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Ezekiel Elliott Isn't as Valuable as You've Been Led to Believe

Some excellent analysis here from Steven Ruiz of USA Today, who shows that Ezekiel Elliott isn't the exception to "running backs don't matter" analysis that many fans (and former players) think he is. Elliott doesn't draw more loaded boxes than you would otherwise expect given the Cowboys' personnel. And apparently, there's no correlation at all between a running back's reputation and how often teams play single-high safety coverages, so there's no evidence that specific running backs draw more safeties down into the box to stop the run.

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12 comments, Last at 22 Jul 2019, 3:40pm

1 Raiderjoe

Fid nto read article btu will look to do so lager. Of coruse, running backs matter. if they did nto, any drunjk pulled from out of stands woudl gladly suit up and play. Would porbably do it for coupkle hundred bucks. No salary cap concerns. No real running backs getting notable money. of course, teams like Pates would just make a listed "wide receiver" play running back mopist of the time.

Teams would pull 4 of these people from stands for each game. None of these guys would play more than one ga,e .44-year old plumber Myles Danielson might be 1st team all-pro due to his 111 yards rushing on 14 carries in Week 7 vs the Falcons.

Opposing team could do same or bus or fly over drunks from their city.
Getting tired of this runnign backs don't matter nonsense. even went so far as to mute one of the RB-crazed twitterers. The other one I still am fine with becuause at least he varies wjhat he tweets about

4 I'm with RaiderJoe

In reply to by Raiderjoe

Sort of.  In that 44yo drunks aren't going to deliver as well as, say, Melvin Gordon, however, the difference between Melvin Gordon and Austin Eklar isn't reflected in the salary differential.

8 I think the issue is framing…

In reply to by Raiderjoe

I think the issue is framing it as "running backs don't matter".  Of course they "matter", for the exact reasons you state.

But by that logic, you also see that long snappers, punters, special teams gunners, and guards matter.  But you don't see any players at those positions holding out, because you can find guys who are just about as good on the open market for far less than Ezekiel Elliott wants.  The same is true of running backs - though they are still worth morethan long snappers, etc. - you can find a player who will give you 80% of what Elliott does for less than half of what he wants.

10 But

Yes, but the goal isn’t to have the highest talent to cost ratio. It’s to have the most talent from a fixed number if players. The 20% more you get from Elliott May well be Worth a lot more than 20% more salary.  If everyone can find a back that gives the X, and you’ve found a rare one that gives you 1.2 X, that might be worth a lot of money. In other words, it’s exactly because most running backs are fungible that the rare extra talented ones are so valuable.

Not saying Elliott is one of those (the article makes some good points as to why he is not), but you can’t say that no RB is worth big bucks because you can find good talent easily. 

Hardcire favpntasy players understand this. Even though WB is the most prolific fantasy player and it’s easy to find strarting caliber fantasy QBs, it’s worth paying extra in your auction for the one or two guys that will pe form above everyone else. Even though almost all kickers are mostly equivalent, it’s worth paying extra for the one or two guys that marginally out perform. 

2 Haha, Josh Hermsmeyer just…

Haha, Josh Hermsmeyer just posted an article at FiveThirtyEight about this exact thing - Elliott not worth the money. Seems the nerds are uniting against Zeke! Except Raider Joe of course...

3 May also be worth linking…

May also be worth linking this article from Josh Hermsmeyer at 538 as a companion piece: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/ezekiel-elliott-is-not-worth-the-money-he-wants/

The article goes into a lot of detail on situational running (and how Elliott doesn't stand out), but I actually thought the last section made the best point - the majority of running plays (65%, in Elliott's case) come in normal game/down/distance situations where we've come to understand that teams call running plays way more often than they should. Elliott's talent appears to induce Dallas into poor playcalling and strategy - as the article puts it, "commanding bad rushing volume is really the only aspect of Elliott's game that is truly elite."

