I'm sure many of you can immediately recall the play that was captured here. That picture comes from what may be my favorite play made by my current favorite player. In one play, AD displayed power, speed, acceleration, and an absolutely punishing stiff arm. The problem for me, is that I have become so ridiculously biased about how awesome AD is, is that when it comes to trying to forecast him into the future, (particularly 2013) I hear him say 'I will get 2500 yards rushing' and I'm just like "sounds good!" This post will be me trying to shrug off my biases and give a somewhat accurate view on what to expect from ADMVP this year.
I will be the first to admit: I didn't see 2012 coming. Not by a long shot. Not only the team's overall record, but certainly not ADs otherworldly season. I mean, not only did he make it onto the field week 1, but by the end of week 14, had he simply sat down and relaxed, hanging out by the pool the rest of the season, would have finished 13 yards shy of leading the NFL in rushing. That kind of dominance is just plain ridiculous. So when I decided to sit down and forecast his upcoming season, I knew that I would have difficulty forecasting his season, for the simple fact that he was so dominant. What do I mean by that? Well, season's like ADs 2012 don't just come along every other year or so. Not only was the man the best in the NFL last year, his season ranks (at least in pure rushing yardage) as the second best of all time. So it is very difficult to come up with comparable seasons and do an N+1 season for AD like I did with Ponder a few days ago. Because of that, we will have to dig a little deeper and see what we can come up with. I'm warning you now, this post is going to be littered with little-known statistics. My eyes can sometimes glaze over a screen when presented with tons of stats, so I will try to keep it simple. If you wanted to just skip over the meat and get to the conclusion, I wouldn't blame you. You have been warned :)
I'm using housekeeping here for lack of a better word, but we need to get a few things out of the way first. First up: "The curse of 370". I'm sure most of you, particularly those who play fantasy football, have heard of the curse of 370. Put simply, It is a correlation between a RB getting a large amount of touches (not just rushes, but touches), and then failing to provide an encore in the following season. I have really only one main problem with the curse of 370. Think about it like this: if a player was having an unbelievable year, the coaches would respond by increasing his workload, would they not? Unless your name is Chan Gailey, if you're RB is averaging over 5 yards per carry, wouldn't it be logical to increase that players workload? I would say, under almost all circumstances, yes, it would be logical. Obviously, if a player averaged 5 YPC or more on like 16 rushing attempts after 8 games, you can probably chalk that up to small sample size. However, if that same player has averaged 5 ypc over 8 games while getting 16 rushing attempts per game, I would say it is safe to assume he is the real deal this year. So lets say that is what happens.
Player A rocks out a 1600 yard rushing season while averaging over 5 yards per carry (5 ypc is an arbitrary number I picked, but any high efficiency number can be substituted in). The next year, Player A receives the same amount of carries, but only rushes for 1300 yards with a 4.3 YPC average. He had a massive down year, relative to expectations, did he not? Well, not so fast. What if Player A's career YPC efficiency is 4.2, and that includes his high volume season of 5.0 YPC? If he averaged 4.3 YPC the following year, and got roughly the same amount of carries, he would fall in line with his career average. So how would that be a disappointment? He achieved his average season. The reason its a disappointment is due to unrealistic expectations. Let's now give a face and a name to our Player A.
If you guessed the player already, holy shit, color me impressed. That player is Marshawn Lynch. He of the career 4.2 YPC average. Incidentally, he averaged 5.0 YPC last year, well above his career average. Between the rushes and receptions, and totaling his entire season (playoffs included) he had a total of 378 touches. He's doomed! Well, yes and no. Yes, his efficiency is likely to drop down to around his career average. No, he's most likely not going to to fall off a cliff and never be heard from again. Possible, but unlikely. Figure the Seahawks load him up with around 300 or so regular season carries again, and he regresses back to 4.4 YPC. Still above his career average, so I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt here. Some simple math would tell us that he had a down year, and didn't perform up to expectations. The guy would have rushed for around 1300 yards, so it's not like he was terrible, but people were expecting 2012 Beast Mode to show up, and he didn't. That doesn't mean he played badly, just that he regressed to the mean. That is all. And, just a quick heads up, Lynch has only ever averaged 4.4 YPC or better twice in 7 seasons.
