Home / General / Do Cleveland Sports Fans Really Need More Misery?

Do Cleveland Sports Fans Really Need More Misery?


Bill Barnwell is making sense:

What is it going to take before teams realize that spending money on running backs is a misuse of precious resources? Both these teams have enjoyed success from backs on the cheap over the past couple of seasons, and they both totally ignored that process in targeting running backs in the first round. The Browns might not have had much fun with Peyton Hillis last season, but remember that he looked to be a franchise back in 2010 and only cost Cleveland Brady Quinn, who was a candidate to be released. Did that convince the Browns to go back to the well and try to find the next Peyton Hillis for $500,000? Nope! Instead, they used the third pick on Trent Richardson, who will be spinning his wheels in the backfield next year behind an unimproved offensive line. Of the 14 running backs who have been taken in the top five since 1990, only a handful have delivered on their promise. Most have flashes of brilliance mixed with injuries, which is exactly what you get from guys like Jerome Harrison, who cost nothing.

Taking a running back with a #3 pick in itself is insane; trading up to do it is even stupider. And it’s not just that running backs are inherently unpredictable and injury-prone. It’s that — the romantic attachment so many still have to “ground-and-pound” notwithstanding — the quality of a team’s running game has almost no correlation with a team’s ability to win. Having a good running game is like stealing bases effectively in modern baseball; it doesn’t hurt, exactly, but it’s of marginal importance. If you can pass and/or defend against the pass effectively you don’t need a high-quality running game, and if you can’t move the ball through the air a good running game won’t help you. (The Giants, Super Bowl champions with a below-average running game, are hardly rare.) For a team with as many fundamental holes as the Browns to worry about their running game to the extent of wasting a #3 overall pick on it is bizarre, and is also pretty clear evidence that the Browns are unlikely to significantly improve anytime soon.

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  • proverbialleadballoon

    the last ten super bowl champions: ny giants, gb packers, no saints, pitt steelers, ny giants, ind colts, pitt steelers, ne pats, ne pats, tb buccs. 8 out of 10 without a great running game, pitt being the exception (and maybe the giants the first time).

    • Scott Lemieux

      And the Steelers have an excellent passing game too (although the QB didn’t play well in one of the games.)

      • howard

        there’s no getting away from the fact that the qualities which correlate best to winning the title are effective passing game and effective passing defense.

    • Too small of a sample to make any inferences. What happens if you instead take the playoff teams over that span and compare the average running game to passing game ranks? I bet it’s pretty even.

      I’m willing to concede that you need a top 10 QB to win a Superbowl unless you get remarkably lucky, but the idea that a running game is irrelevant has never really been presented to me in any convincing fashion. It sounds like a truism uttered by TV commentator.

      The reason why you don’t take an RB high is because the best ones aren’t that much better than replacement level… not because the entire position is worthless.

      • AAB

        To me, it sounds like the exact opposite of a truism uttered by TV commentators. Commentators continue to stress the importance of running the ball, even as the game has moved from pass-first to run-first over the last decade or two.

        • You listen to different commentators than I do apparently. Every one of the talking heads on ESPN or NFL network says how you can’t win without a good pass offense… and yet 5 teams in the playoffs this year had top 10 passing offenses and 5 had 10 rushing offenses.

      • The problem here, as well, is in equating “really good RB” with “running game.” Perhaps it’s not well known, but under NFL rules, RB’s actually are considered eligible receivers, and utilizing the RB in the passing game is a not uncommon trait amongst good passing teams.

        • I’ve wondered why screen passes were counted towards the QBs stats but shovel passes were considered runs.

          • gmack

            Shovel passes are not considered runs. They are just passes, like screens. Hines Ward’s last reception, for instance, was a shovel pass.

      • Scott Lemieux

        What happens if you instead take the playoff teams over that span and compare the average running game to passing game ranks? I bet it’s pretty even.

        You’re dead wrong.

        • You’re dead wrong.


          • Scott Lemieux

            Evidence is linked in the post.

            • No it isn’t. A good R^2 between winning an Pass per Attempt/Interception rate has nothing to do with how well rushing offenses predict winning.

              • Scott Lemieux

                How about the fact, also linked above, that the quality of a team’s running game has little impact on winning?

                • OK I missed that link, so I apologize… but the methodology is not described well so it’s hard to say. No R^2 and no p-values. But regardless, you’re talking about a difference in “winning percentage” of .642 vs. 557 in yards per attempt vs. yards per rush. So how exactly do you conclude that rushing offense is worthless?

  • Eh? Spending a lot on a running back is generally a bad idea, with the exception of truly elite talent at the position. I rather doubt that the Vikings or Chargers are going to spend much time regretting using top 10 picks on AP or LT (ignoring the former’s injury problems, for a moment), and the Browns, with a pretty darn solid offensive line but a lot less talent at QB or WR, are actually pretty well positioned to leverage a back like Richardson into a cornerstone of their offense in an environment that isn’t particularly friendly to a heavily aerial attack during a somewhat important part of the season.

    • Scott Lemieux

      1)As Barnwell says, many “elite” running backs don’t perform consistently at elite levels.

      2)Having an elite running attack provides very little “leverage” if “leverage” means “scoring points” or “winning.”

      • But, again, what else were they gonna do with the picks? You’d have a point if they gave up significant future picks or they passed up a really great QB prospect, but they didn’t.

        • Scott Lemieux

          QB isn’t the only position that has value. Draft a pass rusher! A corner! An offensive lineman! In modern football, taking a RB with the 3rd pick is always stupid.

          • howard

            if we think of modern defensive football as largely 4-2-3-2 and if we think of modern offensive football as split between 3 receiver, 2 backs and 4 receivers, 1 back, then i only count 1 position – tight end – where it’s less important to have a great player than running back.

            that is – i’d rather have great qb, great offensive linement, great wide receivers, great defensive linemen, great outside linebackers, great corners, and great safeties than have a great running back….

            • Rob

              A great tight end tends to be more important than a WR since corners have improved so much but safeties haven’t.

          • Well they’ve already got Joe Thomas, so taking Kalil wouldn’t have really helped. There isn’t a great pass rusher in this draft as evidenced by the fact that the first one didn’t go until, what, 15th?

            I guess you could say they should have taken Claiborne as a CB, but they do have Haden and Wright, so if they think Richardson is an elite RB talent (and, to be fair, pretty much everyone thinks that), it’s hardly crazy to make an effort to get him so long as they didn’t trade future picks to do it.

          • LKS

            In modern football, taking a RB with the 3rd pick is always stupid.

            The NFL is run by very, very stupid people. It’s continued popularity astounds me.

            See also, “blackout rules”.

            • firefall

              This is part of the appeal – fans can watch, and know that they can do just as well or better than the managers & coaches, and actually have a fair chance of being right.

            • Eh? Why are the blackout rules stupid? The NFL doesn’t have the reimburse the networks if games are blacked out in local markets, so they aren’t losing money on it, and if it forces local businesses to buy the tickets as marketing ploys, they’re extracting extra revenue on the deal. Which isn’t to say that the rules aren’t stupid, but it’s the television networks who are fools, not the NFL.

              • Bill Murray

                I think it depends on which perspective you view the rule — if I can’t afford to go to the game, and it doesn’t sell out, I can’t watch the game; if I were a fan of the team, this would suck and I don’t really care whose fault it is.

                IIRC this was to ensure that TV wouldn’t stop people from attending the games in person.

    • gorillagogo

      Vikings record with Peterson:
      2007: 8-8
      2008: 10-6, lost in 1st round
      2009: 12-4, lost in NFC championship
      2010: 6-10
      2011: 3-13

      So two playoff appearances in five years. Really, only one year where they were considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender and it came during Favre’s one good season in Minnesota. If anything, I would think that Peterson helps prove Lemieux’s point that an elite running back doesn’t necessarily translate into more wins.

      • Well yeah, the one year they paired an elite running back with serviceable quarterback play, they *should* have gone to the Superbowl (Favre gonna Favre). This disproves my point how?

        • Scott Lemieux

          They didn’t have “serviceable” QB that year. They had outstanding QB play, one of Favre’s best years. The quality of the QB play is the meaningful variable; without a quality passing game even an RB of PEterson’s caliber is worth very little.

