-around years go: the 1982-83 Steelers were still playoff-caliber teams, and Harris cranked out 1,000-yards in 1983 and 604 in strike-shortened 1982, with receiving value that was not evident in his 70’s heyday. The "washed up" guy of my tweens was pretty good for a 32-33-year-old running back who was a workhorse during the roughest era in football history.

Harris, like Emmitt Smith, is better thought of as the catalyst for the success around him than as a product of it. Lynn Swann and John Stallworth would not be in the Hall of Fame without Harris. Harris would be in the Hall of Fame without them. About the biggest knock you can make against him is that he never had to face his own defense. If he did, I bet he would still have a solid game.

2. Jerome Bettis

Bettis led the league in rushing DYAR in 1996. He finished third in Success Rate in 1996 and fourth in 1997. His Success Rates and yards per carry then dipped for several years, but they rebounded in 2000, and our metrics are generally kind to Bettis during his late-career thunder-back phase. Bettis was able to post positive DVOA percentages despite averaging just 3.6 yards per carry because of low fumble totals and high short-yardage situation production. Our stats got what Bettis was being asked to accomplish.

3. John Henry Johnson

Johnson is best known as part of the Million Dollar Backfield with Y.A. Tittle, Hugh McElhenny, and Joe Perry, though he was very much the Ernie Hudson of those Ghostbusters. He went on to a handful of excellent seasons for the Steelers after a productive stop in Detroit. He retired fourth on the NFL’s all-time rushing list, which goes to show how playing across eras can affect a player’s rankings on those lists. NFL offenses started opening up quickly once the AFL arrived, and seasons expanded from 12 to 14 games, so the first group of guys to stay productive in the new era got the same boost that veterans got in the late 1970s and early 80s.

Johnson is in the Hall of Fame, and I would never kick him out, but if we used him as the baseline criterion for entry, there would be lots more running backs in Canton.

4. Rocky Bleier

War hero and king of the 1970’s Other Backs. Everyone knows that Bleier and Franco both rushed for 1,000-yards in 1976. Terry Bradshaw was hurt for much of the season, and even when he did play late in the year he was not himself. Bleier had four 100-yard games between Week 9 and Week 14. In one 14-3 win against the Dolphins, Bleier and Franco both went for 110 yards, with Franco needing two more carries than Bleier's 20 and adding on a score. Bradshaw and Mike Kruczek combined for eight pass attempts.

The Steelers missed the Super Bowl that year because both Bleier and Franco were injured in the playoffs, and Bradshaw was still not himself. (Raiderjoe: feel free to differ with this interpretation of events.) In the Steelers Super Bowl years, Bleier was an important change-up player. His 1979 season, with 711 scrimmage yards and 4.7 yards per carry for a Super Bowl winner, offers some idea of what his production would look like in a more modern context.

5. Rashard Mendenhall

Our stats are not too high on Mendenhall, who usually cranks out negative DVOA percentages and DYAR totals around 77. His receiving metrics look a little better, though his raw totals are hurt by the fact that Ben Roethlisberger thinks checking down to the running back causes jock itch.

Your alternate choices here are guys like Barry Foster, a malcontent who had one big year; Willie Parker, a fun player who came and went pretty quickly; and Frank Pollard and Walter Abercrombie, the mid-1980s tandem who spent five years together not being Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. Merrill Hoge fits in here, too. Mendenhall will blow all of these guys away with one more productive season, so why wait?

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 27 Jun 2012

96 comments, Last at 09 Jul 2012, 3:42am by SteveGarvin

Comments

1
by Subrata Sircar :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 4:29pm

Dub Jones was fast enough that he'd get split out wide (or at an H-back-equivalent) to catch passes, too. I hadn't forgotten about the Pruitts, but I really never did learn to tell them apart, which might explain my inclination to put Dub in ahead of one of them.

Other than that, the lists look reasonable. Harris really was that good, and much of the criticism (as I recall, so take with multiple grains of salt) was due to several Jim Brown comments along the lines of "if he's so good, why's he run out of bounds instead of running over the guy like a real man/running back does? I could outrun him right now", which I interpreted as sour grapes from an all-time great who watched other (and to-his-eyes-lesser) men get the glory and the rewards that should have been his. His run at the all-time record was aided by his relatively graceful aging - even in his decline he could still juke a defender and run to daylight.

2
by young curmudgeon :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 4:30pm

Should have listed Tom "The Bomb" Tracy in the Steelers' "alternate choices" group along with Pollard, Abercrombie, and Hoge. If nothing else, because he was called Tom "The Bomb," although he did make the Pro Bowl twice.

7
by Thunderbolt of ... :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 5:10pm

If we're going with nicknames as credentials, how about Najeh "Dump Truck" Davenport?

64
by Dean :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 3:01pm

Except that Tom Tracy wouldn't be remembered at all except for his one big game as a 49er.

3
by AJ (not verified) :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 4:36pm

Tanier's line about the 2012 panthers outlook is dead on. The defense was actually kind of good in 2009 and 2010, but horribly regressed to last in 2011. That is almost certainly likely to rebound but how much do we believe newton and the offense will remain good or get better? I like newton, but for some reason, i am a skeptic about his success from the simple fact that everyone has had to take a beating before they become great. I think the panthers probably finish 8-8 where the defense progression is matched with offensive regression.

4
by tuluse :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 4:46pm

The defense in 2010 was a mirage, teams didn't try their hardest to score because they knew the Panther's offense wasn't going to do anything.

They couldn't stop Matt Forte when Todd Collins was QBing the Bears.

