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Better Than Average - Running Backs
David M. Dorey
2004
Quarterbacks  |  Running Backs  |  Wide Receivers  |  Tight Ends

As with many types of analysis, looking into the past performances of running backs yields a more accurate picture than any other position. Teams will always run if they can and if they are in the lead. Defenses are created to stop the run first in almost all cases and force the other teams to throw since a sack, incompletion or interception can occur.

Using the same methodology as found in the quarterback analysis, last season's results by defenses in what they allowed positions were considered. Remember - Consistency rankings view a player from the offensive perspective - how many times did he have a big game? BTA rankings show the same players from a defensive perspective - how many times did he do better than most other players when they faced the same defense?

There are three measurements with BTA analysis and to the right you can see how it was derived using all RB performances against the Raiders last season.

Better Than Average Sample (OAK defense)

Wk Tm QB's against OAK - 2003 FF
Pts
Rush
Yards
Rush
TD's
RCV
Yards
RCV
TDs
Top
8
Top
3
Top
1
17 SD Tomlinson L 38 243 2 17        
13 DEN Portis C 30 170 2 7        
4 SD Tomlinson L 27 187 1 24        
12 KC Holmes P 25 91 1 100        
7 KC Holmes P 23 123 1 50        
6 CLE Green W 20 145 1 -2        
16 GB Green A 19 127 1 2        
14 PIT Bettis J 19 106 1 19        
2 CIN Dillon C 15 84 1 6        
3 DEN Anderson M 14 70 1 5        
10 NYJ Jordan L 13 69 1 3        
15 BAL Lewis J 13 125   0        
5 CHI Thomas A 12 123            
11 MIN Williams M 12 39   80        
9 DET Schlesinger C 12 3   53 1      
12 KC Blaylock D 11 40 1 13        
Top performances only

1. BTA Top 8 - Shows how many times an RB faced a defense last year that produced a top 8 performance allowed by that defense for that position. To the right in yellow are the Top 8 performances against the Raiders by a RB using standard performance scoring. Tomlinson (2), Portis, Holmes (2), W. Green, A. Green and Bettis would all be credited with a Top 8 game considering only the Raiders defense. Notice that Jamal Lewis and Anthony Thomas had big games vs. OAK but neither were close to being the upper half.

2. BTA Top 3 - Shows how many times a player faced a defense last year that produced a top 3 performance allowed by that defense for that position. Considering only OAK, Tomlinson (2) and Portis are credited with a Top 3 game.

3. BTA Top 1 - Shows how many times an RB faced a defense last year that produced the BEST performance allowed by that defense for that position. Considering only the Oakland defense, only Tomlinson is credited with a Top 1 game. Realize as well that the best possible score here would be 13 games since each RB would face three teams twice and only one game against a team could be best.

Running backs are always interesting and the upper-tier players are the most consistent. Take a look at what consistency looks like from the defense's perspective using the above criteria against all RB performances in 2003 considering the defenses that they faced.

