Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

by Bill Barnwell

On Monday, I took the predictions provided by my Twitter followers before the 2009 season and saw how they related to the actual performance of quarterbacks.

Today, I'll be doing the same thing for running backs. Again, remember that these predictions assumed that each player would make it through a full 16-game season without missing any time due to injuries. The panel was asked to predict strictly the rushing statistics for each player. You can read the three original articles on this topic here, here, and here.

Knowshon Moreno

Predicted: 226 carries, 1004 rushing yards, 7 TD
Actual: 247 carries, 947 rushing yards, 7 TD

Moreno missed time at the beginning of the season with a sprained MCL, but he made it into all 16 games. Those numbers look pretty similar at first glance, but the crowd predicted he'd average 4.4 yards per carry, and he was actually at 3.8. I was very high on Moreno coming into the season -- higher than that prediction -- and I'll probably feel the same way going into next year. That's just too good of an offensive line in front of him.

Maurice Jones-Drew

Predicted: 281 carries, 1267 rushing yards, 13 TD
Actual: 313 carries, 1391 rushing yards, 15 TD

KUBIAK's darling, MJD actually outscored Adrian Peterson through the first 16 weeks of the season, only to see Peterson to pull ahead in the final game of the year with a nice day against a disinterested Giants defense. Jones-Drew actually beat the predicted projection by 10-15 percent across the board, and the true "expected" prediction from the average fan would probably be even lower, since we didn't allow people to assume a possibility of injury.

Matt Forte

Predicted: 299 carries, 1304 rushing yards, 10 TD
Actual: 258 carries, 929 rushing yards, 4 TD

As a disappointed Matt Forte fantasy owner myself, I don't exactly want to re-visit that actual line. (Especially considering I saw the predicted projection and said that the TD total was low.) It was an awful year, but I still have confidence in Forte; his offensive line in 2010 can't possibly be as bad as it was last year. That touchdown total is obviously going to rise, too. Forte had 19 carries inside the opposition's five-yard line last year, and he scored as many times as he fumbled: twice. An average back behind an average line, given the same opportunities, would've scored 7.7 touchdowns. That difference of 5.7 touchdowns is remarkable; the last back with such a difference is the 2007 version of Thomas Jones, who saw a dramatic upswing the following season.

Darren McFadden

Predicted: 205 carries, 876 rushing yards, 6 TD
Actual: 104 carries, 357 rushing yards, 1 TD

I was Darren McFadden's biggest cheerleader before the season. For all that Oakland does wrong, they do have a reasonably solid run-blocking line, and while McFadden had split time and struggled with a turf toe injury as a rookie, 2009 would be his chance to play the featured back and have a breakout year. I was wrong.

Marion Barber III

Predicted: 228 carries, 1029 rushing yards, 10 TD
Actual: 214 carries, 932 rushing yards, 7 TD

Barber's predicted touchdown total was high because of the perception that he has a "Nose for the End Zone", but no such thing exists. He's played significantly worse since signing his long-term extension, but it's not like he's obviously dogging it. It could be the expansion of his role; Barber dislocated his toe last year, and he pulled his quadriceps and broke his thumb this year. You can probably make a case for any of the three Dallas backs being the best of the bunch at this point, which is pretty remarkable. I had him at 260/1042/8, thinking that the team wouldn't throw the ball as frequently as they ended up doing.

LaDainian Tomlinson

Predicted: 279 carries, 1181 rushing yards, 12 TD
Actual: 223 carries, 730 rushing yards, 12 TD

The year started with a sprained ankle and stayed pretty miserable. That touchdown total is a product of his usage in short-yardage; he got 28 carries inside the five, producing nine of his 12 rushing touchdowns, but he was still 2.6 touchdowns below what you would expect from an average back in the same situations. Of course, the San Diego offensive line was injury-riddled and struggled last year. Teams seem to be looking towards Tomlinson as a Correll Buckhalter-type backup this offseason, but I think he's probably best as a short-yardage back.