9
by AJ (not verified) :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 5:17pm

While the panthers rush d has always been sketchy, there last three years going back to 2008, the panthers ranked 8th, 2nd, and 8th in pass defense. Then in 2011, it fell to 29th. I suppose you could make a case that maybe it was overrated in 2010, but I don't entirely buy into the argument that bad offense leads to be better defense, at least not in dvoa terms. The colts defense was horrid in 2010 but didn't get completely exposed until 2011 when the offense struggled. Its hard to know which is which, but i really think the panthers 2011 d was an aberration.

10
by tuluse :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 5:43pm

I'm not saying they're as bad as 2011, I just don't think they're as good as 2010 either. Somewhere in the middle.

13
by AJ (not verified) :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 6:14pm

question is...are the 2012 panthers a playoff team with the 2011 offense and a middle of the road defense? I think on that pt, they might be. What about a 2010 defense and a 2011 offense- are they the a sb favorite?

I think for me personally, i think they have the talent to be a top 10 defense, its the offense that i expect to regress. I still feel like they are a steve smith injury away from a limited passing game and opponents will adjust to newton. I know its shameless to compare newton to VY or Vick, but it bears mentioning that both qbs were worse as defenses adjusted to their style. I suspect that newton does take a bit of a sophomore slump.

That then begs this question. is a 2010 defense and a worse 2011 offense enough to make the playoffs for the panthers? I suspect its a close call.

40
by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 12:35pm

Gee, what was the difference between 2008-2010 and 2011? Injuries, sure... but what about the fact that they had completely different coaching staff including Sean McDermott, whom I had the misfortune of watching "coach" week-in and week-out in Philly? I think bouncing back to their "normal" state is a little more unlikely considering that it is a deeply unproven staff in charge of getting them back there. There's no reason to think Ron Rivera as a HC can deliver a defense of a high caliber until he does so. Same thing goes for their awful special teams. And don't let Rivera's success in Chicago fool you: how many times have we seen coordinators fail to deliver as HC's on exactly what they built their career as a coordinator? (Plus, Chicago got along wihtout him just fine and it's not like he produced world-class defenses in SD. Or even good ones in 2 out of 3 years.)

43
by tuluse :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 12:42pm

Rivera did a lot better in SD than his predecessor.

Also, the Chicago defense did fall off a cliff in 2007, but that was more due to personnel than anything. Tommie Harris never recovered, Nathan Vasher was injured, Mike Brown was injured, and they decided the swap Chris Harris for Adam Archuleta in what I think was the most disastrous personnel decision in the Angelo era. Also, Babich was not ready or capable of being a coordinator.

51
by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 2:19pm

Sorry but being solidly in the bottom half of the league 2 out of 3 years earns a big "so fucking what" in regards to doing better than his predecessor. But you're not even right - the 2007 defense was better in terms of DVOA than any defense they fielded under Rivera. I don't want to take away much of anything from his time in Chicago, but they didn't exactly fall off a cliff and never returned to form after he left. In fact, they've been one of the most consistently good defenses in the league.

52
by tuluse :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 2:29pm

-19% to -6%, maybe a cliff is hyperbole but they were much worse in 2007, and I specifically said 2007, not 2007 and every year following.

55
by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 2:43pm

Ok. What are you arguing? The Bears were worse the year after Rivera left. I agree.

So back to what I was arguing: Rivera's defenses were BAD in SD two out of three years, the Bears managed to field good defenses year after year without him and there's no evidence that he can field a good defense as HC... and I'll throw this in: there's a lot of evidence John Fox could field good defenses while HC. He did fairly consistently in his career. Fox's worst defense since 2001 was still better than2 out of 3 for Rivera in SD. He fielded at 5 defense that were in the Top 10 and 3 that were Top 5. He's a great defensive coach as an HC. Rivera has nowhere hear his track record and, now, significant negative evidence that he could repeat it as an HC.

Now... tell me if you agree or disagree that available evidence points to the idea that the Panthers should "bounce back" to 2008-2010 levels. (Also, let me point out the original "Carolina had good defenses in 2008-2010" is based on traditional stats - DVOA is far less kind to those teams, rating them 16th/5th/13th in the league, so that premise that this is a talented defense decimated by injuries doesn't even appear to be true.)

56
by tuluse :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 2:46pm

I think there is evidence that Rivera knows how to coach defense. I think he is unlikely to be so bad that the Carolina defense will never be good with him as the head coach. I think that for the most part personnel will dictate how good their defense is. We basically have no evidence of Rivera's ability to evaluate talent.

So basically, I don't think we know anything.

59
by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 2:55pm

You're crazy. Why do I even bother with you?

67
by AJ (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 3:18pm

I should add...i know lovie smith took over defensive playcalling duties for babitch so that probably played a factor. Also, you're ignoring that the bears acquired julius peppers who was arguably the best defensive player in the nfl in 2010. Not too mention, the bears defensive core is a pretty stellar group so talent around you does impact your performance beyond coaching itself.

SD's defense from 2010 to 2011- now that was a cliff falling that isn't even hyperbole. Sure, you can say theres no evidence that rivera is a great defensive coach but idk why you are supremely convinced hes so thoroughly a terrible defensive coach that he and mcdermot are going to bungle and mismanage the defense in carolina for yet another year.

69
by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 3:26pm

I'm not convinced he's bad, but I'm not convinced by the ability of mediocre talents to overcome adversity like fielding the worst defense in the league. I don't think Rivera is bad as a DC, but any way I look at it, he appears to be nothing special. Fox, however, was quite a special coach when it came to fielding defenses the track record is there in a way it's simply not for Rivera... let alone the fact that coordinators frequently make the jump to HC and bring none of their specialty to the team - Brian Billick being the most famous example of this. Spagnuolo in St. Louis would be a more recent one.

Anyhoo, a mediocre coach like Rivera might be able to inherent a world-class offense (which he didn't) and sustain it, but I don't think a mediocre coach could save a disaster like last year's #32 in the league squad. We both acknowledge injuries are an x-factor, though... If they have the 20th best defense in the league I won't be shock. If they have a Top 12 defense, I'll be surprised apart from the fact that defense is fairly variable from year to year. If they field a Top 5 defense 2 years in a row, I'll eat my hat, shirt and shoes.

