Establishing expectations for Giants rookie RB David Wilson

A post over at the Giants blog Big Blue View caught my eye yesterday, as they were voting on an over/under of yardage totals for rookie RB David Wilson this season.  The number they chose? 571.  Why 571?  That’s the number of yards Brandon Jacobs had in 2011.  Not surprisingly, more than 75% of the Giants fan base at Big Blue View had Wilson breaking that benchmark.  That got me wondering how many highly drafted running backs over the past five years have fared in their rookie seasons.  Here they are:

Rank Player Team Round Overall Year Rush Yards Avg TD
1 Adrian Peterson Vikings 1 7 2007 238 1341 5.6 12
2 Matt Forte Bears 2 44 2008 316 1238 3.9 8
3 Chris Johnson Titans 1 24 2008 251 1228 4.9 9
4 Marshawn Lynch Bills 1 12 2007 280 1115 4 7
5 Knowshon Moreno Broncos 1 12 2009 247 947 3.8 7
6 Jonathan Stewart Panthers 1 13 2008 184 836 4.5 10
7 Beanie Wells Cardinals 1 31 2009 176 793 4.5 7
8 Ryan Matthews Chargers 1 12 2010 158 678 4.3 7
9 LeSean McCoy Eagles 2 53 2009 155 637 4.1 4
10 Daniel Thomas Dolphins 2 62 2011 165 581 3.5 0
11 Jahvid Best Lions 1 30 2010 171 555 3.2 4
12 Darren McFadden Raiders 1 4 2008 113 499 4.4 4
13 Mark Ingram Saints 1 28 2011 122 474 3.9 5
14 Ray Rice Ravens 2 55 2008 107 454 4.2 0
15 Toby Gerhart Vikings 2 51 2010 81 322 4 1
16 CJ Spiller Bills 1 9 2010 74 283 3.8 0
17 Donald Brown Colts 1 27 2009 78 281 3.6 3
18 Brandon Jackson Packers 2 63 2007 75 267 3.6 1
19 Felix Jones Cowboys 1 22 2008 30 266 8.9 3
20 Chris Henry Titans 2 50 2007 31 119 3.8 2
21 Dexter McCluster Chiefs 2 36 2010 18 71 3.9 0
22 Rashard Mendenhall Steelers 1 23 2008 19 58 3.1 0
23 Shane Vereen Patriots 2 56 2011 15 57 3.8 1
T-24 Ryan Williams Cardinals 2 38 2011 0 0 0 0
T-24 Mikel Leshoure Lions 2 57 2011 0 0 0 0
T-24 Ben Tate Texans 2 58 2010 0 0 0 0
T-24 Montario Hardesty Browns 2 59 2010 0 0 0 0
T-24 Kenny Irons Bengals 2 49 2007 0 0 0 0

Analysis after the jump…

If you’ll notice, only 10 of 28 of the above backs reached the 571 landmark.

I think the perception is that running back is a position that is comparatively easy to learn and there’s a higher likelihood of success for a rookie RB than there is at a much more cerebral position like QB.  This is a perception I largely agree with, as 5 running backs drafted in the 2nd round or higher between 2008 and 2007 had bigtime rookie seasons:

Rank Player Team Round Overall Year Rush Yards Avg TD
1 Adrian Peterson Vikings 1 7 2007 238 1341 5.6 12
2 Matt Forte Bears 2 44 2008 316 1238 3.9 8
3 Chris Johnson Titans 1 24 2008 251 1228 4.9 9
4 Marshawn Lynch Bills 1 12 2007 280 1115 4 7
5 Jonathan Stewart Panthers 1 13 2008 184 836 4.5 10
6 Darren McFadden Raiders 1 4 2008 113 499 4.4 4
7 Ray Rice Ravens 2 55 2008 107 454 4.2 0
8 Brandon Jackson Packers 2 63 2007 75 267 3.6 1
9 Felix Jones Cowboys 1 22 2008 30 266 8.9 3
10 Chris Henry Titans 2 50 2007 31 119 3.8 2
11 Rashard Mendenhall Steelers 1 23 2008 19 58 3.1 0
12 Kenny Irons Bengals 2 49 2007 0 0 0 0
  Totals         1644 7421 4.5 56

However, in the last 3 years, that trend has not continued.  While 4 early picks in 2007-2008 topped 1000 yards their rookies seasons in 2007-2008 and a 5th racked up 10 TD’s, running back classes of the last 3 years haven’t done nearly as well.  Here’s that group:

Rank Player Team Round Overall Year Rush Yards Avg TD
1 Knowshon Moreno Broncos 1 12 2009 247 947 3.8 7
2 Beanie Wells Cardinals 1 31 2009 176 793 4.5 7
3 Ryan Matthews Chargers 1 12 2010 158 678 4.3 7
4 LeSean McCoy Eagles 2 53 2009 155 637 4.1 4
5 Daniel Thomas Dolphins 2 62 2011 165 581 3.5 0
6 Jahvid Best Lions 1 30 2010 171 555 3.2 4
7 Mark Ingram Saints 1 28 2011 122 474 3.9 5
8 Toby Gerhart Vikings 2 51 2010 81 322 4 1
9 CJ Spiller Bills 1 9 2010 74 283 3.8 0
10 Donald Brown Colts 1 27 2009 78 281 3.6 3
11 Dexter McCluster Chiefs 2 36 2010 18 71 3.9 0
12 Shane Vereen Patriots 2 56 2011 15 57 3.8 1
13 Ryan Williams Cardinals 2 38 2011 0 0 0 0
14 Mikel Leshoure Lions 2 57 2011 0 0 0 0
15 Ben Tate Texans 2 58 2010 0 0 0 0
16 Montario Hardesty Browns 2 59 2010 0 0 0 0
  Totals         1460 5679 3.9 39