          • Sorry, I meant to say “at least” serviceable QB play.

        • gorillagogo

          Favre was more than serviceable that year. 33 TDs vs 7 picks, 107.2 QB rating.

          Regardless, the Vikings are 27-37 with Peterson outside of that one great year by Favre. That doesn’t suggest that an elite running back is worth a top 5 pick in today’s NFL.

          • MattT

            I absolutely agree with the idea that drafting a running back with a high pick is nuts, but given how many players are on the field on both sides of the ball, how much can you pin a team’s record on a single player at any position? The Colts collapse last year without Manning might show you could make that argument for an elite QB, but I think that’s about it.

            • LKS

              Believe it or not, you can probably pin a lot more on a single OL.

              One gap in the OL in the modern NFL can be devastating, especially if your QB is less than mobile.

              • But this is really neither here nor there at the top of this draft. The Browns have the best LT in football already, and had their pick of the litter of RT’s with the 22nd pick. Could have gotten a guard in the second round too.

  • TT

    I suppose the best thing you can say is that at least the Browns aren’t as dumb as the Titans or the Vikings, in that in this case it’s only a pick and not a huge multi-year deal. Tennessee or Minnesota could have spent about 1/10 of the $30 million and $36 million guaranteed to Johnson and Peterson on two or three serviceable running backs who combined could have easily put up bigger numbers than Johnson or Peterson did in 2011.

  • Also, you should never pass judgment on a first round pick until the third round is over, at least. If the Browns get a WR with the 37th pick and Sweeden ends up being a decent QB, it makes the move to get a potentially elite RB so much the better.

    • Rob

      And you can’t judge if the Iraq war was a success until 20 years later!

  • Joshua

    I recently took a regression analysis course online and had to cobble together a final project. I chose to analyze football teams’ winning percentage. One of my biggest surprises was that, yea, there really is no correlation between a strong running game and winning.

    To call me an amateur statistician would be insanely generous and insulting to many really good amateur statisticians. Yet I figured this out. What is Cleveland’s excuse?

    • This doesn’t really make any sense to me, given that there’s a limited number of choices available in a given draft. Obviously the biggest correlation to winning in the NFL is the quality of your QB, but the only two potentially elite QBs were gone after the first two picks. Given that Cleveland didn’t forfeit any valuable future picks to make the move, I don’t really see the problem in moving up a spot to get the best remaining athlete on the offensive side of the ball, given that a) they already have one of the league’s best left tackles and b) they should be able to get a pretty good WR prospect with their second round pick as it is.

      I mean, unless you’re going to say they should have picked Claiborne or Barron, I would think that it’s really the selection of Sweeden that’s far more objectionable, especially with two quality offensive linemen and Dont’a Hightower still on the board.

      • I’d argue that even the QB being “elite” is an overstatement.

        Mark Sanchez is a case in point of a QB everyone thought would end up one of the best in the game and so long as he had an offensive line in front of him, he won games.

        Last season, there were major holes (no pun intended) at his tackles. He got sacked and pressured a lot. I won’t believe that a young quarterback who’s marched his team into the playoffs in his first two (three?) seasons is suddenly going to get all squirrely when you have an obvious flaw like he had to work with.

        Indeed, the only rationale I can conceive of for the Jets picking up Tebow is durability. At least he’s a warm body who won’t get badly hurt if this pattern continues.

        In other words, you can stick a mediocre QB behind a good front line and still win games.

    • Scott Lemieux

      One of my biggest surprises was that, yea, there really is no correlation between a strong running game and winning.

      Right. If you look at the best running backs they mostly played for mediocre or awful teams. Thomas was really good and played for an outstanding offense, but then Jones-Drew and Peterson are really good and played for dreadful offenses. Tate and Foster were good but they’re the exception that proves the rule on both points: 1)almost everyone in that zone-blocking scheme puts up good numbers, and 2)when Schaub got hurt their offense became utterly impotent.

      • L2P

        I wouldn’t use Foster as your example. Houston’s offense was terrible after Schaub went down. Foster, however, played great, getting over 100 yards in all but one game and providing enough offense – all by himself, basically – to keep Houston within a score of winning all but one of those games. Most of those were withing a field goal.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Because of their defense. The point, as you say, is that Houston couldn’t score without Schaub even though Foster played well. This is exactly my point.

          • L2P

            They went 3-3 in those games. Getting nothing except for Foster. It didn’t matter that they had an all-star at WR – because he was injured, too. They had Arian Foster and NOTHING on offense, and still ground out three wins.

            Try doing that with a passing game. Outside of the bizarre genius living in New England, nobody’s made a passing game work on an elite level without above average or elite receivers, an exceptional line, and a decent running game to relieve pressure.

            You can argue that it’s better to lose for three years in a row and try to draft the missing pieces you need. I may not disagree with you. But then neither of us are GMs worried about getting kicked out and watching somebody else win using those pieces.

            You need to go .500. Now. You can do that with any decent passing game off the scrap heap, a strong defense (which you need no matter what, unless you’re an insane genius from New England), and an elite runner. Just like Houston did without Schaub.

            Or you can go 4-12 with a great defense and that awesome left tackle you picked up.

            • R Johnston

              Did you not read “because of their defense”?

              The Houston defense was easily good enough last season for a crappy offense doing nothing to win half its games.

          • shah8

            Look bud, you might go around running with scissors, but…

            Generally, when teams lose critical players and replace it with talent as bad as TJ Yates, they tend to suffer.

            If Michael Turner were to go down, Atlanta would be in pretty big trouble.

            Again, you’re just determined to run around with stats as if they mean much disembedded from the game tape.

            I mean, if running backs were so common as all get out, teams wouldn’t get them. Teams with bad running backs would be entirely unaffected. Yet, you see Detroit miss Best, tremendously, even though Stafford made up for it, somewhat. They tried to get Jerome Harrison from Philly, who turned out to have brain cancer. Generally, teams who are bad at running the ball tend to suffer the consequences in their passing attack. Which is why, oh, The Giant, might draft Doug Martin…

            • howard

              jeez, your commentary continues to astound me, shah8, even the ones i missed earlier.

              there is a world of difference between draft position 32 and draft position 3.

              like the rest of your arguments, this one means nothing.

              p.s. think about this for a minute: ahmad bradshaw has as many super bowl rings as jim brown (we’ll call his nfl title the equivalent), walter payton, and barry sanders combined.

              • shah8

                Just what do rings really matter.

                You can point to all sorts of people from all sorts of positions who has rings, but who are much inferior to others who don’t. Does that mean Marino or Rivers suck? No. Manning is not the greatest QB ever to lead a Super Bowl team, does that mean QBs aren’t important? No.

                Jesus Christ on a fucking crutch. Running backs are important, and it’s not, actually, all that easy to replace a good one. Yes, oftentime, the sub will get the same yardage, but lowered effectiveness ripples through an offense.

                If I ran around shouting that right fielders are totally replaceable, and not really worth a high degree of effort to fill, you can find a decent one off the scrap heap…How likely do you think any baseball watchers would take me seriously.

                Seriously, this whole thing about RBs is all sorts of FUCKED UP. Like I’m talking to a bunch of Thomas Friedmans, here.

                • oh for god sakes, the point about rings is that even a so-so back like ahmad bradshaw can be part of a winning team because – once frickin’ again – having a great running back does very little to make you a championship club and that’s the point, that’s why you don’t use the number three pick to take the reincarnation of jimmy brown.

                  or to put it another way, shah8, you’re the patsy.

                • shah8


                  You’re being willfully stupid.

                  Trent Dilfer has a ring, too. Does that mean you can cope with any old QB? Does that make Dan Marino bad? Or unlucky?

                  Emmitt Smith, Terrel Davis, Marshall Faulk, Rashard Mendenhall, etc, etc, etc, were not exactly hangers on on their Super Bowl teams.

                  You can call other people patsys all you want, man, but your logic is horrible.

                • howard

                  dearie me, you just can’t seem to grasp the point here, shah8.

                  i can give you many examples, especially in recent years, of ahmad bradshaws being the feature back of the championship team (look at the various new england winners); you can give me trent dilfer and….

                  and of course, that was trent dilfer and one hellacious defense, not trent dilfer and the best running back in the game.

                  because what we’re talking about here is not whether the giants should use pick #32 on a running back but whether someone should bribe their way into using the #3 pick on a running back.

                  and the track record you can demonstrate of the best running backs in the game being on title-winning teams is pretty slim.

                  but like i say, this is apparently beyond your grasp, which my wiser self recognized as soon as you started blowing smoke about eli….

