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22 Jun 2009

Wisdom of Crowds: Projecting 2009 RB, Part I

by Bill Barnwell

In this latest Wisdom of Crowds feature, we take a look at running backs -- examining strictly their rushing attempts, rushing yards, and rushing TD. While some backs will form a good chunk of their value from their receiving ability, it would be far harder to gain a consensus on a player's likelihood of becoming active in the receiving game than it would to gain a consensus on the running game.

You can see why with our first candidate.

Monday: Knowshon Moreno
Average Prediction: 226 attempts, 1004 rushing yards, 7 TD
Maximum Prediction: 300 attempts, 1500 rushing yards, 10 TD
Minimum Prediction: 162 attempts, 726 rushing yards, 4 TD

Moreno's role with the Broncos seems impossibly difficult to predict; as you can see from the min and max predictions above, he could either be one of the league's elite backs or a fantasy non-factor as a rookie. No pressure.

Of course, Josh McDaniels rotated his backs in and out regularly with New England, carving out roles for limited players like Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, and LaMont Jordan. Unlike those players, though, Moreno was a lottery pick; McDaniels, already struggling in the court of public opinion, undoubtedly needs to see Moreno succeed to take the minds of Denver fans off of Jay Cutler and a botched offseason.

Most rookie backs struggle with the more delicate aspects of being an NFL halfback, resulting in a first half dedicated to extra reps as a receiver and a pass blocker in practice, but Moreno comes billed out of Georgia as a back capable of producing professional grade work at those tasks. If he can do so, and the offensive line in front of him stays healthy, I believe he can run past that average prediction.

Tuesday: Maurice Jones-Drew
Average Prediction: 281 attempts, 1267 rushing yards, 13 TD
Maximum Prediction: 369 attempts, 1500 rushing yards, 20 TD
Minimum Prediction: 215 attempts, 1000 rushing yards, 7 TD

One intrepid follower projected MJD at 369/1500/7, which would be a touchdown fluke (as another follower suggested) on the order of Thomas Jones in 2007.

The biggest concern about MJD's 2009 is that he won't be able to handle the expanded workload he's getting with the departure of Fred Taylor. As we asked people to contribute 16-game predictions, that possibility isn't included in this analysis.

If he does stay healthy for 16 games, I think the average prediction here is just about right on, since we're expecting somewhat of a Jaguars bounceback in 2009.

Wednesday: Matt Forte
Average Prediction: 299 attempts, 1304 rushing yards, 10 TD
Maximum Prediction: 340 attempts, 1630 rushing yards, 14 TD
Minimum Prediction: 212 attempts, 980 rushing yards, 7 TD

Another high-riser, Forte was taken first in the RotoWire experts draft I participated in a while back. Of course, a good chunk of his value is derived from his receiving totals, as he led the Bears in catches a year ago.

I don't think that we'll see Forte pace Chicago receivers this year; his presence and role in a mediocre offense reminds me a lot of how the Chargers used LaDainian Tomlinson back in 2003, when he had 100 catches for the 23rd-ranked pass offense in football.

As a runner, though, Forte should have an improved line in front of him in 2009, while the arrival of Jay Cutler should at least deter teams from pushing eight or nine men into the box on a regular basis. I think his average prediction is just about right, with maybe a few more rushing touchdowns thrown in.

Thursday: Darren McFadden
Average Prediction: 205 attempts, 876 rushing yards, 6 TD
Maximum Prediction: 280 attempts, 1107 rushing yards, 9 TD
Minimum Prediction: 145 attempts, 520 rushing yards, 4 TD

I think everyone has their guy(s) heading into their fantasy draft that they want to come away with. Last year, for me, that guy was Thomas Jones, based upon my (then-unpublished) research into his impossibly-fluky performance inside the 5. In the NL-only 24-man auction keeper league that myself, Aaron, Ian Dembsky, Al Bogdan, Vivek Rampogal, and others participate in each year, the guys I needed to get -- and got -- were Justin Upton (hooray!) and Brandon Webb (whose absence led me to trade Stephen Strasburg and Dexter Fowler in a deal for Jake Peavy literally hours before Peavy was walking around in a cast).

This year, for me, McFadden is that guy. I believe that the Raiders offensive line will be better. I believe that he won't be splitting time with Justin Fargas and Michael Bush; they'll be splitting time behind him. I believe that he's fully recovered from his turf toe concerns, and the fact that he managed to be the Raiders' best back as a rookie despite that turf toe is impressive. I believe in his 120 Speed Score. My prediction for Darren McFadden's 2009 actually surpasses the maximum prediction given by our readers. But that is just me and my opinion.

Friday: Marion Barber III
Average Prediction: 228 attempts, 1029 rushing yards, 10 TD
Maximum Prediction: 330 attempts, 1250 rushing yards, 13 TD
Minimum Prediction: 181 attempts, 800 rushing yards, 7 TD

MBIII is another back stuck in a timeshare, splitting time with Felix Jones and Tashard Choice.

The thing I think people are missing about Barber is the context of how his season played out. He played 15 games, but realistically, about eight of them are meaningful. He dislocated his toe during the Seahawks game in Week 13, and carried the ball 13 times for 15 yards afterwards, while he played three games as the Cowboys' only offensive threat when Brad Johnson was at quarterback (albeit rushing for 225 yards in the process).

If you take his performance over the other eight games, Barber carried the ball 153 times for 613 yards and five touchdowns. Extrapolate that out to a 16-game season, and cut 15 percent off of it for the carries he'll be giving to Jones and Choice (assuming all stay healthy, which we are in this scenario), and Barber's at 260 carries for 1042 yards and eight scores. That's close to his average prediction, and I think it's a reasonable expectation for Barber's 2009.

