Performance Based Value: Running Backs
In this series of pieces, Pro Football Focus is hammering into the value of players. To us it’s a “Performance Based Value” number, telling you what players were worth (by our grading) in 2012. You can read about the work we’ve done to create it here, but in short:
• It’s solely about what a player did on the field in 2012
• Players are grouped by positions so their play essentially earns them a portion of the positional salary pool
• It’s all about cap hits (these values are approximate)
So, how about we tell you who the most overvalued running backs in the league are?
1. Chris Johnson
If you look at Chris Johnson’s overall stats for the season, it doesn’t look all that bad. He gained 1,243 yards on 4.5 yards per carry. It goes downhill from there though — five fumbles, 18.8 Elusive Rating, 0.65 yards per route run, and seven games of less than 3 yards per carry. This led to Johnson having the second-lowest grade of any running back this season. Those are not the kind of numbers that deserve the second-highest cap hit of any running back.
2012 Cap Hit: $11.4m
2012 Performance Based Value: $1.4m
Value Differential: -$10.0m
2. Darren McFadden
When watching Darren McFadden this season it’s hard to believe he’s the same running back who ran for over 5 yards per carry and 1,157 yards in 2010. He just wasn’t able to break tackles effectively. Out of 48 qualifying running backs, McFadden had the 42nd-best Elusive Rating and the 45th-best average yards after contact. Meanwhile, teammates Mike Goodson and Marcel Reece blew away McFadden’s numbers in every possible aspect when they got their chance. Not the kind of season you want from a guy making almost $10m.
2012 Cap Hit: $9.5m
2012 Performance Based Value: $1.1m
Value Differential: -$8.4m
3. DeAngelo Williams
It’s hard to get $8.7m worth of value out of a player when you play him 40% of the possible snaps, but that’s what the Panthers tried to do with DeAngelo Williams this season. He actually performed fairly well when called upon this year. Williams had an above average Elusive Rating of 34.1 and his 3.17 average yards after contact were the fifth-best in the NFL. He also outpaced backfield mate Jonathan Stewart in yards per carry by 0.7. The Panthers are going to have a hard time getting value out of their running backs though when Williams, Stewart, and Mike Tolbert rarely play at the same time, yet combine for a total cap hit of $14.7m.
2012 Cap Hit: $8.7m
2012 Performance Based Value: $1.3m
Value Differential: -$7.4m
4. Michael Turner
Michael Turner went from feature back last year to splitting time this year and his value suffered as a result. He played 11 more snaps than Jacquizz Rodgers after playing 279 more in 2011. Turner’s yards per carry dropped by 0.9 and he gained 553 less yards. His 38.5 Elusive Rating, while still good, was the lowest we’ve ever seen from him. With his lack up top end speed Turner relies on his ability to break tackles. That ability has obviously diminished and it’s why he saw his value drop significantly.
2012 Cap Hit: $7.0m
2012 Performance Based Value: $1.1m
Value Differential: -$5.9m
5. Arian Foster
Arian Foster had an OK season running the football, but that’s about all you can say about him. He had the second-worst yards per route run among starting backs at 0.6. Foster also had the lowest Pass Blocking Efficiency of any running back, at 89.0. When he did get handed the ball he didn’t do anything special. Foster broke only 32 tackles on 391 touches. If you are paying a running back $8m he better be an elite runner or a complete back. Foster was neither in 2012.
2012 Cap Hit: $8.0m
2012 Performance Based Value: $2.5m
Value Differential: -$5.4m
6. Maurice Jones-Drew
Boy do the Jaguars look smart on this one. Running backs rarely get large contracts because the risk of serious injury is too high and that risk was realized by the Jags this year. Maurice Jones-Drew was lost for the season during Week 7 and managed to gain only 414 yards. Just imagine what his value differential would have looked like had he been given a raise.
2012 Cap Hit: $6.4m
2012 Performance Based Value: $1.0m
Value Differential: -$5.4m
7. Steven Jackson
With the highest performance based value of anyone in the bottom 10, Steven Jackson makes this list because of his back-weighted contract. In his ninth season Jackson was as dependable as ever. He ran for his eighth straight 1,000 yard season and didn’t have a fumble for the first time in his career. Jackson’s 2.69 average yards after contact was his best mark since 2009, however, his Breakaway Percentage of 20.4 was the lowest we’ve ever seen from him. The stats suggest Jackson may have lost a step, but his play continues to be at a high level.
2012 Cap Hit: $10.8m
2012 Performance Based Value: $5.8m
Value Differential: -$5.0m
8. Matt Forte
Matt Forte failed to equal the success of his 2011 season and the Bears’ offense suffered because of it. His yards per route run dropped from 1.89 to 1.24, while his Elusive Rating dropped from 52.6 to 19.0. All this comes a year after a contract extension and a large pay increase. To be fair, Forte did have some injuries that plagued him throughout the year, but that doesn’t make it any easier for Bears fans to swallow him being on this list.
2012 Cap Hit: $6.8m
2012 Performance Based Value: $2.0m
Value Differential: -$4.8m
9. Reggie Bush
Reggie Bush didn’t have a bad season in 2012, but he didn’t do anything incredibly well either, and his value shows as much. Bush’s value was docked heavily by his pass blocking shortcomings. He had a terrible Pass Blocking Efficiency of 90.9 on 58 pass blocking snaps. His Elusive Rating was a fairly average 28.3. Known in the past as a receiving threat, Bush compiled a mediocre yards per route run of 1.26, which put him 24th out of 49 backs. With the 10th-highest cap hit among running backs this season, Bush was not to the 10th best back.
2012 Cap Hit: $6.0m
2012 Performance Based Value: $1.7m
Value Differential: -$4.3m
10. Rashard Mendenhall
Another player with a season decimated by injuries. Rashard Mendenahll didn’t see the field until Week 5 after recovering from an ACL injury suffered last season. After that he tweaked his Achilles and saw just 104 snaps on the season.
2012 Cap Hit: $3.4m
2012 Performance Based Value: $700k
Value Differential: -$2.7m
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