Willie Parker

Predicted: 244 carries, 977 rushing yards, 6 TD
Actual: 98 carries, 398 rushing yards, 0 TD

The panel was within .06 yards of his actual per-carry average, so since readers weren't allowed to predict injury, I think that's a pretty solid job. Parker, of course, lost his job to Rashard Mendenhall and is wandering the streets as a free agent this offseason. He was linked to Tampa Bay in a rumor that made no sense whatsoever, and then Thomas Jones signed with Kansas City before Parker could visit. There's not a significant role out there for him, outside of maybe Detroit or Seattle.

Chris Johnson

Predicted: 270 carries, 1350 rushing yards, 11 TD
Actual: 358 carries, 2006 rushing yards, 14 TD

While we didn't request Adrian Peterson or Michael Turner predictions, the esteemed followers that made up the prediction panel suggested Chris Johnson would have more rushing yards than any other back. I don't recall seeing anyone predict that Johnson would lead the league in rushing yards before the season, but nearly 360 carries later, that's exactly what he did. I didn't believe 1350 was attainable, figuring that Johnson would split more of his time with LenDale White, but White was essentially a non-factor.

DeAngelo Williams

Predicted: 268 carries, 1247 rushing yards, 10 TD
Actual: 216 carries, 1117 rushing yards, 7 TD

Anyone could have seen that rushing TD total declining, but falling off all the way to seven was a surprise. If you round up from 4.97, Williams has averaged five yards per carry in three consecutive seasons; in the history of the NFL, only four backs have ever done that while carrying the ball at least 100 times in each of those seasons: James Brooks, Marshall Faulk, and the mid-60s Browns combination of Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly. (Funny how that worked.) No back's ever made it to four.

Reggie Bush

Predicted: 152 carries, 609 rushing yards, 5 TD
Actual: 70 carries, 390 rushing yards, 5 TD

Bush's raw numbers look worse than his advanced metrics; whether that's due to the efficiency of the Saints' offense is up to you. Worth noting: Bush has 1940 rushing yards through his first four seasons as a pro. A comparable total from a comparable player? Tiki Barber, who had 1941 rushing yards through his first four years. Barber achieved that figure in 52 fewer carries, though, and while he had a big senior season after three years of extremely limited play, Bush has had a steady role across his professional career.

Joseph Addai

Predicted: 194 carries, 837 rushing yards, 6 TD
Actual: 219 carries, 828 rushing yards, 10 TD

Again, the figures seem similar, but it's a difference of about a half-yard per carry. He does have a weird Bret Saberhagen-style touchdown count going on alternate seasons. I was bullish on Addai's figures because I was concerned about Donald Brown's ability to pick up the offense and serve as an effective pass-blocker.

Derrick Ward

Predicted: 228 carries, 1022 rushing yards, 7 TD
Actual: 114 carries, 409 rushing yards, 1 TD

Derrick Ward was considered to be an actual catch on the free agent market last offseason, and while he's still a talented back, playing on a dismal team behind a remarkably-healthy Cadillac Williams left him pretty much as a backup back on a terrible team. Insert your joke about the last two weeks of the Giants' season here.

Ryan Grant

Predicted: 291 carries, 1263 rushing yards, 9 TD
Actual: 282 carries, 1253 rushing yards, 11 TD

That's pretty much spot-on, huh? Grant had a flukily-low performance inside the five in 2008, so I thought his touchdown total would hit double-digits. On the other hand...

Clinton Portis

Predicted: 317 carries, 1320 rushing yards, 10 TD
Actual: 124 carries, 494 rushing yards, 1 TD

...Portis had a freaky-great performance inside the five in 2008, so it was reasonable to suggest his touchdown total would decline in 2009, albeit not to the point that it actually did. His numbers went down with the offensive line, but his health woes were another data point for the idea that the "workhorse back" doesn't exist.


67 comments, Last at 02 Jun 2010, 2:17pm

1 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Interesting comparison between Reggie Bush and Tiki Barber.

I wonder what the similarity scores for Bush would be if you include rushing, receiving, and punt returns?