As always, you can follow us on Twitter to participate in the Wisdom of Crowds predictions. Today's player up for discussion is LaDainian Tomlinson, and we'll be going through more running backs this week.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 22 Jun 2009

66 comments, Last at 04 Oct 2009, 3:42am by Ketch Rudder


by Mikey :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 3:23pm

Am I the only one who sees this as an infuriating year to try to draft running backs? You've got Adrian Peterson. Then some other guys. Good luck if you're not picking #1.

by the K (not verified) :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 3:27pm

I'd also be very comfortable with Forte. But after that, I'm with you.

by Big Johnson (not verified) :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 3:02am

I'm not comfortable with forte at all. In dvoa, denver runningbacks were more productive last year than matt forte. Actually Forte gained less on his yards per carry than the bears offensive line had for their adjusted line yards. The opposite was said last year for denver runningbacks yards per carry compared to the adjusted line yards that the Broncos line gained. Forte was less productive than the average bronco runningback. The reason im picking the broncos is because of how Cutler will affect forte. Last year the broncos rushed for 15td's and 1862 rushing yards. While this is a high ceiling, there is virtually no possible way forte can pass that production because 1. The bronco runningbacks were better last year per production 2. The bronco offensive line is better according to ALY 3. Skill position players in Denver are much better than Chicagos skill position players

He's also a skinny 6'2'' runningback. Theres a reason there arent runningbacks with that build.... cause they break too easy. Fragile fred is the prime example. I'd like to see how other runningbacks with a similar build to forte held up in the league.

I can see the max production for forte next year at about 1400 rushing yards 500 receiving yards and 12 td's. That is still beastly numbers. The problem is that he won't hit his ceiling. The offensive line would have to be better, his production would have to increase along with the offensive line production, Cutler will have to turn the offense into the juggernaut Denver had last year, and he will have to not get injured with a very fragile frame. It just isn't gonna happen. I can see him more realisticly getting 1100 rushing yards 300 receiving yards and 8 td's.

by Jimmy :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 7:05am

You are aware that the Bears left tackle last year was John St Clair. Forte did what he did last year as the primary focus of opposing defenses whilst having holes 'opened up' by the aforementioned Mr St Clair. The Bears should be improved at three spots on the line and at QB. Every season prognostication I have read points out that the WRs are short on experience but they can't be any less productive than last year's sorry group and I would expect the QB play to be better. All of which should reduce the attention given to Forte. Short of injury he is going to be much more productive per carry, I do doubt if he is going to get anything like as many carries though.

by Big Johnson (not verified) :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 1:03pm

You are missing my point jimmy.

Chicago ALY last year was 4.01 while chicago runningbacks gained 3.89 yards per carry. Denvers line was worth 4.92 yards while the denver runningbacks gained 4.96 yards per carry. The point here is that yes, chicagos line was bad last year but Forte was worse. The line gained him 4.01 but he couldn't even gain that many yards per play!! He is a below average back getting above average carries. Denvers line was also the best in regards to ALY around the league but the runningbacks were slightly above average so they gained more yards per play than the line did. Even if chicago receivers get better, and the offensive line gets better, and Cutler keeps up lasts years ridiculous production, and Fortes fragile frame doesnt get injured he still won't live up to most peoples expectations because according to last years numbers he wasn't very good.

league top teams in ALY to YPC
Panthers 4.32 to 5.01
Giants 4.77 to 5.28

Mediocre runningbacks have roughly the same ALY as YPC.
Denver was roughly even at 4.92 to 4.96

Below average teams have a much better ALY than YPC.
Arizona 3.81 to 3.6
Cincinatti 3.37 to 3.22
Chicago 4.01 to 3.89

and teams with similar ALY to chicago arent all low rated on YPC
Raiders 3.97 to 4.15
Chiefs 3.99 to 4.46
Rams 3.87 to 3.99

Cutler is going to a team with worse receivers, a worse runningback, and a worse offensive line. Chicagos offense won't be as good as denvers was last year. Forte is in for a huge let down

by Eddo :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 1:27pm

For me, it's a matter of just not being a huge fan of ALY. If you watched any Bears games last year you would have seen Forte having almost no running room most plays. The thing is, he was turning a lot of no gain plays into 2-3 yards, which is impressive.

Additionally, the most common way for a back's YPC to be higher than his line's ALY is to be a breakaway runner. When opposing defenses can bring the safeties into the box, any time the line did open a hole big enough for an impressive gain, safeties would be there waiting for Forte.

What I'm trying to say is that Jimmy is right; the Bears' offensive line was absolutely terrible last year, regardless of what ALY says.

by Big Johnson (not verified) :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 1:36pm

Dead on. Just like when opponents would stack the box against the giants...

Sticking with the giants... is Brandon Jacobs a breakaway runner? Seems like breakaway runners arent the only players with a good ALY to YPC ratio.

by Big Johnson (not verified) :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 1:51pm

and also if you think the bears are the only team with a terrible offensive line you are wrong. The raiders offensive line was terrible last year too. Seattles offensive line was pitiful as well. ALY analyzes those teams as well. Breakaway runningbacks like Tomlinson and sproles still had a below average YPC when compared to ALY. Breakaway runners have no advantage over nonbreakaway runners in ALY to YPC

by tuluse :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 4:45pm

Forte was the only consistent offensive weapon the Bears had. Replace him with Benson, and they would have been lucky to win 6 games.

by Big Johnson (not verified) :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 9:13pm

The year before they had 7 wins with benson and no forte, and pro football prospectus i believe projected them at 8 wins this year before the year happened. And orton became so relevant that a team decided to trade for him as their starter for the upcoming year.

by tuluse :: Wed, 06/24/2009 - 3:09am

Yeah that was the year before, when the Bears still had Berrian, Moose, and a the Defense dropped from -11.2% DVOA in 2007 to -2.5%.