                • shah8

                  That was gibberish, howard.

                  And nonresponsive.

                  And full of baseless assertions.

                  Why do you even bother? With that silly faux condescension, you sound like some 19th century sexist.

                  In the fucking name of Corey fucking Dillon, who you’ve just insulted (and hey Maroney as well), just… stop

                  You’re not asserting yourself as a superior football intellect. You’re just a buffoon.

                  Of course, you’ll then tell me, oh Dillon was a great deal, he was only a second-rounder! And divert the topic as you please. Face it. New England knew that they had to have a real rushing attack, and they went out and got a RB that’s put up numbers all his career. And he fucking blew it all up for that lovely ring, after years of Mike Brown.

                • so, i sat down to re-read the entire shah8 oeuvre to see if there was any sense to it.

                  sorry, not a bit, just a bunch of frantic assertion-making that “yes, running does matter.”

                  which, to put it in its simplest form, is a wonderful attack on a straw man: as scott put it succinctly, every team should have one!

                  as it put it, for teams that run a play-action based offense, it’s crucial to, you know, run the ball

                  none of which says either: a.) it’s a good idea to use the #3 pick in the draft on a running back; b.) you need the best running back in the game; or c.) strong running attacks have a correlation to winning super bowl titles.

                  when you are prepared to argue those 3 points, shah8, we’ll all be impressed; otherwise, we know a patsy when we see one.

  • Nate

    The Richardson pick was not nearly as bad as using a first round pick on a 28-year-old quarterback. Getting the next Adrian Peterson at #3 looks a lot better than getting the next Chris Wienke at #22.

    • gorillagogo

      This hasn’t gotten nearly enough scorn in my opinion. Sweeden is three years older than McCoy, the guy he was brought in to replace. Hell, he’s a year older than Brady Quinn, the guy who the guy he’s replacing was brought in to replace a few years ago.

    • R Johnston

      On the contrary, the complete waste of a number three pick is worse than the complete waste of a number 22 pick, especially when you trade the fourth pick and 4th, 5th, and 7th round picks to get the right to completely waste that number three pick.

      I think we can all agree, however, that the Cleveland browns are a hopeless organization right now.

      • Nate

        Was Peterson a wasted pick when he went 6th in 2007? Keep in mind that Laron Landry, Levi Brown, Gaines Adams, and Jamarcus Russell went before him and Jamaal Anderson, Amobi Okoye, and Ted Ginn went immediately after.

        • This. You can’t make these sort of broad brush statements without considering what’s actually on the table in any given year.

        • R Johnston

          Peterson certainly hasn’t helped the Vikings win anything, and he’s already on the decline.

          If you’re ever tempted to take a running back in the top ten, take an offensive lineman instead or trade down.

          • Wait, what? Peterson took them the postseason with Tavaris Jackson as their QB. Just because they only got one year of serviceable QB play during his tenure there doesn’t mean that AP hasn’t made Minnesota a much better team at the margins.

          • Nate

            Which is why Joe Thomas, probably the best offensive linemen in the league and taken with the 3rd pick the 07 draft, has turned the Browns into the powerhouse we see today.

            • mpowell

              This is just an argument for trading down. You need many good players and a good QB to be a good team in the NFL. And without a good QB, you’d better have many great players. You need lots of good picks to get there.

  • It should also be noted that Cleveland was trying hard to get the 2nd pick to take RG3, but declined to give as much of a discount on future first round picks as Daniel Snyder agreed to.

  • c u n d gulag

    Did the Browns hire Matt Millen, and we didn’t hear about it?

    • proverbialleadballoon

      no, they would have taken a wide receiver bust with millen at the helm.

  • howard

    funny, when i saw this last night, i said “wonder if scott will post about it.”

    of course it’s insane. all you need to do is look at how few championship teams the greatest running backs – jim brown, walter payton, barry sanders – were on.

    however, scott does miss one aspect of the running game – it isn’t just a residual if your offense (like, say, the giants) bases its passing game on play action.

    that’s why, even though the combination of an aging line and hurt and slowing running backs gave the giants an atrocious overall running game, they kept calling running plays! not because they are idiots and couldn’t see what we all could see, but because a good measure of their passing game was built off play action.

    the giants, in fact, have been running this basic offensive concept for 30 years now, since ron erhard brought it over from new england (where chuck fairbanks put it in place), and it means that the running game is of some intrinsic importance to the giants style (not every passing offense relies on play action).

    even so, the giants are smart enough to know that the running game is about the line: there are lots of running backs good enough to read en effective block who don’t require first round draft picks to obtain.

    (even this guy they drafted they envision – according to reese and coughlin – as a big play type guy who can catch passes and return kicks.)

    • Scott Lemieux

      To be clear, it’s not that you should never use running plays. It’s just that the precise quality of your running game compared to other teams has almost no correlation with winning in modern football.

      • howard

        if whoever was running new orleans in 1981 hadn’t believed in star running backs, the giants would never have gotten lawrence taylor.

        i actually first became aware of this long ago when the giants of my college days gave away a first round draft pick to the cowboys for craig morton (ye gods! craig morton!) and when the cowboys cashed that in in the 1975 draft (second pick overall) they selected randy white.

        and the other guy they were thinking about was a running back, and they said that they picked white because defensive linemen have longer careers than running backs (which was honestly the first time i’d seen someone make that elementary point).

        of course, as it happens, the running back was walter payton, but it was still the right decision to take white!

        • c u n d gulag

          And, as a fellow Giants fan, let’s not forget 1965, when the Giants took Tucker Fredrickson as the #1 overall pick, ahead of Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers.

          • howard

            cundgulag, i prefer not to remember that, thank you very much.

            someone who is deeper into football analytics than i’m willing to be would have to identify if that wasn’t the greatest opportunity cost ever from a talent perspective at the top of the draft. it’s gotta be a finalist.

  • R Johnston

    I think the Browns’ trade up to the three pick might actually be worse than the completely ridiculous Washington trade up to the two pick. Washington may have overpaid by more, but at least the Washington trade has upside potential and hindsight might end up seeming to justify the trade. The Cleveland trade can be evaluated in hindsight as moronic right now.

    • This is an impossible statement to make at this point. What you can say, however, is that Washington took on substantially more risk in their trade, by essentially spending three first round picks on RG3. If he turns out to be anything less than a truly elite QB, they get a negative return on that deal. Cleveland, however, is giving up just three late round picks in the current draft to get the player they wanted, a player who is widely seen as an elite RB talent. Washington may get the better player, but Cleveland’s trade represents *substantially* less risk.

      • R Johnston

        This is an impossible statement to make at this point.

        No, it isn’t. That’s the point. Star running backs don’t actually do anything significant to help teams win, regardless of the stats they put up. Richardson could be the greatest back of all time and this trade would still be a dud in hindsight because it wouldn’t have helped the Browns become a better team.

        • “Star running backs don’t actually do anything significant to help teams win…”

          I think you have drawn the wrong conclusion from the first few comments.

          • R Johnston

            No, that’s the right conclusion, or at least one of the right conclusions. The efficiency and success of the running game correlate quite poorly if at all with winning. While correlation does not imply causation, it doesn’t work quite the same way the other way around. Causation generally implies correlation, and a complete lack of correlation generally implies that there are far stronger causal relationships out there and you’d better have one hell of a successful model if you want to overcome the presumption that no correlation implies weak if any causation.

            In any event, even if you don’t agree with it, this trade was spectacularly ridiculous. Cleveland could have stuck with the forth pick, taken Richardson if he was available, and if not take Kalil and stick him on the right side. No downside there compared to what Cleveland did.

            If I’m mistaken because my roster knowledge isn’t deep enough, and Cleveland already has a bookend opposite Thomas on the right side, then trading down is clearly superior, even in hindsight.

            • But what if Richardson accounts for, say, 700+ receiving yards?

              • Scott Lemieux

                If he substantially improves the Browns passing game, then there might be a case. This would, however, be very rare.

