2012 Fantasy Football

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The Fantasy Impact of Running Quarterbacks

posted by Mike Braude

 

With the emergence of running quarterbacks like Michael Vick, Tim Tebow, and Cam Newton, I’ve often wondered how their team’s running backs are impacted. I have always believed the impact to be positive – now comes time to prove it.

First, I will define what a running quarterback is for the purposes of this article. Aaron Rodgers has the athleticism to run, but he isn’t exactly what we would call a “running quarterback”. For the purposes of this article, I will define running quarterbacks as quarterbacks that ran for more than 500 yards in a single season (commencing in 1995) and will evaluate their impact on their tailback(s). Let’s begin by looking at the best running quarterback ever – Michael Vick.

Vick currently holds the top three rushing seasons for any quarterback – all of which occurred while he played for the Atlanta Falcons. Vick played four full seasons for the Falcons – the following table represents his yardage and scores during the four seasons in question:

Name

Year

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

Michael Vick

2002

15

113

777

8

Michael Vick

2004

15

120

902

3

Michael Vick

2005

15

102

597

6

Michael Vick

2006

16

123

1039

2

 

The following table reflects how each tailback performed during the seasons in question:

2002

Age

G

Rush

YD

TDs

YPC

1

Warrick Dunn

27

15

230

927

7

4.03

2

T.J. Duckett

21

11

130

507

4

3.90

2004

Age

G

Rush

YD

TDs

YPC

1

Warrick Dunn

29

16

265

1106

9

4.17

2

T.J. Duckett

23

13

104

509

8

4.89

 

2005

Age

G

Rush

YD

TDs

YPC

1

Warrick Dunn

30

16

280

1416

3

5.06

2

T.J. Duckett

24

14

121

380

8

3.14

 

2006

Age

G

Rush

YD

TDs

YPC

1

Warrick Dunn

31

16

286

1140

4

3.99

2

Jerious Norwood

23

14

99

633

2

6.39

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While Vick is the league’s best running quarterback, he does not score a lot of touchdowns. This is important – Vick does not steal goal-line touchdowns from his team’s running backs. During most of these seasons, T.J. Duckett was the Falcons’ goal-line back. It is interesting to note that Dunn had his best overall season at the age of 30 – likely past his prime, but while on Vick’s team.

By way of comparison – Dunn spent much of his prime starting for the Buccaneers – and Duckett and Norwood both rushed without Vick as their quarterback. So, the following table totals their running stats with Vick (the ultimate running quarterback) and without a running quarterback – for the purpose of an apples to apples comparison:

 

Totals w/ Vick:

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

1

Warrick Dunn

63

1061

4589

23

4.33

2

T.J. Duckett

38

355

1396

20

3.93

3

Jerious Norwood

14

99

633

2

6.39

Totals:

115

1515

6618

45

4.37

 

Without Vick:

Years

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

Age

1

Warrick Dunn

97-01

76

1070

4200

17

3.93

22-26

2

T.J. Duckett

06-08

38

165

639

13

3.87

25-27

3

Jerious Norwood

07-11

52

300

1423

5

4.74

24-28

Totals:

166

1535

6262

35

4.08

 

The foregoing confirms that each running back ran more effectively (on a per play basis) while running on with the Falcons (and therefore with a running quarterback). Warrick Dunn played in his prime with the Buccaneers but ran for .4 more yards per carry with the Falcons. T.J. Duckett ran marginally better with Vick but didn’t have many opportunities after leaving the Falcons, likely because he wasn’t the most talented runner. Jerious Norwood’s sample size is very small and possibly fluky but he did rush for 1.6 yards per carry more while playing behind Vick.

Obviously this isn’t enough of a sample size to determine whether it was the running quarterback helping the tailback or if it was Dunn’s poor offensive line on the Buccaneers or other possible factors. Therefore it is necessary to identify other tailbacks that had the same scenario for two straight seasons – one with a running quarterback, and one without.

LeSean McCoy provides a perfect study – when Vick joined the Eagles. During McCoy’s rookie season, McNabb started all 16 games. An analysis of McCoy’s stats over the last three seasons – starting in 2009 with McNabb, and then with Vick in 2010 and 2011.

2009

Age

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

LeSean McCoy

21

16

155

637

4

4.11

2010

Age

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

LeSean McCoy

22

15

207

1080

7

5.22

2011

Age

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

LeSean McCoy

23

15

273

1309

17

4.79

Totals:

30

480

2389

24

4.98

Per Season:

15

240

1194.5

12

4.98

 

Clearly McCoy improved greatly after his first season – his yards per carry improved by 1.1 in a single year. There are two reservations regarding this data – firstly, McCoy only started four games in his first season, only becoming the starter in his second season, and secondly, running backs tend to struggle as rookies. To account for these reservations, an analysis of two running backs – both in their primes – and with a running quarterback is appropriate.