I think those factors might have had something to do with it.

by Big Johnson (not verified) :: Wed, 06/24/2009 - 2:58pm

If the bears would have been lucky to get 6 wins then how did football prospectus 2008 predict 7 wins? They ended the year at 9-7 instead of 7-9 because either 1. the balls bounced in their favor 2. the offense was better than expected 3. the defense was better than expected. The defense was worse this year on dvoa. They dropped from -6.9 to -5.5. The offense went from -20.4% to -4.3%, much improved. Had it stayed at the -20.4% range they would have had the worst offense in the league. This looks good on forte from an outside glance but look at it from this perspective. The prospectus predicted him at -8.7 dvoa before the year and he ended at -7.1. YPC were predicted at 3.5 and he ended at 3.9. He did slightly better than predicted for his production. Orton on the other hand was predicted at -8.5 dvoa and ended with -0.9. Ortons production was the difference in the offense. Please dont come back with the argument that "they stacked the box" because quite frankly, they always stack the boxes against the bears in years past. There is no difference this year than the last 5 years or so. Forte was below replacement level last year and he was lucky to not get injured. Odds are that the qb will be better, the line might be better, and that the receivers might be better. But odds are against all of those things happening. Throw in the injury bug and I dont see how he can duplicate his last years numbers

by DrewTS (not verified) :: Wed, 06/24/2009 - 4:09pm

"Odds are that the qb will be better, the line might be better, and that the receivers might be better. But odds are against all of those things happening."

Why? Just from a cursory glance, it would seem that the odds are actually in favor of those things happening. In the case of the QB and OL, better players have been brought in. In the case of the WRs, they'll be catching passes from a better QB, and in the case of Hester and Olsen, will have had more time to develop into their roles.

by Big Johnson (not verified) :: Wed, 06/24/2009 - 7:28pm

Developing into a role means very little. Harrington tried developing into his role. So did Charles Rogers. Most good players show a glimpse of being good. Hester hasnt shown that and Olsen has shown only slightly more.

Cutler has had 1 great year as a pro. It took him the best offensive line in football to become the 7th highest ranked quarterback in dvoa. Why would Cutler with a worse offensive line and worse receivers get any better? Its not guaranteed that Cutler ---> offense better. The bears offensive players could make a quarterback worse. Im sticking with the second one. Forte did not have a very good year last year in terms of production.

An interesting point of why I think Cutler won't make the difference is Kurt Warner. He has been as productive as any quarterback in the history of the league when given time to throw the ball(greatest show on turf, and now the greatest show on desert), but he couldn't fight off eli for the starting role for the Giants because he stunk it up when he gets hit. Im always wary of a quarterback moving into an offense with a worse offensive line. 1 player rarely makes a team great. I highly doubt Cutler is going to be the savior that everyone is making him out to be. And if Cutler isn't a huge upgrade over Orton I have no reason to believe why Forte will be infinately more productive this next year.

by tuluse :: Thu, 06/25/2009 - 12:20am

Most good players show a glimpse of being good. Hester hasnt shown that and Olsen has shown only slightly more.

I seriously doubt you watched many Bears games last year.

by Big Johnson (not verified) :: Thu, 06/25/2009 - 2:42pm

If Hester is a good receiver then almost every team has 2 or 3 good players at receiver. I could name probably 50 receivers I would rather have at the position off the top of my head.

Fitzgerald, Boldin, Breaston. Housh. Crabtree. Avery. Jennings, Driver, Jones. Megatron. Berrian. Roy williams, Crayon, Austin. Deshaun, Curtis, Basket, Brown. Plaxico, Hixon, Steve Smith B. Santana Moss. Roddy White. Steve Smith A, Muhsin. Colston, Moore, Henderson. Bryant.

Theres 29 from the NFC that are better at the receiver position than Hester. You might have a case that Hester is better than 5 or so of them but at the very least there are still 20 receivers in the NFC alone that are better receivers than Hester. He's not good. He probably isn't even mediocre. Thats why I said he hasn't shows signs of being good. Every guy I have named has either shown a season of being good or is young enough to still have a chance of showing early signs. Hester isn't old but hes been in the league for 4 years i believe. What have you done for me lately? That is easily long enough to give up on earlier picks like Charles Rogers, Mike Williams, Troy Williamson, etc.

You have a better case for Olson.

by tuluse :: Thu, 06/25/2009 - 11:40pm

OK, I didn't realize by "show flashes of being good" that you meant "consistently play well."

Hester has been in the league for 3 years, and he's played receiver for 2, and he didn't play receiver in college. There were other circumstances that lead to teams giving up on the 3 players you mention, and none of them got close to 51 catches in a year.

by Jimmy :: Sun, 06/28/2009 - 10:28am

The last six games of the season Hester had just under 350 yards receiving. Having watched those games I can also remember off the top of my head at least three plays where he would have scored a long touchdown but for defensive backs realising they were in the process of getting torched and simply tackling him (I am talking BLATANT PI here). Ignoring any other PI calls that I can't remember it would give him approx 500 yards worth of offensive production (which pro-rates to approx 1300 for a year). You will probably argue that all WRs get those kind of PI calls, but I doubt it. Bill Barnwell wrote a piece about the NO game IIRC.

The Bears claim that he was free deep 12 times last year and the QBs missed him - which will mainly have been Orton but I went to the game against the Titans and he was open deep twice against them when Rexy was starting. Cutler has one of the best deep balls in the league which should help get the ball deep to Hester.

by DrewTS (not verified) :: Mon, 06/29/2009 - 12:16pm

I stand corrected. Having additional years of experience is not useful at all.

Explain to me again why Cutler is not an upgrade over Orton. 1 great year as a pro is exactly 1 more than Orton has ever had. Most good players show a glimpse of being good... exactly.

If you're assuming that the change in OL will diminish Cutler and improve Orton, you may be right. We won't know until the season starts. And even then, we probably won't know, because again, the Bear brought in a bunch of new O-linemen. Projecting Cutler's performance this year in relation to the Bears' OL last year is of marginal value.

In any case, I don't see how you can think that the overall offense will get worse than it was last year, unless you think the Cutler is a worse player than Orton straight up. And if that's the case, we'll just have to agree to disagree.

by Jimmy :: Wed, 06/24/2009 - 9:14am

I am not missing your point, I just don't think it is a very useful way of interpreting the ALY numbers. Firstly the only Bears RB who got a statistically useful number of carries last year was Forte. Even using ALY can't seperate Forte from the numbers the line generates as he got nearly all of the carries, Forte was the Bears running game. The same is obviously not true of say the Giants or Denver.

