Evaluating the performance of running backs used to be as easy as looking at rushing yards, touchdowns, and yards per carry.
But evaluating running backs on those simple criteria alone can be misleading. Fortunately for educated football fans, Football Outsiders provides a treasure trove of advanced statistics that go much deeper than the simple stats that appear on the back of a football card.
Football Outsiders uses two primary statistics to evaluate running backs - DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) and DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). In summary, DYAR shows the yards a running back gains when compared to a replacement-level running back, adjusted for situation and opponent. DVOA shows the value, per play, over an average running back in the same game situations.
The simple version: DYAR means a running back with more total value. DVOA means a running back with more value per play. You can read Football Outsiders' full descriptions of DYAR and DVOA here.
Using Football Outsiders' data, here is my assessment of the five most overrated running backs based on DYAR and DVOA. To view Football Outsiders' statistics, click these links for 2011 stats and 2010 stats.
1. Chris Johnson - Tennessee Titans
2011 DVOA = -12.5%; 2010 DVOA = -7.2%
2011 DYAR = -39; 2010 DYAR = 18
The last two seasons have been brutal for Chris Johnson. After rushing for 2,006 yards in 2009, Chris Johnson in 2010 and 2011 has been less effective than "average" running backs based on game situations (the negative DVOA) and has yielded a combined -21 yards over what a replacement level running back would have produced (DYAR). Despite rushing for more than 1,000 yards and at least 4.0 yards per attempt in each of the last two seasons, Chris Johnson's advanced stats show a rusher who is actually less effective than average, replacement-level RB's.
2. Frank Gore - San Francisco 49ers
2011 DVOA = -8.1%; 2010 DVOA = -8.9%
2011 DYAR = 8; 2010 DYAR = -2
Despite being a perennial 1,000+ yard rusher (when healthy), Frank Gore's advanced statistics are less than stellar. Frank Gore has produced a negative DVOA in each of the last two season and his combined DYAR is basically a break even. When Gore missed five games in 2010 his backup, Brian Westbrook, produced a better DVOA (2.6%) than a healthy Frank Gore (-8.9%) and a better yards-per-attempt average of 4.4 compared to Gore's 4.2.
3. Steven Jackson - St. Louis Rams
2011 DVOA = 0.6%; 2010 DVOA = -12.1%
2011 DYAR = 90; 2010 DYAR = -48
I know, picking on the St. Louis Rams is like shooting fish in a barrel. But still, Steven Jackson's DVOA and DYAR have been average, at best, over the last two years. Out of respect for the still-healing Rams fan base, I will mercifully say no more.
4. Michael Turner - Atlanta Falcons
2011 DVOA = -2.5%; 2010 DVOA = -1.4%
2011 DYAR = 76; 2010 DYAR = 102
Michael Turner has rushed for more than 1,300 yards and scored at least 11 TD's in each of the last two seasons. However, he has also carried the ball a combined 635 times over those last two seasons. While Turner's fantasy value is great, his actual performance is pedestrian. Turner's negative DVOA in each of the last two seasons show a running back who has been below average when factoring in variables such as down, distance, and opponent. His positive DYAR is a result of his sheer volume of carries.
5. Matt Forte - Chicago Bears
2011 DVOA = -2.7%; 2010 DVOA = 0.4%
2011 DYAR = 45; 2010 DYAR = 87
So maybe this is why the Chicago Bears have been so difficult when it comes to Forte's long-term contract. Over the past two seasons Forte has produced a combined negative DVOA. His DYAR are not stellar, either. While Forte is a weapon out of the backfield in the passing game, his advanced rushing statistics have been average, at best, over the last two years.
Andrew Sweat is a die-hard NFL fan. For more from this author, visit Andrew's archive or check these out articles:
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- Football Outsiders
- Chris Johnson