Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. – Albert Einstein
We’ve come to another draft season and once again an Alabama running back is No. 1 on everybody’s board (well, except for Agility Score aficionados). To someone who wasn’t immersed in the memes of NFL scouting, this would seem odd. The previous Alabama backs have been what might be considered underwhelming.
Of course, just because the scouts may have been a little overzealous on Ingram and Richardson doesn’t necessarily mean they’re overhyping Eddie Lacy.
It’s difficult to evaluate running backs by using collegiate efficiency numbers because stats like yards per carry are heavily impacted by the quality of offensive line play, the quality of the opponent’s defense, and situational usage. This is where scouting supposedly comes into play. The scouts watch the tape and tell us whether the running back deserves credit or not. The scouts are pretty much unanimous: the Tide players are not system backs.
And the tape never lies. (This is true; the humans watching just don’t understand its language.)
The running back position doesn’t lend itself to such an analysis because draftable running backs overwhelmingly dominate carries at their universities. At Alabama, this is not the case. For the last five seasons, they’ve had multiple runners who would eventually play in the NFL. As a result, we can use market share of rushing offense to get at least a vague sense of how they compare to each other.
Eddie Lacy’s Alabama Comps
In order to evaluate Lacy against his predecessors, I’ve given you a quick comparison of the best year for each of the three previous Alabama backs. The Dominator Rating in the above chart is a weighted average of their yards and touchdowns. (Yards are slightly emphasized since touchdowns are very high variance.)
A few things jump out as we try to get a generalized ranking of the Alabama runners. First, Trent Richardson was no more efficient than Glen Coffee in terms of yards per carry. On the other hand, Richardson generated far and away the highest market share. Richardson is perceived as the biggest talent in the group, and his Dominator Rating would seem to encourage that hypothesis.
Unfortunately for Mark Ingram owners, he was also only slightly more efficient than Coffee. For those waiting on a third year breakout, that’s certainly a red flag. (Frequent readers will know I also consider his Agility Score a red flag. Ingram’s 11.75 is one of the worst running back Agility Scores in the history of the Combine. Two years ago I recommended avoiding Ingram at all costs.)
However, there are still reasons to believe Ingram is the second best prospect of this group. He probably wouldn’t have won the 2009 Heisman trophy if he hadn’t accounted for 55% of the team’s market share. He accomplished that despite having to split time with a freshman phenom.
The biggest red flags are obviously for Eddie Lacy. He was the most efficient of the group in terms of yards per carry but owns the lowest Dominator Rating. Unlike previous Alabama backs, he was not able to significantly cut into the starter’s carries as a sophomore, and he was not able to separate from a true freshman as a junior.
This wouldn’t be a huge issue if the previous Alabama backs had gone to the NFL and become immediate stars, but they did not. Their current efficiency numbers would embarrass BenJarvus Green-Ellis. It’s very possible Ingram and/or Richardson will improve significantly in 2013, but simply assuming they will is poor risk management. (To see how much breakout value each runner possesses, check out the RotoViz running back similarity score app.)
Eddie Lacy Dynasty Value
If the overhyping of Lacy isn’t becoming apparent, here are a few more comps. In fact, it’s easy to think Lacy’s ranking is mostly based on the belief that there are no exciting options at the position. That’s suddenly a risky assumption following the vastly underrated Combine performances put in by Le’Veon Bell, Zac Stacy, and Christine Michael. Matthew Freedman even makes a compelling case for Knile Davis.
Unless your dynasty league is full of RotoViz readers, the best strategy is to draft Lacy and immediately flip him. It’s quite likely his trade value will never be higher.