Strength of Schedule Impact – 2010 Running Backs Normalized

| June 5, 2011

[Editor's note: this article was previously posted in our PFF Fantasy section.]

Recently, I took on a project where I will be normalizing player statistics from the last three seasons. Throughout this process, I will be sharing my findings via articles and tweets.

Today, I will kick off the process with the removal of the strength of schedule factor from the 2010 rushing stats. Using the top 40 rushers in terms of carries from the regular season*, I normalized each player’s yards-per-carry and touchdown rate marks to reflect what they would’ve been had they played a league average schedule each week of the 2010 season.

Because most players will see their tougher opponents offset by a handful of easier opponents, the results here won’t be earth shattering. Still, there’s plenty to be learned. As you’ll see, even a half percent change in TD rate can result in a difference of two scores.

*Although I’m comparing the top 40 in terms of regular season carries, complete 2011 stats are used, including the playoffs, when looking at TD and YPC rates. This is so we can increase the sample size as high as possible.

Better than you thought

Yards-Per-Carry



Actual
Normalized
Variation
Rk Player Car Yds YPC
Car Yds YPC
YPC
1 BenJarvus Green-Ellis 238 1051 4.4 238 1109 4.7 0.24
2 Brandon Jackson 196 731 3.7 196 761 3.9 0.16
3 Michael Bush 158 655 4.1 158 676 4.3 0.13
4 Cedric Benson 321 1117 3.5 321 1158 3.6 0.13
5 Fred Jackson 222 939 4.2 222 967 4.4 0.13
6 LaDainian Tomlinson 254 1055 4.2 254 1085 4.3 0.12
7 Matt Forte 279 1222 4.4 279 1250 4.5 0.10
8 Shonn Greene 230 968 4.2 230 987 4.3 0.08
9 Jahvid Best 172 567 3.3 172 581 3.4 0.08
10 Adrian Peterson 283 1298 4.6 283 1319 4.7 0.07

Of the 40 backs in question, BenJarvus Green-Ellis was actually the unluckiest in terms of yards-per-carry. His 4.4 YPC was already better than league average for a tailback, but the fact that he faced a tough schedule makes it even more impressive. Against a league-average schedule, he’d be staring at a 4.7 mark.

A pair of Jets, LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene, both made the list. Interestingly, both jumped from a 4.2 YPC to 4.3.

Considering Michael Bush is 3rd on the list, you might be wondering “Where the heck is Darren McFadden?” Lucky for McFadden, he missed the Raiders Weeks 5 and 6 games, which were against a pair of tough run defenses in the 49ers and Chargers. Later in this article, you’ll see how much of an impact missing those 2 games really made.

Touchdown Rate



Actual
Normalized

Rk Player Car TD TD%
Car TD TD%
TD%
1 Cedric Benson 321 7 2.2% 321 9 2.7% 0.48%
2 Rashard Mendenhall 385 17 4.4% 385 19 4.9% 0.44%
3 Ronnie Brown 200 5 2.5% 200 6 2.9% 0.37%
4 Ricky Williams 159 2 1.3% 159 3 1.6% 0.32%
5 BenJarvus Green-Ellis 238 13 5.5% 238 14 5.8% 0.31%
6 Jahvid Best 172 4 2.3% 172 4 2.6% 0.28%
7 Fred Jackson 222 5 2.3% 222 6 2.5% 0.26%
8 LaDainian Tomlinson 254 8 3.1% 254 9 3.4% 0.23%
9 Jonathan Stewart 178 2 1.1% 178 2 1.3% 0.22%
10 Shonn Greene 230 3 1.3% 230 3 1.5% 0.19%

Cedric Benson was 4th on the YPC list and tops this one. This shouldn’t be a total shocker when you consider that one quarter of Benson’s games come against the Ravens and Steelers. Against a league average schedule, Benson scores nine times on the ground instead of seven – a difference of nearly a half percent.

We know the Dolphins struggled offensively in 2010 and part of the issue was clearly a tough schedule against the run. Both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams find themselves inside the Top 5. This is yet another reason to expect regression in 2011, regardless of where they land.

Notice that six names appear on both lists (Benson, Green-Ellis, Tomlinson, Greene, Jahvid Best, and Fred Jackson). Considering that their 2011 schedule should be at least slightly easier, we should be expecting a statistical improvement for most of these guys.