Top 8 performances allowed by defenses faced in 2003 Top 8 % Top 8 Gms Gms
Played
Top 3 performances allowed by defenses faced in 2003 Top 3 % Top 3 Gms Gms
Played
GB Ahman Green 88% 14 16 KC Priest Holmes 56% 9 16
KC Priest Holmes 88% 14 16 SD Ladainian Tomlinson 50% 8 16
BAL Jamal Lewis 75% 12 16 GB Ahman Green 44% 7 16
NO Deuce McAllister 75% 12 16 IND Edgerrin James 38% 5 13
SD Ladainian Tomlinson 75% 12 16 BAL Jamal Lewis 38% 6 16
MIA Ricky Williams 75% 12 16 MIA Ricky Williams 38% 6 16
DEN Clinton Portis 69% 9 13 BUF Travis Henry 33% 5 15
STL Marshall Faulk 64% 7 11 SEA Shaun Alexander 31% 5 16
IND Edgerrin James 62% 8 13 DEN Clinton Portis 31% 4 13
SEA Shaun Alexander 56% 9 16 STL Marshall Faulk 27% 3 11
CAR Stephen Davis 50% 7 14 NO Deuce McAllister 25% 4 16
ATL T.J. Duckett 50% 8 16 CIN Rudi Johnson 23% 3 13
NYJ Curtis Martin 50% 8 16 HOU Domanick Davis 21% 3 14
PHI Brian Westbrook 47% 7 15 ATL Warrick Dunn 18% 2 11
CIN Rudi Johnson 46% 6 13 CAR Stephen Davis 14% 2 14
JAX Fred Taylor 44% 7 16 PHI Brian Westbrook 13% 2 15
BUF Travis Henry 40% 6 15 ATL T.J. Duckett 13% 2 16
CHI Anthony Thomas 38% 5 13 JAX Fred Taylor 13% 2 16
ATL Warrick Dunn 36% 4 11 MIN Moe Williams 13% 2 16
HOU Domanick Davis 36% 5 14 SF Kevan Barlow 13% 2 16
NYG Tiki Barber 31% 5 16 PHI Duce Staley 13% 2 16
TEN Eddie George 31% 5 16 SF Garrison Hearst 8% 1 12
DAL Troy Hambrick 31% 5 16 NYJ Curtis Martin 6% 1 16
MIN Moe Williams 31% 5 16 TEN Eddie George 6% 1 16
SF Kevan Barlow 25% 4 16 DAL Troy Hambrick 6% 1 16
SF Garrison Hearst 25% 3 12 CHI Anthony Thomas 0% 0 13
TB Michael Pittman 25% 4 16 NYG Tiki Barber 0% 0 16
CAR De'Shaun Foster 21% 3 14 TB Michael Pittman 0% 0 16
PIT Jerome Bettis 19% 3 16 CAR De'Shaun Foster 0% 0 14
PHI Duce Staley 19% 3 16 PIT Jerome Bettis 0% 0 16

Some of the notable facts that came from this was that Ahman Green and Priest Holmes were tops and Tomlinson surprisingly was just short of that top echelon though he started slowly last year. What affects the percentages a bit more in this position were the large number of RB's that did not play a full 16 game season. Travis Henry looked more like a feast of famine RB - he only managed six games in the top 8 games allowed by the defenses he faced but five of them were Top 3 games. McAllister had twelve of sixteen games in the Top 8 but only four of those were Top 3 games.

Though there were 32 defenses, only 13 running backs turned in the best performances against them in 2003 and perhaps the biggest surprise is T.J. Duckett when he took over for the injured Warrick Dunn. Surprising too was that Domanick Davis had some great games last year, but only five of his fourteen were even in the Top 8 of opposing defenses.

There were several situations which caused lesser numbers for some runners, like the Hearst/Barlow and Davis/Foster sharing scenarios last year.

The final BTA review is for RB's that scored the highest fantasy points allowed by a defense last year.

Top 1 performances allowed by defenses faced in 2003 Top 1% Top 1 Gms Gms
Played
SD Ladainian Tomlinson 31% 5 16
GB Ahman Green 19% 3 16
KC Priest Holmes 19% 3 16
NO Deuce McAllister 19% 3 16
IND Edgerrin James 15% 2 13
CIN Rudi Johnson 15% 2 13
PHI Brian Westbrook 13% 2 15
BUF Travis Henry 13% 2 15
BAL Jamal Lewis 13% 2 16
SF Garrison Hearst 8% 1 12
DEN Clinton Portis 8% 1 13
CAR Stephen Davis 7% 1 14
JAX Fred Taylor 6% 1 16
TEN Eddie George 6% 1 16
SF Kevan Barlow 6% 1 16

Tomlinson's value really shines here, easily beating out all others with turning in five performances that proved to be the best all year against five different defenses.

The most notable players that do not appear in this measurement are Ricky "up in smoke" Williams, Marshall Faulk and Shaun Alexander. None of the three ever managed to turn in the best effort allowed by a defense all season.

This also shows the impact of a running back that catches the ball as the four best in this category all are good if not prolific receivers.

This analysis provides a very interesting look into how well a running back truly was against the defenses that he faced. It also provides even better reasons why Tomlinson and Holmes are always the first two picks in fantasy drafts this season. In that next tier of Ahman Green, McAllister, Portis, Lewis and Alexander that is most common in drafts this summer, Green makes a solid case for being #3 with this analysis and Portis and Alexander appear to be a bit less impressive considering the defenses that they faced in 2003.

Next up - wide receivers!