2012 Fantasy Football

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The Fantasy Impact of Running Quarterbacks (Update)

posted by Mike Braude

Last offseason, I examined the impact of a running quarterback on his running backs and found this relationship to be positive. Twelve of the fifteen quarterback seasons that topped 500 rushing yards since 1995 were included in the article – all of which resulted in a positive impact on the team’s starting running back. The only running quarterbacks omitted were Donovan McNabb in 2000, and Steve McNair in 1997 and 1998. McNabb’s season wasn’t included because the Eagles backfield was devastated by injuries that season – leaving an overmatched Darnell Autry with the starting job. The Steve McNair seasons proved to be the outlier of the article – his rushing statistics did not significantly impact Eddie George’s numbers (negatively or positively).

2012 provided us with much more data to examine the positive relationship we have previously identified. Although the last sixteen years yielded just fifteen quarterbacks that topped 500 rushing yards, there were two this season: Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton.

Despite using 500 rushing yards as the benchmark for my previous running quarterbacks study, for the purpose of increasing the data, I will include Russell Wilson (489 rushing yards) and Colin Kaepernick (415 rushing yards) in the update to this study. Despite falling 11 yards short of the benchmark, Wilson is likely to have the same impact on opposing defenses as the rest of the quarterbacks considered in this study. Kaepernick, on the other hand, fell short because of a lack of playing time – while he averaged 50.2 rushing yards per start, Kaepernick’s ten game season (including the playoffs) extrapolates out to 803 rushing yards in a 16 game season. For these reasons, I will include both Wilson and Kaepernick  in this study and examine their impact on their tailbacks.

We will start with Robert Griffin III, the leader of the rushing quarterbacks this season, with 815 rushing yards. Paired with 6th round rookie Alfred Morris, the Redskins were phenomenal on the ground, leading the NFL in rushing. That is due in part to coach Mike Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme but amazingly, in Morris’ first NFL season he was able to break the Redskins’ single-season rushing record while efficiently rushing for 4.81 yards per carry. Despite the fact that Morris is a talented young back, there’s no denying that Griffin’s rushing ability had a meaningful impact on the opposing defense’s focus and helped open holes on Morris’ rushing attempts.

Second in rushing out of quarterbacks in 2012 was Cam Newton. While we’ve previously seen a positive effect on Newton’s tailbacks, this season was a struggle for the Panthers’ rushing attack. Jonathan Stewart, a difference-maker in previous seasons, struggled to stay on the field. Despite being the Panthers’ most talented rusher, Stewart played just nine games and managed just 93 carries over the course of the season. Unhealthy and unable to get into a groove, Stewart had the worst season of his professional career.

This pushed the burden onto DeAngelo Williams who, at age 29, is not the same back he once was. Finishing with 4.1 yards per carry, Williams fell one whole yard short of his previous career average, 5.1. While this could be attributable to a combination of injury and age, this must be considered contrary to our initial conclusion.

Russell Wilson provides us with another opportunity to test the impact of a running quarterback on his running back. Over the course of Marshawn Lynch’s career, he has typically averaged approximately four yards per carry. A review of Lynch’s career reveals that there is a negligible difference between his per play effectiveness on the Bills and Seahawks.

Team

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

Age

Years

Marshawn Lynch

BUF

45

687

2765

17

4.02

21-24

07-10

SEA

27

450

1777

18

3.95

24-25

10-11

 

Much changed during 2012 with Russell Wilson at the helm; Lynch greatly exceeded his previous output – both in total yards and yard per carry – resulting in the best season of his career.

Year

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

Age

Marshawn Lynch

2011

15

285

1204

12

4.22

25

2012

16

315

1590

11

5.05

26

An increase of one whole yard per carry over his career is compelling evidence of the benefit of playing with a running quarterback. Russell Wilson is the big difference over the past two seasons, which facilitates the process of isolating and identifying his impact. Between his two most recent seasons, Lynch’s yards per carry increased by 0.8 yards per carry – almost conclusive evidence that Lynch’s career season is attributable – in large part – to Wilson. It is difficult to imagine a situation in the NFL that is more compelling in its support of the positive impact a running quarterback has on a running back.