                • Well, again, they have the 37th pick, and there just so happens to be a number of tackles and receivers who will be available when that number comes up.

                • LKS

                  If he substantially improves the Browns passing game, then there might be a case. This would, however, be very rare.

                  Even if there’s strong evidence that he was an exceptional pass-rush blocker and/or receiver in college, I doubt this would translate to elite qualities the NFL.

                  Also, most NFL RBs can catch a ball, and many are used primarily as blocking backs anyway. It’s simply another area where the RB stats cancel out the opposing team’s RB stats.

              • Bobby Flashpants

                Then it still would have been a wasted pick, because you can pick up somebody like Kevin Faulk or Larry Centers to catch a zillion passes out of the backfield. It doesn’t require premium talent.

            • mpowell

              I agree with RJ. I don’t know what Brien is smoking. One of the worst possible excuses for wasting a top draft pick on a low value player: “oh we have other picks to use on the players we actually need”. Simply ridiculous. If you don’t like the talent available at the top (already have a great LT and no pass rushers or QBs available?), trade down. You can always use more picks since many of those picks will probably never even play for you, much less start or have a major impact.

              Washington paid way too much for RG3, but if doesn’t need to be a HoFer for it to be worth the cost retroactively. TR could be just as good as AP and this trade+pick wouldn’t have been worth it. We don’t even need hindsight to evaluate this one. And he’s not going to bring that much to the passing game (did you even watch him in college?).

  • Steve S.

    Your general point about running backs is quite correct but I will say this in partial defense of the Browns: Richardson is a good receiving back, and at the time he was selected Colt MCCoy was the starting QB. Thinking back on both his college and pro careers I’m having a hard time remembering any passes McCoy’s thrown longer than about four yards downfield. My guess is that Richardson can’t help but improve the passing game whether McCoy remains the starter or not but, yeah, top five is a huge price to pay for that particular skill.

  • Ben

    It’s lonely at the top of the draft. Even someone from political science can tell they’re guilty of being short(-term thinking) people, rednecks almost. I guess Cleveland is watching their chances of winning sail away. At least Richardson will get a good contract, probably by saying “Mr. President, have pity on the working man.”

    • Lee Hartmann

      City of light, city of magic.

  • TO finally answer the titular question: yes, yes they do.

    • Spud

      Its the assumed risk of living in Cleveland.

      • I grew up in Southwestern Ohio and have since taken up residence in the Baltimore area. If my hatred for Cleveland sports knew any bounds, I’m fairly sure I’d be at risk of public stoning.

        • Sean

          Hard to find a better way to prove you Cleveland-hating bona fides than by cheering for the Ravens.

      • firefall

        Not just assumed risk, it’s part of the draw

  • shah8

    I’ve been in a pissy mood, but whatever…

    This is a very stupid thread…

    Bill Barnwell is a hack, actually, and anyone who takes him seriously deserves what they get.

    Second, as noted above, the real crime was the 22nd pick.

    Thirdly, people who say that this is a quarterback driven league don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. When you do that, you’re only repeating a meme that helps the NFL sell QBs.

    What’s changed in the NFL is the revolution in linebacking and safety work. Ray Lewis, Brian Dawkins, Ed Reed, Pat Willis, Ronde Barber–the greater emphasis on speed and tackling changed what could be gotten by *any* part of the offense. The *material* aspect of the “QB-driven league” is that pretty much all offenses have to have a credible ability to get behind the defense, for any scheme to work.

    It does not mean, however, that you can win with bad or mediocre running back play. The browns got Trent Richardson because they were absolutely awful in the running back department. As in they didn’t have even 4th round talent playing. And it showed. A running back with both power and speed, such as Adrian Peterson, Shady McCoy, or a healthy Darren McFadden (or even how Reggie Bush was used when he was a Saint)–running backs who are credible home run threats commands attention in ways that opens up the middle of the field for drive sustaining pass plays. From about 1998 to 2006 or so, regular threats for the Superbowl had some pretty dominant rushing attacks. We just haven’t had very many 1st and second rounders pan out recently. It’s just a dry spell. Even so, a catch here and there, and knowledgeable people would be praising the work of Ray Rice (while the media gush over yet another just-pretty-good QB)…

    In any event, looking down on RBs is a mug’s play. Just because most NFL management has the attitude of Dusty Baker when it comes to running backs, doesn’t mean that running backs, taken as a whole, aren’t crucial to the success of the team. Merely pointing out all the top 5 busts is stupid because most positions, I suspect, will have numbers like that. Drafting is a crapshoot, and for reasons that often have little to do with why you picked that person, like bad/toxic management, freak injuries, jail, etc, etc.

    • Scott Lemieux

      It does not mean, however, that you can win with bad or mediocre running back play.

      Yes, to find an example of this you have to go all the way back to…this year. Teams win with medicore or worse running games all the time. The quality of a team’s running attack has essentially no correlation with winning, but a team’s passing and pass defense certainly does.

      • Well this year’s Superbowl champion also finished the regular season 9-7, so…

        • Scott Lemieux

          1)With a very good offense.

          2)Obviously, any single case does not prove anything (except the claim that “teams with bad running games never win), but the overwhelming systematic evidence certainly does.

          • Well 2) merely goes back to what I said earlier…football is a small sample size.

            • Scott Lemieux

              2) merely goes back to what I said earlier…football is a small sample size.

              If this was the issue, then we would presumably see lots of variance in which sometime running correlates with winning and sometimes passing does. But of course we don’t; passing correlates well and running never does in the modern game. In more than a dozen posts you have let to adduce the slightest evidence.

              • And you have yet to convince me that you have any idea what happened after the top 10 picks last night. :)

                • AAB

                  Cleveland took a 28-year-old QB who played in the Air Raid and threw to Justin Blackmon. I don’t see how this is supposed to be a strong point in your favor.

                • Well that was my point. Cleveland still had a chance to take a pass rusher or one of the offensive lineman that CIN/PIT took, but instead they reached for a 28 year old QB. THAT is the problem pick, not taking a potentially elite RB in the top 5.

                • mpowell

                  You are usually a lot smarter than this. Weeden being a bad pick has nothing to do with the arguments as to why TR was a bad pick. I don’t know what else to say. If this isn’t obvious to you, I don’t know how to explain it.

        • mark f

          Just FTR, last year’s playoff teams ranked 3, 5, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 21, 22, 24, 26 and 32 in Expected Points Contributed by Running Offense. The bottom 5 in that list were below league average and that last one was the Giants.

          In Rushing Yards, the playoff teams ranked 1, 2, 6, 8, 10, 14, 17, 19, 20, 27, 29 and 32. Six of these teams were below league average and again the Giants were last.

          Rushing YPA: 4, 6, 7, 10, 12, 14, 19, 22, 23, 27, 28 and 32.

          By contrast the 12 playoff teams ranked 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12, 16, 17 and 30 in Expected Points Contributed by Passing Offense. The Giants were 4th; all but three were better than league average. In Passing Yards they were ranked 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 18, 19, 20, 29 and 31; the Giants were 5th and seven of the twelve were above average.

          Passing YPA: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 12, 13, 17, 22, 23 and 28.

          Denver, probably the worst playoff team, is at or near the top in the Rushing categories and at the bottom in all Passing categories.

          This is not meant to be taken as a definitive argument.

    • Joshua

      Reggie Bush might have been a “home run threat” but he was kind of a bust from day one in NO. The year the Saints won the SB he had a whopping 390 yards on 70 attempts with 5 TDs – this was after years of 6, 4, and 2 TDs. His receiving stats were better but we are not talking about top-2 production here. I really don’t think teams spent a ton of time game-planning against Reggie Bush.

      On the other hand, in 2009, the Saints had a brilliant year out of a top QB and an all-star WR producing at a high level. A WR who, by the way, was drafted in the 7th round.

      Ray Rice is a legitimately good RB. He was also drafted in the 2nd round. Just like Jones-Drew. Is it really worth it to draft a RB in the top 10 to decoy?

      Like others said upthread – the Vikes only became a Super Bowl contender when they paired up AP’s brilliant play with some great QB play. Once that QB left/exposed his penis to the world, the team just completely collapsed.

      • But the last paragraph is not an either/or. The Browns didn’t pass up a great QB to draft Richardson, and drafting Richardson does not preclude them from upgrading at QB whenever possible. This is an argument about drafting Richardson vs. drafting someone else available at the time.

