FanPost

Why Vereen Could Be Better Than Best (...youseewhatIdidthere?)


First of all...it goes without saying that I love Jahvid Best. Maybe not in a creepy Jim Schwartz I-stay-up-at-night-watching-YouTube-videos-of-him way, but I appreciate everything he did for Cal and I'll be rocking his jersey while watching the game tomorrow.

 

However, I think it's fair to say that Shane Vereen is starting the year out with a lower profile than Best had last year. And while this is understandable - Vereen isn't dashing around breaking track and field records in his free time - I think that some may be underestimating the range of skills that Vereen brings to our offense. To that end, I decided to compare Best and Vereen's performance in last year's games to try and demonstrate what kind of running back Vereen really is. In particular, it is my contention that he will emulate to a significant extent Best's ability to break off long runs - while also proving most consistent and useful in shorter-yardage situations.

Warning: lots of numbers ahead.

Disclaimer:
There were three main variables that it was impossible to control for, and that may be drastically different this year (in the case of #2, we can only hope).
1. Offensive-line play.
2. Weakness in the passing game, and consequently the propensity of opposing defenses to load up the box against the run.
3. Best's reputation, and consequently the aforementioned propensity.

Methodology:
I charted each of Best and Vereen's carries last year and applied a success statistic derived from Football Outsiders - defining a "successful" carry as one that obtained 40% of the necessary yardage on 1st down, 60% of the necessary yardage on 2nd down, and 100% of the necessary yardage on 3rd or 4th down.

The Results:
(Note that all percentages are % of total carries, i.e. Best scored a TD on 8.6% of his 140 carries)

Best Vereen
Carries 140 185
Mean 6.2 5.2
Stdev 12.9 8.8
First Downs 17.1% 13.0%
Touchdowns 8.6% 6.5%
10+ Yards 15.7% 15.7%
TFL 15.0% 12.4%

 

Some observations...

  • Obviously, Best averages more yards per carry and was more likely to score or get a first down.
  • However, the fact that Vereen has an almost identical propensity for 10+ yard rushes would seem to suggest that Best's higher averages may be because of his really long runs - think of the 50+ yard scores against UCLA, for example.
  • Contrary to what I expected, Vereen didn't display a significantly lower likelihood of being tackled for a loss.

So far, it seems like Best performed better than Vereen across the board. However, these numbers fail to account for context, and given the relatively small sample size, could easily be skewed by a handful of longer runs. Let's look at the aforementioned success statistic...

A "successful" carry is one that obtains 40% of the necessary yardage on 1st down, 60% of the necessary yardage on 2nd down, or 100% of the necessary yardage on 3rd or 4th down.

Using this definition, Best was successful on 49% of his carries.

Using this definition, Vereen was successful on 50% of his carries.

 

Huh. Almost dead even. But there's one more variables we're not looking at: the strength of opposing defenses. Let's take a look...

Best's Performance by Opponent:

YPC Opp YPC Performance Carries Success Rate
MD 13.7 3.93 349% 10 70%
MN 5.0 3.84 131% 26 42%
Oregon 3.4 3.37 102% 16 44%
USC 3.4 3.65 92% 14 50%
UCLA 5.7 3.96 143% 18 22%
WSU 12.2 5.95 204% 13 85%
ASU 3.4 3.39 101% 17 35%
OSU 3.2 3.79 85% 9 44%

 

 

Vereen's Performance by Opponent:

 

YPC Opp YPC Performance Carries Success Rate
MD 4.6 3.93 117% 10 70%
MN 3.4 3.84 88% 8 25%
Oregon 4.7 3.37 138% 6 50%
USC 2.3 3.65 64% 3 33%
UCLA 8.9 3.96 226% 17 53%
WSU 5.9 5.95 98% 14 71%
ASU 3.5 3.39 103% 2 50%
OSU 1.8 3.79 47% 5 20%
Arizona 5.4 3.87 139% 30 43%
Stanford 4.6 4.23 108% 42 57%
UW 5.8 4.51 127% 16 19%
Utah 6.1 3.74 163% 20 55%

 

And combining the two...

Best and Vereen's Performance by Opponent

 

Best Performance Vereen Performance Best Success Rate Vereen Success Rate
MD 349% 117% 70% 70%
MN 131% 88% 42% 25%
Oregon 102% 138% 44% 50%
USC 92% 64% 50% 33%
UCLA 143% 226% 22% 53%
WSU 204% 98% 85% 71%
ASU 101% 103% 35% 50%
OSU 85% 47% 44% 20%
Arizona 139% 43%
Stanford 108% 57%
UW 127% 19%
Utah 163% 55%

 

Some observations...

  • Best had a distinct drop-off against our stronger opponents (understandably)
  • However, Vereen tied or beat the opposing defense's average YPC in every game in which he received double-digit carries (I mention this because you can't really go off a game in which he had 3 carries).
  • He also had a success rate of over 50% in 5/7 of those games.
  • Best also tied or beat the opposing YPC in almost every game, but was less likely to have a success rate of over 50% (just 2/7 games).

I want to emphasize this point because it seems like the crux of the comparison to me: an RB who breaks off a lot of long runs and gets stuffed a lot will have a higher YPC, but a lower success rate, than an RB who consistently grinds out 4-5 yards a carry.

Now obviously these sample sizes are limited, there are a bunch of variables I haven't controlled for, and my observations are highly speculative. But: based on this data, I think there is a legitimate argument to be made that Vereen will replicate a significant portion of Best's playmaking ability while also proving significantly more successful in short-yardage situations and against tougher defenses.

Thoughts?

Also, for a visual representation of this argument, here is a graph. Graphs are cool! Unlike TwistNHook.

Bvgraph_medium

via img64.imageshack.us

The opinions expressed in a FanPost are, in every way, reflective of the opinions of every California Golden Blogs Marshawnthusiast. Moreover, they are reflective of every employee of SBNation, including Tyler "Blez" Bleszinski.

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