54
by AJ (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 2:42pm

Do we really believe this coaching staff is so damn incompetent that they are going to take an otherwise talented defense(if the last 3 years are any indication) and mismanage them to another bottom 20 showing?

Whatever you think of rivera( I actually think he did well in SD considering how little talent SD really has on defense), but ill concede your point for a moment. Do the panthers have actual talent on defense to be good? I think they do and I suspect even a bad coaching staff can't screw it up this badly again.

My bigger pt was - what do we expect from their offense?

58
by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 2:52pm

Yes, I think that bad, incompetent coaching exists and can utterly waste talent. There's a fair amount of evidence in the shirtory of the NFL to back this up. Also, the 16th/5th/13 best defense from 2010/2009/2008 doesn't exactly read as a squad of peerless All-Stars. Looks like a so-so group of players to me. And mismanagement could have them hanging around the bottom 10 for certain. In fact, looking at it, I would bet they're close to the worst in the league than the best.

With the offense, I have no idea. Newton blew me away last preseason and I went from being a total skeptic to a true believer before the season even started (and actually took a fair amount of ridicule for it here on this site.) On paper, they look ready to be one of the best in the league, but I curious how Newton fairs when having expectations - last year, the fans were thrilled and media was impressed that they were making games exciting. I'm not sure he gets away with throwing 3 picks to lose a close game this year without starting to bring out critics. And who knows how he'll respond to that mentally? I also think that rushing QB's get injured sooner or later and if the Panthers want to stay in the hunt, they better have a good back-up plan - their season could easily hinge on their back-up QB being able to come in and kept them competitive for a couple games.

They had a good running game made excellent by the "rushing QB" effect, so it's not like they'll be hung out to dry without a QB, though...

- And let's put a rest to this nonsense: SD had a better defense the year before Rivera arrived (2007 -8.2%) than did at any point under Rivera (his best was -6.4%.)

66
by AJ (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 3:07pm

Admittedly i am biased when it comes to my definition of defense. While run defense is important, in todays nfl, i think we ought to disproportionally favor pass defense which is where the panthers have been so good. 2008- ranked 8th, 2009-ranked 2nd, 2010 ranked 8th, 2011 ranked 29th. That kind of dropoff is pretty staggering, especially since its not like it can be explained away by the loss of a revis or ed reed type. I've already ran enough numbers suggesting pass d seems more a function of coverage than pass rush so maybe it really was scheme and injuries. The pt was, there seems to be talent here and id be surprised if they really mismanaged them to 29th again.

As for newton, i just think he and the panthers are so heavily dependent on smith that if hes slowed or injured, that could be a huge loss. In addition, defenses should adjust and call me crazy, but i want to see one more year of this from newton before im totally sold. last year i too was blown away- he was probably a more effective qb in totality than matt ryan or flacco was last year- but not even the great rookies should do that.

68
by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 3:18pm

Yeah, in the preseason, he was connecting on all of the deep, complex routes, exactly the type of stuff that David Carr/Alex Smith types never showed any capacity for and that I don't really think can be taught. He just seemed better than any rookie I had ever seen in the preseason - in 1990 was when I started watching football with some regularity and some cognizance of what was going on. He just plays with so much confidence, it's hard not to be won over. He never seems to second-guess himself... and that's p0art of the reaosn I'm curious how adversity will affect him. He does seem to have that Favre indomitability gene and it's hard to know how definite of a characteristic that is. Favre never listened to the "stop throwing so many INT's and free-lancing!" types, but what if that stuff gets in Newton's hear or, on the flipside, he never develops his game and begins to rely too much on his improvisation and deep ball. That second sceanrio is deadly if Smith, as you mention, Smith loses a step. But yeah, another 2 years of what he did in 2011 and I don't think they will be any confusion about his abilities...

78
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 06/29/2012 - 8:06am

Connecting on the deep stuff was about the only thing Carr was good at. Of course, his horrible pocket presence and shonky offensive lines meant he didn't often get the chance to demonstrate that particular skill . . .

85
by chemical burn :: Fri, 06/29/2012 - 5:57pm

That's funny - I only ever saw him dump the ball off. I swear I watched multiple games where he literally never threw it more than 6 yards down the field. Of course, protection was his problem and he did clearly become shell-shocked after that first year, but when I think check-down, I think "David Carr" more than any QB. I guess "Jason Campbell" because of that guy who used to come on here and complain about all the black QB's.

63
by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 3:00pm

Final note - I just remembered that Rivera was the Eagles' linebackers coach. I have total confidence in his ability to be incompetent based on 2002 and 2003.

5
by dryheat :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 4:49pm

Looking back on the Thomas Dimitroff-Mike Smith era, it is hard to find many missteps.

Do people really think that huge trade up for Julius Jones was sound GM-ing?

Notwithstanding, this is an excellent article. I'll pre-empt Raiderjoe though, and say the Patriots were 1976's best team.

I'm also shocked the Pruitt's weren't related. I just always assumed they were. Honestly, I've met one other person in my life with that last name (Pruett, actually). The odds of having two non-relateds in the same backfield must be pretty well astronomical. I do remember Greg (I think) winning ABC Superstars once.

8
by Thunderbolt of ... :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 5:12pm

Julius Jones looked like a very solid rookie receiver with star potential. Sure, the trade was a risk, but so far it has turned out as well as possible.

12
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 6:09pm

I never had a problem with the Jones move, his athleticism reminded me so much of TO. I also liked the idea of putting him opposite Roddy White and with Matt Ryan and so building a fearsome passing game for a decade. Giving up a couple of 2nd rounders and a first to move up for that seems OK to me. It will look silly if Jones doesn't pan out though, so it's still too soon to tell.