The rest of your examples seem to simply be you grouping teams into categories that support your argument with no evidential reason for doing so. You write that, Denvers line was worth 4.92 yards but this isn't really the case; Denver's line's production can only be a looked at as part of Denver's offense as a whole (and to an extent the performance of the whole team). I could write instead that 'opposing teams had generally managed to score enough points to render Denver's running game an afterthought, especially considering that they lost six RBs to injury and had a Pro Bowl QB and WR; consequently teams were never stuffing the box and Denver were able to run the ball for a lot of yards per play but it never won them a game.'

Personally I think ALY is most effective at demonstrating which teams have the arial firepower to keep safeties out of the box. Every year has a couple of notable execptions of strong running teams who manage to put a very strong season together but go back and look at the last few years and the teams you will find at the top of the chart over and over are the ones with dominant passing games. Or at least the teams that have enough of a threat to keep the safeties away (ie Steve Smith lined up really wide).

Chicagos offense won't be as good as denvers was last year. Forte is in for a huge let down.

Chicago's offense won't be any worse than it was last year, so why is Forte going to be so much worse? The Bears have upgraded three spots on the offensive line and added a Pro Bowl QB. The first round pick TE looks ready to take another step from a good second year. The WRs can't play any worse than last year's bunch (and I expect Hester to play an awful lot better). So considering the whole offense looks to be better (and probably deeper), why is Forte going to so very bad?

The most puzzling part of you post(s) is the strange insistence that Forte is fragile. Loads of RBs have had long injury free careers at 6'2" or taller (Eddie George, Eric Dickerson etc). Tall RBs are rare, not because they are neccessarily fragile but because they get moved to other positions when they are young. If your RB runs upright into contact he will get hurt no matter how tall he is.

by Big Johnson (not verified) :: Wed, 06/24/2009 - 2:29pm

The current backs i can find that are 6'2'' or taller are Brandon Jacobs 6'4'', Steven Jackson6'2'', Chris Brown6'3'', Matt Forte6'2'', Peyton Hillis 6'2'', and Darren Mcfadden6'2''. Its hard to tell how many games chris brown missed and how many he just didnt play in, last year he didnt get 1 carry. In years past I remember him having season ending injuries i just cant verify it just by looking at his game logs. Steven Jackson has missed 4 games the last two years and has been a huge fantasy disappointment so far in his career. Only once has he rushed for 1100 yards, and once he scored 10 td's and another year he had 16. The 16 td's is outstanding, the 10 is definately respectable, but no other year has he been relevant due to injuries. Jacobs missed 3 games last year and 5 games the year before. Once again 8 total games missed in the last two years. McFadden missed 3 games last year due to injury in his first season in the nfl. Hillis started getting carries in week 10 and got injured in week 14. He missed 3 and a half games but had he been starting from the beginning of the season he would have missed 12 and a half games.

Is Matt Forte really the exception to all these players?! Even Steven had 1 lucky season where he didn't get injured. The problem with being that tall at runningback is that you have a lot more body to get hit, and a lot more length to get twisted up. The taller they are, the more awkward they fall.

by Jimmy :: Wed, 06/24/2009 - 3:26pm

Other tall RBs with long, healthy careers - Eric Dickerson, Jim Brown, Chris Warren, Ricky Waters. All dangerous exceptions to the rule (they must be stopped). All straight off the top of my head.

I think you are mistaking the combination of tall running backs being very rare and running backs who can withstand a whole NFL season as a feature back bieng rare. Combining the rarity of both you aren't going to find many players who fit the bill.

There are many reasons why there aren't that many tall RBs. There aren't a lot of places to play a sub six foot player who is 200-235lbs. They don't fit at CB, S, LB, WR, QB, TE or any of the line positions. So players athletic enough to play RB who are taller will end up getting moved to other positions in college to help balance out the roster. The sample size you are dealing with is very small, I would rather just treat them as 'running backs' and look at how they have coped with injury / avoiding injury under those terms.

If you have any proof that taller running backs do indeed get hurt more often then let us have it. That is as long as it is more than just your own hunch.

by Big Johnson (not verified) :: Wed, 06/24/2009 - 4:00pm

Recent years the game has become much more physical and athletic. All the runningbacks you named didn't play in the 2000's. You are right in bringing up my side being a hunch. The speculation is that tall runningbacks can be productive in todays game as long as durability expectations are lessened. Even today there are productive 6'2'' running backs but they all seem to get hurt. Steven jackson without injuries would be an absolute beast. Same with Brandon Jacobs. They are both good players in regards to ALY to YPC for their teams and for individual dvoa. That is the difference between them and Matt Forte. They are productive in between injuries. Forte wasn't productive last year in regards to ALY to YPC or individual dvoa despite not suffering from an injury. Forte in my opinion will get 200-250 carriest next year before breaking down, and at his yards per carry last year he wouldn't break 1000 yards. At 200-250 carries he will need to be at atleast 4.5 yards per carry to be relevant yards wise in fantasy football.

by John Walt :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 3:51pm

For me then, you need to get value at other positions. If you can start a top-3 QB and 2 of the top-10 receivers, then having a "stud" back is less important. There will always be players undervalued (DeAngelo Williams, Ronnie Brown) last year.

by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 6:42pm

I think MJD is pretty solid (I also don't expect him to actually be getting workhorse-type carries) as #2, but otherwise I agree.

And I'm not sold on Forte, myself.

by Kibbles :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 12:34am

You know, there's this Brian Westbrook guy who posted 1338 yards and 14 TDs in just 14 games last year (pro-rates to 1529/16 over a full season). His ypa and ypg were both down last year, and he's getting up there in years, but he's still the Eagles' only option in the red zone, and he's still posted 5 straight years of studly production. I'd be pretty comfortable walking out of round 1 with Westy as my #1 RB.

