[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
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.
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
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.
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.