Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

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.


26 comments, Last at 27 Aug 2012, 5:42am

1 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

What I hear about Wilson is that his blocking is horrendous, and as such he will not be allowed substantial playing time no matter what, in the interests of not getting Eli Manning killed. Could be an excellent value in keeper/dynasty leagues as a result, though: blocking is teachable.

24 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

FWIW, here is a tweet from Doug Farrar praising Wilson's pass pro from the most recent preseason game.

https://es.twitter.com/SC_DougFarrar/status/239726029000802305 Note the replies from Bobby Big Wheel

26 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

Matt Waldman was reasonably positive about it in February: http://mattwaldmanrsp.com/2012/02/01/david-wilsons-vision-part-iv-exploring-the-gray-area/

"His footwork-punch coordination needs to be refined. He often delivers a punch when his feet aren’t in good position against the defender he’s tring to block and this can get him into trouble with better edge rushers. However, the potential to develop into a good pass protector is there. . . . [H]e generally diagnoses the blitzes that Va Tech faces and his initial footwork before contact is good.

2 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

The Chiefs also did him a favor by signing Peyton Hillis to keep his workload manageable.

Hasn't that always been the complain of Charles/Chiefs fans, that they don't ever give Charles enough carries? Before it was Thomas Jones. Now it's Hillis. They're not trying to keep his carries manageable. They're just doing what they've always done.

6 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

It's possible for them to have been stupidly managing the workload of a young, healthy stud back a couple of years ago, but now smartly managing the workload of a young, stud coming off a blown out knee, right?

Also, new OC there, and -- more importantly -- Todd Haley's gone.

18 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

And this goes back partly to Haley's hatred of fantasy football fans because they thought he never gave Charles enough carries to suit them.

The question comes down to: what matters more for Chiefs fans -- winning games or winning the fanstasy leagues? They're not necessarily compatible goals.

3 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

Excellent link on the McFadden blurb. I tend to share the opinion of the writer in regards to injury chance and that "injury prone" is just the players that have recently been on the unlucky side of the scale. The AFC runningback trio of McFadden, Charles, and Mathews are three of the elite talents at runningback in the NFL and I hope they get a full chance to prove it this year

5 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

Given considerable human anatomical and physiological variation, as well as differences in playing style, there is no reason to believe that injury history is purely a matter of luck.

There is a reason Barry Sanders had a much longer career than Earl Campbell.

9 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

"There is a reason Barry Sanders had a much longer career than Earl Campbell."

I'm not sure that's the example you were trying to provide. 10 years is longer than 8 years, but I wouldn't say MUCH longer. Style of play is obviously a factor, but the big reason Barry Sanders can still walk is that he left the game before his body broke down.

11 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

Fair enough, I suppose, although Sanders played 50% more games and had nearly that more attempts in his career than Campbell did, and was a functional starter for twice as long.

Campbell was a wreck for 3 of his last 4 seasons. Sanders retired in disgust after a disappointing 1491 yard season.

12 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

I'm not familiar with McFadden's various injuries, but I couldn't find any sports medicine studies on the idea of being "injury prone."

If you're looking for statistical predictions based on injury history, then specific injuries at specific positions seem to have stronger predictive power. For example, this article shows that for running backs, the strongest predictor for shortened career is a history of spondylolysis (a fairly common type of stress-based vertebral defect that increases the chance for slipped vertebrae).

14 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

Population variation is mentioned fairly frequently in the biomechanical literature regarding concussions, as to why there isn't a strong change in incidence rate from one level to another. The argument is that the prone wash themselves out early.

I don't know that I entirely agree with the premise, but I don't entirely disagree with it, either.

15 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

The article I linked is based on following one NFL team for 14 seasons, so it's more applicable to the NFL level, which was my original intent. It's entirely possible that the prone you speak about have washed themselves out at lower levels.

8 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

I, like most of you, believe that the sky is the limit for Mcfadden if healthy. However, the question remains, where in the draft does he provide the most value? I have a middle rd pick and will most certainly be staring at DMC and a few top tier QBs/WRs (pick 6 of 12) when the time comes. Is DMC worth a gamble here or is the smart choice going for safety and taking a top QB? Decisions, decisions, decisions....

10 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

That's the issue w/ him, for sure. In a perfect world, people are leery of taking an injury-prone RB1 (regardless of whether "injury-prone" is fair or not), so he'd fall to the late first round or early second. Per ADP, though, that just doesn't seem to be happening. People are taking him in that 6th-to-9th range, which to me is absurd.

