Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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The Georgia Bullddogs' dynamic duo should be on NFL rosters at some point in the next 72 hours. Which will be the better pro? That depends on what kind of running back you're looking for.

29 Jun 2009

Wisdom of Crowds: Projecting 2009 RB, Part II

by Bill Barnwell

This week's Wisdom of Crowds feature is a little shorter than normal, thanks to the superb one-two punch of a trip to Las Vegas and the flu bug my body decided need not stay in Vegas.

Therefore, we've only got four backs for you this week, but it's an interesting group.

Monday: LaDainian Tomlinson
Average Prediction: 279 attempts, 1181 rushing yards, 12 TD
Maximum Prediction: 318 attempts, 1650 rushing yards, 21 TD
Minimum Prediction: 190 attempts, 750 rushing yards, 6 TD

Think that's a wide enough range of predictions? I wrote on Twitter that Tomlinson would be the best back in NFL history if he achieved that maximum prediction, and I should clarify why. The sort of drop-off Tomlinson underwent due to injury and aging last year is one that we see in a lot of elite backs' careers; it'd be easy to compare it to Emmitt Smith's 1996 season or Eddie George's 2001, the first real sign of decline from a fantastic talent. Neither those backs nor Tomlinson had hit the age of 30 by the time their "dropoff" season hit.

Neither Smith nor George were able to return to their previously-established level of play after their dropoff season; if LT is able to put up a season like his maximum prediction, it would be remarkable enough that I'd consider him the greatest back in NFL history.

Personally, I think his average prediction is pretty accurate, although maybe slightly aggressive all-around. If you cut off 10 percent off it, you get 250 carries for 1063 yards and 11 TD, which seems better to me,

Tuesday: Willie Parker
Average Prediction: 244 attempts, 977 rushing yards, 6 TD
Maximum Prediction: 300 attempts, 1200 rushing yards, 9 TD
Minimum Prediction: 150 attempts, 615 rushing yards, 2 TD

Parker missed five games last year, but the 71.9 yards per game he averaged ended up being his worst total as a starting back. There was a huge swell of support for him following his 146-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Chargers in the Divisional round, but he rushed for a total of 100 yards in the other two playoff games.

Under the circumstances of our Wisdom of Crowds predictions, Parker would likely end up being a successful fantasy back; he's only managed to make it to 16 games once, though, as a starter. Furthermore, the broader concern for Parker is the backs around him; Rashard Mendenhall's returning from his fractured shoulder, while Mewelde Moore usurped Parker's time by serving as a better option in the passing game. Those backs will eat away at Parker's time in 2009, making even that average prediction (61 yards per game) difficult for Parker to achieve.

Wednesday: Chris Johnson
Average Prediction: 270 attempts, 1350 rushing yards, 11 TD
Maximum Prediction: 320 attempts, 1685 rushing yards, 16 TD
Minimum Prediction: 220 attempts, 1150 rushing yards, 5 TD

Yes -- you read that right. An average prediction of 1350 yards for Johnson, who gained 1228 yards last year. And I thought KUBIAK loved sophomore runners ...

My concerns with Johnson are simple. I think he's going to get banged-up, although we're not accounting for that in these predictions. I also think the Titans aren't going to win as many games in 2009 as they did in 2008, which will prevent Johnson and LenDale White from combining for 451 carries again. I think that White will lose more carries than Johnson does, and Johnson will remain a viable threat out of the backfield as a receiver, but 1350 rushing yards seems extremely high for a back who might only get 200 carries next year.

Another interesting note is how confident readers are of Johnson's ability when he does get the ball. Johnson would average 5.27 yards per carry under that maximum prediction ... and 5.23 yards under the minimum prediction.

Friday: DeAngelo Williams
Average Prediction: 268 attempts, 1247 rushing yards, 10 TD
Maximum Prediction: 300 attempts, 1456 rushing yards, 13 TD
Minimum Prediction: 220 attempts, 1100 rushing yards, 7 TD

Our final back this week rode a freakishly high touchdown rate to the top of the fantasy charts in 2009; astutely, our readers note this and don't project him to get anywhere near the 18 rushing touchdowns he had a year ago.

Williams is another example of the Parker problem; he's splitting time with Jonathan Stewart, who might offer the team more as a runner. More importantly for the Panthers, Stewart's locked up for the next four seasons, while Williams is only locked up through 2010 and will likely be making noise about his impending free agency at some point this year.

Williams' best hope, strangely, is injury. Stewart's spent his young career struggling with a variety of them, most recently a sore Achilles that held him out of OTA's. Without Stewart around, Williams has a clear path to all of the Panthers' carries for the first time in his career. That could be the difference between him hitting his maximum or his minimum predicted value.

Join us on Twitter this week for a look at Reggie Bush and four other backs, in our final week of predicting halfbacks before moving on to wide receivers.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 29 Jun 2009

11 comments, Last at 30 Jun 2009, 10:05am by The Ninjalectual


by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Mon, 06/29/2009 - 12:16pm

I've been the minimum prediction twice now. I'm starting to think I'm a buzzkill.

Well, I'll be the max on S-Jax soon, so maybe that will make up for it.

by Dean :: Mon, 06/29/2009 - 1:31pm

I have to admit, I'm not really a fan of this column. I gave it a few weeks to see if it would grow on me, but it hasn't. The more I think about it, the more I think it's just contradictory to what Football Outsiders is supposed to be all about.

I'm not really all that concerned with what the so-called-experts think, and a collective distillation of their opinions doesn't really do much for me either.

There are so many great stats, ideas, etc. floating around this site. It seems like FO is better then just parroting others opinions. I much prefer it when FO debunks (or occasionally confirms) conventianal wisdom, rather then just observing it.

by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 06/29/2009 - 3:00pm

I quite like these columns. I started an email around the office to all the football fans, and solicited their predictions for QBs and RBs as well. Fun stuff!

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

by drobviousso :: Mon, 06/29/2009 - 3:18pm

I'm waiting to pass judgment until the end of the season, when we can take a look at how the real numbers compare to the predictions.

by Waverly :: Mon, 06/29/2009 - 4:41pm

I'd rather see scatter plots.

I still don't know what the "Maximum Prediction" means, for example.

by dbostedo :: Mon, 06/29/2009 - 5:58pm

This was explained in the first of these features. It's the maximum predicted number in each category amongst all the predictions. So if you only got these two predictions :

2500 yards, 20 TDs
3000 yards, 10 TDs

The "Maximum Prediction" would be 3000 yards and 20 TDs.

by Lee (not verified) :: Mon, 06/29/2009 - 5:47pm

If nothing else, these columns should be useful for determining what the common wisdom is, so that it may be debunked or confirmed at the end of the season.

by Sheldon (not verified) :: Tue, 06/30/2009 - 9:21am

What will make these predictions interesting is when they are compared to the actual results at the end of the season.

by Fantasy Kryptonite (not verified) :: Mon, 06/29/2009 - 5:24pm

I would actually like to read this again, after the season is over. Preferrably a chart with what the crowd predicted vs. kubiak vs. the actual outcome.

by Yuri (not verified) :: Mon, 06/29/2009 - 6:11pm

I like the idea of "Wisdom of Crowds" (WoC?) polls, but I dislike the idea of a front page FO column on each result. It would be interesting to compare the summary of results with other 'expert' predictions before the beginning and after the end of season (as some sort of study), but announcing--hey we just got another data point!--is not the content I'd look forward to.

This seems like an easy way to fill space in off-season.

by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 06/30/2009 - 10:05am

This seems like an easy way to fill space in off-season.


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