Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said Tuesday that he would like to get running back Andre Ellington 25 to 30 touches per game in 2014, according a tweet from Kyle Odegard of AZCardinals.com.
Arians said he would like to get Andre Ellington 25-30 touches per game, but much depends on ability to get him ball through air.— Kyle Odegard (@Kyle_Odegard) May 27, 2014
In 2013, Ellington became the first rookie back since Ickey Woods in 1988 to lead the NFL in yards per carry, averaging 5.53 yards. That total is the third-best by a rookie who qualified for the league lead since the NFL expanded to a 16-game regular season in 1978, behind only Maurice Jones-Drew (5.67) in 2006 and Adrian Peterson (5.63) in 2007.
He also became just the third rookie back over that same span to average 5.0 yards per carry (minimum 100 carries) and 9.0 yards per reception (minimum 30 receptions). The others were Jones-Drew (9.5 yards per reception) and Clinton Portis (5.52 yards per carry, 11.03 yards per reception in 2002).
That type of production is rare from a rookie running back. But looking at the three other rookies mentioned (Jones-Drew, Peterson and Portis), their size helped them succeed early on while shouldering a heavy load in the run game. Of the four, Ellington had the lightest workload by far at only 157 total touches; the other rookies averaged 258.3 touches.
Ellington also has the slightest build of those mentioned. He is just over 5’9” and as of last season weighed 199 pounds. Therefore, it’s probably best we compare him to those backs whose size and style he more closely resembles, like Jamaal Charles and Chris Johnson.
I compared Ellington to Charles late in the 2013 season, but we’re going to look at other seasons from Charles and Johnson to get a handle on why Arians’ claim of 25 to 30 touches per game for Ellington is a poor choice.
For one, the most touches any running back has had over the past five seasons is 408, by Johnson during his historic 2009 season. That year, he topped the 2,000-yard rushing mark and hauled in 50 receptions; it is arguably the best single-season effort by a running back of the past decade.
But what has he done in the four seasons since then? Here is a chart highlighting some of his production during that 2009 season up through 2013.
|Comparing Chris Johnson's Production, 2009 and Since|
|Year||100-Yd Games||5.0+ YPC Games||2+ TD Games||50+ YD TDs|
*Stats for 2010 to 2013 are season averages.
Johnson has not had injury problems since logging over 400 touches during his second pro season—he has missed only one game the past four seasons—yet his production has fallen off. His 2009 season obviously cannot be the benchmark for his career, but Johnson has been somewhat of a disappointment since reaching out and touching greatness.
The way Charles’ career has shaped up—the past two years, especially—is a perfect representation of how Ellington’s workload should look in 2014 and in future seasons. Charles earned a ticket to Hawaii to participate in the past to two Pro Bowls because he has developed into an all-around back who contributes as much in the passing game as he does the run game.
Last season, for example, Charles carried 259 times for 1,287 yards (5.0 YPC) and a league-high 12 touchdowns. He notched 70 receptions for another 693 yards (9.9 YPC) and seven more scores.
He didn’t lead the league in rushing yards, and he didn’t come close to leading the league in carries. But Charles was productive and helped the Chiefs get to the postseason for the first time since 2010. Kansas City won 11 games for the first time since 2003 in large part because Charles did it all for them on offense.
Charles was arguably the most important piece in head coach Andy Reid’s offense last season, and he touched the ball 329 times. That’s about 20.5 times per game. In today’s NFL, that’s all teams need from a No. 1 back—especially one not big and bulky and able to pound it like Peterson.
Ellington can be just as valuable to the Cardinals as Charles is to the Chiefs, and he can do so with about the same workload. The depth at the running back position for Arizona is questionable, with Stepfan Taylor and free-agent signee Jonathan Dwyer fighting for the playing time Ellington will not get.
But that is no reason to overwork Ellington.
Should the Cardinals give Ellington 25-30 touches per game? Tell us what you think by leaving a comment below.