However irrational it might be at this point, there is still a part of me that resists the idea that individual RBs truly do not matter, even beyond Raiderjoe's point that you can't just bring a guy down from the stands to play. (I wouldn't get tackled by an NFL player for just a couple hundred bucks, though.) If teams did fix their playcalling and running game tendencies to be far closer to optimal, I wonder if that would allow the more-talented backs to stand out more? Would taking pound-into-the-line carries or unambitious dump-off passes away from guys like Elliott and Barkley and putting them into a greater proportion of favorable situations allow them to make more explosive plays? Also, would calling fewer run plays in general help the overall effectiveness of particular run plays, given that NFL rushing offenses don't tend to be very schematically diverse?

6 Greatest RBs All-Time

How does this apply to the overall position of RBs — Barry Sanders and other all-time greats? Or is this analysis specific to Zeke’s DYAR?

Did Barry Sanders, Adrian Peterson, Priest Holmes cause their teams to build a playbook that limited/capped the team’s success?

If I recall correctly, Emmitt Smith is the only season rushing yards leader to win the Super Bowl same season. What about DYAR leader?

7 It's an interesting question…

It's an interesting question for sure. Obviously the farther you go back into different rules environments, etc., the efficiency of passing comes back down towards rushing.

You can go back to 1986 in the DVOA tables. It looks to me that even as you go back that far, like today, the best offenses tend to be the best passing offenses, and the best passing DVOA numbers are much higher than the best rushing DVOA numbers. That said, it doesn't appear to be as distorted as it is today. For example, in 1990 the cutoff between teams with above and below average DVOA on passes is in the middle of the league, at 14/15th best passing offense. In 2018, that same cutoff is at 24/25th.

Just for Barry Sanders' sake, through most of his career the Lions usually finished the season with a higher DVOA on rushes than passes and, in his best seasons, their rushing DVOA was pretty good outright - in 1990 their rushing DVOA was 29.2%, which was better than all but 5 teams' passing DVOA. In 1997, their rushing DVOA was 17.6%, which would have been 10th in passing DVOA. Of course, Detroit's best offensive seasons in that time frame were 1994 and 1995 when they had a legit passing game that was more efficient than their run game.

One thing you can say for sure about Barry Sanders is that, even just by the numbers, he was definitely not replaceable: https://www.footballoutsiders.com/extra-points/2010/was-emmitt-smith-really-product-his-line

9 Appreciate the response…

Appreciate the response. Interestingly, it may strengthen the perspective that W-L has weaker correlation to a strong rushing DVOA.  All those years with such a strong Barry-led Lions rushing DVOA (relative to the league’s passing DVOA), yet so little W-L and playoff success.

You wonder if the Lions were better off trading Barry Sanders for help at other positions. Maybe sacrificing 20% rushing DVOA in exchange for 7% passing DVOA and/or defensive DVOA would lead to more victories.

Someone please check the DVOA, but, heck, the Lions made the playoffs after Barry retired, guessing that rushing DVOA dropped significantly. Did passing DVOA increase, possibly with the inference that Barry’s success actually inhibited the Lions’ W-L success, ala these Zeke articles? Thx. 

11 There's something to be said…

There's something to be said for high volume backs not producing well in efficiency stats on FO dvoa or success rate. (And I presume that other sites use similar formulas for efficiency)- At least not compared to other elite RB's who log under 200 carries. I am not just speaking of Zeke but also Chris Carson, Joe Mixon and most alarmingly Saquon Barkley. Jordan Howard and David Johnson had over 250 carries but they averaged under 4 ypc so we can safely say they were not good anyway. Am I wrong to be confused as to how a 5 YPC RB like Barkley would have such low efficiency ratings when he had a historical season? I get that yards gained can be skewed from bigger runs that inflate the average. And runs that go no where can negatively impact the overall efficiency. But dvoa and other stats measuring efficiency may, IMO, concentrate on the negative rather than the positive, at least ostensibly. Zeke appears in the same dilemma: lots of touches yet poor dvoa and success rate stats. The two should not be out of the top 10 at least!

12 I don't think a running back…

I don't think a running back is worth huge guaranteed money unless he is a threat to score every time he takes a handoff, and can run with great power as well. Very, very, few running backs clear this bar.