And before anyone points out that that he's never played a full 16 game season and he's always on the injury report, I'd like to point out that only twice in his career has he missed more than a single game due to injury (he missed 2 games last year and 4 games in 2005. He also sat out 3 games in 2004 after the Eagles clinched HFA, but that's not really a concern unless you think the Eagles are going to clinch HFA by week 13 again this year).

by Kevin from Philly :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 3:23pm

Don't underestimate Shady McCoy. He'll take a big chunk of Westbrooks touches if he can learn to pick up the blitz.

by Ketch Rudder (not verified) :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 3:32pm

The above analysis and consensus amounts to foolery.

Based upon the numbers above for the average prediction as compared against actual play of the 2008 season, you or your group are calling for a 32% drop in the production of Maurice Jones-Drew, a 41% jump in the production of Marion Barber III and a 32% jump in the production of Matt Forte when measuring against the only relevant data point -- TDs per touches given a minimum number of attempts and minimum number of yards gained.

What you or your group are calling for amounts to unbelieveable massive swings in changes to athletic performance. Jones-Drew would need to get injured for a third of the season to meet your foolish beliefs. The Cowboys would have to bench Felix Jones and the Bears would have to keep Cutler from throwing any passes.

You ought to forewarn your readers about your foolery.

by Sophandros :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 3:45pm

If you have been following the column (or just reading it for the first time), it's quite clear that this is not a scientific analysis. It's based on what random people posting their opinion of a player's production on Twitter. Barnwell then gives us the average, minimum, and maximum for each guy and writes a little bit about those results.

Shoot, man, it's pretty much laid out in the article; the only foolery is criticizing a method before knowing how it works.

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

by Jimmy Oz (not verified) :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 7:18pm

Hey Ketch, MJD's TD/Att ratio dropped 31% from Rookie to Sophmore, and rose 13% last year. MBIII had 5TD/138 in 2005, 14TD/135, 10TD/204, 7TD/238. Matt Forte doesn't have previous seasons to compare.

You've ignored these data points that show massive fluctuations for the players concerned without explaining why they're not relevant and why last year's TD/Attempt ratios will be repeated.


by Jimmy :: Wed, 06/24/2009 - 11:29am

OK everyone grab a broom.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 8:53pm

"Touchdowns per touch"? I prefer the much more solid statistic of "3.6 yard gains/games played on Thursday."

Seriously, "touchdowns per touch" is a pretty random statistic. Tomlinson went from 20 TDs on ~380 touches to 31 TDs on ~400 touches, a ~50% increase, then down to 17 TDs on ~360 touches, a 40% decrease. Larry Johnson went from 22 on ~370 touches to 19 on ~460 touches, a 30% decrease.

Your "unbelievable, massive" swings happen every year.

by DrewTS (not verified) :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 10:27am

"You ought to forewarn your readers about your foolery"

You do realize that the "foolery" you're referring to comes from those very same readers, yes? That's kind of THE ENTIRE BASIS of the column.

Also, feel free to explain why TDs/touch is the "only relevant data point". I don't even have to look at any data to know that that stat will fluctuate wildly (although I see others already have, and have proven that point). Also, seeing as this is a fantasy football column, I would think that raw totals of yardage and TDs would be at least somewhat relevant, unless your league has an unusual scoring system.

by CaffeineMan :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 3:44pm

Unlike those players, though, Moreno was a lottery pick; McDaniels, already struggling in the court of public opinion, undoubtedly needs to see Moreno succeed to take the minds of Denver fans off of Jay Cutler and a botched offseason.

Bill, what makes you think McDaniels will make roster and game plan decisions based on the court of public opinion? Belichick never has. Regardless of what you think of the Broncos offseason moves, or Moreno's talent, if you're trying to predict how McDaniels uses Moreno, that's not really a good way to do it.

by Bill Barnwell :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 6:52pm

Belichick's job security != McDaniels' job security.

by cjfarls :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 12:27pm

Yes, but McD's job security will be tied to the team's performance.

If he feels the team will perform better with something other than feeding the rock to Moreno, thats what he should do.

Your opinion seems to be that Denver has no hope of winning any games regardless of which strategy is chosen, which doesn't seem to mesh with McD's opinion (given trading their own pick vs. Chicago's).

In the end you may be right (and McD could be a total loser), but obviously he doesn't agree with your assessment of the situation, so expecting him to suddenly change and start following your perception at this point seems unlikely.

But once again, your conclusion assumes the loss of Cutler 1) is completely McD's fault, and 2) dooms the team this year.

In some folks opinion, assumption #1 is questionable (if at least partially true), and #2 is yet to be determined.

by CaffeineMan :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 4:13pm

Belichick's job security != McDaniels' job security.

Really? That's your reasoning? In that case, the question becomes:

What makes you think Bowlen will take the court of public opinion into account in his decision on how well McDaniels does?

I haven't seen lots of evidence that Bowlen is swayed by what the public thinks, either, at least not in the short term. If he really was concerned about what the fans think, and really disagreed with McDaniels, it would have been easy for him to tell McDaniels something to the effect of: "You made a rookie mistake. We need Cutler, so go make nice." Instead, Bowlen's the one that decided to trade Cutler when Cutler refused to return Bowlen's calls. The fans are screaming and Bowlen is not exactly attempting to accomodate them.

Again, regardless of who you think is at fault here, I don't think your basis for predicting the behavior of these guys is very good.

I think the reasons for which Bowlen gets rid of McDaniels will be one of: 1) He decides the team isn't getting the results on the field that he likes. or 2) The loss of fans impacts revenue noticeably. Those are obvious-sounding reasons, but the point is that the timeframe involved for judging those is going to be 3 years at least. I don't think you'll see (2) happen in a timeframe less than 3 years, since there seem to be enough fans who will wait and see. As to (1), do you really think Bowlen will be any quicker on the trigger there than 3 years? He doesn't seem the type. Short term memory loss or no, I think he's smart enough to realize that if he's gonna dump Cutler for draft picks, then the team's going to be doing more rebuilding than he originally thought.

