Thursday, November 09, 2006

An NFL Runningbacks value

I've been hearing a lot about runningbacks in the NFL and their value. Last year Shaun Alexander won MVP and Edge James and Tiki Barber probably could have as well. We've seen LT dominate in the past, and Marshall Faulk a few years ago in St. Louis. The NFL MVP award is usually won by a Quarterback or runningback, but we have come to the point where runningbacks are overvalued right now.

Bill Bellicheck's Patriots have had a slew of injuries pile up in the past few years. The Pats have had so many injuries that they have had to pick up numorous guys off the street and practice squads, and even convert Troy Brown to defensive back. Bill Bellicheck however said that runningback is the easiest position to just fill somebody in. There are only so many gaps to run through. The biggest concern with throwing in a new back is the pass protection, but the QB can probably help him out. It would be much more difficult to insert a new Wide Receiver, tight end, or offensive guard into a lineup with all the reads that player has to make.

There are so many big, strong, fast guys who are able to carry the rock, that there is an excess of supplyof backs in the league. Many teams have two quality backs, and teams are reluctant to spend the big money on a runningback. The Steelers picked up undrafted free agent Willie Parker and turned him into a quality starting back. The Denver Broncos just plug people in and cash out 1,000 yard backs. S. Gato comes from a D2 school to rush for over 100 yards in a game. Teams don't need to risk a high draft pick on a runningback.

Another reason why I would be reluctant to spend the money on a back is that they are also very injury prone. Clinton Portis had around 400 carries/ touches last year and he's spent this whole year gimpy. Shaun Alexander was the LEADER in touches, and he's also been hurt. The casual fan doesn't understand the beating that these guys take. Twenty five carries in a game, means a back will be getting pounded to the ground by 11 of the biggest, strongest, and fastest men in the world 25 times. Portis and Alexander getting 400 carries over 16 grueling weeks ( plus playoffs) is very hard on a body. Fans "expect" these marquee players to duplicate these performances year after year, but it' s tough for a runningback to even last 5 years in the league.

The average fan also looks at Speed as the deciding factor on a runningback or receiver. Vision is much overlooked from a back, the decision to cut back could lead to a field full of open grass. The defenses are so fast today, that it's almost impossible to have a huge speed or agility advantage, that I believe in the future we will see more big backs in the NFL in the mold of Shaun Alexander, Larry Johnson, Jamal Lewis, Travis Henrey, Bettis. These big backs can weigh nearly 250 pounds and can run a 4.5 40 yard dash.

It would be more beneficial to have a big back to get hit on a 2 yard carry and have his momentum turn it into a 4 yard carry on a regular basis ( and keep drives alive, and manageable down and distances) as opposed to a speedy Willie Parker type back maybe turning a 20 yard run into a 40 yard run once per game. The big back will wear down a defense and move the chains the whole game, while the speed back might break a giant run once per game. A lot of time those speedy backs outrun their blockers and waste those pulling guards, while those big backs can sometimes hit the hole at a better pace and then start bowling down defenders. True fans love to watch smash mouth football, as it brings energy to the offensive line, and demoralises opponents.

Back to the marquee backs. Before this year started, people were talking about how Edge was the key to the Colts. That taking him off that team turns that offense mediocre. Last time I checked, Peyton Manning was the miestro/ point guard of that offense that puts his skilled position players in position to make plays. When edge was hurt a few years ago, Dominic Rhodes was I believe a 1200 yard rusher. Now Edge is a better player than Dominic Rhodes, but how much is that difference worth? If you assume that Rhodes is "average", how much is the better player James worth? If edge gets 20% more yards than an average ghost player, how valueable does that make him? What I am getting at, is don't judge Edge by the 1500 yards he rushes for, judge him by the 300 yard excess he rushed for instead of an average player. If you take James off the colts, they still have a very good offense... If you took Manning off the colts, I know for sure no average player would pass for 3500+ yards or 48 touchdown passes. Manning is standard deviations better than the "average" quarterback. In fact, the average quarterback isn't even very good. There aren't many quarterbacks who go out there every week and put up consistant performances.

I don't know where all this runningback talk comes from, but there are tons of backs who could run in the Seattle, KC, Pittsburgh, Cincy or Indy offenses. The backups won't match the starters, but the runningback isn't as valueable of a chess piece as you might think in the game of football.

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