Cam Newton finished his superb rookie campaign with the 4th most rushing yards by a quarterback since 1995: rushing for 706 yards and 14 touchdowns – the most ever by a quarterback. Before Newton’s arrival, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart had already shown they are both dynamic running talents – Williams finished 2008 as the No.1 fantasy running back while amassing over 1500 yards and 18 touchdowns. With Williams out in 2009, Stewart showed he’s no slouch – totaling 1133 yards and 10 touchdowns. How Newton’s arrival has impacted the rushing of Williams and Stewart is reflected below:

 

Name

Year

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

Age

1

DeAngelo Williams

06-10

64

841

4211

31

5.01

23-27

2

Jonathan Stewart

08-10

46

583

2739

22

4.70

21-23

Totals:

110

1424

6950

53

4.88

 

Which amounts to an average season of:

 

Name

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

1

DeAngelo Williams

12.8

168.2

842.2

6.2

5.01

2

Jonathan Stewart

15.3

194.3

913

7.33

4.70

 

Whereas the following table reflects their performance following the arrival of Newton:

Name

Age

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

1

DeAngelo Williams

28

16

155

836

7

5.39

2

Jonathan Stewart

24

16

142

761

4

5.36

Totals:

32

297

1597

11

5.38

 

It is obvious that the addition of Newton made both backs more effective on a per carry basis. However, Newton scores touchdowns – essentially he is the Panthers’ goal-line back, with the result that both Williams and Stewart score less touchdowns. Williams’ seven scores last year is an anomaly because Stewart is the preferred option in the red-zone. Last season, Williams had just two carries inside the opponent’s five–yard line compared to 10 for Stewart and 14 for Newton. Stewart will likely improve on his total this season while Williams’ total will likely regress. Note that while Newton does hurt the tandem by being the team’s best red-zone option, if one of the two controlled the job he would likely have around 300 carries for 1500 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns – which would be worth a top-10 fantasy pick…

While we’re seeing a trend of increased per play effectiveness, an expansion of the sample size leads to an analysis of the league’s current 3rd best rushing quarterback, Tim Tebow. Tebow played 14 games last season and ran for 660 yards and six touchdowns. What was the impact on Willis McGahee?  Firstly, the following represents McGahee’s performance prior to the arrival of Tebow:

Totals:

Year

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

Age

Willis McGahee

04-10

105

1541

6167

55

4.00

23-29

 

It is inaccurate to average McGahee’s numbers because several of the years he was backing up Ray Rice in Baltimore. What’s notable is the fact that, before Tebow, McGahee never topped 4.1 yards per carry as a lead back. To obtain a more accurate view of McGahee’s performance as the lead back, his first four seasons have been averaged – the only other years that McGahee has topped 200 carries.

Average:

Age

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

Willis McGahee

23-26

15.25

290.5

1143

7.75

3.93

 

Last season’s stats:

2011

Age

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

Willis McGahee

30

15

249

1199

4

4.82

 

At the ripe age of 30, McGahee has his best season yet – at least in terms of efficiency. He did, however, lose touchdowns to Tebow because Tebow runs at the goal-line. McGahee did add 0.8 yards per carry to his career average – an unusual phenomenon for an NFL running back at the (ripe old) age of 30. Is this attributable to Tebow?  An examination of Vince Young’s statistics may provide further clarity.

In 2006, Vince Young started 15 games as the quarterback for the Tennessee Titans. He finished the season with 552 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns. Travis Henry was the team’s tailback. A comparison with Henry’s stats while starting for the Bills should advance the argument:

Henry’s average production between 2001 and 2003 shows the following:

 

Year

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

Age

Travis Henry

01-03

44

869

3523

27

4.05

23-25

Average Season:

14.6

289.6

1174.3

9

4.05

 

Henry averaged 4.4 per carry in 2002, his best year with Buffalo. How does that compare with his yards per carry when playing with a running quarterback?

 

2006

Age

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

Travis Henry

28

14

270

1211

7

4.49

 

At the age of 28 and with less carries than his average season on Buffalo, Henry ran for more yards – something that is quickly becoming a trend in this article. We also see that Henry scored two less touchdowns, which Young possibly pilfered from him like Newton does from Stewart and Williams.

One more interesting statistic for Vince Young: in 2009, when Chris Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards, CJ2K rushed for fewer than 100 yards in just four games. All four came within the first six weeks – when Kerry Collins was starting.

In 2002, Daunte Culpepper ran for 609 yards and 10 touchdowns. His running back was 24 year-old Michael Bennett (yes, that Michael Bennett). Bennett spent 2001-2005 with the Vikings. Let’s see how effective was Bennett during Culpepper’s most prolific rushing season.

