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The best returning RBs in the Big 12, according to Adjusted POE

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Last week, we took a look at how the Kansas University backs ranked in the Big 12 in terms of "highlight yards."

As I mentioned then, "highlight yards" isn't a complete measure of a running back, as it only looks at a back's explosiveness.

Today, we'll take a look at another measure of a running back: his adjusted POE (points over expected).

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The statistic, created by Footballoutsiders.com's Bill Connelly, is a running back-specific measure based on equivalent points.

So how does it work? Each yard line has a point value assigned to it based on the average number of points an average NCAA team scores from that particular spot.

For instance, the average NCAA team scores 2.1 points when it has the ball on the 50-yard line and 2.6 points when it has the ball on its opponents' 40. So when a running back has a 10-yard run from the 50 to the opponents' 40, he is credited with 0.5 equivalent points.

After each carry, Connelly looks at how many equivalent points that back "gained" for his team.

Connelly's Adjusted POE measure, then, compares a runner's equivalent points to what an average RB would have done with the same carries against the same opponents in the same situations. This also takes into account the strength (or weakness) of the offensive line in front of the running back.

It's important to note that more credit is given for yards close to the goal line. To me, this makes sense. Not only is it tougher to run in the red zone with the defense packed in, but I also think RBs should be especially rewarded for getting their teams real points.

Here's how the returning players in the Big 12 stack up according to Adjusted POE. Only players with at least 25 carries in 2009 qualified. Also included is the back's highlight yards per carry, rushes and yards.

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Obviously, some of the names at the top and bottom might be a bit surprising.

I talked with Connelly and had him help explain why some backs ranked where they did in the Adjusted POE rankings.

Baron Batch, Texas Tech (1st in Adj. POE)

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Connelly's take: "Batch probably benefited a bit from the fact that Tech running the ball was always unexpected, but his per-carry figures have been great at Tech. Plus, he averaged 5.5 yards per carry against Texas and Oklahoma last year, meaning his 'output versus expected' numbers are going to be pretty good."

Batch also was helped by scoring 14 TDs, which led the Big 12 last year.

Cody Johnson, Texas (2nd in Adj. POE)

Connelly's take: "Short-yardage specialist meant for short touchdowns (Johnson had 12 TDs in 87 carries). Great POE, terrible highlight yardage."

This is a case where looking at a back's Adjusted POE and highlight yards/carry tells us more about the player than the Adjusted POE alone.

Roy Helu Jr., Nebraska (3rd in Adj. POE)

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Connelly's take: "Because of both injury and general inconsistency, Helu was all over the map last year. He was great against Virginia Tech and Oklahoma, but struggled against Baylor and Missouri (he was averaging under three yards per carry against Mizzou until a late 41-yard run) and was completely nonexistent over the last four games of the season."

Helu might have been even higher if he had tacked on a few more TDs (he had nine), as his highlight yards per carry statistic was among the best in the Big 12.

Toben Opurum, Kansas (7th in Adj. POE)

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Connelly's take: "He seems like a relatively smart runner who picks his holes and moves the chains, but he is one of the least-threatening backs in the conference in terms of explosiveness."

The 3.5 Adjusted POE tells us that, according to this statistical measure, Opurum was an above-average back in 2009. His high touchdown total (Opurum had nine TDs) helped him earn a much higher Adjusted POE last year than teammate Jake Sharp (-7.4 Adj. POE in 2009, four TDs).

In case you were wondering, here's how KU's backs performed in Adjusted POE in 2008.

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Daniel Thomas, Kansas State (18th in Adj. POE)

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Connelly's take: "Thomas was also a bit inconsistent last season. Against a number of bad run defenses, he should have been expected to put up good numbers, but in terms of 'output versus expected,' the benefits he got from averaging 5.5 yards per carry against Oklahoma were offset by averaging 3.4 against Missouri and 3.8 against a terrible Iowa State run defense.

"Plus, he was indeed only average in terms of explosiveness (1.77 highlight yards/carry). He got good run blocking and took advantage of it, but he didn't do a ton on his own."

Probably the biggest surprise of this list. It's worth noting that Kansas State had an above average offensive line in 2009 (more on this in a later blog) and that Thomas had 11 TDs in 246 carries.

Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State (22nd in Adj. POE)

Connelly's take: "I'm giving him a free pass for 2009, since he was hurt almost the entire season. He was dynamite in 2008."

Hunter's numbers in 2008 were indeed impressive, as he posted an 18.4 Adjusted POE and also 2.94 highlight yards per carry. Look for a healthy Hunter to bounce back to his 2008 form this season.

Alexander Robinson, Iowa State (23rd in Adj. POE)

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Connelly's take: "Against North Dakota State, Kent State, Army, Kansas State, Kansas and Minnesota, Robinson rushed 114 times for 691 yards (6.1 per carry) and six TDs. Against the better run defenses on the schedule, he had 118 carries for 504 yards (4.3 per carry) and no TDs.

"So the biggest thing hurting him is that he really didn't achieve anything that any number of decent backs couldn't have done with the carries he got against the opponents he faced. Plus, a lot of the yards he got were credited to the O-line instead of him."

Iowa State's offensive line ranked as one of the best in the Big 12 last year. This seems to be a perfect case of writers (myself included) perhaps giving too much credit to a back and not enough credit to those blocking for him.

Comments

Ted Toulouse 11 years, 6 months ago

I'd like to see Sharp's numbers from last year compared to Opurum's. I don't think there is any question that Opurum was more effective when he was in the game.

I would also like to know how Mr. Connelly ranked the Big12 offensive lines (criteria and order of rank). I'm sure that if our O-line was better gear toward creating effective running lanes that Sharp would have benefitted, but Opurum seemed to be able to handle the punishment a little better and create his own holes when needed.

Ben Kane 11 years, 6 months ago

i'd like to see sharp's numbers from two years ago when he wasn't battling an injury all year.

Jesse Newell 11 years, 6 months ago

chuck — Sharp's numbers from two years ago (2008) are shown in the graph above.

Pbbut 11 years, 6 months ago

I'm not going to call it junk science because it's such a short term and new analysis, but it almost appears many of these examinations are a process to give these guys a job where none exists.
My take, the guy with the best offensive line and good speed, going against a bunch of poor tackling defenders, is going to have a big day.

Randy Bombardier 11 years, 6 months ago

Ok, I'll call it junk science. No problem. What matters is YWE, Yards When Expected. They know you are going to run. They know who is going to get the ball. They even know where the play is going. Yet, they cannot stop it completely. That is what matters. No analysis needed. Daniel Thomas undisputed No. 1. Halo [sic] no. 2. Is there any reason we can't start the season early?

jayhawkfan49 11 years, 6 months ago

Thank you Maxhawk! Daniel Thomas is the complete package! He can run, pass, and catch! If K-State didn't have Daniel Thomas or a running back as good, they probably would've lost to KU and even Massachusetts! I don't know how the heck Baron Batch and Cody Johnson got put up there when Daniel Thomas and Kendell Hunter were more impressive.

Dan Harris 11 years, 6 months ago

Are you F@#$ing serious? What about a carry from the 40 when the temperature was 33 degrees under a partially sunny sky on the 3rd sat of the month!!

Eric Williams 11 years, 6 months ago

Agreed.

Top 5 Big 12 running backs are (in my opinion and in no particular order)

Daniel Thomas, KSU Kendall Hunter, OSU Alexander Robinson, ISU Derrick Washington, MU Rodney Stewart, CU

Eric Williams 11 years, 6 months ago

And by "Agreed." I was referring to Maxhawk's post.

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