        • AAB

          No, it’s more than that. It’s also an argument for not trading up to take a running back in the top 5.

      • mark f

        Reggie Bush might have been a “home run threat” but he was kind of a bust from day one in NO.

        Wily Mo Pena is an asset to any team!

    • Steve S.

      It does not mean, however, that you can win with bad or mediocre running back play.

      In fact, you can win in the NFL with below average anything if you are sufficiently adept at other areas. The Ravens, for instance, had a pretty long run of success with passing offenses that topped out at mediocre on a good day. The question is, what gives you the best probability of success over an extended period, and the answer is good passing offense and good passing defense.

      Of course it’s better to have a good running offense than to not have one. I don’t think there’s any question that Adrian Peterson, the most elite RB talent of recent years, significantly improved the Vikings his first couple of years there when they were still playing clowns at QB.

      The one point in the linked piece that was pretty silly was that highly-drafted RBs have a high bust rate. If anything QBs and WRs have higher bust rates than RBs, but that doesn’t mean that passing offense isn’t important.

  • Froley

    While we’re retiring the notion that top RB = success, can we please get rid of the more obnoxious belief that something called “arm strength” is the top indicator of QB ability? I don’t think there is any dumber idea in the NFL. Outside of a few HOFers like Marino, Elway and Favre, very few “strong-arm” QBs were worth anything — Jeff George, JaMarcus Russell, and Ryan Leaf were drafted high almost solely on their ability to throw deep/hard. Conversely, I can think of a number of very good QBs who were criticized for not having a “strong” arm (Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, etc.). It’s almost as if things like accuracy and a quick release were much more important than the ability to “throw real hard.”

    Perfect example of this stupidity this year is Kellen Moore. He might not get drafted until Saturday (if at all — some are predicting undrafted FA). All the guy has done in his college career is throw for almost 15,000 yards with 143 TDs versus 28 INTs. I’m not saying he’s going to be a star and the questions on his height and mobility are legitimate. But you’re telling me that Moore isn’t worth more than some guy you pick up in the 4th or 5th round that you hope can be a decent special teams/backup player?

    • shah8

      Again, wow, people are sure helping my bad mood…THIS IS A STUPID ATTITUDE

      You have to have arm strength to play as an NFL QB and expect to win much. If you can’t reliably hit a deep man, whether because you’re not really strong enough (McCoy, Ponder), or you don’t have the touch (Matt Ryan), then you can’t find open guys in the middle of the field, and DO start shutting you down.

      This is also true, not only for deep passing, but the nibbles outside the numbers 7, 10, 15 yards down. That pass had better be zipped, or it will be intercepted. There’s no amount of accuracy that will help, because the windows just aren’t that big in the NFL.

      Anyone who tries to whine about arm strength (because a favorite player with an established fan base, like McCoy, is in the whiner’s mind) should always be shouted the fuck down. Doubly so when they whine about how JaMarcus Russell is such a bust.

      • Froley

        Yes, you have to have a minimum ability to throw with speed. But that’s not what they mean when they talk about arm strength. The profiles of Brees when he came out said that he had zip on the ball within 15 to 20 yards, but they thought he lacked the strength to throw deep. And that along with his height is what caused him to fall to the second round.

        Throwing hard without accuracy is just stuff to show off at the county fair. If you’re accurate and can release the ball quickly (i.e., before the rush can get to you and while the receiver is finishing the route), you have much more chance to succeed in the NFL.

        The only people whining about Russell being a bust are Raiders fans. Which means all other fans thinks it’s funny.

        • shah8


          You read Kellen Moore porn.

          And dreaming up ways your fantasies can be real.

          And expect the rest of us to take you seriously.

          Even though you’re off-topic.

          • Froley

            Sure thing, troll. Go have a syrup and pill party with your BFFs JaMarcus and Ryan. Just don’t talk about football because even they will be embarrassed for you.

            • shah8

              Yeah, like I thought.

              I bet if I peel a bit more under your head, I’d find more unpleasant things, eh?

              You’re the one plugging a short, light, with a weak arm, but very nicely white QB. Everyone I’ve ever seen do that, has problems. And they go on and on about purity and the evils of drugs and shit, and listen to that inner Rocky tune…

              And we all know it’s all about your ability to vicariously be a QB. If he’s too NFL talenty, or too non-white, you just can’t have the same kind of fun as someone you can see yourself being.

              /me shrugs

              Enjoy your life, loser. I watch football because I want to see the best people have to offer. Not Palin’s daughters winning round after round on Dance With The Stars.

        • mpowell

          Brees has the best deep ball in the NFL. The problem with the scouting report on Brees was that they turned out to be mistaken about his arm strength, not that great arm strength isn’t absolutely necessary to be an NFL QB. Manning’s arm is also pretty strong. The mistake is in thinking a single quality like arm strength will make a great QB. You need everything. That’s what makes them so damn rare.

      • Thlayli

        A guy who throws 90mph and puts it over the plate every time is infinitely more valuable than someone who throws 100mph but can’t find the strike zone with a map.

        You talked about “windows”. Jay Cutler has a ton of arm strength, but he gets picked off a whole lot because he can’t hit the windows he thinks he can.

        • R Johnston

          A guy who throws 90mph and puts it over the plate every time is infinitely more valuable than someone who throws 100mph but can’t find the strike zone with a map.

          Unless, of course, you’re Nolan Ryan. His walk record is right up there with Wayne Gretzky’s point scoring record as the most unbeatable record in American sports set in my lifetime.

  • shah8

    And one more thing for the stupid stat-heads…

    There isn’t a particularly high correlation to be had with *anything* in football. For example, how often do the best teams in football win? They usually beat each other up in the playoffs, say Philly and Green Bay two years ago. Are the Giants better than the Saints last year? No. And if there isn’t as much of a relationship between how good a team is and winning a Super Bowl, other than be hot at the right time, what makes you think you’ll find anything but statistical noise for any other aspect of football?

    Football Outsiders is a website to make gamblers feel more comfortable gambling…

    • I usually hate arguments like this, but…football is a small sample size.

    • R Johnston

      There isn’t a particularly high correlation to be had with *anything* in football

      That’s just not true. An efficient, effective passing game correlates quite well with winning.

      Football is, of course, always subject to small sample size issues when it comes to individual games and team seasons, but that shouldn’t be confused for a lack of correlation over meaningful sample sizes.

      • Scott Lemieux

        This. Pass offense and defense in fact correlate remarkably well with winning.

        • shah8

          Uh, huh…

          The world would be such a better place if people took more rigorous stats classes.

          Allow me to say two things

          1) Specifically speaking, *efficient* passing offenses DO NOT HAPPEN without an effective run game. McNabb’s best years were that good mostly because he had Westbrook, for example.

          2) Not every team has the QB or the WRs, so they must play with their best talent, like MN last year. More than that, the 49’ers almost got to the Superbowl (if the Special Teams could catch…) largely based on that rushing attack.

          It’s just a matter of that bouncing ball, and you’re just finding any correlation and calling (implying) causation.

          • Scott Lemieux

            Specifically speaking, *efficient* passing offenses DO NOT HAPPEN without an effective run game.

            Complete nonsense. Efficient passing offenses happen all the time with bad running games. Just this year the Giants and Cowboys had excellent passing attacks with bad running games.

            Also, the 49ers had the 12th best pass offense and 24th best run offense this year.

            • 1.) Those teams went 9-7 and 8-8.

              2.) The Cowboys were 18th in RYPG and 9th in YPC.

              • Scott Lemieux

                1.) Those teams went 9-7 and 8-8.

                But in the Cowboys case, this was because their defense sucks. I have no idea what this proves.

            • shah8


              I’d say that you’re hanging onto a silly meme with all the force of your intellect, but I fear it would go over about the same as “The Matrix Has You!”

              You realize

              a) The Giants never stopped with a feature running game. They tended to lose if the running game doesn’t work, ’cause Manning isn’t that good, and the passing attack depended a great deal on broken coverages. This is a big reason why they lost 7 games!

              b) Did you see the Cowboys in the playoffs? No? Did you notice Felix Jones got injured? No? Did you notice that their OL was terrible at run-blocking? No? Oh my, did you not even see all the late season editorials about how the ineffective run game cost the Cowboys crucial games? No?

