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16 Aug 2010

Wisdom of Crowds 2010: RB Part I

by Bill Barnwell

In this week's edition of Wisdom of Crowds, the focus shifts from quarterback to running back. We'll look at five of the more interesting backs in the league heading into 2010, including last year's leading rusher, Chris Johnson of the Titans.

For the uninitiated, every weekday, I ask my Twitter followers to project three statistics for a given player, assuming he'll play a full 16-game slate without suffering an injury that keeps him out of action for a full game. For running backs, those three statistics are rushing attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. You can check out the previous entries in this series here:

Monday: Chris Johnson
Average: 329 carries, 1,643 rushing yards, 13 TD
Maximum: 422 carries, 2,014 rushing yards, 18 TD
Minimum: 275 carries, 1,183 rushing yards, 8 TD

Only one respondent thought that Chris Johnson would gain 2,000 yards for the second consecutive season, which surprised me; I don't think that he'll make it there myself, but I was expecting more people to believe that he would. The 422-carry suggestion actually pegged Johnson's rushing yardage at 1,740 yards, which would mean an extremely disappointing 4.1 yards per carry.

Johnson has now averaged 5.3 yards per carry and 104.3 yards per game through his first two seasons. Our average projection has him at 5.0 yards per carry, a rate slightly lower than his established level of performance, but the consensus is that he'll still run for 102.7 yards per game.

Research we've done in the past has suggested that rushing quarterbacks improve the performance of halfbacks in the running game, so I think there's reason to believe Johnson should be able to hit that 5.0 figure, if not necessarily his 5.3 career average. His cumulative yardage total should come down to how well the Titans play -- his monstrous second half came in part because the Titans went 6-2. (You can also argue the reverse, I suppose.) I suspect average projected totals for carries and yardage are a tad high.

Tuesday: Shonn Greene
Average: 280 carries, 1,215 rushing yards, 9 TD
Maximum: 345 carries, 1,587 rushing yards, 14 TD
Minimum: 210 carries, 890 rushing yards, 4 TD

I expressed a lot of my concerns about Greene in his player comment in FOA 2010, but to summarize: His playoff run (and regular season performance) came against a bunch of weak run defenses, the Jets just cut an excellent run blocker, and the offensive line hasn't missed a start in three years, a trend that will be nearly impossible to continue. That's not Greene's fault, obviously, but he was a back surrounded by a particularly ideal context last year. It reminds me a lot of Matt Cassel in 2008.

Now, Greene won't fall off the same way Cassel did. He's still on the Jets, and while the line will have someone go down with an injury, it should still be a pretty effective group of blockers. LaDainian Tomlinson and Joe McKnight appear to be scuffling behind him, so his carry total might even be a little low. KUBIAK has him at 254 for 1,293 rushing yards and 9 TD; I like the average projection above more.

Wednesday: Jamaal Charles
Average: 247 carries, 1,185 rushing yards, 8 TD
Maximum: 310 carries, 1,600 rushing yards, 12 TD
Minimum: 201 carries, 800 rushing yards, 3 TD

Lots of comments about Charles splitting time with Thomas Jones, which if true is just infuriating. I've written at length (see FOA 2010) about how Jones isn't an effective goal-line back, but the book on Jones is still that he's going to get a lot of carries in short-yardage. The Chiefs may still give Jones the ball near the goal line, but that's their own fault for paying attention to usage patterns as opposed to skills.

As for Charles? I think the projection is low. He ran for 1,120 yards on 190 carries in the second half of last season alone. I'm not suggesting you should just double his statistics based upon that, but if the Chiefs do win nine games like we're expecting them to, they're going to run the ball a whole heck of a lot. I think Charles's eventual line -- if he does stay healthy -- is actually something like that maximum projection.

Thursday: Matt Forte
Average: 263 carries, 1,051 rushing yards, 7 TD
Maximum: 307 carries, 1,232 rushing yards, 14 TD
Minimum: 201 carries, 800 rushing yards, 3 TD

"Hey! Hey! Matt Forte! How many teams did you kill today?" Mine was one of them, as Forte was my first-round pick in the FO staff league. Once I started running the numbers on how flukily-bad his goal line performance was, though, I began to feel better. Throw in a quiet knee injury and that miserable offensive line, and I'll probably take him again in this year's draft.

Obviously, projecting Chicago's offense -- and the run-pass splits therein -- is very tricky. Much like Johnson and Charles, we also have to tie in our expectations for rushing attempts to the Bears' record: We have them at 9-7, but I suspect that some folks think that's a little high. I would say that the average projection here seems a little low, and that his actual line will be halfway between that average projection and the max: 285 carries, 1,142 rushing yards, and 11 TD. Certainly, I think he's going to be more valuable than his ADP (41.5) suggests.