And even if you assume the quickest possible trigger scenario, one season, McDaniels is still just going to run his offense and defense the best way he knows how, see what happens, then make adjustments from there. He's not going to push Moreno artificially, because the clock that you seem to think is ticking in his head isn't really there.

by DrewTS (not verified) :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 5:08pm

I'm not really sticking up for Bill's stated reason per se, but more what I perceive to be the more basic reasoning behind it. The orignal question was --

"Bill, what makes you think McDaniels will make roster and game plan decisions based on the court of public opinion? Belichick never has."

Flipping that around, what makes you think that McDaniels will behave the same way Belichick does? They're two different people. To date, Belichick's coaching tree (Crennel, Mangini, Weis) has hardly proven to be a bunch of clones of him. Of the three, only Mangini really seems to be that similar personality-wise.

As for whether Bowlen was swayed by public opinion in the Cutler matter, it's impossible to say. He sided with the coach, but did he really have a choice? Cutler escalated the situation to a point that it became a "him or me" matter. Cutler was making McDaniels look weak, which in turn reflects badly on Bowlen for choosing McDaniels. Then Cutler (supposedly) took to snubbing Bowlen directly. Both situations point to a lack of authority on Bowlen's part. The action taken on Bowlen's part could very well have been an effort to remind everybody who's in charge. That in itself could be seen as a form of managing public perception.

by CaffeineMan :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 7:07pm

For me personality is not the key, it's organizational/coaching philosophy, in this case, with respect to that one area: being swayed by public opinion. I don't think any of Belichick's coaching tree has ever been swayed much by public opinion. As a matter of fact, I think a lot of the complaints about Belichick's former assistants have become amplified because they (except for Crennel) actually take Belichick's "public opinion be damned" approach without his corresponding success.

I think McDaniels' overall philosophy is far closer to Belichick's than any of the Belichick assistants have so far (Weis, Crennel, Mangini). I think Weis and Crennel were basically more Parcells guys that had some strong Belichick influences. And Mangini learned from Belichick as well, but I don't think he ever copied Belichick's approach the way McDaniels did.

DrewTS, do you think that McDaniels will make decisions on Moreno's future based (at least in part) on public opinion? Yeah, of course, it's possible, but what's most probable?

by DrewTS (not verified) :: Wed, 06/24/2009 - 9:24am

In Week 1, no, I don't think public opinion will come into play. Even during the course of the season, I don't think McDaniels will spend much time worrying about public opinion.

But I do think that, at some point, he will have to concern himself greatly with Bowlen's opinion. And most owners outside of Detroit do care about public opinion once the fans start getting restless. So in that way, I can see public opinion exerting some influence on McDaniels in the future. Maybe not specifically in regards to Moreno. If I had to guess, I'd say a more likely scenario involving Moreno is the owner saying "this guy is a 1st round pick and we're paying him a lot of money -- play him." We like to think as fans that the depth charts are set entirely by merit, but I think we know this kind of thing happens.

And that's not just McDaniels; I'd say that for just about any first-time head coach. There aren't a lot of coaches in the league that have the ability to play the "public opinion be damned" card regularly and get away with it, because sooner or later the on-field performance doesn't hold up.

You peaked my curiosity with something you said there. Why do you think that McDaniels' philosophy is so much closer to Belichick's than the other guys'? What's the track record? So far, my impression of him is that he was a guy who wanted badly to prove he was the next big "genius" coach, and ended up looking like he was in way over his head.

by CaffeineMan :: Wed, 06/24/2009 - 3:34pm

I'll split my reply into two parts, first, directly on the topic of public opinion affecting Moreno's usage:

Of course McDaniels is concerned with Bowlen's opinion on football matters, just not with public opinion on football matters. And of course, public opinion will affect Bowlen's opinion eventually, I just don't think it'll be within the next 3 years. Broncos fans or other close followers of the team can correct me if I've got this wrong, but as I mentioned above, everything I've read about Bowlen says that he prefers not to interfere. He doesn't seem to be the type to say "Moreno's a first round draft choice, play him." Also, I don't think Bowlen changed coaches because he got impatient and merely wanted a change. I think Bowlen picked McDaniels because he thought he was good for the long haul and thus will let McDaniels have 3 years worth of leeway to run the team as he sees fit. That's just my opinion from watching McDaniels (a fair amount) and Bowlen (only recently).

One of my particular areas of interest is how football organizations and people within those organizations succeed or fail. That includes how and why people do what they do. I'm not really an X's and O's guy. And just in case it isn't obvious: I'm a Pats fan. For multiple reasons, I find the Broncos situation fascinating.

More on McDaniels/Belichick/philosophy later.

by Marko :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 8:19pm

I missed the NFL Draft Lottery. It must not have been on TV. :-)

by T-Rac's Posse (not verified) :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 4:05pm

Right, there is no chance that McDaniels would try to just save his job and do what the public wants. Nobody ever does that...

by Fan in Exile :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 6:19pm

Of course he's going to try to keep his job everyone does that. The foolish thing is thinking that what Mcdaniels believes is going to keep his job and what other people think will keep his job are the same thing. We'll just have to wait and see at this point who's right.

by ana (not verified) :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 4:08pm

marion the barbarian is awesome..i think i'd be really cool to see if he could play with aikman. i feel like those too would be a better match than tony romo the homo..
i hear aikman is playing in this legends challenge thing in september..i hope to see.

by drobviousso :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 4:54pm

I can't tell if this is sarcasm or what.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 5:16pm

Cowboyjoe, is that you?

by vague (not verified) :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 6:11pm

the world is not ready for a Cowboyjoe...

by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 11:36am

The world's not ready for a RaiderJoe either...

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

by BigCheese :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 8:47pm

This reminds me of the spanish-feed sideline reporter for Cutler's first MNF game: "The people in Denver aren't completely sold on Cutler yet. They much rather would have John Elway under center."

And people wonder why I'd much rather listen to Kornheiser & co than that drivel...