              Look, stop talking out of your ass. I’ll beat you like a rented mule every time.

              • Scott Lemieux

                It didn’t say the Giants stopped running. I said they didn’t run well, which of course they didn’t.

                I saw the Cowboys. I noticed that their secondary was terrible, which is the primary reason they lost.

                • You know whose secondary wasn’t god awful? Cleveland’s. So, again, given that the only realistic choices for Cleveland were a RB, a LT, a WR, and a CB, I don’t see a particularly compelling case against the RB, given that they have the LT and the CB, and that they can get a perfectly fine WR prospect with their second round pick.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  You know whose secondary wasn’t god awful? Cleveland’s

                  You seem to be assuming that 1)once an element of a team is decent there’s no point improving it, and 2)football players can be assured of staying healthy so you don’t have to worry about depth. I believe both of these assumptions are erroneous.

              • howard

                well, now we can stop (or at least i can), since:

                a. as i’ve already noted and as scott has already agreed, the giants kept running to set up the passing game, because that’s how their offense has been designed for 30 years and they’ve been quite consistent about it over that time (it’s really only been 3 regimes, and the system has been quite consistent). that doesn’t mean that you need a great running back;

                b. yes, manning is that good. i have no idea what in the world you’re talking about. where manning sometimes comes up short is judgement, but he would be fine in a pass-first offense.

              • Anderson

                “Manning isn’t that good.” Really? GMAFB.

            • shah8

              SF had the 8th most rushing yards/g. SF had the third most rushing attempts. SF’s primary means of moving the football tends to focus on shorter stuff, including rushing the football.

              When you blurb a statistic like that, you do actually need to be more specific as to which stat you’re talking about. There are different stats for various offensive unit production.

              • Scott Lemieux

                Those stats show that SF runs more often. Not surprising, since they’re usually ahead. But what’s relevant is whether they run more effectively, which they don’t. You don’t need Jim Brown to run to kill clock in the 4th quarter.

                • R Johnston

                  Jim Brown averaged 5.2 yards a carry for his career.

                  You know what we call a quarterback who averages 5.2 yards an attempt, even if he throws remarkably few interceptions?


                  That’s a concise explanation of how we know that NFL teams, contrary to popular wisdom, don’t pass enough.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  The caveat here is that if you have a lead later in the game, there are two other considerations: incompletions stop the clock and passing is more likely to produce turnovers. So running may be the optimal strategy even if it leads to fewer yards per attempt.

                  But, again, you don’t need a great running back to do this. People seem unable to distinguish the relative and absolute value of running backs. Every team should use one! But exactly how good your back is isn’t terribly important.

              • shah8

                SF runs more often because they are… not so good at passing.

                And what is with people constantly calling professionals dumb?

                Do people honestly think, “Oh, even the best RB in the world has a yardage per attempt lower than any acceptable passing performance, I’ll just go and design an offense with an empty backfield. Who needs that running back. Just a guaranteed union job for some hack!”

                Do you honestly listen to yourself, Scott? Are you drinking a whole lot? What? Because it’s deeply insane and egotistical talking that you’re doing…

          • howard

            i can tell i’m going to regret engaging in this discussion, but sheesh:

            1. yes, there are lots of examples of passing offenses doing very well without good running games;

            2. that doesn’t negate the fact that there are plenty of offenses designed to set up their passing game with their running game;

            3. but that doesn’t negate the fact that the running game (which, as a side note, i prefer: i’m no fan of the pass-happy style of play today) as an end in and of itself isn’t nearly the contributor to winning that other aspects of the game are;

            4. which is why it’s a dumb idea to pick a running back with the third pick in the draft. i’m no college football fan or draftnik (i just know what i read up before the draft) but there were several high-likelihood-of-success players sitting on the board that would be worth more to winning than the difference between jim brown and jim replacement level.

            • R Johnston

              Of note, it doesn’t take a whole lot for the running game to set up the passing game. If you have enough of a running game that the defense rarely has six in the box and keeps the dime package off the field on third and medium, that’s enough.

              The goal isn’t to get the defense to stack against the run but to keep the defense honest and not stacked against the pass. To choose a specific example, if on third and four, out of a three wide and a TE formation, the defense finds the threat of a run to be a plausible minority play call that can’t be completely discounted, then you’ve done your job.

              • howard

                that’s exactly right, and also points to why the line matters so much: a good measure of the credibility of your running game is the credibility of your line to make its blocks.

              • Scott Lemieux

                The goal isn’t to get the defense to stack against the run but to keep the defense honest and not stacked against the pass. To choose a specific example, if on third and four, out of a three wide and a TE formation, the defense finds the threat of a run to be a plausible minority play call that can’t be completely discounted, then you’ve done your job.

                This is precisely right. RBs good enough to do this are hardly a rare commodity.

                • shah8

                  MN was able to get picks because count ’em, THREE teams directly above them BADLY needed an upgrade at RB. Cleveland could not, in fact, wait for Trent Richardson.

                  Skill disparity at RB aren’t much different than at any other position, and RB definitly matters, because the ball is in their hands often!

                • let’s see, there’s 32 teams in football, standard bell curve distribution would tell us that there are 10% morons general managing: yup, that makes sense that there were 3 teams stupid enough to want to trade up like this.

          • Walt

            For someone who’s boasting about his incredible knowledge of football, unlike the stupid rest of us, you’d think you’d be aware that the main significance of Westbrook to the Eagles was as a receiver.

            • shah8

              I’m right, and I was always going to be right, except for that confusion of Martin with Wilson WRT to Giants drafting a RB.

              /me shrugs

              You’re sitting there and telling me I’m dumb because I didn’t know Westbrook was a receiver…or something.

              Brian Westbrook has never had more receiving yards than rushing yards. Brian Westbrook usually had more rushing TDs. In his prime, Brian Westbrook was a mega-yardage producer on the ground, easily, and *added*, as all good RBs do, a tremendous amount as a receiver. Just as Trent Richardson is supposed to do.

              That’s the trouble with being a smart guy. Idiots everywhere who think they can just label whatever they say as smart and whatever the other guy said as dumb.

      • If only they allowed running backs to catch passes and run with the football in the NFL…

  • BradP

    It’s that — the romantic attachment so many still have to “ground-and-pound” notwithstanding — the quality of a team’s running game has almost no correlation with a team’s ability to win.

    Yards per pass attempt can bear a strong correlation to the quality of one’s running game. Any time a “ground-and-pound” style offense establishes a power running game out of their base, they force the defense to draw up the safeties and sacrifice deep coverage.

    Its telling to note that of the top 4 YPP career leaders, three are Sid Luckman, Otto Graham, and Norm Van Brocklin, who all played for teams that ran the ball 70% of the time.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Yards per pass attempt can bear a strong correlation to the quality of one’s running game.

      There’s no evidence of this. The quality of a team’s passing offense in fact has no correlation with the quality of the team’s running game.

      Its telling to note that of the top 4 YPP career leaders, three are Sid Luckman, Otto Graham, and Norm Van Brocklin, who all played for teams that ran the ball 70% of the time.

      We’re talking about modern football here. Football played under completely different rules is a whole other issue.

      • howard

        i don’t know the game well enough prior to the late ’50s, but if we look at the truly great teams even prior to the modern rules changes that favor passing – late ’50s colts, early-mid ’60s packers, early ’70s dolphins, mid-’70s steelers, ’80s 49ers and redskins – we see they all had good running games and good quality backs, but none of them (ameche, moore, hornung, taylor, csonka, morris, kiick, harris, mitchell, craig, riggins)had the best running back of his day playing for them.

        and even then, with a stronger emphasis on the running game, all of those teams had great qbs and great receivers.

        • Scott Lemieux

          One note here is that Bart Starr was a much more efficient passer than he’s given credit for, and he continued to get better even as Green Bay’s running game went from outstanding to poor (and the team kept winning.)

      • Bill Murray

        well your article from the WSJ only talks about studies up to 2005, so that’s not exactly the football of today either.

        Further, the WSJ article talks about the correlation of yards per pass attempt to winning individual games which is not the same thing as being a successful team until the game-to-game variability is included. Also, the article says nothing about the running game, so your caption is wrong. Finally, I did not know the NFL started in 1961. That will certainly come as a shock to many people.

