Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs
by Danny Tuccitto
For Week 2 of Wisdom of Crowds (WoC), we focused on running backs: two rookies and three players coming off of injury-shortened seasons. Before we get into the projections for those guys, here's a quick update on the emerging "Curse of WoC." After Trent Richardson and James Starks broke down on the day we tweeted their names, I was fully expecting one of this week's backs to meet a similar fate. Superstitions be damned, it turned out that the curse reversed itself, with two direct competitors against our featured backs getting hurt. If I wasn't such a superstitious person predisposed to finding meaning in the most innocuous patterns, I might say things evened out as random phenomena are wont to do. Nope, don't believe that for one second. Next week will break the tie!
If this is your first time encountering our Wisdom of Crowds (WoC) feature, the process goes like this. Each weekday, we take to our Football Outsiders Twitter account, and ask followers to give a fantasy football projection for a specific player. For running backs, it's rushes, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. At the end of each week, I compile the responses, and write a column about them the following week. After the season, I write another series of columns looking back at how the crowd did. Here's the link to the first installment from last week:
For each player, I've listed their average projection (with margin of error), their best-case scenario, and their worst-case scenario. The scenario projections just combine into one stat line the player's best (or worst) projections for each specific stat.
Monday: David Wilson
Average: 163 ± 16 carries, 704 ± 124 yards, 5 ± 2 TDs
Best-case scenario: 230 carries, 1,300 yards, 9 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 130 carries, 410 yards, 2 TDs
We featured Wilson in last week's ADP column about players being undervalued in fantasy drafts. Since then, his draft stock among the public has actually fallen two spots to 43rd running back overall. Given their average projection for Wilson, our Twitter followers don't conform to that public perception. A 163/704/5 rushing-only stat line would put him in clear RB3 territory fantasy-wise.
What's interesting about Wilson's WoC projections is how one can make a reasonable argument for any of the three coming to pass. While there probably isn't a universe in which Peyton Manning throws for a meager 2,100 yards in 16 games (the crowd's ridiculous lowest projection from last week), there is one where Wilson runs for only 410 yards. That universe resembles Weeks 5 and 6 of last year, when Brandon Jacobs was out of the Giants lineup. In those two games, Ahmad Bradshaw had 43 of New York's 52 running back carries, with D.J. Ware handling the remaining nine. If Ware is taking over Jacobs' old role this season, as appears to be the case right now, then Wilson might only see the field when Bradshaw needs a breather.
On the other hand, Bradshaw is no stranger to the training room, and already has an injury. It's only a bruised hand, so the injury won't impact our view of Wilson except to remind us that the path to Wilson's best-case scenario goes through that training room. If Bradshaw gets injured more seriously, and misses a significant amount of time, it's feasible that Wilson could post his best-case scenario projection, which is very similar to Bradshaw's 2010 season.
Tuesday: Doug Martin
Average: 194 ± 16 carries, 891 ± 92 yards, 6 ± 2 TDs
Best-case scenario: 250 carries, 1,150 yards, 9 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 140 carries, 500 yards, 2 TDs
Our second rookie back also benefitted from a teammate's injury this past week. With LeGarrette Blount resting a sprained groin for the foreseeable future, Martin can showcase his skills during Tampa Bay's all-important third preseason game. That performance will go a long way towards establishing the pecking order in a backfield that figures to see a lot of action in the Buccaneers' new offensive system. Martin has the physical tools (104.1 Speed Score) and skill versatility to be the team's feature back. If he earns the job, then the crowd's average projection of 194 carries seems like a mere formality. If he lives up to his potential, ditto for the best-case scenario.
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Wednesday: Matt Forte
Average: 274 ± 16 carries, 1,184 ± 50 yards, 6 ± 1 TDs
Best-case scenario: 320 carries, 1,300 yards, 8 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 225 carries, 933 yards, 4 TDs
At 27 years old and coming off an MCL injury, Forte got a new contract anyway. Just to keep him honest, though, the Bears offset their monetary respect with disrespect in the form of new touchdown vulture Michael Bush. Over the past three years, Forte has averaged only about four rushing scores per season, so the crowd's projection might be a little high. His attempts projection, however, is almost perfectly in line with how many carries he's averaged so far in his four-year career.
In terms of yardage, Forte's best-case scenario projection would be the highest single-season total of his career. In only 12 games last year, Forte was on pace for 1,329 yards before he got hurt, so it's an attainable goal. That's especially the case if our mean projection of 10.2 wins for Chicago comes true this season.
Thursday: Darren McFadden
Average: 282 ± 14 carries, 1,349 ± 76 yards, 11 ± 1 TD
Best-case scenario: 325 carries, 1,675 yards, 14 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 210 carries, 1,050 yards, 8 TDs
Whereas Forte missed games due to injury for the first time in his career in 2011, the words "missed time due to injury" might as well be a mandatory preface when discussing McFadden. If he played in a resurrected XFL, his jersey would read "He Hurt Me." So it was a tad cynical of us to include McFadden in WoC, but there was method to the madness. Namely, when a player is constantly injured, but yet still shows up near the top of fantasy cheat sheets on a perennial basis, it's legitimate to ask, "What is the upside you're drafting this guy for?"
Thanks to our Twitter followers, we have an answer, and the upside is stratospheric. Essentially, the crowd believes that McFadden's floor is a 1,000-yard season if he's able to avoid injury. On his excellent new blog, Chase Stuart discussed how the chances of McFadden missing games again this year are much lower than what you might think. I think, however, that even taking his analysis at face value, McFadden seems like the type of back you'd draft for value given how skittish people are about injury-prone players. However, this season he's a consensus top-six running back, which doesn't seem to offer much in the way of draft value.
Friday: Jamaal Charles
Average: 228 ± 16 carries, 1,138 ± 66 yards, 8 ± 2 TD
Best-case scenario: 305 carries, 1,400 yards, 12 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 178 carries, 902 yards, 5 TDs
The final act in our "Injured Backs of 2011" narrative is Charles, who the crowd thinks will rebound nicely from his torn up knee. As I've mentioned before, the best two predictors of how long it takes for a back to return to pre-knee-reconstruction performance levels are age and week of injury. On both counts, Charles is a prototypical optimistic case: He's only 26 years old -- still in the prime years for backs -- and his injury occurred in Week 2.
The Chiefs also did him a favor by signing Peyton Hillis to keep his workload manageable. Therefore, unlike some of the other backs we've discussed today, Charles' best-case carry total and touchdown total seem totally out of reach. His best-case rushing yardage, though, would only require a 6.1-yard average on 228 carries. That would be also be out of reach for most backs, but Charles is not most backs. He averaged 6.4 yards per carry on 230 totes in 2010.
That's it for this week. Next week, we'll venture into wideout territory with the first of two columns. Make sure to follow @fboutsiders on Twitter so you can participate in WoC. If you miss a day or two, don't worry. We have a running list of players in this Extra Point, which we'll keep on the front page for the duration.