(I'll add a caveat to this. What is written above is my interpretation of the move, I liked it. However, I have just finished 'War Room' the account of the rise of Bellichick, Dimitroff and Pioli. As a result I'm sick of all three. Hundreds of pages of gushing praise about what great guys they all are until you wish them all to get stuck in a falling lift. The description of Dimitroff makes him out to be some kind of perfect athlete crossed with a Peter Fonda from Easy Rider. Then you see his picture and he's just a extremely normal looking bloke, which makes the previous chapters seem rather unreliable. Pioli is lauded over and over for being nice to his daughter. Perhaps it's just me but isn't that expected of a father? Have expectations of fatherhood suck so low that a GM having seats reserved for his family at a game is notable?

Might have gone off track there, my point is that in the book Dimitroff describes the move as looking to add 'urgent athleticism', which was some vacuous buzzword that Dimitroff had conjured up, something he did quite a lot. That thought process really made me dislike the process they used to end up making the move even if I approve of the move itself, if that makes any sense.)

14
by AJ (not verified) :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 6:21pm

Books gushing over success on drafting reminds me a lot of books written about successful money managers. Its an obvious survivor ship bias because i think both are heavily dependent on luck. A while back i ran a regression on drafting by teams and basically it came to the stark conclusion that not A SINGLE TEAM has shown a consistent ability to hit on draft picks either by position or round. Essentially, the draft works the way it should, the most likely successes come earlier in the draft and so forth.

One needed not go back very far to question bellichick's draft genius. I don't mean his ability to stockpile picks(thats impressive), but rather, so many of his picks haven't panned out. Maybe its missed scouting but i suspect its mostly just random bad luck. the same will be true for dimitriov the longer the falcons keep picking late in the draft.

its the reason polian went from two time executive of the year to a job in broadcasting. No matter how good you are, drafting late will eventually cripple your team.

34
by Mr Shush :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 5:54am

Belichick and Polian both have a pretty much 100% record on really high picks, though, and I remain to be convinced that's fluke. I don't know what your methodology was, but it seems to me the best approach would be to compare the AV of a GM's choices with the expected AV for those draft picks (the PFT blog calculated the latter some time ago).

If nothing else, I'm absolutely certain there's such a thing as a bad talent evaluator, and that having one is guaranteed to cripple your team.

41
by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 12:39pm

What's your definition of "really high picks" and how frequently have they had their prowess tested? Polian whiffed wildly on 1st rounders all throughout his careers and Belichick's last 6 years doesn't look so hot...

44
by MJK :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 1:00pm

It *is* a little definition related. If we look at Belichick's last six years and only look at first round picks, we have:

Nate Solder, Devin McCourty, Jerod Mayo, Brandon Meriweather, Laurence Maroney

While that list isn't laden with future Hall of Famers, it's not bad. The worst pick was Maroney, who was indeed a first round bust. Solder looks good so far and has a lot of upside, McCourty had an excellent rookie year followed by a sophomore slump, Mayo is the real deal, and Meriweather gave the Pats a couple of Pro-bowl seasons at rookie deal rates before getting cut for freelancing too much when his contract was just about up. It's worth noting that the only pick in the top half of the first round (and hence getting somewhat big money on his rookie deal) is Mayo, who is pretty good.

If I rank them as excellent picks/OK picks/busts, I get 2/2/1, unless McCourty rebounds, in which case I get 3/1/1. Not perfect, but certainly decent. In the last six years, the Pats have never been hamstrung by a first round bust that they were paying huge money too and getting no value from.

On the other hand, if you expand to include second rounders, you add:

Ras-I Dowling, Shane Vareen, Rob Gronkowski, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Spikes, Pat Chung, Ron Brace, Darius Butler, Sebastian Vollmer, Terrence Wheatley, Chad Jackson.

Two players were injured in their rookie year and so we know nothing about them, four excellent picks, three borderline players that they got some value out of but didn't really pan out the way you'd hope, and two total busts.

This also doesn't strike me as stellar, but on the other hand, I have no clue what the league average success rate for 2nd round picks is. Maybe going 4/3/2 out of 9 is pretty good...

50
by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 2:16pm

Meriweather wasn't a particularly deserving probowl selection, I doubt he'd have been mentioned if he didn't play for such a successful team.

My $0.02 on Bellichick's drafting is that his strategy of trading into the future for increased value is incredibly clever but that he might only be good rather than great at selecting players with those picks. It seems like they are willing to accept that the draft is a lottery and so operate with the primary goal of 'buying more tickets' instead of assuming that they are smart enough to hit on every pick. I don't know if he thinks like that but it works.

53
by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 2:30pm

I think Belichick's been pretty good at drafting, but there are definitely many teams teams in the league with just as good or better a record in that time-frame. The comment I was responding to, though, set the bar higher than "pretty good" and sited him as being notably great - which I don't think anyone can agree with. The suggestion that Polian has an excellent record at is pretty ludicrous. Plus, I don't exactly think of 31st and 32nd picks as being particularly high, so I'm not sure what definition he's using. If the idea is that they nail when they get in the Top 15, I guess that's true... but it also hasn't really come up for either of them.

Also, Mayo is "good, not great" by any measure I can see - 1 Pro Bowl in 4 years, nothing exceptional about any of his numbers, doesn't produce any high-light reel plays (obviously that's not the most important measure, but watching him play doesn't blow anybody away.) He's a David Harris type - the team's fans love him, but I doubt he's one of the 10 best LB's in the league. I would say your list 1/2/2 because I agree with Karl about Merriweather. That we can split hairs and none of them fall decisively into any category means they aren't flawless slam-dunk picks and that Belichick has done just about as well as at drafting at other decent GM's/Coaches. His track record doesn't compare favorably to, say, Ron Wolf.