Worse than you thought

Yards-Per-Carry



Actual
Normalized
Variation
Rk Player Car Yds YPC
Car Yds YPC
YPC
40 Frank Gore 203 853 4.2 203 810 4.0 -0.21
39 Mike Tolbert 182 737 4.0 182 705 3.9 -0.18
38 Chris Ivory 137 718 5.2 137 696 5.1 -0.16
37 Jamaal Charles 240 1548 6.5 240 1510 6.3 -0.16
36 Ryan Torain 164 744 4.5 164 726 4.4 -0.11
35 Thomas Jones 250 911 3.6 250 883 3.5 -0.11
34 Ryan Mathews 157 675 4.3 157 659 4.2 -0.10
33 Darren McFadden 222 1157 5.2 222 1136 5.1 -0.09
32 Steven Jackson 330 1241 3.8 330 1215 3.7 -0.08
31 Maurice Jones-Drew 301 1311 4.4 301 1290 4.3 -0.07

The league average YPC for running backs is 4.3, which means that Frank Gore goes from slightly below average to well below average once we correct for his “easy” schedule. His 0.21 drop is the largest among our 40-back sample.

I mentioned Darren McFadden earlier and here he is at No. 33. This article shows pretty clearly that, at least in terms of YPC defense, McFadden was a lot luckier than Bush in picking which games to miss. The results show up here.

No one in their right mind will be projecting a repeat 6.5 YPC performance from Jamaal Charles in 2011 and this chart just adds fuel to that fire. Against a league average schedule, he’d of seen a 6.3 mark in 2010. Expect a figure well under 6.0 in 2011.

Touchdown Rate



Actual
Normalized

Rk Player Car TD TD%
Car TD TD%
TD%
40 Steven Jackson 330 6 1.8% 330 5 1.4% -0.44%
39 Michael Bush 158 8 5.1% 158 7 4.6% -0.43%
38 Mike Tolbert 182 11 6.0% 182 10 5.6% -0.42%
37 Brandon Jacobs 148 9 6.1% 148 8 5.7% -0.40%
36 Chris Johnson 315 11 3.5% 315 10 3.2% -0.32%
35 Ahmad Bradshaw 276 8 2.9% 276 7 2.6% -0.32%
34 Jamaal Charles 240 6 2.5% 240 5 2.2% -0.30%
33 Darren McFadden 222 7 3.2% 222 6 2.9% -0.29%
32 Frank Gore 203 3 1.5% 203 3 1.3% -0.22%
31 Knowshon Moreno 182 5 2.7% 182 5 2.5% -0.22%

On almost the exact opposite side of the spectrum from Cedric Benson we have Steven Jackson. Jackson enjoyed a schedule that allowed him nearly a half percent increase in his TD rate. Considering he only scored six times on 330 carries, this does not bode well for him … but maybe an improved offense under Josh McDaniels will help offset the damage.

Michael Bush pops up at number two. Bush was the benefactor of an easy schedule in terms of YPC and was just lucky when it came to touchdowns. In fact, Oakland had it so easy in this department that McFadden made the list as well, at No. 8. Expect both to find tougher paths to the endzone in 2011.

A pair of Giants, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, found their way onto this list. We already figured Jacobs would see some TD regression, so this only furthers that thought process. Bradshaw was just below league average (3.1%) in 2010, but this knocks him down even further.

  • jakuvious

    I’m not sure I understand your point about Charles. Perhaps you are right, but how does a league average schedule taking away 38 yards and 1.5 ypc translate to him having a ypc significantly below 6 next year? I understand that that’s a legitimate view, but your stats don’t really do anything to show that, when the difference is really minimal at best for Charles.

    • http://www.profootballfocus.com Mike Clay

      The point on Charles is really just showing that this article furthers my point from several previous features that he will see a sharp drop in YPC. In a nutshell, players simply cannot sustain a mark that high. That especially goes for him considering his larger workload.

  • jakuvious

    “Interestingly, Michael Bush pops up at number two. Bush was the benefactor of an easy schedule in terms of YPC, but he wasn’t as lucky when it came to touchdowns. In fact, Oakland had it so rough in this department that McFadden made the list as well, at No. 8. Expect both to find easier paths to the endzone in 2011.”

    I don’t follow this, either. Your chart would suggest both Bush and McFadden benefitted from easy rush TD schedules, and their TD totals were “inflated” by that. But you claim next year it will be easier, and that Oakland had a tough time this year, even though your stats claim they had it easier than most teams.

    • http://www.profootballfocus.com Mike Clay

      This one was an error. Apparently I read the statistic backwards when I wrote up Bush’s recap. Somehow i did that despite getting the Giants and Steven Jackson correct. Weird. I appreciate the heads up.