 

Years

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

Age

Michael Bennett

01, 03-05

35

458

1878

7

4.10

23, 25-27

 

Compare that to:

 

2002

Year

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

Michael Bennett

2002

16

255

1296

5

5.08

 

Once again, there is a large increase in efficiency. Bennett ran for almost a full yard more per carry when Culpepper was at his best as a rusher.

The 2000 Raiders provides another example of the same trend. At a spry 35 years old, Rich Gannon rushed for 529 yards and four touchdowns (crazy, I know). Tyrone Wheatley, the team’s leading tailback, joined the Raiders in 1999 after playing on the Giants for the previous four seasons. We’ll compare his rushing stats during Gannon’s historic season with an average of his other seasons for the Raiders and his previous seasons with the Giants.

 

Team

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

Age

Years

Tyrone Wheatley

NYG

46

356

1280

8

3.60

23-26

95-98

Tyrone Wheatley

OAK

64

682

2636

23

3.87

27, 29-32

99, 01-04

 

And with a running quarterback (Gannon):

 

2000

Age

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

Tyrone Wheatley

28

14

232

1046

9

4.51

 

Interestingly enough, Wheatley ran for .64 yards per carry more during the 2000 season – again in increase in yards per carry – attributable, in part, to defenses being concerned about the quarterback tucking and running.

The Pittsburgh Steelers prove the same point. Kordell Stewart started for the Steelers from 1997-2002 and in 2001 he had his best rushing season, running for 537 yards and five touchdowns. Not only can we see how that impacted their lead-back, Jerome Bettis, but we can also see what happens a year later – when Stewart only started five games and ran for just 191 yards. First take a look at Bettis’ stats rushing for the Steelers in his prime:

 

 

Years

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

Age

Jerome Bettis

96-00

78

1665

6713

36

4.03

24-28

 

In 2001 – when Kordell was a rushing quarterback (at least by the definition for this article) the following was the result for Jerome Bettis:

2001

Age

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

Jerome Bettis

29

11

225

1072

4

4.76

 

In 2001, Bettis runs for his highest yards per carry as a Steeler – beating his previous five-year average by .73 yards per carry.

In 2002 – when Stewart only started five games – the following reflects the result:

2002

Age

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

Jerome Bettis

30

13

187

666

9

3.56

 

Without Stewart, defenses were able to focus on stopping Bettis, which in turn, limited his YPC.  Bettis had a monster season in 1997 – rushing for 1,665 yards at a clip of 4.44 YPC. Not by coincidence, Stewart had his second best rushing season for the Steelers that year – running for 476 yards and 11 touchdowns. In 2003, Stewart left and joined the Bears – let’s see how that impacted Bettis.

2003

Age

G

Rush

Yards

TDs

YPC

Jerome Bettis

31

16

246

811

7

3.30

 

Bettis’ stats fell off even more. Some may blame it on his age or the fact that he had a rookie Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback – still, there’s no denying that having Stewart as a running quarterback positively impacted Bettis’ yards per carry.

We’ve now looked at twelve of the fifteen quarterback seasons that topped 500 rushing yards since 1995. The only running quarterbacks omitted were Donovan McNabb in 2000, and Steve McNair in 1997 and 1998. McNabb wasn’t used because the Eagles backfield was devastated by injuries that season (Darnell Autry led the Eagles with 112 carries… he only had 224 career carries). The Steve McNair seasons proved to be the outlier of this article – his rushing statistics did not significantly impact Eddie George’s numbers (negatively or positively) like the remaining running backs mentioned above.

What is the lesson from this analysis? There is no question that defenses are concerned about these running quarterbacks, which opens bigger lanes for running backs. Defensive ends and linebackers are often in bad position because they are frozen by the threat of a bootleg or a QB sneak – which allows the offensive line to assume advantageous positions for running the ball.

Do you want these running backs on your fantasy team where they share running with their quarterbacks?  The answer is a clear “YES” – largely because these teams are among the best running offenses in football. However, it is important to pay attention to the quarterback – Newton hurts his running backs in fantasy because he is basically the team’s goal-line back, so does Tim Tebow. Vick doesn’t hurt McCoy because his running doesn’t steal the touchdowns – it just keeps the ball moving and helps McCoy move into the red-zone.

What is the impact for the upcoming fantasy season? The trend is obvious – we need to seek out running quarterbacks who can help their tailbacks but not steal touchdowns. This year’s possible examples, besides the obvious ones, are Robert Griffin III and Jake Locker. RG3 is really going to help Roy Helu, Tim Hightower, and/or Evan Royster. The Redskins employ many bootlegs in their offense and RG3 will keep defenders honest with his 4.41 speed. Jake Locker has also shown the athletic ability and speed to be a dangerous rusher. He ran a 4.59 40 at the combine and showed off his wheels by running six times for 36 yards and a touchdown against the Saints in Week 14 last season. Maybe he’ll be just what Chris Johnson needs to reach the 2000-yard plateau again…

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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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