57
by AJ (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 2:51pm

I was grading off AV, the pt was to suggest that theres simply a stronger correlation between picking earlier in the draft than there is about a particular GM. Think about it, over that 6 year stretch, mayo has been the only one who you consider it a huge success(although i think hes a bit overrated) and he was a top 10 pick. The rest? Merriweather to me is a massive bust that was frankly given a probowl spot for no other reason than he was on ne and the voters had to reward someone on ne. Maroney was a bust too. Mccourty the jury is still out but i think he'll be good and nate solder? if you believe pff- he was ranked 69th for lt's- hardly a great rookie year but hes a rookie so lets cut him some slack.

The pt is- if we are arguing bellichick as just the drafter(not stockpiler of picks or coach), is honestly no better than anyone else in this business. No one has shown the consistent ability to hit on draft picks.

60
by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 2:56pm

+1. Evidence shows that Belichick is "ok."

62
by AJ (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 2:59pm

BTw, when i say high draft picks, i mean top 15. From the data, the top 5 ironically has an expected value a bit less than the top 10(probably from all the qb busts), but outside the top 15, the expected value dropoff becomes pretty significant. From 15- top 2nd round about pick 7 or so, its a slow stead decline in expected value before another huge dropoff. Once you get to the third round, its very tough to find good players and beyond that round, its blind luck as most of those picks never start and don't last more than a year or 2.

The pt was, most teams get their best players(most of the time anyways) from the top 15. Ne surprisingly might be the only team that doesn't but I suspect that was mostly luck. Brady, wilfork, mankins, gronkowski, and hernandez make up a very dangerous core of non top 15 picks. Impressive but i don't think that kind of run is sustainable.

65
by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 3:04pm

That's also a run of 12 years you're citing - how many coaches get that long of a tenure to amass those players? And hit on players with huge longevity like DT's, QB's and T's? If he really nailed RB instead of lucking into a QB, we probably wouldn't even be talking about Belichick right now...

45
by MJK :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 1:01pm

Belichick and Polian both have a pretty much 100% record on really high picks

Paging Laurence Maroney... paging Laurence Maroney...

Laurence Maroney has left the building.

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by Mr Shush :: Fri, 06/29/2012 - 8:00am

I meant higher than that. Cut-off at 10, or certainly no lower than 16. Mayo, Warren, Seymour; Freeney, James, Manning, Collins, Conlan, Harmon. Biakabutuka was a bust through injury, so I don't know that Polian can be blamed for that. James Williams for the Bills (at #16) is the only authentic bust I can see. Missing on high first round picks will kill you. Bad GMs do it all the time (Millen, late period Al Davis), good ones very rarely.

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by MJK :: Fri, 06/29/2012 - 11:59am

Problem with this kind of argument is small sample size. For any coach, but let's look at the two you mention.

Belichick has only ever MADE three picks 16 or lower. All three were successful, but even if he was only right 50% of the time (which is significantly worse, probably, than league average for picks that high), there is still a 12.5% chance you'll get heads if you flip a coin 3 times in a row.

Polian's list is a little longer at eight (you left out his Bills selections): Ronnie Harmon, Shane Conlan, James Williams, Kerry Collins, Tim Biakabutuka, Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, Dwight Freeny. Of those players, I would call two Biakabutuka and Williams) busts. You can argue that Harmon and Collins didn't live up to expectations (i.e. not as much value as you want from a top 16 pick), but I'll grant that they're not busts. So depending on how you grade busts, Polian was successful on either half or three quarters of his eight first round picks. I disagree with discounting injury busts as "busts" (unless it's a freak accident, like Robert Edwards--Biakabutuka didn't have a single freak injury that knocked him out of the game; he was just disappointing because he was injury prone. Health is a skill you have to consider when you draft).

Even if you consider Polian to have only two busts, then we still can't conclude that he's anything special. Even if he was 50% prone to bust, there's still a 10% chance he would hit on six out of eight. And like I said, 50% is probably well below league average when looking at to p16 picks (i.e. I would estimate fewer than half of top 16 picks to be busts).

The point is not that I think Belichick or Polian are bad (I don't). It's that if you're only going evaluate someone on the basis of their prowess at not busting with top 16 picks, you'll never be able to conclude much of anything due to small sample sizes.

83
by AJ (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2012 - 3:58pm

I have the data where i ran this regression in front of me. Im not entirely sure what people use as their criteria for a bust, but I did it this way. An ultra successful pick in my system is worth 100pts, graded based on years started, probowls and all pros(i deliberately omitted mvps playoff mvps, dpoy, roy because those are biased to certain positions). Anyways, by this system, Im going to call a bust any pick that started 6 years or less. Again, bust becomes completely subjective based on where they are picked, but go with me. If we look at the distribution of picks from pick 1 through pick 10(this data btw runs from 1990-2005):

there were 150 picks made in the top 10- of those, 54 picks were worth 6.5 or less, meaning- you have a 36 percent chance of landing an outright bust in the top 10.

If we broaden our definition further and say for a pick to be successful, they must've gone to at least one probowl- then the odds of landing a bust go up to 48%- meaning you still have a better chance of being successful than not.

Now. to revisit polian and bb. For arguments sake, im going to average our two definitions, meaning lets say you have a 1-(.48+.36)/2 chance of landing a successful pick- or 58% chance. then the odds off bb being lucky were 19.5 percent, or roughly 20 percent chance. Thats very possible.

For Polian, i'll say he was right on 6 picks. He got about a 7 percent chance of being right- which might infer that he was good rather than lucky. But remember also that if we were to run hundreds of simulations based on this distribution, you are inevitably going to find a few outliers just by chance alone. So while polian might again appear great, theres still a good chance he was just lucky.

