As fantasy football debates kick into high gear, more and more analysts have started the rankings game, where they pick and choose statistics by which they choose to justify their gut feelings, and form rankings to post to their websites. There’s nothing wrong with this, because fantasy football players can use this myriad of resources to help form opinions and prepare for fantasy leagues. But the ranking process often comes with contrived statistics used to paint certain players in a certain light, which doesn’t always lend itself to complete accuracy.
As Scott Engle of RotoXperts often says on his daily morning show on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio, fantasy players, and sports fans in general, can often generate a negative about a player to prove a gut feeling to downgrade them. Callers would often ask Scott if they should trade or cut a certain player, and he would tell them that they’re allowing their doubt to drive them to cherry pick negative statistics which mislead the player from the overall picture about the player.
This phenomenon is happening this offseason with Doug Martin, and it has happened on far too many sports talk mediums for me to list. But the general notion is that Martin did “most of his work” in two games during the middle of the season, against the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders, and that he shouldn’t be trusted otherwise, because he wasn’t reliable.
I was fed up with hearing this about Martin (because I admit, I am a homer) and never hearing it about any other players, so I set out to see just how much of an impact good and bad games can have on a players’ overall season numbers. So I took the top six running backs in the NFL, and I removed their two best and two worst games. Because in the same way you can discard a players’ two best games for being the majority of his work, you can chop off the two worst games to balance out the equation, and find the true average performance for a player. Many times NFL analysts will discard a game or two on a players’ schedule and say “if you look at the body of work…” or some other cliché, so it uses both sides of the same coin to generate an honest evaluation of the middle-of-the-road performances for the player in a given year.
Here is what I found:
Doug Martin averaged around 20 carries for 91 yards in 2012, with .69 touchdowns per game. These are respectable numbers, and were good enough to rank him fifth amongst NFL running backs. But when you cut out the top two games (which were the game against Oakland, and the game against Atlanta to end the season, because the game against Minnesota was buoyed by his receiving efforts), and his worst two games, he averaged around 20 carries for 84 yards and .5 touchdowns per game. In other words, he lost about a half yard per carry, and scored slightly less often.
So how does that stack up to other NFL runners? Jamaal Charles finished just ahead of Martin in the final rushing standings, and when his best and worst games are removed in the same way as Martin’s, he finished with 18 carries for 87 yards and .25 touchdowns per game. This is compared to his 18 carries for 94 yards and .31 touchdowns on the season as a whole. This represents an almost identical .5 yards per carry drop for Charles, with a similar number of carries and a slight drop in scores.
Arian Foster, who admittedly is an absolute machine at the running back position, shares a similar similarity on these two metrics. Foster’s “average” 12 performances produced 23 carries per game for 93.4 yards and .91 scores per game. On the season as a whole, he carried 22 times per game for about 89 yards per game, and scored .93 times per game. So Foster benefits more from having his lowest games removed, but only to the tune of of a .05 change in yards per carry.
Marshawn Lynch had an “average” per-game stat line of 21 carries for 105 yards with .58 scores per game. In the season as a whole, Lynch tallied 20 carries for 99 yards and .69 scores per game. So like Foster, Lynch benefits from having the stinkers removed, but only for a .02 benefit in yards per carry and .1 scores per game. Another very similar stat line.
So how about fellow rookie Alfred Morris? The Redskins’ runner had an “average” game of 21 carries for 96 yards and .75 scores per game. His overall numbers were 21 carries for 101 yards and .81 scores per game. The yards per carry are less than .2 apart, so yet another consistent set of statistics.
And finally, “All Day” Adrian Peterson, who had an average line of 22 carries for 130 yards and .75 scores in his “middle 12″ games. Overall, Peterson averaged 22 carries for 131 yards and .75 scores. Another change of less than .2 in yards per carry.
So overall, what can we discern from this data?
First let’s take a look at raw percentages of how the players’ “middle 12″ games compare to their final stat line. Listed is the percentage gained by dividing the average game statistics by the real season long numbers.
|Player||% of “Avg” CPG||% of “Avg” Yards||% of “Avg” YPC||% of “Avg” TDPG|
So in other words, Martin saw the biggest drop in touchdowns per game, thanks to losing the four scores against Oakland, and he also saw the biggest drop in yards per carry. But his drop in yards is on par with Charles’, and none of the numbers are out of line with the rest to the point of considering Martin a bust when removing his best games. This is best proven with yet another table.
Using this table, we can see the full season for each player if we were to extrapolate the average 12 game sample over a full 16 games. Looks like a solid bunch of five running backs, right? And considering the value Martin adds through the passing game, his overall yards from scrimmage data would still fit in similarly on the overall leaderboard.
So what have we learned from this exercise? Doug Martin was maybe a half-step below the other top running backs in terms of consistency, but not to the extent you’re being led to believe. If Doug Martin had provided 330 carries for 1350 yards and 8 scores, he would still have been a fantasy star considering his draft position, and there would still be clamoring for him to be a top 5 selection in drafts, and even higher in PPR leagues.
And even if you’re not a fantasy player, you can deduce that Martin was one of the elite backs in the NFL last season, even on his most average of weeks. And as he enters his second season in the NFL, behind one of the best interior offensive lines in all of football, these numbers are capable of trending upwards. So don’t doubt the Dougernaut based on contrived negatives about his two game outburst, trust that the Buccaneers have an amazing young runner who is primed for another fantastic season.
Oh, and those Foster and Peterson guys are pretty good, too.