Wisdom of Crowds Review: Running Backs
by Bill Barnwell
This week, we finish up our review of this year's Wisdom of Crowds feature by looking at how the pool of running backs performed.
For each back, I'll provide the average predicted performance by our Twitter panel from before the season, as well as their actual 2010 output. If the player participated in fewer than 16 games, I will also pro-rate his statistics for 16 games. You can read the initial articles covering the predictions here, here, and here.
Projected: 329 carries, 1643 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns
Actual: 316 carries, 1364 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns
With his absurd number of big plays from 2009 regressing towards the mean in 2010, Johnson's yards per carry were nearly seven-tenths of a yard below the average projection from 2009. The other contributing factor was the absence of Vince Young. We've found in the past that quarterbacks with a propensity for running increase the efficiency of their halfbacks, and that was certainly the case in Tennessee. With Young in the lineup, Johnson averaged 4.7 yards per carry, but when he was forced to work with Kerry Collins and Rusty Smith, Johnson produced just 3.7 yards a pop.
Projected: 280 carries, 1215 rushing yards, 9 touchdowns
Actual: 185 carries, 766 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns
Pro-rated: 197 carries, 817 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns
Greene lost his starting job after fumble issues against the Ravens in Week 1 and ended up in a timeshare with LaDainian Tomlinson. A decline in the run-blocking abilities (and health) of the Jets' offensive line didn't help, either. Greene's still a very good rusher, but he's still seen as erratic by the coaching staff in pass protection and as a receiver.
Projected: 247 carries, 1185 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns
Actual: 230 carries, 1467 rushing yards, 5 touchdowns
I thought Charles would hit his maximum projection -- 310 carries, 1600 rushing yards, and 12 touchdowns -- because I was naive enough to think that the Chiefs would give him the ball near the goal line. That didn't happen. He's not going to approaching 6.5 yards per carry again, but Charles will really be a fantastically difficult player to project in 2011. Is his role going to increase, and what will his rushing average be at 300 carries? Or will he remain in his current role: Greatest platoon back in league history?
Projected: 263 carries, 1051 rushing yards, 7 touchdowns
Actual: 237 carries, 1069 rushing yards, 6 touchdowns
Those numbers look awful similar to me at first glance, but it's actually off by a full half-yard per carry. I pegged him at halfway between his projected line and his maximum projection, so a season-long rate of 285 carries for 1142 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Bears gave the now-departed Chester Taylor too large of a role for that, and the team remained preposterously bad near the goal line during the first half of the season before bouncing back towards league-average. He's still going to be undervalued next season.
Projected: 294 carries, 1338 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns
Actual: 203 carries, 853 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns
Pro-rated: 295 carries, 1241 rushing yards, 4 touchdowns
Gore was a player that KUBIAK projected for a particularly poor season before the year, partly due to his injury history. In this case, it ended up being right. The young offensive line and carousel of quarterbacks helped keep Gore's rushing average down, and a fractured hip ended his season in Week 12.
Projected: 245 carries, 1047 rushing yards, 7 touchdowns
Actual: 207 carries, 1080 rushing yards, 7 touchdowns
Pro-rated: 221 carries, 1152 rushing yards, 7 touchdowns
I played around with a Ray Rice comp for McCoy before the season, as a versatile back who might make a significant jump in his second season. That ended up being the case, but it owes a lot to Michael Vick. McCoy averaged more than two additional yards per carry with Vick in the lineup as opposed to Kevin Kolb. And even without having expected Vick to stop by, it's clear that he was a better option than the guys who were just ahead of him in August 2010 ADP: Cedric Benson and Pierre Thomas.
Projected: 327 carries, 1430 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns
Actual: 330 carries, 1241 rushing yards, 6 touchdowns
For some reason, Jackson continues to avoid rushing touchdowns like the plague. After running in 13 scores in 2006, he has just 22 touchdowns on 1,144 rushing attempts in 55 games over the four subsequent seasons. He also had five receiving touchdowns through 2006, with only two afterwards. Both the Twitter constituency and I expected Jackson's rushing touchdown total to rise with a better quarterback and the likelihood of more wins, but that just didn't happen. It was also Jackson's first season with a rushing average below 4.0 yards per carry.
Projected: 221 carries, 1014 rushing yards, 7 touchdowns
Actual: 83 carries, 269 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns
Pro-rated: 221 carries, 717 rushing yards, 5 touchdowns
Thanks in part to a tough schedule, Thomas got off to a slow start. Before his schedule could ease up, he suffered an ankle injury that ended up costing him most of his season. A lost year, but he should be undervalued heading into 2011, even if he only ends up maxing out around 150 carries.
Projected: 325 carries, 1529 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns
Actual: 283 carries, 1298 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns
Pro-rated: 302 carries, 1385 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns
As the committee expected, AD was able to arrest the steady decline in his yards per carry, but his rushing touchdowns also fell off from a league-leading figure of 18 in 2009. Realistically, has any player gone through a more dramatic shift in context while playing on the same team as Peterson has during his four-year career? He came into the league with a terrible passing game and an excellent offensive line, and while the line's shifted down to mediocre, the passing game went all the way up to superb and back down again. And yet, he's been consistently effective, with the injury issues from college rarely popping up.
Projected: 313 carries, 1437 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns
Actual: 299 carries, 1324 rushing yards, 5 touchdowns
Pro-rated: 342 carries, 1513 rushing yards, 6 touchdowns
I had Jones-Drew at somewhere around those pro-rated figures, but with twice as many rushing touchdowns. Although we don't have final charting numbers available yet, it seems like the Jaguars played off Jones-Drew's effectiveness in the red zone and went play action more frequently. In 2009, the Jags had 19 rushing touchdowns and 15 receiving touchdowns; in 2010, they had 14 rushing touchdowns and 26 receiving touchdowns. Rashad Jennings vultured some, with four scores on 84 carries, and David Garrard had five of his own on 66 attempts. That should change in 2011, as MJD should get back to double-digit scores with a similar workload.
Projected: 252 carries, 1015 rushing yards, 7 touchdowns
Actual: 54 carries, 227 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns
Pro-rated: 173 carries, 726 rushing yards, 6 touchdowns
A piece of advice: don't separate your groin. I really thought Portis had some bounce-back potential this year, assuming he would be healthy and behind a much-improved offensive line, but the line wasn't all that great, either. I still think he has the potential to contribute in the right system, but it might not be as a featured back anymore. I'm fond of noting that he's yet to turn 30, but he already has more carries on his odometer than O.J. Simpson, Shaun Alexander, and Earl Campbell.
Projected: 308 carries, 1388 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns
Actual: 324 carries, 1273 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns
Even with the annoying insistence on using Ike Redman as a short-yardage back for part of the season, Mendenhall got both the workload and rushing touchdowns that many of us expected before the season. (It's worth noting that no other Steelers running back scored a rushing touchdown this year.) On the other hand, he just wasn't as effective as his projections by either KUBIAK (which famously projected him for a 344-1550-10 line) or Twitter, which each had him at 4.5 yards per carry. You can chalk it up to blown assignments on the offensive line, if you'd like, as the Steelers were 27th in the league in stuffs. With no other back on the roster taking significant reps away, an improvement in the play of the offensive line could turn Mendenhall into the league's best back in 2011.