Of course, I'm sure not everyone is as dogmatic about taking low-risk first-rounders as I am.

13 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

Yep, but this IS happening for Ryan Matthews. The are more complicating factors (namely, Matthews has never been as good as McFadden at his best), but I see Matthews in the mid-to-late second round as an excellent value.

17 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

"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."

How is trying to improve their team "disrespect" to Forte? You sound like Forte's agent or Forte himself before he got paid. Everybody knows that the Bears 2011 season was derailed by Cutler's injury, but Forte's injury shortly thereafter also had a huge impact. Backup "Clueless" Marion Barber arguably cost the Bears two wins with his brain cramps against Kansas City and Denver. The Bears needed a reliable backup to Forte this year, preferably one who was good in short yardgage and goal line situations. Hence the smart signing of Bush.

19 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

Maybe you can provide some special Bears-only insight, but to the outside world the Bears' handling of Forte was weird.

If the Bears really valued Forte why did they franchise him instead fo signing him to a long-term contract last year? As it was, they waited until after he was injured to sign him long term. That doesn't sound like smart handling, considering that most people thought the Bears would release Forte if he was injured.

Continuing in the same vein -- signing someone like Bush after you've agreed to a long-term contract with your supposed no. 1 RB is indeed a sign of disrespect. No one expected Marion Barber to challenge Forte for reps. Bush is a different case.

21 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

There's nothing weird about the Forte negotiation, it was just protracted, as many of these negotiations often can be. The Bears wanted to sign him a year ago for Jamaal Charles money (5 years, 13m guaranteed/32m total) and Forte wanted Arian Foster money (5 years, 21m guaranteed/43m total). That's quite a gap, so things inevitably stalled, and the franchise tag was involved.

The injury complicated things a bit, but Forte looked pretty well recovered from his grade 2 MCL sprain when he played in the Pro Bowl two months after his injury. There was some public posturing by both sides regarding the injury, but nothing very dramatic. The Bears never considered releasing him at any time--I don't know where you got that impression. There was a chance Forte might have held out (I believe Forte admitted he wouldn't have signed his tender until the season began).

The two sides finally settled at 4 years, 14m guaranteed/30m total, which is a pretty decent deal for both sides (the Bears signed close to their initial offer, but had to knock a year off, leaving Forte the ability to try for another decent contract at age 29).

Bush was signed before Forte, and was both insurance against a Forte hold out and a necessary signing with the failure of both Chester Taylor and Marian Barber as change-up/power backs. Forte famously tweeted that he felt "disrespected" when Bush was signed, which is the basis for Tuccitto's comment. Bush is a good back, but I'm not sure he's a #1 back; he certainly signed for #2 money (4 years, 6m guaranteed/14m total).

20 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

Because when you decide to sign your 27-year-old franchise back to a long-term deal, you don't also sign arguably the best backup in the league last year (outside of Houston) and immediately give him free reign over goal line duties, which is what the Bears have done. They paid Forte after much groveling, and then signed a guy good enough -- and to be used enough -- for him to unnecessarily have to look over his shoulder.

Was the same deal with Barber pre-extension. Just seems petty when you have an all-world back like Forte to be playing games with his depth chart status. Give the guy the ball with reckless abandon for now, and draft the cream of some young guy to take over for him in a couple of years.

23 Re: Wisdom of Crowds 2012: RBs

First of all, as akn said above, Bush was signed before Forte and was insurance against a Forte holdout and a necessary signing to provide depth and provide help as a power back. Forte got hurt last year. The backups were a severe dropoff. As far as the comment about "free reign over goal line duties," any knowledgeable Bears fan (not a fantasy football fan who cares about how many TDs a player scores but doesn't care about that player's team) will tell you that while Forte is a great running back, his biggest weakness is in goal line and short yardage situations. Having a runner with more power and with a track record of success in such situations will help the Bears immensely. So the implication that the Bears shouldn't sign another running back who is much better near the goal line is absurd. Also, injuries happen, as they did last year to Forte. Depth is good. And Forte isn't looking over his shoulder. Forte is #1. Bush is #2 and will get a lot of goal line carries. No big deal.

And the idea that what they did with Forte was petty and that they were or are playing games with his depth chart status is ridiculous, as is the suggestion that they should just burn out Forte while not having a good #2 running back who has a strength that dovetails with Forte's biggest weakness. This sounds like the complaint of someone who only cares about fantasy football and doesn't root for an actual team.