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Alfred Morris and Production Through Three Years

The 2012 OROY and Washington's most productive player from the 2012 draft

The 2012 OROY and Washington’s most productive player from the 2012 draft

Alfred Morris was just a sixth round pick. During his rookie season, he happened to play alongside the eventual offensive rookie of the year. Since then, RG3 has continued to dominate headlines, while Morris continues to plug away without garnering a fraction of the attention. For example, did you know that Morris has now hit the 1,000-yard mark for the third straight season? He’s also rushed for 7 touchdowns each year in his career.

Do you know how many other players have rushed for 1,000 yards and seven scores in each of their first three seasons? Seven: Earl Campbell, Ottis Anderson, Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders, LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson, and Chris Johnson. That’s five Hall of Fame caliber running backs and Anderson/Johnson, a duo that has combined for nearly 19,000 rushing yards and still counting.

Morris has rushed for 3,919 yards and 27 touchdowns in his career, with one game left in his third season. In addition to the six of the seven players above (Anderson had 26 rushing touchdowns through three years), only five other players have hit those marks through three years: Clinton Portis, Terrell Davis, Emmitt Smith, Edgerrin James, and Walter Payton.

In other words, Morris’ production through three years puts him in in the inner circle of elite running back performance. Of the thirteen running backs mentioned in this post, ten were first round picks. The eleventh was Portis, a player who fell to the second round solely due to concerns about his size and durability. None of the other players were drafted in the second, third, fourth, or fifth rounds; the other two were Morris and Davis, both six round picks under Mike Shanahan. [click to continue…]


The Redskins relied on rookies more than most

The Redskins relied on rookies more than most.

The Washington Redskins were powered by a pair of rookie stars in 2012. We all know about Robert Griffin III, but sixth round pick Alfred Morris finished second in the league in rushing. Griffin’s efficiency numbers were unmatched — he led the NFL in both yards per pass and yards per run — en route to 3200 passing yards and 815 rushing yards. Morris gained1,690 yards from scrimmage; add in Kirk Cousins‘ 466 passing yards and 22 rushing yards, and Washington rookies produced 6,193 “yards” in 2012. I put that in quotes because it’s not customary to sum players’ passing, rushing, and receiving yards, but I think that’s the right idea for the point of this post: figuring out which teams have most relied on rookies.

That 6,193 figure is the second most amount of “yards” produced by a group of rookies in NFL history. The leader in the clubhouse? The 2012 Indianapolis Colts, behind Andrew Luck, Vick Ballard, T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, LaVon Brazill and Dominique Jones. The third place spot belongs to the 2012 Cleveland Browns: Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon, Travis Benjamin, Josh Cooper, and Brad Smelley combined for over 6000 yards.

What if we instead look at percentage of team yards (defining yards as the sum of all passing, rushing, and receiving yards)? Expansion teams would begin to dominate the list — some AFL teams in 1960, the ’68 Bengals, and the ’02 Texans, for example. But what if we look at only non-expansion teams since 1950?

In that case, the 2012 Colts come in second, behind another Colts team.
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In the pre-season, I wrote three pieces on Cleveland Browns rookie Trent Richardson.  As part of a thought experiment, I wondered who would lead the NFL in rushing yards from 2012 to 2021? I narrowed my finalists to LeSean McCoy, Beanie Wells (was I drunk?), DeMarco Murray (ouch), Richardson and the rest of the rookies, and then a few college running backs. I concluded that Richardson was the obvious frontrunner, with McCoy, Doug Martin, and Marcus Lattimore (double ouch) as the next best bets. I’m not really sure 2012 helped clarify the issue, although Martin and Alfred Morris certainly raised their chances.

Then in August, I looked at the production of the highest drafted running back in each draft class.  I discovered that slightly fewer than half of the highest drafted running backs led their class1 in rushing yards as a rookie; as you can see, “the field” also turned out to be a better bet than Richardson in 2012:

1Alfred Morris20126-173WAS1633516134.8113100.8
2Doug Martin20121-31TAM1631914544.561190.9
3Trent Richardson20121-3CLE152679503.561163.3
4Vick Ballard20125-170IND162118143.86250.9
5Bryce Brown20127-229PHI161155644.9435.3
6Bernard Pierce20123-84BAL161085324.93133.3
7Daryl Richardson20127-252STL16984754.85029.7
8David Wilson20121-32NYG16713585.04422.4
9Robert Turbin20124-106SEA16803544.43022.1
10Ronnie Hillman20123-67DEN14843273.89123.4
11Brandon Bolden2012udfaNWE10562744.89227.4
12Lamar Miller20124-97MIA13512504.9119.2
13LaMichael James20122-61SFO4271254.63031.3
14Chris Rainey20125-159PIT16261023.9226.4
15Jeremy Stewart2012udfaOAK4251014.04025.3

In that post, I also noted that the running back drafted first in his class was slightly less successful over the course of his career: only one-third of the highest-drafted running backs finished with the most career rushing yards in their class.

The final post on the topic ended up being more relevant to Alfred Morris than Richardson. In August, I compared how the top rookie running back performed over the rest of his career relative to the other members of his class. From 1992 to 2002, 10 of the 11 backs to lead their class in rushing yards as rookies ended up finishing with the most career rushing yards. But in recent years, that trend has reversed itself: the odds are long that Ben Tate (2011), LeGarrette Blount (2010), Knowshon Moreno (2009 and competing with Arian Foster and LeSean McCoy), or Steve Slaton (2008) will also finish with the best careers from their class.

So where do we stand on Richardson and Morris? A year later, how much credit do we give Richardson for having been the #3 pick in the draft? For Morris, how much do we downgrade him for being a 6th round pick? And how does the presence of Robert Griffin III complicate things?
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  1. Note that this only includes drafted running backs. []