- Alvaro

by lionsbob :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 4:55pm

I do a somewhat early fantasy football draft (.5 point per reception)-my RBs right now are Maurice Jones-Drew, Kevin Smith, Ray Rice, and Jerome Harrison. I wanted McFadden who slipped in the draft, but just missed out on him (same with Pierre Thomas).

by Sifter :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 6:56pm

"needs to see Moreno succeed to take the minds of Denver fans off of Jay Cutler and a botched offseason."

Pet peeve of mine, but I greatly dislike the usage of "off of". Makes one sound like a redneck, when you could have easily just written "off" or "away from".

In other news, I also hate it when people say "it is what it is". Grrrrrr...

Onto something more serious, I'm backing Moreno to beat those projections. I think he's easily better than anyone else Denver has in the RB stables, and I wasn't one who criticized his pick at #12. Having Orton and Buckhalter as your two backfield guys would NOT have been ideal, no matter how promising your line or receivers are.

by ThunderThumbs (not verified) :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 9:09pm

Good lord, "off of" is redneck vernacular to you? What victorian estate are you from?

This reminds me of an old joke. A Texan ranch-hand and a Harvard grad happen to be sitting next to each other at a bar. The Texan says, "So, where you from?" The Harvard grad sniffs and says, "I'm from a place where we don't end queries with prepositions." The Texan says, "All right. Where you from, jackass?"

Not calling you a jackass, by the way. It just reminded me of the joke. Seriously, where are you from?

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Mon, 06/22/2009 - 11:24pm

Yeah, "redneck" is definitely not the word I would use for it. Redneck I'd usually reserve for someone cutting out words/syllables in order to simplify it. "Off of" is just archaic. I don't get the hatred, either, considering in spoken form the two phrases sound different, and there are situations where similar phrasings require the extra "of." It's not like efficiency and brevity is the hallmark of the English language.

by Keith (not verified) :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 9:46am

You do realize that "off of" is standard American english, right? If you wish to speak British english, by all means, buy yourself a ticket. If "onto" works, so does "off of." Move along.

by Red Neck (not verified) :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 9:20am

I really hope Yall get off of this whole, well, off of thing ..

by tuluse :: Tue, 06/23/2009 - 4:41pm

y'all is spelled with an apostrophe. It's a contraction of you and all.

by Mad-Off (not verified) :: Sat, 06/27/2009 - 6:44pm

It's the OFF-season, we're all bored out OF our minds, writing and reading about non-issues. So I'll take this opportunity to rant about an unrelated favorite non-issue of mine: how people increasingly screw up the English language. Today's case in point: "off of". As in "to take the minds of Denver fans OFF OF Jay Cutler". In correct English that would be "to take their minds off Jay Cutler". The rule is actually quite simple, everyone should in principle be able to remember it: "off of" is ALWAYS WRONG, there is not a single case in the entire English language where "off of" is correct.

by DrewTS (not verified) :: Mon, 06/29/2009 - 4:14pm

I don't think it's a case where people can't remember the rule. They just don't care about it, because it's really not something worth caring about. The primary purpose of language is to communicate. When someone says "off of", you know what they mean.

Also, people try to keep their minds off of such "grammar police" issues, because these things just tend to escalate into people pointing out pointless little things. For example, the first sentence of your post should really include a semicolon between "season" and "we're" instead of a comma. An "and" would also work well in there. Such discussions have little value other than to annoy.

by Ketch Rudder (not verified) :: Mon, 06/29/2009 - 2:15pm

Beyond the foolery of the article are the comments that follow my first post and directed toward me.

Idiots focus on yards -- a meaningless measure. All that matters is TDs per Touch (TDs per run attempt + TDs per catch). No correlation exists between scoring and yards amassed.

Nothing in the rules prohibit a team from scoring anywhere upon the field as long as the team has legal possession of the ball. [ The only instance where a team need not possess the ball to score is a safety. ]

The essence of the game of football is SCORING -- not yards.

That said, especially for the nerdy Fantasy Football girly men, what counts is choosing a team that puts a guy in the greatest likelihood of scoring.

How would a team do this? ... by giving him the ball, of course. Every OC in the NFL calls plays to give players a chance to score, not a chance to gain yards.

Nerdy Fantasy Football girly men ought to focus on the Style of Play of a team, particularly, how many plays per time of possession a team executes. Next, they ought to consider how many touches a player going to get relative to teammates. This should reflect roster changes, e.g., Cutler to the Bears could translate into more pass attempts, less run attempts.

Gaining yards is a consequence of advancing the ball while maintaining possession and NOT scoring.

Excepting for these -- taking a knee, moving the ball into the center of the field for a kick, spiking the ball to the kill the clock, punting -- every OC calls plays in hopes of scoring. In the absence of a score, every OC hopes each play run shall advance the ball enough to maintain possession.

Because a field is a limit, eventually, a team must score or turnover the ball on downs.

Fantasy Football amounts to foolery and believing that one can foretell the future carries and TDs amounts to even more foolery.

Good luck though, Fantasy Football girly men.

by DrewTS (not verified) :: Mon, 06/29/2009 - 4:00pm

"Idiots focus on yards -- a meaningless measure."

This is a fantasy football article. Yards count a lot in fantasy football. If you don't like "fantasy football girly men", then I'm guessing you're not in the audience this article is directed at.

"No correlation exists between scoring and yards amassed."

I'd bet my right testicle that the above statement is false.

"All that matters is TDs per Touch (TDs per run attempt + TDs per catch)."

Even if the rationale you've laid out were sound, it would mean that just TDs were the most important stat, not TDs/touch. If we're completely discounting yards, a TD scored on one play is equivalent to a TD scored after a 15-play drive. Personally, I'd rather have my team execute the 15-play drive for the TD than the home run, even though it will net a much lower TD/touch number. The drawn-out drive has value beyond just the points it produces, in terms of tiring and frustrating the opposing defense (i.e. making it easier to score more TDs in the future).

by Timothy Smith :: Tue, 06/30/2009 - 7:47pm

So you admit that you purposely withheld your true opinion on Thomas Jones from the readers in order to gain an edge in a personal league with your office buddies? I don't care if you withheld that for a week, thats unethical in my opinion. We are paying for your opinion and you (and FO) present yourselves as talent evaluators. I hope objectivity isn't important to you, because you just blew yours. Makes me wonder if the rest of your writer buddies are doing the same each year. I don't think I like paying for someone's opinion who isn't being straight with me or telling me what they really think.

