Royce Freeman vs. Ronald Jones
As with player evaluation in general, using only statistics/metrics or only “watching tape” is foolish. You’re doing yourself a disservice and unnecessarily eliminating 50 percent of the information. With projections, using stats and metrics without your “football knowledge” is the same scenario. Let me explain with the Freeman and Jones situation.
Projections are built on numerous factors, one being teams’ trends. What’s the team’s play call averages compared to the league? Do they run more? Pass more? Run fewer plays? All of those questions factor in, especially into the red zone, inside the 10-yard line and deeper.
That’s where the Freeman and Jones situation comes into play. Watching as much football as I do, I knew without looking that the Buccaneers struggled with rushing touchdowns the past few years, but to back myself up, I dug into the stats. Since Jameis Winston entered the league, the Buccaneers rushed the ball near the league average in the red zone (60.7 to 60.5), but they only converted 13.8 percent of those into touchdowns. “Well, it’s tough to run for a score from 20 yards out, Jake!” Well reader, that includes everything from the 11 to the 20, and the league average is 16.9; Bucs were sixth worst. Interestingly, the Buccaneers actually sit above the league average of 40.5 percent when inside the five-yard line (42.9).
Here’s the rub though. Of their 24 touchdowns on 56 attempts the past three seasons, six went to Winston on 10 attempts (60.0 percent) while 11 went to Doug Martin on 25 attempts (44.0). When they move back out to the 10-yard line, Winston had eight touchdowns on 18 attempts (44.4) and Martin, 11 on 40 (27.5). In both instances, the second highest touchdown mark was just three (both Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers).
It’s quite simple: Winston is inflating the touchdown conversion percentage. And as an aside (alliteration much?), Winston is helping the passing game too, as the Buccaneers are above the league average in passing TD% in the red zone, inside the 10 and inside the five.
Meanwhile, the Broncos also struggled to convert touchdowns in the red zone. Heck, they struggled across the board with the worst passing TD% in the red zone too. So why would I project Freeman for more touchdowns?
Well, unlike Winston, Case Keenum isn’t going to be a significant rushing threat in the red zone. Keenum accounted for just six of the Vikings 84 attempts last year (7.1 percent) scoring once and with a mere two of the 25 attempts inside the five, and neither were designed or a touchdown (or successful… -3 yards).
The Broncos also struggled across the board in red zone rushing with Jamaal Charles averaging 3.4 YPC, C.J. Anderson 1.7 and Devontae Booker 2.4 with one, two and one touchdown(s), respectively. Interestingly enough, Anderson was the only one to score inside the five, but it took 11 attempts (0.8 YPC) with Charles and Booker failing on their four combined attempts.
In addition to drafting Freeman, the Broncos didn’t draft an offensive lineman until the sixth round, as they added Jared Veldheer via an offseason trade. Obviously, they feel confident in their pieces and the return of some injury luck, as they started four right tackles, had two different guards on both sides and rookie Garett Bolles taking his lumps. As for Freeman, he was a tier lower in my pre-draft analysis, but the advantage he has over Jones is power. While Jones is extremely explosive, Freeman has the NFL build and power with the needed balance to excel in the tough yards. Jones isn’t weak, and I like the amount of power he has given his true game is in breakaway ability and patience. However, Barber could steal some touches inside the red zone, and don’t forget that Winston is already taking away his fair share.
As you can see, projecting a player’s statistics isn’t an easy task. It’s not just skill or teams’ tendencies or previous performance. You have to balance all of those factors while using your NFL knowledge and eye for the game to provide the best opportunity for projection accuracy. As I said, maybe you still disagree, and it’s possible that I am being too forgiving with the Broncos and overrating the impact of Keenum, but we have months to analyze this stuff more and get into more arguments!
Panthers Sign C.J. Anderson
We’ll close things out talking Anderson in Carolina (cha, cha, cha – super mega bonus credit to anyone that gets that reference). Anderson had a fairly productive season for those Broncos with his first 1,000-yard rushing season on 4.1 yards per carry. As mentioned, the touchdowns were sparse with just three on one receiving. I’m projecting for less carries (245 last year) as the Panthers ‘lead option, as Anderson will assume the Jonathan Stewart role. That’s still valuable, but Anderson was RB17 in Non-PPR last year, and I have him for 731.3 rushing, 4.5 rushing TDs, 12.7 receptions, 101.3 receiving yards, 0.4 receiving TDs and 119.0 points in 1/2 PPR, or RB40. For reference, Christian McCaffrey is 559.3/3.9/76.1/679.6/3.0/203.7.
Main Image Credit: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong