A couple weeks back in Part I of this series (before the RotoViz dynasty startup took over my life), I took a look at what my running back model thinks of the players in the Giant’s backfield as a proxy for the “talent” portion of the “talent + opportunity” equation that we all know for projecting fantasy success. While it’s pretty clear that David Wilson is the guy to own from a dynasty perspective, I think it’s murky from a redraft perspective. Looking at Tom Coughlin’s historical RB usage patterns can give us a good idea of what kind of opportunity Wilson and Brown might get, and how much value that will translate to this year.
Since Coughlin is about one-hundred-and-two years old, there is a rich and storied coaching history over which we could look back. I’ve decided to look only at the nine seasons he’s been the Giants’ head coach. I think that’s still a pretty good sample size, it includes the most recent time period, and it’s all with one organization.
It’s conventional wisdom that Coughlin uses a “committee system” so let’s see what that actually looks like by the numbers. I’ve tried to use per-game stats wherever possible to control for injuries. All data is courtesy of pro-football-reference.com
Coughlin’s Lead Back (LB):
|Year||Team||Lead Back (LB)||LB Draft||LB Age||LB Season||LB Gm||LB Car/Gm||LB Yd/Gm||LB GL Car %||LB GL Car/Gm||LB TD/Gm||LB Rec/Gm||LB Rec Yds/Gm||LB Rec TDs/GM|
Coughlin’s Complementary Back (CB):
|Year||Team||Complementary Back (CB)||CB Draft||CB Age||CB Season||CB Gm||CB Car/Gm||CB Yd/Gm||CB GL Car %||CB GL Car/Gm||CB TD/Gm||CB Rec/Gm||CB Rec Yds/Gm||CB Rec TDs/GM|
A couple things stand out to me from the usage perspective:
There is definitely workload sharing going on, but it is pretty far from an even split. The Lead Back (LB) enjoys a full 2:1 advantage in carries per game over the Complementary Back (CB).
While the Lead Back dominates the carries, the goal line (GL) work is a lot closer to even, especially considering the carry advantages that LB enjoys. Some of that is probably skewed by Brandon Jacobs, since he was the complementary back 4 of 9 times and (presumably due to his size) had the highest percentage of GL work. But even non-Jacobs backs see a quarter to a third of GL work.
Obviously, the guy you want to own in this backfield is the LB. Still, at 8+ carries per game and around third of the goal line work, the CB in Coughlin’s offense is a borderline flex play in most 12 team leagues. Looking back over the history available on pro-football-reference.com Coughlin’s LB has a median finish of RB9 on a FPPG basis and his CB has a median finish of RB37.
But you’re not reading this article to settle for RB37, so let’s try to figure out who will be the lead runner. Looking at things from a characteristics perspective it’s pretty clear that:
- The LB tends to be older than the CB.
- The LB tends to have more experience than the CB.
The last time Coughlin let a player who only had one year of NFL experience under his belt be the LB was Fred Taylor’s rookie season in 1998. That’s the year that James Stewart was injured in the 3rd game of the season and Taylor had to take the LB role. Taylor posted a top 4 RB finish that season with 224/1263/14 (4.63 YPC) on the ground and another 44/421/3 through the air. The following season Taylor was back in a pretty even timeshare with Stewart as Taylor battled injuries. It wasn’t until his 3rd season that Taylor was able to regain the LB throne and posted the highest workload per game of any Coughlin LB in my study at 22.5 carries/game.
At this point, I can hear you groaning. You’re making the argument that Wilson is the far superior talent to Brown, and you’re probably right. We all love Wilson’s ability. But Coughlin is a lot like our own James Goldstein, he doesn’t give a f*ck what you think of Wilson. He’d be breaking a long held tradition if he hands him the RB1 job in only his second season.
You’re also reminding me that we have Rotoworld blurbs telling us the “Giants Website Calls David Wilson the starter”. But here’s where you have to be careful with those blurbs. If you read read the full story on Giants.com and/or watch the video I think the quotes from RB coach Jerald Ingram are encouraging, but far from a whole hearted endorsement of Wilson as the LB. Here are a few quotes (bolding is mine for emphasis):
“I think he’s in a position to compete to be the guy,” running backs coach Jerald Ingram said. “He has the talent, has the speed, has a few plays from a year ago underneath his belt.
“Once we put the pads on, we’ll see who is physical, who’s determined to make plays out there,” Ingram said. “I think he’s grown. He has a fairly good understanding of the offense right now. He’s definitely in position to be the guy, but I think just like what we’ve done in the past here, we’re going to be a rotation type team and what certain backs do best, we’ll play…He’s got to be a guy that Eli (Manning) can trust in every situation possible and we’ll go from there, but right now I think he’s on track.”
This is admittedly just mincing words, and coach speak can be very misleading, but personally I don’t see this as proof positive that Wilson has the LB role.
Ingram again regarding Wilson’s blocking:
“I definitely see progress,” Ingram said. “I think he’s got a clear understanding as far as what our protections are, what is expected of him, but until you actually physically ask that individual to do that full speed and full gear, we’re not exactly doing that right now. But I think when we go to camp, he knows what his goals are right now and what he has to accomplish to be a complete running back and contribute on our team. I think we’ll get that out of him. He’ll be a much improved player from that situation this year.”
Although I haven’t included it here because the data on Pro Football Focus only goes back to 2008, the average percentage of Coughlin’s LB snaps spent on pass protection is during that timeframe is 18% while his CB spends only 15% of his time protecting. If we’re truly slotting Wilson into Bradshaw’s role, Bradshaw spent an average of 20% of his snaps in pass pro. We all remember that one of Wilson’s major deficiencies last year (common among most rookies) was the ability to pass block. While he’s no Ahmad Bradshaw when it comes to protecting the QB, Andre Brown did tie for 27th in pass block efficiency among all running backs who recorded at least 25% of their team’s snaps, which puts him in the 54th percentile of that cohort. Not elite, but certainly not bad. If Wilson can’t demonstrate marked improvement in that area, we could very well see Brown taking the LB role because of that skill alone.
Moving on to statistical projections, I love looking at the positional Similarity Score Apps to see what they think of a player. The beauty of the apps is that they’re customizable. So as I did with my previous article, I looked at only the games where Wilson and Brown had double digit carries so that we could see what their comparables look like when given a full complement of carries. I also dropped the Games Played Penalty to zero for both players to put them on equal footing and keep the app from picking part-time or injured players as comps. Here are the results and YoY change plots:
The good news is, both guys project as viable starters if given a full workload, so whichever one hits should be pretty good. But comparing the two, Brown actually has a better overall projection and their YoY change plots look strikingly similar.
The real clincher for me comes down to ADP. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Wilson is going about 30th overall (as RB21) while Brown is going almost four rounds later at 73rd overall (as RB33). There is surely some injury discount being applied to Brown, as there probably should be given his history, but the market is clearly assigning the LB role to Wilson.
Based on Coughlin’s history I’m not sure that’s wise this year. If we’re willing to use history as a guide, he prefers his LB to have at least a couple years experience under his belt and be proficient at protecting the QB – and in both cases, that makes Brown the guy. Personally, I’d much rather let someone else bet against history and take the chance on Wilson delivering the bump from an RB2 where he’s being drafted to a potential RB1. Instead, I’ll put my trust in Old Man Coughlin sticking to his guns and take the RB3 with potential RB1 value in Brown.