Fantasy: Predicting missed games for running backs

| April 12, 2012

When calculating player projections, half the battle is estimating missed games due to injury. It’s especially tough when dealing with running backs, who are asked to run full speed into a collection of seven or eight of the biggest, most athletic human beings on the planet. Oh, and sometimes upwards of 20 times per game.

 

Still, we have to estimate as best we can, so today I’m taking a look back at missed game data for tailbacks from the 2011 season. I’ll be focusing on the top-two projected backs on each team prior to Week 1, and comparing each player’s actual games-played to the ideal 16-game season.

 

First off, here is a full listing of the 64 backs included in the study.

 

Team
Pos
Player
Proj
Act
Rookie?
AtlantaHB01Michael Turner1616
BaltimoreHB01Ray Rice1616
BaltimoreHB02Ricky Williams1616
BuffaloHB02C.J. Spiller1616
CarolinaHB01DeAngelo Williams1616
CarolinaHB02Jonathan Stewart1616
CincinnatiHB02Bernard Scott1616
IndianapolisHB02Donald Brown1616
JacksonvilleHB01Maurice Jones-Drew1616
Kansas CityHB02Thomas Jones1616
MinnesotaHB02Toby Gerhart1616
New EnglandHB01BenJarvus Green-Ellis1616
New OrleansHB02Darren Sproles1616
New York JetsHB01Shonn Greene1616
OaklandHB02Michael Bush1616
PhiladelphiaHB02Ronnie Brown1616
PittsburghHB02Isaac Redman1616
SeattleHB02Justin Forsett1616
San FranciscoHB01Frank Gore1616
San FranciscoHB02Kendall Hunter1616R
TennesseeHB01Chris D. Johnson1616
ArizonaHB01Beanie Wells1615
AtlantaHB02Jason Snelling1615
CincinnatiHB01Cedric Benson1615
DenverHB01Willis McGahee1615
Green BayHB01Ryan Grant1615
HoustonHB02Ben Tate1615
MiamiHB01Reggie Bush1615
New EnglandHB02Danny Woodhead1615
PhiladelphiaHB01LeSean McCoy1615
PittsburghHB01Rashard Mendenhall1615
San DiegoHB02Mike Tolbert1615
SeattleHB01Marshawn Lynch1615
St LouisHB01Steven Jackson1615
WashingtonHB02Roy Helu1615R
New York GiantsHB02Brandon Jacobs1614
New York JetsHB02LaDainian Tomlinson1614
San DiegoHB01Ryan Mathews1614
Tampa BayHB01LeGarrette Blount1614
DallasHB02Demarco Murray1613R
Green BayHB02James Starks1613
HoustonHB01Arian Foster1613
MiamiHB02Daniel Thomas1613R
ChicagoHB01Matt Forte1612
DallasHB01Felix Jones1612
IndianapolisHB01Joseph Addai1612
MinnesotaHB01Adrian L. Peterson1612
New York GiantsHB01Ahmad Bradshaw1612
St LouisHB02Cadillac Williams1612
TennesseeHB02Javon Ringer1612
ChicagoHB02Marion Barber III1611
BuffaloHB01Fred Jackson1610
ClevelandHB01Peyton Hillis1610
ClevelandHB02Montario Hardesty1610
New OrleansHB01Mark Ingram1610R
DenverHB02Knowshon Moreno168
OaklandHB01Darren McFadden167
Tampa BayHB02Earnest Graham167
DetroitHB01Jahvid Best166
WashingtonHB01Tim Hightower165
Kansas CityHB01Jamaal Charles162
ArizonaHB02Ryan Williams160R
DetroitHB02Mikel Leshoure160R
JacksonvilleHB02Rashad Jennings160

 

To kick off the analysis I’d like to focus on the overall percentage of missed games.

 

Depth Proj Act %
Total 1024 824 80%
HB01 512 414 81%
HB02 512 410 80%

 

We see here that right at 80% of expected games are played. On the surface, that is pretty good, but we’ll break that down a little bit more later on. If we split out No. 1 backs from their backups, we see basically an even split. Starters actually appeared in four more games than their projected backups, which is interesting considering that the starters are playing more reps.

 

Next up, let’s dig a bit deeper and track down instances of missed games.

 

Missed Total HB01 HB02
0 21 8 13
1 14 9 5
2 4 2 2
3 4 1 3
4 7 5 2
5+ 14 7 7

 

Now we’re getting somewhere. Note that only 21 of our 64 backs (33%) appeared in all 16 games last season. That is discouraging, but also not overly shocking. 35 of the 64 (55%) missed no more than one game and 14 of the 64 (22%) missed no fewer than five games. The only good news here is that your top back has a better chance of missing no games than he does of missing more than a quarter of the season.

 

Breaking it down by starter vs. backup, we see that only eight of 32 (25%) projected No. 1 backs appeared in all 16 games. On the other hand 13 of 32 (41%) backups stayed upright all season. Note that of all the data shown, only three backs missed the entire season, and they were all projected backups: Ryan Williams, Mikel Leshoure, Rashad Jennings.

 

The last item I’d like to look at today is rookie performance.

 

Proj Act %
Total 112 67 60%

 

We see that the seven rookie backs included in the study appeared in only 60% of their expected games. If you recall, the league-wide average is 80%. It’s worth noting that two of the three players to miss the entire season were rookies, which certainly brings this number down, but we did see the same kind of thing in 2010 with Montario Hardesty and Ben Tate hitting injured reserve in pre-season. Note that only one of seven rookies played in all 16 games (49ers backup Kendall Hunter) and only two backs missed fewer than three games (Hunter, Roy Helu). DeMarco Murray and Daniel Thomas each missed three games and Mark Ingram was out for six.

 

Although it’s still very tough to predict injuries, this gives us a bit more clarity. First of all, you should never expect any running back to last 16 games. Players like Michael Turner, Jonathan Stewart, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Ray Rice held up all season in 2011, but the odds are very much against them doing it again in 2012.

 

At a minimum, projecting a player to miss a pair of games over a 16 game schedule is fair, but note that the 80% mark we discovered early on works out to 12.8 games, or just over three games missed. This is driven down a bit by players like Williams, LeShoure, Jennings, and Jamaal Charles, who were hurt in the first few weeks and ended up missing most of the season, but the risk of an early-season injury like that needs to be considered.

 

Drafting elite running backs is still the way to go in the first few rounds of your draft, but be sure you keep your bench loaded with the most talented handcuffs available. The odds say you’ll need them.

Follow Mike Clay at Twitter @PFF_MikeClay

Comments are closed.