Furthermore, if we dug a little deeper, we would see that Lynchs 77 yard TD run was the longest of his career. For context's sake, take out that one run, and his rushing average drops to 4.8 YPC. Just that one run changed his rushing yardage by 0.2 yards. Its not fair to take out that long run, because he earned it, its just that long runs like that aren't likely to be repeated consistently. Anyway, that is much more than I wanted to write about the supposed 370 curse, and Marshawn Lynch. Put (much more) simply, the curse of 370 isn't a sign of a running back breaking down, but a sign that regression to the mean is likely. Thats all it really is.
Next up are Adrian Peterson's athletic measurements, and what they can tell us about him as a runner. He had a pretty solid day at the combine, particularly for a guy his size. He ran a 4.40 40 yard dash, which, for a guy his size, is pretty damn good. It gives him a speed score of 115.8, which to me is an elite score. Many would probably consider AD to be one of, if not the best athletes of all time (and he certainly is one of the best we've seen in awhile) but Bo Jackson had a speed score of 160.0. That is just unheard of, and as far as I can tell, the best we've ever seen and likely will ever see from the RB position, or any position for that matter. Not even Calvin Johnson's speed score measured up. So we know AD is a physical monster for his size, speed wise. How does his timed agility compare with other running backs? And what do agility scores even tell us about a running back?
First, Shawn Siegle wrote an article where he introduced a stat called Vision Yards. Basically, it measures a RBs ability to gain yards before contact. Without putting too much thought into it, many (myself included) would assume that it correlates highly to the quality of run blocking a RB receives. Turns out, that isn't entirely correct. Taking our own Adrian Peterson into account, between 2008 and 2010, he received, on average, the 23rd best run blocking in the league. Not very good at all. While receiving the 23rd ranked run blocking, he averaged 1.55 Yards Before Contact. However, in 2011, he received the best run blocking in the league.* Yet, even with much better blocking, he averaged 1.54 Yards Before Contact. He was essentially the exact same, while receiving better blocking. The article was written for fantasy purposes, and went on to talk about more players with the same sort of splits. A month later, he comes back and writes an article about Agility Scores.
*His overall run blocking grade was the highest, but that takes into account every player on the Viking's in 2011 who recorded a snap in run blocking, not just the offensive line. Although his run blocking from the 5 OLine men was still strong, it wasn't number 1 overall strong.
An agility score is actually a pretty basic measurement : it is a RBs 3 cone drill time added together with their short shuttle time. The following blurb explains his methodology:
When watching the Combine, most of the time is spent on the 40 yard dash and very little on the short shuttle or 3 cone drill. While many scouts loathe the 40 as well, it’s generally accepted that the sprint has some predictive power at key fantasy positions like RB and WR. However, the agility drills supposedly don’t correlate with NFL success.
While there is much about sports that is counterintuitive, the idea that explosive agility wouldn’t translate to the NFL gridiron is incredibly difficult to rationalize. In my recent article on Vision Yards, I suggested that yards before contact might be just as stable and skill-based as yards after contact. If this is true, we might expect RBs with elite short area quickness to outperform in this area.
In order to see if there was a connection, I went back to 2003 and added the short shuttle and 3 cone times for all runners who participated in both drills. We’ll call this cumulative time the Agility Score. I then checked for a correlation between a runner’s Agility Score and his Vision Yards per attempt. (The sample was non-rookie RBs with at least 100 carries.)
What he found was rather interesting. Agility Scores, by themselves roughly explained 25% of the variance in vision yards. The level of correlation is rather low at first glance, but think about it for a second. That 25% is without any outside factors. Doesn't matter what the defense was running. Doesn't matter what the RBs Offensive Line did. Didn't matter if there was a read-option. Didn't matter what type of run and where the run was designed to go, and it doesn't matter what type of blocking scheme the team was using. With all that in mind, 25% is actually a very large correlation. He also did the same measurement on RBs with high speed scores:
To add context, let’s consider a RB’s Speed Score, the metric popularized by Football Outsiders which has recently correlated fairly strongly with a RB’s NFL success.
Using the same group of runners, I discovered that Speed Score has a small but negative correlation with yards before contact. Moreover, Speed Score has no correlation with yards after contact. (This is not a criticism of Speed Score which was created to measure something different.)