84
by AJ (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2012 - 4:17pm

Edit, i actually sent and realized my math was wrong. I was solving the odds based on the assumption that polian had to be successful 6 straight times, when he only needed to be successful 6 out of 8 times. I dont actually have time right now to calculate the odds if the prob of success is 58 vs 50, but 6 out 8 at 50 percent gives about 11 percent. At 58, i suspect its probably about 12 or 13 percent. Again, very doable and you would expect that kind of outlier in a large sample.

18
by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 7:33pm

1976 best Tom Raiders
2nd best team steers
3ed best team patriots

G. Pruitt wore tear away jersey. Jersey always looked ragged. Best uniform NFL history. Earl Campbell #2 because his got torn a lot too. Love seeing ripped jerseys.

22
by Cro-Mags (not verified) :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 10:37pm

Patriots beat both teams, in consecutive weeks, Raiders 48-17. Then got jobbed in the playoffs.

96
by SteveGarvin :: Mon, 07/09/2012 - 3:42am

You mean they got the benefit of a referee's judgment call at a crucial part of the game? Sugar Bear hit Snake on the head with his forearm. Even in 1976 that was a penalty (although in 1976 they didn't always call it).

Jobbed? Naw. Just beat. It happens.

24
by LionInAZ :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 11:23pm

It's a bit of a sham when the guy wears flimsy tearaways so he can't be pulled down by the jersey, as Pruitt did. Just like Lester Hayes who was a mess with all the stickum he put on.
Pruitt was a great, fast runner, though, and a great return man as well.

37
by Peregrine :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 9:07am

As my name implies, I'm a Falcons fan. Season ticket holder and I review the games on tape too.

At the end of each season, I rank every player who appeared on the active roster, from worst to first. I ranked Julio Jones as #5 on the team, and toward the end of the season I thought he was our best offensive player. He can be Terrell Owens but with awesome intangibles. My big concern, and it's a big one, is injury. He was banged up some last season: he missed all of three games and was lost for the majority of another two games.

If he can stay on the field, I think he'll be a stud.

81
by dryheat :: Fri, 06/29/2012 - 9:56am

I would agree that Jones's upside is extremely high. The question, to me anyway, is whether or not his value is greater than the sum of the 5 picks they traded for him. If you have confidence in Dimitroff and staff's ability to evaluate talent, I would think the answer is "no".

6
by Calipanther (not verified) :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 4:52pm

"Rice is the first current starting running back to rank at the top of a list, right?"

Not even close. Deangelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart are (deservedly) 1 and 2 on the Panthers list.

28
by Lance :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 12:17am

Have we seen the Panthers list, yet?

35
by Mr Shush :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 6:01am

One assumes there will be at least one and possibly two on the AFC South list. I think I would just about give MJD the edge over Taylor, but I expect Tanier to go the other way, and that's an entirely reasonable position.

That'll be it, though. LeSean McCoy's probably the current player other than Peterson and those already mentioned with most chance of eventually getting there, but clearly he isn't yet.

48
by justanothersteve :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 1:34pm

Given how good Van Buren was, I don't see McCoy ever being the #1 Eagle.

61
by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 2:58pm

I agree, but McCoy is at least on track for that kind of a career. Give him another 2 years of similar success AND THEN we can revisit this conversation...

11
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 5:48pm

With regards to Adrian Peterson we would probably have gone after you if he held on to the ball better or bothered to learn to block or catch.

Does Frank Gore's career get viewed with a boost from the appalling 49er quarterbacks?

Your assessment of John Henry Johnson confuses me. I've never seen him play but I was under the impression that he was the rather brutal lead blocker in the Million Dollar Backfield with Perry and McElhenny profiting from his labour like nineteenth century mill owners. All of the stories that I've read focus on him bludgeoning some hapless defender in a manner that would raise criminal charges in the Goodell era. So why would you expect his stats to compare to players who are primarily runners?

16
by Shattenjager :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 6:54pm

People need to give up on the narrative that Adrian Peterson is some incredible fumbler.

He has fumbled on 1.56% of his carries so far in his career (and, for those of you who prefer smaller sample sizes, he has fumbled on 0.41% of his carries the last two years).
I'll post this link again to the p-f-r blog entry on Curtis Martin that lists all the RBs to that point who had at least 1500 carries: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=8592. Peterson is currently at 1406, so he's almost there, and his current rate would be between Jamal Lewis and Ricky Watters.
For comparison's sake, I will point out that Tanier doesn't mention Greg Pruitt's horrendous fumble rate: 4.85%. (The guy once led the league in fumbles on 176 carries! 25 guys had more carries than he did and he still led the league in fumbles!)

The other problems with Peterson are certainly true, but fumbling isn't a big problem for him at this point.

20
by Vince Verhei :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 8:41pm

Well, to be accurate, he used to fumble all the time, but he has turned things around lately.

First three years: 20 fumbles in 998 touches (one fumble every 49.9 touches)
Last two years: Two fumbles in 545 touches (one fumble every 272.5 touches)

So it's not accurate to say that he never had a problem, but we should recognize that the problem seems to have gone away.

21
by Shattenjager :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 9:15pm

Or his "true talent" has always been about where his career rate is now and both subsets are aberrational in opposite directions.

25
by LionInAZ :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 11:35pm

I don't think that fumbles can be considered random events subject to statistical analysis.
Peterson had 4, 9, and 7 fumbles in his 1st three seasons (not including the two infamous fumbles he had during the 2009 NFC Championship game). The last two years he has had 1 and 1, after the coaches made it a priority to train him to protect the ball. You only had to see how he carried the ball to see why he was fumble-prone.

26
by Shattenjager :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 11:47pm

I don't think fumbles are random events either. I also never said or implied that they are.

