Now three full seasons in, including one marred by injury, most fans around New England are remarkably critical, and overly emotional, when evaluating Maroney's performance.
One important piece to note, which I said during the 2008 season, is that if New England's goal was to employ a backfield-by-committee approach, then a first round pick should not have been expended to fill one of those backfield committee slots. It would seem more logical to select a committee-based back in the later rounds of the draft. But this element should not factor in to our evaluation of Maroney's performance.
If we remove emotion, and remove our overly "what have you done for me lately" attitude as fans, Maroney's career performance through today is really not all too shabby. In fact, I may even venture to say he has been a serviceable performer.
Looking back, as a rookie in 2006, Maroney split carries with Corey Dillon, and over 14 games he amassed 745 yards on 185 carries, for a 4.3 yards per carry average. Maroney had an additional 22 receptions for 194 yards, and his touchdown total (receiving and rushing) was seven.
The 2006 playoffs were not necessarily a high point for Maroney; while putting up 18 carries for 69 yards against the New York Jets, his carries were kept low in the final two games against San Diego and Indianapolis. The game plan, however, did not appear to be one of relying on the rushing attack in each of those matchups (21 total rushing attempts as a team against San Diego, and 24 total rushing attempts against Indianapolis). And as we all know, New England is a team which utilizes players specifically based on matchups.
In his sophomore campaign in 2007, Maroney continued with a more than serviceable performance, putting together totals of 835 yards on 185 carries for a 4.5 yards per carry mark, this over 13 regular season games. Not too shabby. Especially when you consider that in today's NFL, expecting a running back to start 16 games and handle all of the team's carries seems a bit unrealistic.
Maroney's most notable contribution in 2007, and in his career, was an impressive postseason, which included two performances of 122 yards each, against Jacksonville's stout run defense and against a talented San Diego team. His yards per carry in these playoff games was 5.5 and 4.9 yards per carry, respectively. Maroney did not factor in very large in Super Bowl 42, although he was only called upon 14 times to run the football.
The statistics put forth in 2006 and 2007 appear to be serviceable and respectable from Maroney. Based on those stats alone, in no way would I ever place Maroney as a "first round bust" in terms of his draft status.
2008 was certainly a disappointing season for Maroney, and there is no argument I can put up against that fact. Injuries are part of the game, and Maroney suffered from a season ending shoulder injury.
Will this put the brakes on what appeared to be a serviceable career as an NFL running back? Or will Maroney catapult himself, in a contract year, with the added motivation of New England's recent signing of Fred Taylor, to be a standout back? This much remains to be seen.
The issue I take with fans in New England, with regard to their emotional criticism of Maroney, is that they seem to ignore his successful 2006 and 2007 performances. Fans quickly have forgotten his contribution, and fans are using his usage in a backfield-by-committee as a point against Maroney. This does not seem to be a fair analysis. These same fans appear to have given up on Maroney, and are calling for the team to cut ties with him (in spite of his low salary for his one remaining season, 2009).
On the contrary, I am foreseeing a substantial contribution from Maroney in 2009. I think Maroney will revert back to his 2006 and 2007 performance, and I think we'll see flashes of the brilliance he demonstrated in the 2007 NFL playoffs.
One additional comparison which is popular amongst emotionally driven and overly critical fans, is to claim that Maroney is nothing near what Joseph Addai and Marion Barber have become in the NFL. A quick review of the statistics will show that Maroney really isn't too far statistically from each of those backs.
Marion Barber has put together season yardage totals of 538, 654, 975, and 885, with a career yards per carry average of 4.3. Joseph Addai's career yards per carry average is 4.2, and his yardage totals have been 1081, 1072, and 544. Impressive totals in years 1 and 2 for Addai, but his carry totals are also substantially higher.
So it's only logical, based on the negativity enthralled fans in Maroney's corner, that Laurence Maroney's career yards per carry average must be severely lower than Addai and Barber. Right? Wrong. Maroney has put up a career yards per carry average of 4.3, which is nearly identical to each Addai and Barber.
So I ask fans to remain patient, and avoid becoming emotionally critical when looking forward at Maroney's remaining year as a New England Patriot. 2009 is the year where we can officially determine whether Maroney is a "bust" or not. If he puts up 2006 and 2007-like numbers, then I declare him bust-free and cannot fault his career as a Patriot.