Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What To Expect From Michael Turner

A couple of weeks ago Chris emailed me asking how I thought Michael Turner would do in 2009. A number of thoughts went through my head, mostly in response to some of the issues he raised in the email. Eventually I replied something to the effect of 'I have a lot of thoughts about this, do you mind if I blog it instead?'. He didn't mind, but I think he expected my article sometime before never. This morning he sent out a similar email to the whole crew this time, and with a little more urgency as he had some kind of fantasy thingy and the answer to this question weighed heavily on his fantasy strategy. What ensued was a series of emails from the four of us.

Chris On my [draft] board, Steven Jackson is higher than Michael Turner. How much of an idiot am I for that?

Jim I assume the Jackson vs Turner thing is driven by gut instinct? Can't argue with it: you could easily turn out to be right. If you want some rationalizations, Jackson is a year+ younger than Turner, and did not have 370+ carries last year.

Chris The "Curse of 370" is a part of it, yeah. Other factors I'm tossing around in my head in no particular order that have me thinking this way:

- Jackson is running behind a newly beefed up OL. His OL was one of the worst in the bigs and he still managed 4.1/carry, now he's got Smith and Brown on there to help out.
- Jackson gets catches as well as carries. Bulger has no receivers, and you know Boller will check down too.
- Turner got a ridiculous work-load last year. It's almost impossible for me to see him getting 375 carries again this year.
- ATL's OL last year was supposed to be horrible and played out of their minds. Regression this year?
- ATL in general played out of their minds. Regression this year?
- Turner scorched the bad teams. Of his 1,700 yards and 17 TDs, almost 800 of them (47%) and 7 of them (41%) came against Detroit, KC, GB, Oak, and StL...31% of the games. And he scored 4 TDs on 117 yards against Carolina as well. He had 6 games where he had 70 or fewer rushing yards, averaging 57 yards per game in them and scoring two TDs in them. Six games where he scored no TDs.
- Tougher schedule for ATL this year than they had last year. The NFCE is on their plate.
- Playoff schedule: Turner - NO, @NYJ, Buff Jackson - @ Tenn (no Haynesworth), Hou, @ AZ

Also weighing on me is that Jackson has had injuries these past two years. But I think both years we knew that he was aching prior to the start of the season. Maybe I'm wrong about that? I don't remember. Either way, it's a concern. But 376 carries for Turner, plus another 18 in the post-season. Ugh... That's so much work. I feel almost like Turner's as much of an injury risk as Jackson is...

Patrick You think 41% of someone’s yards coming in 5 games is unusual? I sure don’t, I’ll bet that is very typical.

I don’t have much of an opinion on Jackson you might be trying to be a little too clever. I doubt it matters much which you pick but I think you are trying to carve a conclusion out of cherry-picked information.

Chris The TDs is probably usual. But it wasn't 41%, it was 47% of his yards. I don't particularly think it's unusual to have ups and downs, everyone has that. And yeah, it's cherry-picking to an extent. I'm just very scared of the overworked factor.

One of the reasons is probably because I've been burned by it before. I've been the unlucky owner of Larry Johnson and Shaun Alexander coming off their huge seasons, as well as Jamal Lewis off his.

The one thing I can't get over though... The only way I don't see Turner having a big decrease in effectiveness is if the Falcons use him far less than they did last year. There's almost no chance he can go another 350+ carries at the levels he had last year, right? Even if he continues to get 4.5/carry, if they only feed it to him 300 times to keep him "fresh," that's 1,350 yards. Good, but nowhere near where I think people expect him to be, and probably not good enough for the #2 overall pick. His TDs likely also go down in that scenario, and he has absolutely no value as a receiver. So naturally, Steven Jackson getting 1,200 yards on the ground and another 350 in the air is more valuable than Turner getting 1,350 on the ground.

It's not that I think Turner will suck. He's still top 5 on my FFL backs. I just think Jackson's gonna have a bigger year. And quite frankly, I think the risk of Jackson crippling my fantasy team is lower than the risk Turner does it (a function of my "being burned" before)...

The Other James I honestly don't have a resounding negative take on Turner, other than: the 370 rule, regression to the norm, and the fact that defensive coordinators now have a year of tape to study in the offseason. I still expect him to have a strong year, though.

With Jackson, I do believe last year was still affected by bigger injuries suffered the year before, as well as horrendous overall team play (line, QB injuries, etc.) There's a new coach in town, and the players seem to love the new tone. The core of the team seems to be healthy at the moment. I haven't heard anything about any nagging injuries to Jackson and he's seemed strong in workouts. He has a longer track record of strong play than Turner, but that isn't always a big deal.

Patrick I don’t know why you’d expect Jackson to get 1200 on the ground. Three of his last four years have been astonishingly similar, apart from games played.

237 – 253 carries, 1002 – 1046 yards, 5 – 8 TDs, 38 – 43 rec., 271 – 379 yards, 1 – 2 TDs.

If you ask yourself, ‘self, what kind of a year can I expect from Steven Jackson’, the answer should be pretty clear. Could he have a better year than Turner? Of course. Will he? I have no idea. I think a lot of your arguments with respect to Turner are questionable. I don’t know what the mean performance for Atlanta should be but I am pretty sure that last year was much closer than 2007. Excepting ’07, the Falcons finished 5th, 3rd, 1st, and 2nd in rushing attempts the last five years, with similar rankings for yards and touchdowns. On the other hand, St. Louis finished 30th, 29th, 23rd, 24th, and 28th in attempts the last five years. Regardless of the relative philosophies of Mike Smith and Steve Spagnowhatever it is pretty clear that St. Louis is built to pass while Atlanta is built to run.

