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Why James Sims shouldn’t be a workhorse running back for KU in 2013

"Why is James Sims a good running back?"

James Sims.

James Sims. by Jesse Newell

If I asked the average Kansas football fan that question, my guess is that I would get two main responses.

• In only nine games in 2012, Sims was second in the Big 12 with 1,013 rushing yards.

• Sims led the Big 12 in 2012 with 112.6 rushing yards per game.

At face value, those feats are impressive. Still, we need to give them the proper context.

Though it is true that Sims only played nine games in 2012, did you know he was still second in the league in carries (218)? Sims averaged 24.2 rushes per game a year ago, while no other back in the league had more than 22.

This greatly impacts how we should look at his numbers.

Out of the Big 12 running backs who played in 75 percent of their team's games and had at least four carries per game, Sims ranked 18th out of 23 with a 4.65-yard-per-carry average last year.

Yards per carry doesn't tell us everything, though. My favorite running back stat is an advanced one called Adjusted Points Over Expected, or Adjusted POE for short. The number compares the production of a running back to an average back given the same carries against the same opponents with the same offensive line. A runner with a plus-6.0 Adjusted POE would have created a touchdown more for his team over that of an average back.

Here's how Sims compared to other Big 12 non-quarterbacks in Adjusted POE a year ago.

2012 Adjusted POE for Big 12 non-QBs.

2012 Adjusted POE for Big 12 non-QBs. by Jesse Newell

While the top of the list has names we'd expect (Lache Seastrunk, Tavon Austin, Tony Pierson), Sims is nowhere to be found, as he ranks 48th out of 50 Big 12 non-QBs a year ago.

To be fair, having so many carries probably allowed Sims to go further into the negative than some other backs. On the flip side, some of these players probably had their carries limited when they weren't giving better production.

Sims doesn't rank much better in Adjusted POE in his two previous years at KU.

KU's 2011 Adjusted POE leaders.

KU's 2011 Adjusted POE leaders. by Jesse Newell

2010 Adjusted POE leaders.

2010 Adjusted POE leaders. by Jesse Newell

His freshman year was his best in the measure, and even then, he produced below what would have been expected from an "average" back.

The biggest issue for Sims appears to be that his lack of speed keeps him from breaking off big runs.

Looking at the raw numbers, we might not see that from the number of "explosive" runs in 2012.

KU's explosive runs in 2012.

KU's explosive runs in 2012. by Jesse Newell

Again, those numbers above need more context. Remember, Sims had more opportunities for big runs (228 carries) compared to his teammates (Pierson had 117 carries; Cox had 91).

Breaking it down further, let's take a look at how many explosive runs each player had a season ago per 25 carries ... or roughly one game of being a workhorse back.

KU explosive runs per 25 carries.

KU explosive runs per 25 carries. by Jesse Newell

In this measure, Sims doesn't even appear to be as strong as Cox in explosive runs, especially in 10-plus-yard plays. Cox doesn't appear to be an explosive back either, but given the same opportunities, the numbers show he might be able to put up the same sort of line (or even slightly better) than Sims.

Ben Lindbergh wrote a great piece on Derek Jeter earlier this week, talking about how the eye test and defensive metrics don't agree on Jeter's defensive abilities. It's hinted in there that perhaps, because Jeter's a great player and his jump-throw from the hole at shortstop has become famous, that as humans we start to see what we want to see with his ability instead of what's actually there.

It made me wonder if we're doing the same thing with Sims. Are we noticing his great vision because we assume his high-yardage totals make him a great running back? Are we ignoring his lack of speed because he seems to move a pile a couple extra yards each game?

On a personal note, I like Sims. He's a nice guy and is respected by his teammates to the point that he was named a team captain.

He talked to me at Big 12 media days about working hard in the summer to improve his speed, and maybe we saw a glimpse of that when Sims had a 62-yard touchdown run in a team scrimmage a couple weeks ago. He also talked about how he likes to clip articles from people who doubt him next to his bed — and I'm sure I might be making an appearance soon.

The numbers are the numbers, though. Sims has lots of room to improve, and if he isn't going to break big runs, he needs to be even better at squeezing out extra yards on the shorter ones.

Either way, KU coach Charlie Weis shouldn't be looking to make Sims his workhorse back this year. With the talent he has at the running back position with Cox, Darrian Miller and Colin Spencer (and the versatility of Pierson), the coach shouldn't hesitate to get fresh legs into the game.

