No average fullback.
When you think of the fullback in today’s game, you probably think of a player like Vonta Leach
, widely regarded as the best blocking back in the NFL. There are also the H-Back/receiving fullback types, like Marcel Reece
or James Casey
, and the rushing fullbacks like Le’Ron McClain
, Jacob Hester
, and Mike Tolbert
. And it’s the fullbacks who double as goal line threats like John Kuhn
and Jed Collins
who get the most attention from fantasy players. But the fullback position was not always so specialized.
In fact, fullback used to be the glamor spot in the backfield, and that’s the position played by Marion Motley, Dan Towler, Tank Younger, Joe Perry, Alan Ameche, John Henry Johnson, Rick Casares, and the great Jim Brown. Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung both played fullback in Green Bay, while Keith Lincoln and Cookie Gilchrist were great fullbacks in the AFL. In 1966, Minnesota fullback Bill Brown led the NFL in carries. That wasn’t unusual, as fullbacks were key parts of rushing attacks in that decade: the four leading rushers of the ’60s — Jim Brown, Jim Taylor, Don Perkins, and Dick Bass — were all fullbacks. In 1965, fullback Tom Nowatzke went 4th overall in the AFL Draft while Ken Willard (a future four-time Pro Bowler) went second overall in the NFL Draft… just ahead of Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers.
The ’70s were dominated by great fullbacks, as future Super Bowl MVPs Larry Csonka, John Riggins, and Franco Harris were among the game’s best players. And while lacking in star power, Sam Cunningham, Mark van Eeghen, and Pete Johnson were all Pro Bowl-caliber players and key parts of their team’s offenses, too. As the passing game opened up after 1978, the role of the fullback changed. William Andrews was the throwback, but Roger Craig and James Wilder entered the league as fullbacks at a time when the position was evolving into a more specialized role, and had their best seasons after switching to halfback. In Wilder’s case, Tampa Bay switched to a two-tight end offense to get Jerry Bell and Jimmie Giles on the field (and removing running back Mel Carver from the field was an added bonus). For Craig, he played fullback when he was joined in the backfield with Wendell Tyler and Joe Cribbs and halfback when Tom Rathman replaced them.
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Belichick checks to see where he is on the list.
Yesterday, I looked at the most pass-happy active head coaches and offensive coordinators in the NFL. If you’ve been a loyal reader of my previous posts on Game Scripts, you understand the methodology I’ve used today to grade each coaches. The quick summary is I’ve come up with the term “Game Scripts” to determine the average points margin over each of the 3600 seconds in each game; from there, I also came up with Game Scripts scores for each season. If you then take each coach’s pass/run ratio, adjust for the league average pass/run ratio, and then adjust for Game Scripts, then you can determine each coach’s passing identity. I’ve done this for every season since 1940.
The table below lists the 252 coaches I have in my database who have been either a head coach or an offensive coordinator for at least four seasons. I suggest using the search box to find your favorite coaches, but as always, all columns are sortable, too. In the table below, the number of HC/OC seasons includes all seasons, but the games, wins, losses, ties, winning percentage, and wins over .500 columns all include only the coach’s records as a head coach. The Game Script column shows each coach’s average Game Scripts average over each season, while the “P/R” column does the same for pass/run ratio. The next three columns are all indexes centered around 100. The “SCRIPT” column is the Game Scripts rating, the “PASS” column is the Pass/Run Ratio rating, and the Pass Identity column is a combination of the two columns. (You can read some of the other Game Scripts articles for more explanation). Based on his time in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers, Joe Philbin comes in as the most pass-happy coach, but that number seems likely to decline the longer he coaches. George Seifert built his reputation as the defensive coordinator for the 49ers, but having Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Jerry Rice turned him into a pass-friendly coach. As for the next two men on the list, modern NFL fans need no further explanation.
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Mike Smith checks the score, calls for a pass.
One reason I came up with the concept of Game Scripts
was to identify the most pass-happy coaches. Remember, a team’s Game Script score is simply their average scoring differential over each second of every game. Last year, the Falcons were the most pass-happy team in the NFL after adjusting for Game Scripts; Atlanta had the 5th highest Game Script (average lead of 3.6 points) and the 7th highest Pass/Run Ratio (63.0%). To put that in perspective, none of the other top 16 teams in Game Scripts had a Pass/Run Ratio of even sixty percent. The Falcons used to be run-heavy, of course, but as Michael Turner
aged while Matt Ryan
, Julio Jones
, and Roddy White
matured, they’ve become a passing team.