30
by LionInAZ :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 12:52am

Yes, you did, when you suggested that Peterson's intrinsic fumble rate is his career average and that the two halves of his career were some aberration. Of course, we may never know the correct answer because the Viking coaches intervened to get him to stop fumbling. But he was notorious for fumbling a lot early in his career, and maybe he's fixed that problem -- although it's probably too late to matter now. The point is: ball security is more about technique than 'talent'.

33
by Shattenjager :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 3:42am

[Deleted, pointless.]

36
by Mr Shush :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 6:05am

In a vacuum, it might be reasonable to say, "We can't be sure that's not random".

In reality, we know that rookie backs fumble more often in general, and we have many other anecdotal examples of backs with fumbling problems receiving coaching to successfully correct them (Tiki Barber springs to mind). It seems pretty clear that ball security is a. a skill and b. coachable to a significant extent in players who have already reached the pros.

49
by justanothersteve :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 1:38pm

I think Tiki Barber showed you can learn to not fumble the ball.

73
by Shattenjager :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 5:00pm

I didn't say that a player cannot learn to hold onto the ball better, contrary to what people keep telling me that I said.

However, Peterson has been fumbling at an extremely low rate the last two years (half as often as Curtis Martin, who is the all-time king of not fumbling), and it's rather difficult to believe that he's really going to keep that up. Two years is not enough of a sample that I'm going to assume he's going to continue to do so. That's the last I'm saying about it, so you guys can enjoy throwing your straw men around. Just be sure to get them some decent hats.

23
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 11:17pm

He also isn't as bad of a receiver as folks say either. He had one horrible year most other years he has been around 9th to 15th among running backs for DYAR/DVOA. Though his blocking is still non existent.

Receiving DYAR/DVOA
2011 29/10.6% on 23 passes 78% catch rate
2010 93/20.0% on 50 passes 72% catch rate
2009 90/15.7% on 57 passes 75% catch rate
2008 -70/-46.5% on 39 passes 54% catch rate
2007 97/43.6 on 29 passes 69% catch rate

Now he isn't generally being sent on routes, and Favre made him better. His pass numbers are lower, but there are other lead backs in the same range. Yes there are 10+ backs I'd take over him as a receiver but in general throwing a pass to Peterson, is not the horrendous mistake some people make it out to be. He's been better than MJD at it based on DYAR/DVOA the last couple of years. Though yes without Favre it's only been about 2 passes to him a game and those are generally dump offs but he's better than replacement level at it. So it's not a positive but I don't think it should be counted as a negative either.

15
by Jerry :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 6:25pm

Even if Mendenhall wasn't questionable for this year with his knee, I'd still put guys like Bullet Bill Dudley, whose Steeler career was short but distinguished, and even Dick Hoak, who was decent if unspectacular for a decade, ahead of him. (After retiring, Hoak was also a terrific running back coach for 35 years.)

The 1976 Steelers were down to one healthy running back (Reggie Harrison) for the championship game in Oakland. Asking Bradshaw to call plays for a two tight end offense that he had to learn in a week may have been too much, although that was also a good Raider team. People inside the organization still claim that '76 was their best team.

19
by young curmudgeon :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 8:24pm

Jerry, you deserve great credit for bringing up Dick Hoak; I am embarrassed that I didn't mention him when I brought up Tom Tracy.

39
by Dr. Foresight (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 12:07pm

Other than Dudley and Hoak, the other unmentioned player I alluded to in my March comment was Byron "Whizzer" White.

http://fo3.footballoutsiders.com/walkthrough/2012/walkthrough-sake-argum...

75
by Jerry :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 6:54pm

I'd put White behind Dudley because Whizzer only played a year for the Pirates.

(And thanks, YC. Any idea what Tracy did in San Francisco?)

86
by DGL :: Fri, 06/29/2012 - 11:21pm

But White is definitely in the top 5 running backs for the Supreme Court Justices.

17
by Travis :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 7:27pm

Kevin Mack also only had one truly great year (1986, same as Byner)

Mack and Byner's great year was 1985, when both ran for 1,000 yards, not 1986.

27
by LionInAZ :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 12:06am

I've always thought that Corey Dillon has gotten a bum rap with the 'malcontent' label. After all, he was a Pro-Bowl caliber RB playing on one of the most incompetently-run franchises in the NFL -- almost as bad as the Millen-era Lions. Who wouldn't be a malcontent playing for an owner who didn't seem to have much interest or ability in putting together a winning team? Dillon seemed quite fine after he went to the Patriots, and no surprise there.

42
by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 12:41pm

I agree - how can you blame a talented player who isn't happy to be employed by incompetent morons? That label should be reserved for guys like TO and Moss, who have everything they could ever want in a team and still bitch up and down the street...

88
by jebmak :: Sat, 06/30/2012 - 12:15am

(Deleted. It wasn't as funny as I thought it was when typing it.)

31
by MJK :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 1:03am

The Browns and Ravens lists become significantly harder to make up if you don't buy the NFL's silliness on insisting that they are separate teams (or at least, that the old Browns are a distinct team from the Ravens). I know that the commissioner said that "officially" the Browns franchise identification and records remain in Cleveland and that the Ravens are an "expansion team", but that was just to mollify Cleveland. You might as well argue that the Indianapolis Colts are separate from the Baltimore Colts, or that the Titans are distince from the Oilers, or that there have been three different teams called the Raiders.

If you were to lump them together, how would the list fall out? I think Jim Brown is on top still, but do Rice or Lewis displace any of those other old time Browns?

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by dmstorm22 :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 1:12pm

I'm glad he did it, because then the new Browns list would have been a mix of William Green, Peyton Hillis, Jerome Harrison, Jamal Lewis, and whatever other down-trodden back that franchise has had since coming back to Cleveland (Reuben Droughns, Travis Prentice).

32
by Guest789 :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 2:57am

Big pet peeve of mine: Unless we're talking about devious mountains, the title of this article should be sneak peeks.