As far as Turner’s workload, I agree that it will likely be diminished but I think a lot of the rule of 370 is nonsense anyway, that prior injury is a much stronger indicator of future decline, and in that area Jackson is the champ. The thing with 370 is that if you look at their list, age is the stronger corrolator than number of carries. In the case of Johnson, et al, they had all come off multiple seasons of heavy workloads and were at an advanced age in running back years. I don’t know what Turner’s true “running back age” is but it certainly isn’t as old as Jackson’s despite the large number of carries last year. Jackson has 1200 carries and (at least) four injuries that have cost him games over the last five years. Turner has half as many carries and 1-2 injuries (he may not have been active for his entire rookie season). They have both played in the NFL the same number of years.

Chris The "aside from games played" is one important piece of this. '05 and '06 were a little out there on either side. '05 is closer to his normal performance, but that was over 15 games whereas '07 and '08 were over 12 games. He got 20 carries per game on average the last two years. If he stays healthy, that's 320 this year, and even if you give him 4.1 per carry which is his career low that's over 1,300 yards on the ground this year. The past two and three of the last four he's averaged 325 receiving, not counting his '06 season which was off the charts ridiculous...I don't expect 2,300 combined this season of course.

Yeah they were built to pass more than run, but I think that's more a result of the coaching than anything else. Plus Torry Holt and that whole era being held over. Bruce just went last year, now Holt, and Spags is saying he's going to focus far more on the running game this season.

That said, the "overall mileage" on Turner is less than Jackson and lack of prior injury is also a big factor. The main reason I'm still even considering this is cause Jackson's missed 4 games each of the last two years.

I just sorta feel like they're both gonna wind up with around 300 carries, and that Turner will have the higher per carry avg but Jackson will have the receiving yards.

FWIW, Jamal wasn't advanced age when he came off his 2,000 yard season. He was 24 or 25 years old. LJ was 28/29, but he had only had one year prior to his ridiculous 416 carry season where he was the primary runner, so he wasn't high mileage.

BTW, I think one of the reasons the Falcons finished '04 through '06 5th or better for rushing attempts was because Vick had over 100 attempts each of those years. He made up 20% - 25% of the team's rushing attempts those seasons. I don't think it was that they were built for running as much as they had a QB that liked to run. With that said, I think they're still set up to run this year.

Patrick Lewis had already missed an entire year with a knee before his record-setting year. That’s like 7 dog years right there. Johnson was run into the ground his ‘one year’. You may recall that Priest got hurt halfway through and that Johnson only started the last nine games. In those games he averaged 29 carries with a low of 22. In his first 25 starts Johnson averaged 27 carries/game. Herm Edwards should be shot for punishing him like that and Peterson should have been fired before giving him another contract after that abuse. Last year Turner averaged 23 carries/game which is too many, but it isn’t a LOT too many. Get him down to 20 carries/game and we are talking about a very sustainable 320 att/year. Johnson is interesting because he presents a close precedent for Turner, a talented back who backed up a Hall of Famer (or near HoFer) for a few years before getting his opportunity. I don’t recall any other elite backs who followed this path, most are used and used up by the time they hit 27.

It doesn’t really matter if Spagnuolo wants to run or not. For three straight years Marinelli ‘pounded the rock’ (his words), they fired Martz to further emphasize the run. They finished 32, 32, and 31 in rushes during his tenure. When your team is down two scores you aren’t going to be rushing nearly as much as when your team is up two scores. We all know this. IMO the Rams (or Raiders) are the worst team in the NFL. Jackson is a good running back, even a great talent, but I wonder what kind of opportunity he will get. To his credit he is a three down back, and will get receptions to augment his carries, but to what extent they replace the carries that Turner gets as a natural product of being part of an offense that is not only going to emphasize the run, but will also be able to execute the run is somewhat questionable.

Substitute Vick’s attempts for something on the high end of normal, like 50 carries (Philip Rivers/Matt Ryan level) and the Falcons are still top ten in attempts each of those years.

Chris Good point on the Falcons.

I'm smelling another blog article with "elite backs underutilized till later in their career." DeAngelo might qualify although he was running behind Stephen Davis who is anything but a near Hall of Famer. Maybe Jamal Anderson running behind Heyward (another non-entity)? Though that was only for two seasons. Rudi Johnson for two and a half years behind Dillon maybe.

The Other James Don't forget that they also had Duckett and/or Norwood, too. They went with Dunn as the small quick back and Duckett/Norwood as the bowling ball quite a bit. Duckett/Norwood had at least 100 carries each during that span (OK, so Duckett had 99... close enough for a rounding error). They were getting a good 370+ carries a season out of their primary RB pair without Vick's 100 or so on top. So, it's a little bit of both--a running team with a running QB, in net producing huge running stats.

Jim Remember my little "study" on peak years for football players? RB's peaked at around age 24.

(I remember James had a methodological concern, wanted to see averages in addition to whatever I put in my table. Maybe I'll redo it with the most recent PFR data.)

Not sure why you would dis Stephen Davis, he was a 3-time Pro Bowler. Scored 17 TDs one year; led the league in rushing attempts another year, in one of his non- Pro Bowl seasons.

Chris Well, he wasn't good in Carolina after DeAngelo, but I got his name mixed up with DeShaun Foster who was horrendous. No excuse for Foster getting those touches instead of DeAngelo.


So all-in-all we conclude nothing, and Chris wound up taking Steven Jackson.

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