  • Bill Murray

    I think it would help if people defined some of their terms here. What is meant by an effective passing game, or a good running game.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Pretty much, yards per play accounting for turnovers. However sophisticated the formula you use to address this basic goal you’ll find the same thing.

      • Bill Murray

        Thanks. Don’t the sophisticated formulas try to work in context because there aren’t that many plays in any game.

        Also, apropos to nothing, of the top 20 in yards per pass attempt in a season only 4 of the top 20 seasons occurred in the past 20 years, while 7 were in the 60s and 70s and 5 in the 40s and 50s

        • Bill Murray

          Also, apropos to nothing, of the top 20 in yards per pass attempt in a season only 4 of the top 20 seasons occurred in the past 20 years, while 7 were in the 60s and 70s and 5 in the 40s and 50s

          The career numbers for YPA are different. There are 6 of the top-11 that are recent QBs, which may just be that these players are lacking the downside of their careers. Of the 15th to 49th ranked QBs only 5 are recent (which I define here as started in the NFL within the last 20 years)

          • Njorl

            I think the strategy has changed dramatically. 30 years ago, people didn’t call a swing pass for 6 yards on first down. You threw on first to catch the defense off guard, so you threw deeper. If you threw short to a back, it was a safety valve. That sort of pass has replaced the running play, now. There are also more sideline passes for 5 yards to wide-outs when the corner is giving too much of a cushion.

        • R Johnston

          The season sample size for passes was much lower in the past, meaning higher variance in average yards per attempt. When teams pass 30% of the time rather than 60$ of the time and in a shorter season as well you’ll find more distant outliers, both high and low, in individual season YPA passing.

          Over the course of a career, as opposed to a single season, quarterbacks of a bygone era had enough attempts to smooth out that variance.

          • Bill Murray

            but somehow managed to dominate the lower ranks of the top 50

      • Njorl

        I’d add TDs into the mix. Getting the last few yards is phenomenally different than getting yards between the 20s. A back who gets many rushing TDs is a significant asset, especially if the team doesn’t have an athletic QB who can bootleg or QB draw.

  • I always thought it was the height of silliness that running back is considered a skill position, but the guy in front of him who’s even more responsible for his weekly 100 yard game, the offensive tackle, is not.

  • MikeJake

    What kind of stat line would change your mind? Would 1,400 APY and 10 TDs do it?

    As for Barnwell, he negatively evaluates the Browns draft (even though they’ll be picking 2 or 3 more times today) in the same column that starts off talking about how such instant draft analysis is stupid. And in his previous column about evaluating busts he concludes that RBs return less value outside of the 1st round than any position other than QB. Richardson wasn’t getting out of the top 10 (Tampa was looking to trade up and snag him), so I don’t see what’s so egregious about getting a player who is commonly viewed as a sure-thing, elite RB instead of getting another serviceable RB in support of a passing attack that the Browns simply don’t have.

    Personally, I thought the Weeden pick was way more questionable. They apparently were looking at Kendall Wright, but Decastro would have been a fine consolation prize, and Weeden was likely to still be there in the 2nd (possibly even the 3rd). I’m actually excited about the Richardson pick. He’s the first elite RB the Browns have had since Leroy Kelly.

    So Weeden, Richardson, maybe Stephen Hill, and a RT…that’s a vastly improved offense.

  • JMG

    I am always suspicious of those statements that “only X players from position Y drafted in the top five since year whatever have succeeded.” I suspect it can be applied to just about position, because top five picks come with expectations so outsized, players are more likely to be perceived as failures. Quarterback has probably the same ratio, or so Akili Smith thinks, anyway. Hell, only about a dozen of the first overall picks in the history of the draft are in or are going to be in the Hall of Fame. That’s ALL positions.
    If a team can’t pass, and the Browns can’t, then they have to try to run. One thing running backs DO contribute is touchdowns rather than field goals. That counts for a lot.

    • R Johnston

      If a team can’t pass, and the Browns can’t, then they have to try to run.

      The evidence suggests otherwise. If a team can’t pass it needs to learn how to pass, or at least have a great passing defense.

      • Scott Lemieux

        Right. Can someone cite the winning team that’s used an outstanding running game to compensate for a poor passing game?

        • R Johnston

          Well, there was that Trent Dilfer led team that won a Super Bowl with a pretty good rushing offense and a defense that was only mediocre. Or maybe not on that last part.

          • Scott Lemieux

            That team’s rushing was actually pretty ordinary; Lewis had 4.4 yards/carry and Holmes 4.3. One could argue that the defense was OK, though. That middle linebacker ever become good?

            • R Johnston

              I said pretty good for the rushing offense, not very good or great. I stand by that assessment. They were seventh in a 31 team league in YPA rushing. That’s pretty good. Not very good or great, but pretty good, admittedly on the border of ordinary.

              • Scott Lemieux

                Right; I don’t think we disagree. It was a solid rushing attack, but finding guys who run 4.4 yards a crack doesn’t exactly require a massive investment.

        • shah8

          Let’s see…

          2001 Ravens

          2002 Buccaneers

          2005 Steelers

          2007 Giants

          Still wanna proceed, punk?

          • Scott Lemieux

            2002 Bucaneers had the 29th best rushing in the NFL, less than 4 yards a carry.

            2005 Steelers were mediocre, 12th in rushing yards per carry at 4 even. Their passing, conversely, ranked 2nd.

            The 2007 Giants, I will grant, had a very good rushing game — 4th in the league — and Eli was below average. But the team’s offense as a whole was mediocre — it won with defense, and Eli was better in the playoffs. Also, as Barnwell notes, the Giants had an excellent running game after their superstar RB retired and they just replaced him with some late-round picks.

            Jesus, Punk, if these are the best examples you can cherry pick that’s petty pathetic.

            • shah8

              I actually can go on. I simply listed the teams that had rushing games which carried the passing game. They aren’t actually the only teams I can think of.

              In fact, Green Bay in 2010 was virtually the only SB winning team that I can recall off-hand who didn’t have pretty credible running.

              Moreover don’t think I didn’t remember the Baltimore Ravens 2000 (not 2001) season, with that 10th in rushing and 19th in passing with the help of the number 5 draft pick Jamal Lewis.

              I believe we know who the actual punk is, punk.

              • shah8

                Ah, NFL stats playing games with me, and I see you’ve discussed the Ravens above.

                Anyways, I do actually think it is safe to say that Jamal Lewis was very much worth the pick.

              • Scott Lemieux

                I simply listed the teams that had rushing games which carried the passing game.

                And yet, at best, you identified one. One of these examples involves an argument that the 2002 Bucaneers were carried by that well-known elite runner Michael Pittman and his staggering 3.5 yards per carry. Thank you for enlightening us, oh great football sage! What would we do without your immense insights?

                I think shah8 has officially hit the highest pretension-to-achievement ratio in the history of this blog.

                • shah8


                  You’re the one using and abusing statistics without actually knowing what any of it means.

                  The major reason I’m belligerent is that this is the classic style of attack on teachers, and basically *anyone* that’s supposed to be low on hierarchy.

                  You think I’m pretentious. I’m not. You are, and you go slinging that around as if it meant something. You consistently behaved in this thread as if anyone who disagreed with you as being stupid. It’s classic. Of course, I’ll never reach you. Just like how hard it is for Larry Summers to think any woman could ever be his equal–and use and abuse statistical “thinking” for his purposes. Or evo-psych folks who base their work on Charles Murray, and think it’s statistically proven that blacks are dumber.

                  And you’ll continue to think this way, even though professionals who make their living don’t. And you’ll think that you’re special for it. You’ll be up on that podium and shout “Anything that is not perceptible to statistics IS NOT REAL!” Hey, a UT/NT! He’s totally interchangeable! Just look at the damned stats! Oh my god! Someone called the 2002 Tampa Bay Bucs a running team with Brad Johnson and Warren Sapp on it! Obviously, running all the time didn’t do those Bucs a damned lick of good… Damned Super Bowl winners…

                  The sad truth is: You are wrong. You’re wrong in a way that speaks a reprehensible truth about this world. All people need is just the skin of truthiness, and they can shoot anyone they like. They can fire anyone they like. They can see anyone they like as being inferior, and not worth the time to find and invest training in. This world is such a fucked up place, and people like you, thinking the way you do, play a big role in ensuring it stays a fucked up place.