The only problem with Agility Scores is that some RBs decide not to perform either one or both of the drills, so we don't have the numbers of every player. What Siegle did discover though, is that anything under 11.1 was considered good agility, while being under 11.0 was considered elite agility. The following RBs all have either above average or elite agility:
Think back to some of the descriptions you hear about these types of backs. Generally, some form of the word 'quick' springs to my mind. That is essentially what these guys are: they are quick getting through the offensive line laterally. This brings us to the next table, which is the 'mediocre to poor' table:
Obviously, there are some very successful runners on this list. One of them just turned in the second best rushing yardage season of all time. It is important, I think, to understand what exactly this list is telling us. It isn't saying that any of these guys are overrated. It isn't saying that backs with low agility scores can't be successful. What it is saying, is that these are the types of players who identify a hole, hit it, and are 5 yards upfield just like that. What also should be noted, is that backs with mediocre agility scores are more likely to be impacted by variations in the quality of their run blocking. Look what AD did. He got great, great run blocking this year. Got some big holes, and than proceeded to outrun the entire NFL. That isn't to say it is all on the o-line. AD deserves most of the credit. Peterson excels after contact. In fact, he led the league with 3.9 yards after contact per attempt. So essentially, he isn't the best at avoiding contact altogether, but he will punish you for trying to tackle him by stiff-arming you into the ground, or just doing this to you. This does have some implications into how well AD will 'age' but that is a different topic for a different post.
To put it more into focus, what I think this means for AD in relation to 2013, is that as long as the O-Line stays proficient, AD shouldn't have any problems gashing defenses. He will still be among the league best, if not the best, in Yards After Contact, due to his punishing style of running. He will hit the hole hard, blowing through attempted tackles en route to a solid yard per carry. But how solid will his YPC be?
In 2012, Adrian Peterson tied for the league lead in YPC, averaging a ridiculous 6.0 YPC, same as CJ Spiller. However, his career average is 4.5 YPC. We briefly talked about this earlier, but regression plays a big role in the N+1 seasons, particularly when the player in question has an efficiency so above and beyond his career mark. In certain instances, it'll be TDs, like James Jones for the Packers. In ADs case, it'll manifest itself in his YPC. Due to his running style and the offensive line's run blocking proficiency, I don't think AD will regress all the way to his career average. With above average run blocking, AD should still be able to average a healthy 4.7 or so YPC.
Over the past two seasons, the Vikings have averaged 458 rushing attempts per year. I tend to think the offense will stay pretty close to the same this year, with maybe a few more passing attempts, but not so much that it is a large shift in the pass/run split. Figure the Offense throws the ball just over 500 times this year, closer to their 2011 total of 510. The Vikings will run somewhere in the ballpark of 450 times, which means AD should still get a healthy amount of carries. AD averaged just under 22 attempts per game, figure he'll be around 20 again. That gives him about 320 carries on the year. With 20 carries a game, at around a 4.7 YPC average, that'll give AD around 1,500 yards rushing. TDs are inherently hard to predict, as they have a much wider variance than yardage.
Lets now take a look at the RB similarity score app, courtesy of rotoviz.com. I mentioned earlier that it is hard to give AD a good set of comparables, due to his season being so above and beyond what a normal RB is capable of. The following table is his unadjusted N+1 comparable projection:
|Year N+1 Average||27.6||218.8||12.4||17.2||69.6||4.03||0.5||1.6||11.9||.02|
As you can see, that averages out to a season of 275 carries for 1109 Yards and 8 TDs. (That projection is on a full 16 game schedule, not the 12.4 it projects). The problem, again, is that it is asking too much of the app to find a set of comparables that matches ADs ridiculous season. His 2012 is such an outlier, we can't really rely on what the app tells us. I would consider ADs floor (assuming health) to be higher than what this projection tells us. The 270 or so carries is a good low-end projection, but if AD is healthy all year, I don't see how he averages a measly 4.03 yards per carry. So, while comparing players to past seasons is a very valuable exercise normally, there just aren't enough seasons of 2000 yards rushing while average 6.0 yards per carry to really make an accurate projection.
To summarize, assuming health, AD is a lock for around 300 carries (with clear room for more depending on game situation). I doubt he will be able to average a full 1.5 yards per carry over his career norm, but a drop to 'only' 4.7 or so YPC seems reasonable, which will still put him in the running for leading the league in rushing yards. That is my prediction for ADs 2013 season. What do you guys think? Is my prediction valid? Am I way off basis? Let me know in the comments, as well as your own prediction for AD's 2013 season.