-----

“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

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by 0tarin :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 1:12pm

And good heavens, the html file is titled "walkthrough-sneal-peaks"! TWO errors!

That said, part of me wonders whether the "peaks" might be a deliberate winking reference to the fact that he's listing the peak players at RB. I doubt it, but still.

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by Mungo (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2012 - 5:28am

Where is the Stealth Mountain bot when you need it?

http://a0.twimg.com/profile_images/1659877529/stealth-mountain.jpg

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by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 10:10am

Or big boobs in nudie bar that surprise you when you aren't lookig

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by dryheat :: Fri, 06/29/2012 - 9:45am

I like to sneakily tweak said peaks.

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by Dean :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 3:26pm

SUrprised nobody has said this yet, but I'd put Motley second and Kelley third. Dr Z's opinions carry a lot of weight with me.

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by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 3:30pm

I think it's just that many of us haven't seen Motley play, even in clips. It's hard to rate guys from so long ago, especially guys getting "he played 2-way!" bonuses that are already tough to handle anyway.

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by tuluse :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 4:33pm

Also, his contributions as a defender shouldn't affect his rating on a running back list.

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by Grammarjoe (not verified) :: Thu, 06/28/2012 - 5:32pm

Peeks, peeks, for the love of God, peeks.

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by Dean :: Fri, 06/29/2012 - 8:26am

Clarence Peaks played for the Eagles (before his bit selling crop reports to Louis Winthorpe and the Dukes) - he was covered in the NFC East Walkthrough.

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by Bob B. (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2012 - 11:50pm

I haven't read the comments, but is it just me or is the NFL's official position that the Cleveland Browns (expansion team) "has" the history of the previous Cleveland Browns (that team that became the Baltimore Ravens). I mean... I understand why the current Cleveland Browns could (and should) recognize the history of football in Cleveland... but the position that the league holds, to me, is ludicrous. Sorry NFL, the original Cleveland Browns history belongs to the team they became, the Baltimore Ravens. Granted, the NFL has the official say, and officially whatever they say is what goes, it's just so RIDICULOUS (and, to me, obviously wrong).

Anyway, I don't mean this as a serious criticism of your list following the NFL's position... just a brief rant about the NFL's position, decision, or whatever you want to call this idiocy.

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by Jerry :: Sat, 06/30/2012 - 5:02am

When Cleveland talked to the NFL after Modell moved the team, part of the deal they struck was that the team's history would officially stay in Cleveland. That's the only case where's that's happened.

As far as where a team's history "belongs", I don't think either argument is "RIDICULOUS". When the Browns announced they were moving to Baltimore, Maryland fans who remembered the 1964 Championship game didn't say, "Oh. It turns out our team won." Part of what makes sports what they are is the shared civic experience, and that doesn't move with a franchise. Johnny Unitas' accomplishments may be attached to the team in Indianapolis, but they mean a lot more to Baltimore. Bud Adams has whatever hardware the Oilers won over the years, but those achievements mean a lot more to Houston than they do to Nashville. Indianapolis, Nashville, and other destinations have their own triumphs and disappointments to deal with, but even if earlier ones officially move with the team, they're mostly academic to the new fanbases.

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by Bob B. (not verified) :: Sun, 07/01/2012 - 2:16am

I agree that the past of a team in one city means more to the people of that city than it does to the people in the city that the team moves to (assuming, of course, that the team moves). And I think it's great when a city will recognize the past from earlier teams of a different franchise. But I still think it's completely silly to say that the past of a franchise officially becomes part of a different franchise.
[Oh, and I wouldn't say this is the only case where it's happened... maybe in the NFL but I know the CFL counts the previous Montreal Alouettes franchises history with the current Montreal Alouettes franchise and doesn't count the Grey Cup won by Baltimore (which is the beginning of the current Montreal team) as part of that team's history.

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by Jerry :: Sun, 07/01/2012 - 5:29am

In the case of the Alouettes, which chunk of history should the team keep? The old Alouettes/Concordes, or the successful run in Baltimore? To me, both cases make sense, and I know which means more to Montreal fans.

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by Bob B. (not verified) :: Sun, 07/01/2012 - 12:45pm

I think for the Alouettes it's a more complicated situation because of the brief expansion into the US and that the previous Alouettes didn't move, they folded (well, twice I guess as the Concordes eventually claimed the Alouettes name before folding... I think) ... Nonetheless, the simple truth of the matter is that THIS Alouettes team's history started in Baltimore in the mid 90s.

I certainly think this version of the Alouettes should embrace the previous history in the city. I think it should be acknowledged, however, that relatively recent Montreal history in the CFL belongs to three different franchises. [And I'm not really sure how the CFL handles it]. {Oh, and speaking of the CFL, this is opening weekend for the new season! Go Eskimos!!}

I'm not even sure how MLS handles things, but I think the history of the Earthquakes is an interesting one. The current San Jose Earthquakes are a recent expansion team (this is probably their 3rd or 4th year). The previous Earthquakes started as the San Jose Clash before taking the Earthquakes nickname but are now the Houston Dynamo. And the first Earthquakes are from the long folded NASL. If I remember correctly, they were one of the teams to outlive the league. I believed they joined MISL after the NASL folded (I think maybe other teams did as well... maybe the Chicago Sting?) and I think they played in another league as well but could be mistaken on that count.

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by JimZipCode :: Mon, 07/02/2012 - 12:08pm

Baltimore football fans are perennially enraged that Unitas shows up with Indianapolis' records. Terrible.

94
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 07/03/2012 - 11:11am

What really irks them is that he shows up in second place.

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by Jake (not verified) :: Wed, 07/04/2012 - 8:44am

Joe Greene might have said it best, "We couldn't win before Franco arrived, and we couldn't win after he left." (he said this in 2005, during the 25 year drought between titles).