2 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Wouldn't it make sense to normalize the prediction line to the actual number of either games played or carries? I know that we can do that on our own with a calculator, but I like many readers here are lazy. Anyway since we couldn't predict less than 16 games played it would do a better job of showing how the predictions actually measure up for players that didn't make it 16 games.

Also I think it would be interesting for next season to ask the crowd to predict the number of games that player will play, perhaps by predicting a line as if 16 games will be played, and then in parenthesis add how many games the person actually thinks that player will play in, since I would be interested in seeing if the crowd is good at predicting how many games a player will appear in.

3 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Maybe I'm a bit thick, but this doesn't make sense to me: "I didn't believe 1350 was high enough, figuring that Johnson would split more of his time with LenDale White, but White was essentially a non-factor."

Aren't you saying there that you thought that Johnson would get more yards because he would get less carries? Am I just confused here?

48 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Duly noted. As the father of three boys (and formerly a 23 year-old with an uninspiring job back when you were negative two), I can relate.

But if you ever meet a nice gal and then her father, don't repeat when you wrote above.

HIM: Well, Temo, nice to meet you. So did you two have a good weekend in Vegas?
TEMO: Sir, I'm a 23 year-old male and your daughter is not Sasquatch. Safe to assume the worst at all times. Oh shit, did I say that out loud? Oh crap, is that a gun? AND a bear trap? Man, you're freakin' nuts.

50 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Noted. Having probably set the record last summer with my friends for the tamest Vegas outing among a group young men, I will probably never be in this situation.

"Hey guys, want to go to the club?"
"Sure, but I heard you have to bribe the doorman like $200 to get in."
"... you wanna go out by the pool and make fun of tourists?"
"Sounds like a plan."

Related, I recently read an article that said Vegas doormen (those burly types that decide if you get in or not) routinely make 6 figures a year, and at some clubs up to a half million a year.

52 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Sometimes, if you make friends with the bartender at the casino lounge (and tip well), they can get you passes into the nightclubs at that hotel. Anyway, if $200 is too much to pay to get into a club, you probably can't afford to drink there. Next time, try Wasted Space at the Hard Rock - not super expensive, no cover and they usually get cute LA girls on the weekends. There's also a place at Mandalay Bay, but I can't remember the name right now.

57 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Sweetened further by the irony of you guys being tourists

Oh no doubt, it was lame yet immensely fun. There is nothing quite like seeing fat crusty balding men with Tommy Bahama shirts leering at young girls in bikinis to make you feel better about yourself.

We did do some stuff there, but it's hard to really experience Vegas on a $600 budget. ($100/night rooms at the MGM Grand split 2 ways though was awesome).

Vegas clubs are a sham anyway. Worst way to get laid unless you're a crusty old man looking to pick up a high-price prostitute in the VIP section.

4 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

I'm enjoying these -- it's nice when predictions are actually revisited, rather than discarded and never spoken of again. It seems like this article refrained from trying to infer "the crowd's" reasoning behind each prediction, which I think is a wise move.

Perhaps some of the FO team predictions will be revisited, too...?

6 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Next time they do this, they should include a few poll questions to see who the crowd thinks will lead the league in various categories. It'd be interesting to compare that to the stat predictions.

The big thing that the crowd saw coming no one else did (teased at the end of the QB article) was Chris Johnson leading the league in rushing. Except the crowd actually didn't predict that, at least not directly. It just so happens in doing their individual predictions he ended up highest. It'd be interesting to know how many respondents actually thought he'd do that.

45 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Generally that is what "The Crowd" means. The "wisdom of the crowd" is that the average of a bunch of people's hunches tends to be far more accurate than any single individual, including any within the crowd or any 'experts'.

Ask 100 people to estimate how many jelly beans there are in a jar, and the average answer is usually remarkably close to correct, and nearly always closer than any individual's answer.

"the crowd" is by no means infallible (see: stock market and property bubbles, etc) but often picks up on trends before "the experts" (see: credit rating agencies).