There will be 64 head coaches and offensive coordinators in 2013; I went back and looked at every season those coaches were either head coaches or offensive coordinators in the NFL. Two head coaches — Gus Bradley in Jacksonville and Chip Kelly in Philadelphia — have never been a head coach or offensive coordinator at the NFL level. In addition, the following seven offensive coordinators will be entering those roles for the first time, too: Harold Goodwin (Arizona), Nathaniel Hackett (Buffalo), Adam Gase (Denver), Pep Hamilton (Indianapolis), Jedd Fisch (Jacksonville), Doug Pederson (Kansas City), and Dowell Loggains (Tennessee). The table below shows the career Game Scripts averages, Pass/Run Ratios, and Pass Identities for the other 55 head coaches/offensive coordinators entering 2013.
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Over at Footballguys.com, I analyzed how the fantasy value of quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends have changed since 1990. The NFL is a very different beast than it was 23 years ago, but you might be surprised to see what that means for fantasy football. To measure value, I examined the VBD curves for each of the four major positions in fantasy football.
For those unfamiliar with VBD, you can read Joe Bryant’s landmark article here. The guiding principle is that the value of a player is determined not by the number of points he scores but by how much he outscores his peers at his particular position. This means that in a league that starts 12 quarterbacks, each quarterback’s VBD score is the difference between his fantasy points and the fantasy points scored by the 12th best quarterback. The cut-offs at the other positions are 12, 24, and 36, for tight ends, running backs, and wide receivers, respectively.
The NFL in 2013 won’t closely resemble how the league looked in 1990, but what does that mean for fantasy football? To determine that, we need to see if VBD has evolved with the rest of the football statistics. Let’s start with a graph displaying number of fantasy points scored by the last starter at each position since 1990. As you can see, quarterback scoring has risen significantly over the last two decades, and the production of the 12th tight end has nearly doubled over that time period.
You can see the full article here.
Two weeks ago, I looked at the longest streaks where a team failed to have a player rush for 100 yards. Richie asked me if I could run the numbers on the longest streaks without a 1,000-yard rusher. The longest active streak in the NFL belongs to the Detroit Lions, who have not boasted a 1,000-yard rusher since Kevin Jones rushed for 1,133 yards as a rookie in 2004. Will Reggie Bush or Mikel Leshoure end that streak in 2013? Probably not.
It’s hard to look at these streaks across NFL history. For example, New York entered the NFL in 1925 and no Giant rushed for 1,000 yards until Ron A. Johnson in 1970. The Lions didn’t have a 1,000-yard rushing in their first 41 years, either. But we can look at the longest streaks that starter after the AFL-NFL merger. The modern Lions are the 12th team to go eight straight years without a 1,000 yard rusher over the last 43 years. As the longest streak? Well now we know why Miami drafted three running backs in consecutive rounds in 1996.
Insert obligatory Dan Marino comment here.
Green Bay didn’t use a first round pick on a running back, but the Packers did spend a second round pick on Alabama’s Eddie Lacy and a fourth round pick on UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin. How much weight should we put on draft status when one team drafts two running backs just a couple of rounds apart? One school of thought is that the Packers liked both players and are maximizing their odds of finding a star; another is that Green Bay prefers Lacy and wants him to win the job, since he was their first choice. Here’s another thing to consider, courtesy of my good buddy Sigmund Bloom: the Packers traded down to grab Lacy and traded up to draft Franklin, indicating that perhaps the Packers were higher on Franklin than you might think.
How rare is it for teams to double dip at the running back position like this? That depends on how you want to categorize what the Packers did. I think a reasonable comparison would be to look at all teams that:
- Did not draft a running back in the first round but drafted one in the second or third rounds (this excludes combinations like Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington); and
- Then drafted a different running back within the next two rounds
Since 1970, only 34 teams have met those criteria, meaning this is a strategy employed roughly three times every four years. In three instances, a team drafted three running backs that met those two criteria, and we’ll deal with them at the end of this post. I’m going to exclude three teams that drafted fullbacks after selecting halfbacks, as the 2008 Lions (drafted Jerome Felton after Kevin Smith), 2003 Ravens (Ovie Mughelli after Musa Smith), and 1999 Dolphins (Rob Konrad after J.J. Johnson) don’t really fit the intent of the post. That leaves us with 28 pairs of running backs. The table below lists each pair. On the left, you will see the first running back drafted, his round and overall pick, his rookie rushing yards, his rookie fantasy points total (using 0.5 points per reception), and his career rushing yards; on the right, the same information is presented for the second running back drafted. The far right column shows the difference between the two players in terms of fantasy points during their rookie year. For example, Stevan Ridley scored 41 more points than Shane Vereen in 2011, even though the Patriots drafted Vereen first.
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