I'm sure that most of you that have entered into this article think that this must be a joke, or awful hyperbole. Amazingly, to even myself, I am not kidding.
This research project is not based on watching a player in college or
preseason, and saying (like Dick Vitale) "man, this guy is awesome baby!". I
watch hundreds of players during games who look "awesome" to my naked eye. You
cannot/rarely can trust your eyes, and that's why I am dedicated to discovering
the statistical patterns behind success. Much like what Oakland A's GM Billy
Beane or Sabermetrics guru Bill James have done in the field of baseball
statistics and predictive performance, I also ask the question "can certain
statistical clues be an entire basis for predicting football performance,
without even watching the player...ever". I don't claim to be Bill James or
Billy Beane, but I would consider them an inspiration!
I cannot statistically measure "heart", I cannot statistically measure
"character", I cannot statistically measure injury effects of players coming out
of college. What I can measure is physical characteristics and college
performance to see if any combination of factors translates and correlates to
successful NFL performance. In the instance of Ryan Mathews, I had actually set
out to prove that there was too much hype surrounding Mathews. Initially, in my
study of College RB-to-NFL performance for RB's, Mathews had a red flag. More
like a reddish flag, a small one. But, the problem was I didn't make a
connection of a particular piece of data -- I was overlooking it. My initial
formula was 75% predictive for RB's and in Mathews case the original formulas
set Mathews behind Spiller, Tate, Best, and Hardesty. Not far behind, but
Inevitably any Ryan Mathews research turns toward LaDainian Tomlinson
research. I was ready to compare Mathews to LT, and to show how crazy it was.
But, Mathews had a lot of LT characteristics as I went deeper into the research.
I also started looking at Michael Turner (original Chargers draftee) and some of
his similar characteristics. Was this pure luck that in the supposed "crap
shoot" called the NFL Draft; that somehow the Chargers plucked the best RB of
the decade (LT) and snagged Michael Turner (who knows how good he could have
been in the decade if not behind LT?). Are the Chargers just lucky? If not,
should I stand up and take notice when they trade to move way ahead in the 2010
NFL Draft to take Ryan Mathews as "experts" laugh or brush off the Chargers GM
A.J. Smith's seemingly panic maneuver?
I have to be a little coy with the full detail of my numbers, they are
proprietary, but let me share a chunk of the research on how I arrived at this.
- I set out looking at only bigger RB's, Tomlinson, Turner, and Mathews
are "big" RB's (215+ pounds)
- I analyzed them first for "Big and Fast", not only was the RB big in
pounds but did they display power/strength metrics combined with NFL level
- After a RB passed the first 2 check points of analysis, I also linked
College performance to it as well. I will explain more on this upcoming.
As I went through every RB in the last decade that I had data on coming out
of college who fit a "Big & Fast" profile. The RB's who made the list after
washing through 100's of RB's to see who passed the test on parts 1 & 2 of the
study were (before college performance considered in):
- Choice, Tashard
- Forte, Matt
- Hardesty, Montario
- Henry, Chris
- Keaton, Curtis
- Mathews, Ryan
- Parmele, Jalen
- Peerman, Cedric
- Scobey, Josh
- Tate, Ben
- Tomlinson, LaDainian
Taking this list of players (above), and now looking at the third element --
College Performance. Simply viewed, I judged in their final year of college,
"how successful were they"?. What you would want to see here is total domination
in rushing yards, TD's and Yards per Carry. You can have all the physical
attributes in the world and just not want it bad enough, or some other factor
holds you back. You will see from this list there are 4 RB's that just
dominated. A couple you can argue that were close to dominant, but were
definitely very good. The bottom 3 did not live up to what their physical
potential (theoretically) foretold.
||Every game over 100+ yards rushing, and a TD+ every game
||Decent results vs. Miss St & LSU, killed everyone else
||Every game over 100+ except for a game left w/ injury
||Scored 5 TD's in a game against U Conn
||Held up against Purdue, Kansas and Iowa St, 85 yds per
||Good games, mixed with some awful ones
||5 of 8 SEC games over 100+, held to 45 yds by Alabama
||under 5.0 yards per carry is a red flag, but also was in
||3 games under 50 yds final yr, vs. OKL, COLO, NEB
||Only 3 100+ yard games in final season
||1 game over 100+ yds rushing in his entire college
The list below is of RB's who almost made the "Big and Fast" list for
consideration, but they had unavailable/doesn't exist/missing one piece of data
so I had to exclude...but they had everything but one incomplete data point.
