Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

24 Dec 2007

Before the Turner Frenzy Begins, Consider These Cautionary Tales

The final ESPN Monday Night Football feature from Football Outsiders is an adaptation of a piece Bill Barnwell wrote for Boston Sports Media Watch back when the Patriots played the Chargers in Week 2. We know that in the coming off-season, some team will sign Michael Turner to be their starting running back, but do they know what they're getting? If you don't know Turner's DVOA rating for 2007, you are probably in for a bit of a shock.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 24 Dec 2007

12 comments, Last at 27 Dec 2007, 6:06am by Scott


by Yaguar (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 5:31am

Some thoughts on Turner:

1. His yards per carry average of 5.0 is still very high, despite his sudden downturn in DVOA. While DVOA is a good indicator of the value of a running back's plays, much better than yards per carry, I think it's not necessarily a better measure of talent. Adrian Peterson vs Kenton Keith is a good example. Although they're at vastly different talent levels and different yards per carry, they have similar DVOA. Adrian Peterson's boom-and-bust gets more yards per carry, but Keith's consistency lets him match Peterson in DVOA. Peterson's higher yards per carry doesn't show superior value per play, but it does show superior talent. Sometimes a back with a high yards per carry has a relatively low DVOA through no fault of his own, because he's getting stuffed at the line a lot without a chance to make a play.

I wonder if this may be the case with Turner, who's playing for a coach who has a well-known tendency to telegraph runs. (I think a game charter pointed out his specific tendencies earlier in the year in a guest TDZ.) Obviously, small sample size is another problem. On the whole, especially considering past performance, I think we should be agreed that Turner is a good back, regardless of his 2007 DVOA.

2. The difference between a good back and a mediocre back is fairly negligible compared to some of the other talent disparities that exist in football. Surrounding cast on an offense has much more effect on the running game than the actual talent of the running back, (eg Kenton Keith) unless he's an unbelievable superstar. (eg Adrian Peterson.) Turner won't suddenly create a good running game in a bad offense like, say, Oakland. But if he came into a good offense where he was the missing piece - say, Cleveland - I think he could put up a Pro Bowl year.

Summary: I think you're saying that Turner could be a disappointment, which is fair. But if he does, I don't think it will be because he's a bad player. I think it will be because a team with bad run-blocking will sign him.

by cowfez (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 6:31am

All you have to do is watch the games to know that Turner is a legitimate starting running back. DVOA is nice, but...

by BillWallace (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 8:13am

It's a very interesting article, well written, and with great material, but I fail to really see what the main point is. What's the central argument?

As far as I know, Turner isn't going to get superstar money, just average starter money. And the evidence presented shows that 'average starter' is well within the confidence range of Turner's likely future contribution to his team.

Yes whether that shows up with good stats or bad does depend on the rest of the team, but that's true of any RB acquisition, not just Turner.

It seems like the transfer of Turner to another team and the resulting expectations are going to go just about the way it should go, based on history and stats. I suppose that in and of itself might be noteworthy enough for an article.

by White Rose Duelist (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 2:40pm

Yaguar - You might want to rephrase your argument. You seem to be claimaing that Keith only looks good because of the rest of the Vikings' system, while Peterson looks good despite it. Does the team just slack off when Peterson is rushing, since he's so awesome, or is it maybe that he benefits a bit from the quality of the players around him as well?

by Costa (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 4:11pm

"But if he does, I don’t think it will be because he’s a bad player. I think it will be because a team with bad run-blocking will sign him."

This is exactly what the article is saying.

by Tom (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 5:18pm

Re 4:

Keith plays for the Colts, not the Vikings.

by Richard (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 5:57pm

What exactly is the point of the article?

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 7:05pm

7: What I get from it is that merely signing a guy who had good or even great stats as a backup somewhere does not mean that you will have the same level of success with him because your team may not have the same components as his former team. Furthermore, people should include all of the other factors involved in the player's success (and you're team's lack of success) within their judgment.

I think that a flip side argument should also be made for guys who don't look great or who don't have good DVOAs at one location and who show improvement in a different situation.

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 7:26pm

5: The article says there are good reasons to think Turner might not be a good running back. I disagree with that.

From the article:
"There also are reasons to think he's not [a pretty good running back], however. One of these reasons is named Richard Huntley."

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Wed, 12/26/2007 - 12:32pm

All this article tells me is this: Positional DVOA is useless.

Theres no way Turner went from best back in football to worst. Just like theres no way that Tom Brady is twice as good as he was last year. Positional DVOA is misleading at best.

by Adam B (not verified) :: Wed, 12/26/2007 - 1:47pm

Is Olandis Gary still available?

by Scott (not verified) :: Thu, 12/27/2007 - 6:06am

10 - The only time I see Positional DVOA being worth a damn is if you are comparing players at the same position on the same team that get used in roughly the same manner and get roughly the same amount of playing time. It's really only useful to compare Julius Jones and Marion Barber.