 

Colin Kaepernick’s impact on Frank Gore is a little more complicated than the other quarterbacks discussed in this study. Initially, it appears that Gore was more efficient running with Alex Smith than he was while running with Kaepernick. The table below explains this:

Age

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

Gore W/ Smith

29

8

119

656

4

5.51

Gore W/ Kaepernick (incl. playoffs)

29

10

181

780

6

4.31

 

This season Gore started nine games with Smith but the Week 10 tie against the Rams was excluded from this study because both Smith and Kaepernick saw extended playing time. This leaves an 18 game sample of data to be examined. At first blush, it appears that Gore was considerably more efficient with Smith, running for 1.2 more yards per carry. But one must recall that since Gore sat out the second half of 2010 with a season-ending hip injury, there have been many questions about Gore’s durability – his ability to play a complete season. Many believed he faded down the stretch in 2011 – let’s see what the numbers say:

Age

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

2011 1st Half

28

8

159

782

5

4.92

2011 2nd Half

28

8

123

429

3

3.49

 

Over the past few seasons, it is obvious that Gore tends to play better in the first half of the season. This gives Kaepernick an immediate disadvantage in the comparison between Smith and Kaepernick – Smith received a fresh Gore while Kaepernick received a worn-down Gore.

On the other hand, if we limit our comparison to Gore’s second half of 2011 with his play with Kaepernick (effectively the second half of 2012, including the playoffs) Gore ran for over 0.8 more yards per carry with Kaepernick. Although Gore was another year older, he managed to increase his production and run at a more efficient level. This focused analysis favors Kaepernick.

Gore was also more productive earlier in the season because of his schedule. With Smith, Gore faced defenses that allowed an average of 4.5 yards per carry. With Kaepernick, he faced defenses that allowed an average of 4.4 yard per carry. While this isn’t a significant difference, it is worth noting.

Another possible factor is Kendall Hunter’s injury. While Smith was starting, Gore saw an average of 15 carries per game. During Kaepernick’s tenure, Gore saw an increase of 3.1 carries per game.  Those extra touches possibly lowered his per play effectiveness.

Another way to examine this situation is comparing Gore’s last two seasons. In 2011, Alex Smith started every game for the 49ers. In 2012, Smith and Kaepernick equally split the starts.

Age

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

2011 Reg. Season

28

16

282

1211

8

4.29

2012 Reg. Season

29

16

258

1214

8

4.71

 

Despite being a year older, Gore managed to run for three more yards on 24 less carries. While this could arguably be attributed to the development of Michael Crabtree, a more favorable schedule, or a myriad of other variables, there is little doubt that the positive impact of a running quarterback is significant.

In conclusion, we shall continue to tally the positive impacts of the running quarterback on his running back. Coming into this season, twelve out of fifteen (80%) of running quarterback seasons had yielded a positive result. This season three out of four (75%…excluding Cam Newton) yielded a positive result. In total, since 1995, fifteen out of nineteen (78.9%) running quarterbacks have positively impacted the performance of their tailbacks. As to the remaining twenty one percent (21%), some were neutral – neither negative nor positive.

What does this mean for the future? When combined with a running quarterback, a fantasy running back becomes more valuable. The defense must pay attention to the quarterback’s ability to run and causes players to hesitate. This frequently allows the running back to be more efficient per carry.

Keep this in mind when evaluating running backs for next season’s draft. Ultimately, the evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion reached in the first running  quarterbacks article and has been confirmed in this update.

 

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Mike Braude

When he's not searching for ways to defeat his opponents, Mike Braude spends his time finding ways to remove the randomness of fantasy football and reward the most skilled fantasy owners. He has remedied this issue by creating Apex Fantasy Football Money Leagues.
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3 Comments

  • Nice work, as usual!

  • Good F’n job!

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