Given the opportunity, those backs have the potential to give KU better production than they've received from that spot the past few years.

More from Jesse Newell

  • Examining grips with KU's Jake Heaps, Michael Cummings
  • Charlie Weis should embrace risk with this year's Jayhawks
  • How does KU basketball rank compared to other blue bloods in terms of playing fast?
  • Ranking the top 10 dunks of 2012-13
  • How a fingertip, a late rotation and a great player contributed to Michigan's frantic comeback over KU
  • Reply 55 comments from Pizzashuttle Darren McSweeney Dirk Medema Max Ledom Jim Stauffer Texicalihawk Leonard Darin  Bradley Micky Baker RXDOC and 24 others

    Video: Dayne Crist, Toben Opurum give their reasons for optimism in 2012

    With everything going on at Big 12 media days, there's not always enough time to get every video downloaded and posted into the live blog.

    With that in mind, here are five more short video responses from KU players and coach Charlie Weis that we weren't able to get up Tuesday.

    If you missed any of our videos from Tuesday, you can check out our live blog from that day or go to the KUsportsTV YouTube channel.

    KU senior defensive end/linebacker Toben Opurum explains specific instances where he's already seen leadership from new quarterback Dayne Crist.

    Speaking of Crist, I asked him which players he thought might surprise fans in 2012. He actually came up with five.

    During his time on stage, Weis made a few reporters laugh when he referred to Notre Dame transfer linebacker Anthony McDonald and tight end Mike Ragone as 'my blockheads.' Weis explains what he meant by the nickname here.

    Opurum talks here why he's optimistic about this season, hinting perhaps that this offseason has been different from past years at KU.

    And finally, Crist also talks about why he's optimistic for 2012, saying he can sense a desire from KU's players to win and improve.

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    Lunch links: Bill Self video welcomes West Virginia; behind the scenes with Mario Chalmers in New York

    A few summer links in case you missed them ...

    While doing some research on West Virginia's football team, I stumbled onto this video, which was displayed on the WVU football athletics site. Basically, it's KU coach Bill Self introducing KU (and Kansas) to West Virginia.

    Which made me wonder: What's the first thing I would tell West Virginia fans about Kansas if they knew nothing about it?

    I came up with two things:

    1. Not everyone here wears cowboy hats.

    2. Every single person here has already seen a "You're not in Kansas any more" sign in an opposing Big 12 arena or stadium. Therefore, if you make one, it will not be seen as funny and/or clever, so try to be a bit more creative.

    I'm guessing there'll still be at least one of those during KU's first trip to Morgantown for basketball.

    • Former Kansas guard Mario Chalmers made his way back to Lawrence last week for his annual golf tournament, but before that, he was in New York City to do multiple interviews after winning an NBA championship.

    This video from The Daily gives an interesting, behind-the-scenes look at his day in NYC, which includes more wardrobe changes than I would have expected.

    For those folks interested in memorabilia ... a 1915 KU basketball jersey is being auctioned off online.

    The suggested value for it: $30,000. Though right now, if the price holds, it looks like someone could get a steal for under $10K.

    Last week,'s Matt Norlander recorded a podcast with longtime announcer Verne Lundquist.

    During the chat, Lundquist brought up this year's KU-Missouri game at Allen Fieldhouse. (He starts talking about it at the 26:35 mark.)

    "That's one of the great games I've ever seen, and more because of the setting, Matt," Lundquist said. "Allen Fieldhouse, if I had to pick my favorite college basketball arena, that would probably be it."

    That's pretty high praise from a guy that has seen a lot of arenas and college basketball over the years.

    Producer Kevin Willmott and former Kansas basketball player Scot Pollard are continuing to ask for KickStarter donations for their proposed independent film, "Jayhawkers," which would examine the story of KU coach Phog Allen, how he recruited Wilt Chamberlain and how that changed Lawrence.

    For more information on the project, check out the video below.

    • And finally, the Kansas City Chiefs are having a contest to determine the National Anthem singer for their Aug. 24 preseason game against Seattle, and one of the potential singers has deep KU ties.

    Ron Gutierrez attended KU and also has performed the National Anthem at KU basketball games.

    Here's his official tryout video from his audition at Arrowhead, and those who want to vote for him can do so at the same link.

    Another of the five finalists, Mandy Peck, also lists a connection to KU in her bio, saying she has performed the National Anthem at Jayhawk events.

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