Friday: Frank Gore
Average: 294 carries, 1,338 rushing yards, 11 TD
Maximum: 370 carries, 1,600 rushing yards, 17 TD
Minimum: 240 carries, 1,050 rushing yards, 5 TD

In the interest of acquiring projections built upon a similar baseline, I insist that people consider a full 16-game slate for each player, and mention it each day when I ask for new projections. Gore's only managed to play 16 games once in his five-year career, though, so we probably have to discount that average projection some. He hasn't been Ronnie Brown or Cadillac Williams when it comes to staying off the field -- Gore's also never gone below 14 games -- but suggesting that he'll miss a game or two with wear and tear seems likely, and it came up a lot when people were discussing the projection on Twitter.

He's averaged 14.75 games a year as a starter. If we pro-rate his average projection above into those 14.75 games, his line is at 271 carries, 1,233 rushing yards, and 10 TD. KUBIAK has Gore going even lower, with a line of 263 carries for 1,055 yards and 7 TD. Again, I think that pro-rated average projection above is probably a little more accurate when it comes to what Gore's final line will look like.

A complicating factor here is the retirement of backup Glen Coffee, which was announced on the same day. The team still has time to identify a veteran backup to add to the roster, but Gore should see a higher percentage of the carries than the 69.6 percent figure he was at a year ago. (The KUBIAK update that we did after Coffee's retirement moved Gore into the projected first round for most leagues.)

Today's halfback is the Eagles' LeSean McCoy, and we'll add four more during the week. If you want to join in, follow the @FO_BBarnwell account at Twitter.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 16 Aug 2010

7 comments, Last at 24 Aug 2010, 6:51pm by e18heat


by Led :: Mon, 08/16/2010 - 2:51pm

Re: Shonn Greene, KUBIAK's projected number of carries is the better one. It looks like Tomlinson is going to get a lot of snaps, for better or worse. Word out of camp (for whatever that's worth) is that he's looked quick, and the team likes his receiving/blocking in the passing game. I think 250/1200 is a reasonable upside for Greene unless Tomlinson gets hurt early or the Jets have a whole lot of big leads in the 4th quarter.

by Otis Taylor89 :: Mon, 08/16/2010 - 4:42pm

"Word out of camp (for whatever that's worth) is that he's looked quick, and the team likes his receiving/blocking in the passing game."

Last time I checked they don't hit each other very hard in camp.

Tomlinson has been playing in the AFC West with horrible teams and he is still gets "ding up" every season since '06. 1st three games this year? Ravens, Patriots, Dolphins.

Let's see how a guy with 3,410 career touches feels after game #3.

by sjt (not verified) :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 8:36am

Last time I checked they don't hit each other very hard in camp

Not what the Jets would have you believe.

Tomlinson has been playing in the AFC West with horrible teams and he is still gets "ding up" every season since '06. 1st three games this year? Ravens, Patriots, Dolphins.

Tomlinson wasn't dinged up in 07 until playing Indy in the divisional playoffs.

His injury in 08 was a strained toe which he suffered against the Panthers, and later in the year he tore a muscle in his groin while scoring a TD. Despite this he still managed to score a TD in his next game before having to leave.

Last year he was hurt against the Raiders, who have a large and physical defense.
I have to really wonder about your comment when 1)the team plays 10 games a year again non-AFC west opponents and 2)he's pretty much dominated those AFC teams, whether they were good or bad.

In all three instances the team or division he was playing in had nothing to do with his injury. Its football, sometimes people get hurt, especially when they get paid to try and run the ball with 11 guys chasing them down.

He's the second string back for the Jets, and so he'll probably spell Greene and catch a few passes. Maybe he gets hurt on his first play, maybe he makes it through the whole season unscathed. That's all a matter of chance.

by sjt (not verified) :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 9:07am

Dominated those AFC west teams, that is. His performances against the Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos are usually his best. Still, you can get hurt against any team, no matter how lousy they are. Just ask Tom Brady.

by mrh :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 4:17pm

LT's career numbers on a per game basis:

vs. AFC West: 21 rushes, 94 yds, 4.49 yd/rush, 1.02 TD, 3.5 rec, 22 yds, 6.3 yd/rec, 0.1 TD
vs rest of NFL: 20 rushes, 85 yds, 4.24 yd/rush, 0.95 TD, 3.9 rec, 32 yds, 8.1 yd/rec, 0.1 TD

I went to decimals to the extent that rounding off might exaggerate or overly minimze the differences.

He ran the ball better against the AFC West and caught it better against the rest of the league. He averaged 116 yards per game from the line of scrimmage against the AFC West and 117 against the rest of the league.

by Crushinator :: Tue, 08/17/2010 - 8:29pm

So mathematically speaking, now that he's out of the AFCW, he's going to be better than he's ever been.

by e18heat :: Tue, 08/24/2010 - 6:51pm

so what about the fact that thomas jones is still projected as the starter in kc?