Plus, this group also had the 3rd characteristic that they "dominated" in
- Lynch, Marshawn
- Mendenhall, Rashard
- McAllister, Deuce
- Peterson Adrian (MIN)
- Stewart, Jonathan
If we kick Josh Scobey, Cedric Peerman and Chris Henry out of the discussion
due to their weaker college performances; and we add the 5 RB's who had
everything but didn't make list for one piece of incomplete data. There are a
total of 13 RB's. Three are rookies and have never played, so actually we have
10 that have at least one year of NFL experience. Among those 10 with NFL stats:
- Possibly 2 of the best RB's in this decade in LaDainian Tomlinson and
Adrian Peterson are on the list.
- Productive/very good when healthy -- Jonathan Stewart, Deuce McAllister,
and Marshawn Lynch.
- Tising stars (?) Rashard Mendenhall and Matt Forte'.
- Two young players who have not had the chance, or maybe never will --
Jalen Parmele and Tashard Choice.
- One RB who was in & out of the NFL with no big stat totals ever was
Curtis Keaton. Not sure what happened to him, I stopped searching for the
answer after awhile.
In theory, 2 RB's of the 10 on this list are Hall-of-Fame type. The jury is
still out on whether Forte', Mendenhall or Stewart could become an all-time
great. Probably not going to happen for Lynch. McAllister was very, very good,
but not an all-time great.
In theory making this list puts you in the "possibility" of being an all-time
great. Three RB's hit this list from the 2010 draft -- Mathews, Hardesty, and
Tate. Not a shock to have 3 RB's make it, as the 2008 NFL Draft produced 4 RB's
(Stewart, Forte', Mendenhall, Choice) to make it.
Arguably the most dominating of all this RB group, and by dominating I mean a
majority (or all) of games played in final year were over 100 yards rushing,
TD's in every game, 5.0+ yards per carry would be (in a debatable order):
- LaDainian Tomlinson
- Ryan Mathews
- Matt Forte
- Adrian Peterson (limited by injury final season, extrapolated it would
be on par w/ 1,700+, 21 TD's)
- Curtis Keaton
Individual standouts of this group:
- STRENGTH = Jonathan Stewart
- PURE SPEED = Ben Tate, Cedric Peerman and Ryan Mathews (all 3 worthy to
- QUICKNESS = Curtis Keaton
Do we all go rush out and take Ryan Mathews for 2010? Let's look at some of
the elite "Big and Fast" RB's in their NFL Rookie seasons., and from the looks
of the data the answer might be = yes?
Trad FF PPG
PPR FF PPG
Moving from pure statistics to actually watching him play, there has been no
more impressive player I have watched this preseason than Ryan Mathews. He is a
punishing runner who moves defenders backwards upon impact. Jahvid Best and CJ
Spiller are very quick RB's, but Mathews is quick and he's not going down on
initial impact. I hate to say it, because I hate when others do this, but he IS
just like LaDainian Tomlinson. Mathews is appears to have that LT rare combo of
power-speed-agility for piling up the TD's .
I made a mistake initially, I have to admit it. A month ago I had Mathews
around 30-35th overall among Fantasy Football RB's in the very beginning with
the possible red flag. When I watched him play in preseason, and started
research for this article I discovered a possible new connection with new data I
began to increase his projections into the Top-20. Now completed with this new
formula, we now have him the top-10 overall.
We started this article talking about the Chargers drafting/targeting a
certain type of RB -- I think (for lack of a longer description) they target the
"Big and Fast" RB with exceptional college results. So where is Michael Turner?
Turner succeeded in every category I used but one, and just missed the list.
Michael Turner's college performance was elite plus in his JR and SR seasons
with over 1,800+ yards, and 18 TD's per season avg with 5.5 YPC. If Turner would
have made the cut, he would have bumped Curtis Keaton off -- making the top-5
RB's with all this data in common = Tomlinson, Forte, A. Peterson, Turner and
now Ryan Mathews. Not bad company; and 3 of them selected by the Chargers...
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