7 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

So, does being the highest prediction on Chris Johnson (and so pulling the prediction closer to reality) make up for making one of the world's all-time dumbest football predictions on Clinton Portis (and so pulling the prediction away from reality)?

9 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Hate to start with pointing out a mistake (?), so let me first say that I like this series of articles.

"An average back ...would've scored 7.7 touchdowns. That difference of 5.7 touchdowns is remarkable; the last back with such a difference is the 2007 version of Thomas Jones..."

Wouldn't that difference be 3.7? Since he actually scored 4.

15 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Nope. Read it again:

"Forte had 19 carries inside the opposition's five-yard line last year, and he scored as many times as he fumbled: twice. An average back behind an average line, given the same opportunities, would've scored 7.7 touchdowns. That difference of 5.7 touchdowns is remarkable"

An average back would have scored 7.7 TD's in 19 carries inside the five. Forte scored twice (so his other two TD's were from outside the 5). So theoretically Forte was shorted about 5.7 touchdowns. Of course, only including runs inside the 5 is completely arbitrary, if Forte had scored 10 times from the 6 yard line I would say he got pretty lucky. Also, his (lack of) skill comes into play here as well, I doubt many people would solely blame Forte's short yardage struggles on the offensive line. Still, it's an interesting stat that means Forte was probably pretty unlucky.

10 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Why don't we compare the crowd to Kubiak projections? That seems like a more interesting article to me.

13 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

"No back's ever made it to four."

Deangelo Williams didn't even make it to 3!

22 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

huh? He already gave 2007 a round-up to 5, but it appears to be common to only allow for 'tenths' on the average. The Panther's team page also shows it as 5.0 yds/att.

2008 and 2009 are 5.5 and 5.2 respectively, so that would equal "3 years of 5+ yds/att".

21 DeAngelo Williams

That's what you get for trying to split up Double Trouble.

Johnathan Stewart and his 221ATT/1133YDS/10TD just might have affected the numbers.

58 Re: DeAngelo Williams

In reply to by panthersnbraves

call me crazy but i think the daily show might be the best runningback in the league right now. It would be a shame for the panthers to keep two extremely good runningbacks. They should trade 1 of them to the chargers for anyone besides rivers gates or jackson.

24 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

A suggestion: If you're going to link to the 3 original articles (plus plug your Twitter account) why not link to the QB article so people can read them back-to-back without having to hunt?

27 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

As a side note, Senor Barnwell sure nailed Donald Brown (plus he had a handful of nagging injuries), and he wasn't even one of the subjects. Bill--you should have just put in a link to the "Goddammit Donald!" clip.

And hey, Addai's totals don't include his GWTD pass to Wayne. Hoovering up Manning's TD opportunities.

29 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

The TD's inside the 5 stat seems flawed to me. Let's say a back scores half the time on the 3. In his first 2 carries, he gets stuffed. But on the 3rd carry he scores a TD. The stat say he should expect 1.5 TD's, but he only got 1 TD. But it doesn't make sense to me because he actually scored a TD. You can't penalize him for scoring a TD. It's impossible to have 1.5 TD's in one drive so he did his job by getting 1 TD.

39 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Sure, but he failed twice before he scored that TD. Had he scored on the first carry, he'd have the same number of successes on the drive, and no failures. He's being penalized for failing to score a touchdown twice, independent of how many touchdowns he actually could have scored on that drive.

There's a place I want to be. It's the NovaCare Center. That's in Philadelphia. One NovaCare Way, where the Eagles practice and then they eat cafeteria food and they watch film and we eat and we have fun.

-Donovan McNabb

66 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

First, he's being compared to an average back, so this bias is being applied to everyone, not just your back.

Second, in your example, the expectation is that the can get a TD in 2 carries and it took him 3. That's a below average performance, so it should be marked that way.

67 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Right, but it still doesn't make any sense when they adjust it to average.

Forte got "robbed" of 5.7 TDs because he had 19 carries inside the 5. Its possible (although not the case) that those 19 carries came on 6 drives, and there's no way someone can score 7.7 TDs on 6 drives.

