Is the Minnesota Viking's Adrian Peterson As Good As Advertised?

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Is the Minnesota Viking's Adrian Peterson As Good As Advertised?

I have been surprised at the number of times questions about Adrian Peterson's consistency and durability have come up in casual conversation. Of course, being a lifelong Vikings fan, I defended the star running back against any and all criticism, citing that his yard's per carry were among the best in the league (2nd) and the fact that he did break the NFL single game rushing record, which was no small feat.

But what's the reality? Any team would love to have an explosive back who is a major playmaker, but without consistent production it becomes awfully hard to to create a winning game plan. Even though he produced more big runs than every other RB in the nation last season, these highlight plays are still rare even for Peterson.

So here's the Catch-22 , a coach can't expect to win games on big plays alone and needs a consistent performer to get a winning record. However, if an inconsistent playmaking back does not get any touches, then the coach does not get the benefit of those long runs which can change the momentum of a tight game or lead to easy victories. Ideally, the back needs to be a consistent performer and a playmaker, but they need to be first and foremost a reliable performer.

With that in mind, let's look at some stats*:

 

Comparison of the Best Backs in the NFL
  Adrian Peterson - Minnesota (2) LaDainian Tomlinson - San Diego (1)
    Yds - Lng   Atmpts - 1    YPA   Yds - Lng   Atmpts - 1    YPA
1 88 18 4.89 15 16 0.94
2 50 19 2.63 22 17 1.29
3 86 24 3.58 51 21 2.43
4 55 11 5.00 95 19 5.00
5 151 19 7.95 56 29 1.93
6 43 11 3.91 157 23 6.83
7 53 19 2.79 70 16 4.38
8 232 29 8.00 29 15 1.93
9 33 10 3.30 60 20 3.00
10 88 14 6.29 42 15 2.80
11 -1 13 -0.08 39 23 1.70
12 58 19 3.05 143 22 6.50
13 9 8 1.13 114 25 4.56
14 28 10 2.80 67 14 4.79
15               -               -             - 90 18 5.00
16               -               -             - 44 15 2.93
             
TOTAL 973.00 224.00 - 1094.00 308.00 -
AVERAGE 69.50 16.00 3.95 68.38 19.25 3.50
VARIANCE 3645.19 36.31 5.37 1727.58 18.47 3.33
DEVIATION 60.38 6.03 2.32 41.56 4.30 1.82
             
  Brian Westbrook - Philadelphia (3) Willie Parker - Pittsburgh (4)
    Yds - Lng   Atmpts - 1    YPA   Yds - Lng   Atmpts - 1    YPA
1 74 19 3.89 84 26 3.23
2 69 16 4.31 102 22 4.64
3 85 13 6.54 110 23 4.78
4 98 19 5.16 17 18 0.94
5 67 17 3.94 83 27 3.07
6 37 20 1.85 66 20 3.30
7 54 15 3.60 94 21 4.48
8 87 19 4.58 37 22 1.68
9 112 31 3.61 74 24 3.08
10 38 16 2.38 38 20 1.90
11 64 20 3.20 72 23 3.13
12 95 19 5.00 75 27 2.78
13 52 17 3.06 94 20 4.70
14 79 16 4.94 73 13 5.62
  23 6 3.83      
             
             
TOTAL 1034.00 257.00 - 1019.00 306.00 -
AVERAGE 68.93 17.53 3.99 72.79 21.86 3.38
VARIANCE 622.50 26.41 1.37 694.18 13.98 1.78
DEVIATION 24.95 5.14 1.17 26.35 3.74 1.33

 

Yds-Lng means yards minus longest rush, which obviously eliminates the longest rush from each game. This has the effect of weeding out statistical outliers, or in more direct terms, it eliminates the big plays which you cannot reasonably expect. This introduces some bias into the sample, but it should make the statistics more useful.

Obviously, removing the longest run also means we must subtract one attempt from the total attempts for each game, hence the Atmpts-1 column. Finally, I threw out any games where the player only rushed once and any games where the player did not participate.

The statistics of greatest interest are the numbers in the yards per attempt (YPA) column. Looking at the average across every game, its interesting to find that Brian Westbrook (3.99 ypa avg) is the class of the group with Peterson coming in at a close second (3.95 ypa avg). Westbrook also leads this elite group of backs in consistency; none of the others even come close to touching his deviation of +/- 1.17 ypa. This means that Westbrook will typically run for 1.65 to 6.33 yards.

However, you have to hand it to the casual observer, Adrian Peterson is very inconsistent compared to this group. His deviation leads everyone else, including fellow top 5 back Jamal Lewis and fellow Viking Chester Taylor, at +/- 2.32 ypa. As opposed to Westbrook, AP will typically run for -.69 to 8.59 yards on any given play.

Peterson is a playmaker, no doubt about it, but he's not as consistent as the other elite backs in the NFL. Does this mean we can say that Peterson is inconsistent? Not really, as he may be consistent compared to NFL tailbacks as a whole. However, we can truthfully say that he is relatively inconsistent.

How can this analysis be extended? Obviously the first step would be to adjust each player's stats to reflect the end of season rank of the running defense of the opposing teams. This would give us an even clearer idea of each back's consistency.

It may also be possible to look at the success rate of various plays, rank them based on risk/reward, and look at how many times these plays are run relative to each other. With a data set including the above statistics it would likely be possible to perform a regression to predict how backs would perform in future games, but I have no idea how one would go about collecting that data.

A few final notes; Peterson is still a rookie after all is said and done, and has a lot of room to improve in the consistency department. As for frustrated Philadelphia fans, at least you can count on Westbrook's stellar production. Fall can't come too soon!

* Data taken from sportsillustrated.cnn.com, the number in parentheses is the players rank in total rushing yards. 

 

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