                  I know and understand you’ll never allow yourself to view your ideas the way I do. You’re too invested, so you’ll dismiss any facts but the fig leaves. Hey! Numbers don’t lie, but you sure can lie with them!

                • Scott Lemieux

                  I think this would be even funnier if you pictured Murray Chass reading it while imitating Abe Simpson.

                • shah8

                  Why do you bother? I’m used to being smarter than other people, and it does me about as much good as it does Lisa Simpson.

                  All you’re doing is making a damned fool of yourself. I’ve won this argument a long time ago. All I’ve been doing since is trying to make you realize just how stupid, and, um, common you sound.

                  You’re that guy, “Who’s Wrong On the Internet!” And you’ve retreated to the last resort of people who’ve been caught with their pants down–the acid snark.

                  I think this thread is too long for the vast majority of people to read it. But…

                • Scott Lemieux

                  I’m used to being smarter than other people

                  This is exactly as credible as everything else you’ve asserted in this thread, and supported by as much evidence.

                  I’ve won this argument a long time ago.

                  Tip: repeatedly asserting that you’re winning the argument signals to everyone that not only are you badly losing. you don’t really have an argument. And if your example for the argument that teams need an elite running game to win in the NFL is “Michael Pittman having a bad year even for Michael Pittman,” you’re not winning the argument.

  • Sherm

    It seems that many here are understating the importance of a running game to make the point that the browns’ pick was idiotic. The better point is simply that since running backs don’t last very long and backs good enough to win with are readily available in the second and third rounds, it’s a complete waste of a high draft pick to take a running back that early, particularly for team in the rebuilding process. Taking a back that high is the equivalent of a baseball team using a fourth pick on a college closer. It’s silly to ignore what a great back can do, but its idiotic for a rebuilding team to waste a high pick on a back rather than an offensive linemen, a pass rusher or a cover corner. They are rarer and more valuable assets than a running back, and rheir careers last longer. The giants won last year with a seventh rounder at tailback, and that seventh rounder is a damn good back when healthy.

  • njorl

    I don’t think it’s so bad. It’s true the running game isn’t so important, but it’s also true that wide-outs are a bigger crapshoot.

    The consensus among people who pretend to know these things is that Richardson is as close to a “can’t miss” pick as possible. He is almost certainly going to be a great back, for what it’s worth. There is no such thing as a can’t miss wide-out, corner or lineman.

    Also, the guy I was listening to on the radio this morning (who might be an idiot for all I know) said Richardson ran great patterns (more like a Brian Westbrook rather than just a Larry Centers out of the backfield), and picked up the blitz like an experienced pro.

    Don’t discount a back’s receiving ability. They don’t just run screens and swings anyore. When Brian Westbrook was playing for the Eagles, he was by far the best wide-out on the team, despite not being a wide-out.

    • Sherm

      Actually, I believe that high first round offensive linemen are the closest things to “can’t miss”. And since their careers are long and plenty of third round caliber running backs can run effectively with a good line, that’s generally the safest and smartest play.

    • R Johnston

      Even if Richardson is the greatest back of all time he’ll average far less YPA rushing than a semi-competent offense manages passing. His primary job will still be to keep the defense honest so that the passing game can win games, and without a passing game the Browns still will have a craptastic offense.

      And if Richardson is great but the Browns fall into the frequently triggered trap of running more frequently because of it, thereby cutting down their YPA over all plays, the offense might actually regress even if the passing game stays the same as the running game improves.

  • Bill Murray

    There is no such thing as a can’t miss wide-out, corner or lineman.

    Look at Charles Rodgers, I think he missed almost every pass thrown towards him, just like Tony Mandarich missed every block he tries

  • According to Scott Lemieux the Run and Shoot is unstoppable.

    • R Johnston

      Well that’s a spectacularly disingenuous and ridiculous reading of the text.

      • If RB’s don’t produce wins… which Lemieux has repeatedly stated in this thread… in fact, he went so far as to compare them to stolen bases as an offensive luxury good.

        What else can you conclude from his arguments? Teams should be passing all the time… if not they are hurting their chances of winning.

        Ergo: The Run and Shoot is the greatest offense of all time.

        • Bill Murray

          well he actually said teams should average quite high yards per attempt, which isn’t really the case for the run and shoot. What you probably really want is the Bill Walsh offense for Greg Cook

          • Oh, so you’re saying you can’t average a high yard per attempt without a running game!? Impossible! Lemiuex does does accept co-linearity so your data must be wrong.

        • Scott Lemieux

          If RB’s don’t produce wins… which Lemieux has repeatedly stated in this thread… in fact, he went so far as to compare them to stolen bases as an offensive luxury good.

          You continue to fail to understand. I’m not saying teams should pass every down. I’m saying it doesn’t matter significantly whether you have an above-average or below-average running game. You have provided absolutely no evidence otherwise.

          • shah8

            The titular fucking team in this stupid fucking thread…













            If you’d actually watch Cleveland Browns football, you can see just how much they missed Hillis in the beginning, and how much they never recovered, even when Hillis finally got back from his Madden Curse.

            It was completely, and totally, obvious that they would pick Richardson in the draft.

            The same was true for Tampa Bay. A big problem with Blount, even with pictaresque runs over people, was that he couldn’t block well, and had stone hands.

            Steven Jackson, in STL, was beginning to miss games as the wear and tear got to him, and STL was a *horrible* team, in large part because of all the games Jackson missed. They needed youth talent at RB if they could get it…

            This all goes to fucking say…

            When a good RB is lost, very few teams other than well coached zone blocking teams (which is an intense effort as well) ever really recover with a substitute. Very often, a not so great RB has his day, but overall, cannot produce day in and out.

  • I’m saying it doesn’t matter significantly whether you have an above-average or below-average running game. You have provided absolutely no evidence otherwise.

    Having a good running game is like stealing bases effectively in modern baseball; it doesn’t hurt, exactly, but it’s of marginal importance.

    We’ve already established how teams with a top 10 running game win 56% of their games, so I’m excited to see how you are able to portray that as of “marginal importance”… this should be fun!

    Since you appear to be a cromagnon baseball fan who can only hold two variables in your head at one time, I won’t bother asking you what happens when you do a multiple linear regression with rushing and passing yards per attempt vs. winning percentage.

  • I’m a Browns die-hard. I wanted Blackmon and best OT available in the first round.

    That said, there are an awful lot of people here who believe they are capable of evaluating a draft pick before games are played. This has very often turned out to be a mistake, sometimes a huge mistake.

    The argument that the Browns ought to have drafted [other position] instead of a running back has merit, but what if there are no first-round worthy players at [other position] available? Trade down? What if no one wants to make a reasonable deal?

    Today I am just happy that they didn’t draft Tannehill, but then he might develop into a top QB and Miami will appear to be smart, rather than lucky.

  • Sean

    I’m sure it’s been covered already in this long thread, but the simple fact is that except in rare, Barry Sanders-like cases, the success of your running game is due to the offensive line. There is plenty of elite or near-elite talent at RB, but those guys aren’t going anywhere without a line to open up the hole and block downfield.

    The Broncos had a string of 1,000 yard rushers for a few years, including such, ahem, “all-time greats” as Mike Anderson and Ruben Droughns. (Droughns was on Cleveland’s practice squad the year before his big season, in fact, which should tell you all you need to know about his relative eliteness.) That was their OL’s doing.

    I keep cheering for the Browns to not suck, but these things keep happening. I’m a Raiders fan, but I’m also a human being.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Which is still happening with the zone-blocking system in Houston; pretty much anybody can rush effectively in that scheme. And as Houston demonstrated this year, without a real passing attack it’s not worth very much.

      • Sean

        Yeah, I noticed that there was no real dropoff between Foster and Tate last year. They both produced well (Foster: 4.4 yards/carry, Tate: 5.4). Maybe if the Texans defense had been 2000 Ravens-level they could have won without an effective passing game, but that may never happen again in my lifetime. The rule these days is: “use the run to open up the pass.”

  • If arm strength was that important, Jeff George would have won at least a couple of Superbowl rings.

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