It's about time for me to re-up my subscription. The lack of journalistic integrity presented in this article makes me question whether I should.

by Bill Barnwell :: Wed, 07/01/2009 - 12:34am

The idea that I was "withholding my true opinion" is ludicrous. I conducted preliminary research into one year of RB data. It wasn't anywhere near enough for a full-length piece, either here on FO or elsewhere. As with many other pieces of research, it got folded into a bigger story when a relevant concept came up -- in this case, the Eagles' ability to run the ball on the goal line.

As for re-upping your subscription, you're paying so much for my opinion as a talent evaluator that I never received a single e-mail from you regarding said talent evaluation, which is the only facet of a Premium subscription that involves our opinions.

by Ketch Rudder (not verified) :: Wed, 07/01/2009 - 6:47pm

DrewTS writes to me: "I'd rather have my team execute the 15-play drive for the TD ... it will net a much lower TD/touch number."

My comment: We're talking TDs per Touches for individuals, not any team. Thus, if a guy gets the ball one time on a drive, runs 25 yards and scores, his TD/Touch = 1.0.

After all, a kick-off returned for a TD is nothing more than a one play drive that results in a TD/Touch of 1.0, the highest effectiveness attainable.

Moreover, a 15-play drive could be the consequence of 5 false starts, two sacks, a holding call and 7 plays that advanced the chains.

DrewTS writes to me: "The drawn-out drive has value beyond just the points it produces, in terms of tiring and frustrating the opposing defense (i.e. making it easier to score more TDs in the future)."

My comment: DrewTS gives us mere conjecture. He has no way of knowing the level of conditioning of any player or all players on a defense. Presumably all train to play 60 minutes of football at peak strength. No correlation exists between scoring before and scoring later.

DrewTS writes to me: "I'd bet my right testicle that the above statement is false."

My comment: DrewTS said so in response to my factual claim that "No correlation exists between scoring and yards amassed."

Scoring is a consequence of advancing the ball over the end zone line while in possession. This can happen from anywhere on the field.

Each time an offense takes possession, the starting yard mark of possession shows no correlation from any previous starting yard mark of possession. Starting field possession changes throughout any game, randomly.

Thus, for those times that an offense advances the ball to a score, an offense does so from a random start.

DrewTS writes to me: "Even if the rationale you've laid out were sound, it would mean that just TDs were the most important stat, not TDs/touch."

My comment: An individual stat is a mere data point without meaning. To get meaning, a stat must exist within context. To define context, one must establish a relationship.

One player could have 20 TDs, but if he had 500 attempts, he'd be less effective than another player with 10 TDs and 200 attempts. That's a fact.

DrewTS writes to me: "This is a fantasy football article ... I'm guessing you're not in the audience this article is directed at."

My comment: I discovered this story because I came across a site that claims to have "Innovative Statistics. Intelligent Analysis." After reading this article as well as elsewhere on the site, the guys behind the site lack what they claim to offer.

Face it, DrewTS, you, like most, neither do you get the Science of Winning nor do you get the design of the game of football. Thus, your expressed thoughts reflect a myriad of false logic.

by tuluse :: Wed, 07/01/2009 - 11:15pm

My comment: DrewTS said so in response to my factual claim that "No correlation exists between scoring and yards amassed."

Scoring is a consequence of advancing the ball over the end zone line while in possession. This can happen from anywhere on the field.

Each time an offense takes possession, the starting yard mark of possession shows no correlation from any previous starting yard mark of possession. Starting field possession changes throughout any game, randomly.

Thus, for those times that an offense advances the ball to a score, an offense does so from a random start.

Field position doesn't happen randomly. It is a result of back and forth between the offense and the defense, and special teams. Just look at the drives stats: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/drivestats. The average starting LOS ranges from the 26 to 33 yard line. If it was random I think you would see a lot more variation that that, or less, since every team would have close to the same starting LOS.

Also, look at yards per drive, scoring per drive, and starting LOS, and tell me which stats seem to correlate the highest. Yes the offense can score from anywhere on the field, but it's a lot easier close to the goalline. Oddly enough, gaining yards on offense puts you close to the goalline. When you don't score it also pins the other team deeper on their side of the field, which leads to punts that end up closer to your objective, the goalline.

by Ketch Rudder (not verified) :: Sun, 10/04/2009 - 3:42am

tuluse writes to me, "but it's a lot easier close to the goalline."

My comment: It's not easier nor harder to score close to the goal line. This holds true from the 50-yard line or one's own 10-yard line.

On any given play, a team either scores or not, presumably applying maximum sustainable effort based on depleted energy stored in the bodies of the individual players, all which deplete at variable rates.

If your logic held, tuluse, teams would strive only to get near the goal line before attempting any play designed for scoring, since in your bizarro universe, such plays would be "easier".

Some would argue that it's harder to score closer to the goal line as the limit of the back of the end zone keeps receivers contained, giving them fewer open spaces in which to run.

On any given play, regardless of down and distance, it's hard for the offense to score. If it were easy, no challenge would exist and thus, no games would get played. What would be the point?

tuluse writes to me, "When you don't score it also pins the other team deeper on their side of the field, which leads to punts..."

My comment: When a first team does not score, that team turns possession of the ball over to the second team. It does not follow, logically, that the second team must fail to score and thus punt back the ball to the first team.

Again, on any given play, a team either scores or not. With the exception of the safety, a team must possess the ball to score. Yet, nothing in the rules and thus nothing inherent in the design of the game prevents a team from scoring by starting anywhere on the field and advancing the ball over the goal line.

Those who suggest otherwise have become consumed with false beliefs and thus suffer from many fallacies.