Now, these running backs were entering the league with varying situations which might affect playing time and therefore the number of yards they could rack up, but note the yards per carry of the group from 2007-2008.  It’s a very impressive 4.5 yards per carry.  The group from 2009-2011: 3.9.

Some more notes:

  • The Giants had a very high pass:run ratio last season, and due to some stellar play by Eli Manning and his receiving corps, they were able to ride that to a Super Bowl.  However, evidence would suggest that the Giants are trying to get better in the run game this season.  They signed Martellus Bennett, who has been a major disappointment in the passing game in his career thus far, but is a very good blocker.  They also drafted a couple of offensive tackles (although they’re unlikely to see action), as well as TE Adrien Robinson, whose game is similar to Bennett’s.  And of course, they drafted a Wilson to be a complimentary back to Bradshaw.  The added resources to help the running game could mean two things: They either plan to run the ball more, or they simply want to be better at running it when they do (but not necessarily planning on running it more).  I’m leaning toward thinking it’s the latter.
  • If you can’t pass block in the NFL, you won’t play.  Period.  I’ve yet to take a deep look at Wilson on film in the pass blocking department, but most scouting reports will tell you that’s an area where Wilson needs work.
  • Last season, on just his 5th carry of the season, Da’Rel Scott fumbled against the Saints.  He never saw the football again in 2011.  Tom Coughlin does not accept fumbling.  Wilson had 7 fumbles last year at Virginia Tech.  I think Coughlin will need to be sure he can trust Wilson to hang onto the football before he gets a significant number of touches.
  • In the last 2 years, there’s been 4 highly drafted RB’s that have been lost for the season prior to Week 1 with a serious injury: Ryan Williams, Mikel Leshoure, Ben Tate, and Montario Hardesty.  I think that’s more of a flukey thing that has little to do with Wilson’s likelihood to get injured, but I just thought it deserved noting.

I think the Giants will try to mix Wilson in, and when they do, I think he can be a productive compliment to Ahmad Bradshaw, but unless Bradshaw gets hurt for a significant stretch of games, I would lean toward taking the under. I would advise Giants fans to expect Wilson to start to pay off in Years 2 and beyond, but to keep your expectations in check for 2012.

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  15. brisulph says:

    Yeah the under does seem more likely… unless he rips off a few 50+ yard runs of course. Those can really inflate your numbers (like Cruz last year… in the last two games of the year, he added around 11% of his total yardage on two catch and runs.

    1. Yep, agreed. He can also go for 1200 if something catastrophic happens to Bradshaw.

    2. Free Plax says:

      Under is a good bet, first of all if Wilson can’t pass block he won’t see the field. Wilson is going to have to earn his reps so, if he is playing in the rotation by mid season, that would be enough for me his rookie year.

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  17. deg0ey says:

    Interesting post, but one part in particular caught my attention. “Tom Coughlin does not accept fumbling.” This got me to thinking about Bradshaw’s 7-fumble season in 2010 and whether there are any teams that have a particularly high/low tendency to fumble. I had a few hours to kill, so I decided to look through the NFL.com stats database and figure out a few things.

    Turns out that since Coughlin took over in 2004, Giants RBs rank 31st in the league with 45 fumbles (only Minnesota have been worse). Adjusting for number of carries doesn’t help much, either; The Giants are 30th in that category, with 75 carries per fumble.

    Those numbers are particularly startling when compared to the league-leading Eagles. Over the same period, Philly running backs have fumbled 14 times or once every 185 carries.

    For the full ranking, see the table here: http://tinypic.com/r/1zqa8zr/6

    1. ProtoTyler says:

      Interesting.

      1. deg0ey says:

        Makes you wonder whether Da’Rel got shafted because Coughlin has realised these numbers too and wants to do something about it. Drafting a rookie with a history of fumbles doesn’t seem to tally, though.

    2. Anders says:

      Great find

  18. joe d says:

    harder to have break out years for RBs with the two back systems that were popular for awhile

  19. SoCalEaglesFan says:

    It would be interesting if you extended this thru players second and third years. For some players like Forte and Moreno their first year was actually their best. Forte has had fewer attempts, and Moreno’s been injured. McCoy on the other hand has gotten better each year and Adrian Peterson is a beast. I’m not sure it’ll tell you anything other than it’s hard to predict RB’s performance, or they get injured a lot, but then again maybe you’ll be able to glean something from it.

  20. giantsfan says:

    I agree completely. Wilson will be the fourth back on the depth chart this year until he learns to pass block and to hold onto the football.

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