IE, if the back above had average performance, he wouldn't have more touchdowns, he'd have less carries.

30 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

"Bush's raw numbers look worse than his advanced metrics; whether that's due to the efficiency of the Saints' offense is up to you."

FWIW, Bush's 5.57 yards per carry look worse than his 30.6 DVOA....

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

33 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Why doesn't Bill believe in speed score?

Moreno has a rather terrible speed score of 96.9, and now he has a mediocre rookie season. What reason is there to believe he'll improve?

36 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

I think his totals may improve because McDaniels is going to make sure he gets a chance...and then some. That said, having watched him for all of last season, he did nothing to impress. Bronco fans were not pining for Peyton Hillis during the season because they saw greatness in Moreno.

41 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

With Rick Dennison's departure, I think it's very iffy to predict huge improvements from them. The new guy, Clarence Barone, reportedly wasn't McDaniels first choice and given how much time McD spent griping about the line play last year, I'd bet Barone is being set up to fail.

42 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Random bit of Bronco trivia I just ran across: John Elway recently told a writer that he's still never met Josh McDaniels. Elway lives in Denver and is tight with owner Pat Bowlen, so if McD ever said a word, Bowlen would see to it they met. (And if McD did absolutely anything in terms of charitable appearances, he'd have been bound to bump into Elway.) So, you're a student of the game--offense in particular, no less--and you have zero interest in meeting one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time?

49 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

I also find it a little curious, but not really damning, yet.

If we can say this in 2 more years, then yes, it's pretty weird.

Let's put it this way, if they make the playoffs or have a must-win game late in the season, and #7 is not brought in for an inspirational talk, then something is just plain dumb in Denmark. Uh, Denver.

I can understand McD wanting to put his own stamp on the team and all, but it is a big family and your last SB/HOF QB living in town and still interested in the game is sort of like having Bill Gates as an uncle-in-law. When you're writing up the list for a big party, yo make sure he's on it. He may not come, and you may not want to hear his opinion of everything you are doing wrong, but you make the effort anyway, no?

60 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't they go into Week 17 needing a win AND (a loss from the Jets OR a loss from the Ravens) to make the playoffs? Does that not constitute a "must-win game late in the season"? I'm pretty sure that Texans coaches, players and fans saw the Patriots game as a must-win, even with a worse chance of a playoff spot than Denver had.

59 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Cutler was never really a douche, but he will always be 100% emo cry baby. Hes still the only football player ive ever seen wear eye liner to a football game. It would be tough to live a double life as a quarterback and the lead singer of green day.

43 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

I'm skeptical of Moreno too. When you get handily beaten by Correll Buckhalter in DVOA, DYAR, and Success Rate, in the same offense no less, I think that should raise some eyebrows. Moreno is a good blocker and receiver I believe, so that adds value, but I don't see why we should expect him to start running the ball really well.

35 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Could the teaser text on the home page be any more misleading?
"Learn what we all got wrong, and which breakout sophomore the FO readers pegged with surprising accuracy."

Essentially, the crowd predicted Chris Johnson would duplicate his rookie season (with a few added TDs). That's not predicting a breakout season. And it's not "surprisingly accurate" when you're low by 650 yards--they said he'd have 1350 and he became the sixth guy in history to break 2000. I thought the crowd was surprisingly accurate on lots of these, but certainly not this one.

40 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Looks like 9 QB and 14 RB...wouldn't take more than a few minutes for somebody to type in the KUBIAK projections for those guys. A bit longer to stack them with the "crowd" projections and the actual stats. But, if somebody just types in the KUBIAK projections from last year here in a comment, it would be easy to put together.

44 Re: Wisdom of Crowds in Review: RB

Yep, I think it'd be fascinating too. Is KUBIAK even better than a mismash of fans' projections? Perhaps not, maybe that's why the FO guys don't want to include it. Or maybe there's something else I'm missing, I don't know.

I'd post the players' predicted numbers here but I don't have KUBIAK...