Friday, September 08, 2006


Profile of a So-So Player

Admittedly, I'm much more a baseball guy than a football guy, so I'm going to have to draw upon my hardball knowledge here. It's common among baseball commentators, especially former pitchers, to assert that a young flamethrower is a “thrower,” but doesn't yet understand how to become a “pitcher.” Many people tackle this kind of statement as inane baseball rhetoric, something Rick Sutcliffe would blurt out while twice in the bag. However, it does hold water. If a youngster can throw 98 m.p.h. with some late movement, he can certainly get by without a ton of control. But that live arm doesn't last forever – just ask Randy Johnson – and at some point the kid is going to have to learn to paint the corners and use off-speed and breaking pitches to his advantage.

I draw on this knowledge when I make the following statement: Willie Parker is not a good running back. The kid has legs and can sprint up a storm, as evidenced by his 32-yard breakout run last night. However, that leaves him with 83 yards over his other 28 carries, or 2.8 yards average. That, my friends, is not a good runner. That's a guy who, if his blockers open up a perfect path, will sprint through the hole for significant gains. But with linebackers seeing him early and often, he's not likely to break off such a run very often. He may gain significant yardage per game, but that's directly a result of the Steeler's modus operandi of running the ball 30-35 times a game.

Even worse than Willie Parker the real football player is Willie Parker the fantasy player. Even with his 115-yard performance, he managed only 12 points in my ESPN league (I didn't create it, and yes, ESPN leagues are stupid). This is one point for every ten yards, and a bonus point for a 100-yard rushing game (dumb, dumb setting there). Ronnie Brown, who ran for just 30 yards on 15 carries, scored 15 points by virtue of two touchdowns. Unfortunately for Parker owners, he's not the type of player to whom you hand the ball on the goal line. Hence, he's going to score all of his touchdowns from 10+ yards out, ergo he won't have many at all. He may be decent as a backup you use when your starter has a bye week, but not someone you want to start every week.

I bring this up because a team in that league – who happen to be owned by my best friend – traded for Parker immediately following our draft. The compensation? Matt Hasselbeck and Thomas Jones. Nevermind for a minute that Hasselbeck will undoubtedly score more cumulative points than Parker this season (TD passes are worth six points, the way it should be). Here's the roster he's now trotting out on a weekly basis:

QB – Culpepper
RB – Alexander
RB – Parker
WR – Randy Moss
WR – David Givens
WR/TE – Lav Coles (though it could be Bray Edwards)
TE – Alex Smith
K – Akers
D – Redskins

Trading those two for Parker immeasurably hurt his team depth. And with Culpepper looking rather terrible last night, this trade looks even worse. His top QB doesn't look to be any better than last year (though it's only one game, so we can't completely jump the gun). His top RB is at serious risk for severe regression, and his second option won't score more than six touchdowns on the season. To boot, his other option is Travis Henry, who, with LenDale White looking strong, probably won't get too many touches. Randy Moss is a complete gamble, since it's unknown whether Aaron Brooks can even deliver him the ball. Givens is dependent on Kerry Collins, which doesn't bode well. Worse yet, Coles depends on Chad Pennington, the only QB in the league without a rotator cuff, and Bray Edwards is reliant on Charlie Frye.

With all this in mind, why would you trade a good quarterback and a decent running back (who could certainly score more touchdowns this season than Parker, despite being platooned with Cedric Benson)? Why would you allow Parker to become one of your primary backs at all?

Looking at last season, it's difficult to decipher why Parker is rated so highly. He scored a mere four touchdowns in 225 attempts, though in his defense that's mainly because the Steelers are wont to feed the ball to Bettis near the goal line. However, I don't think they'll be feeding it to the 5'10, 210 Parker in those situations even in the Bus's absence. His 1,202 yards gained seems impressive for a rookie at first glance, but there is more behind this number. For instance, Parker had three stellar games in which he notched over seven yards per carry. In each of those, he broke off a 30+ yard run. And, if you want to take it deeper, they were all against terrible run defenses.

Week 1 vs. Tennessee (ranked 22nd in the league against the run). 22 carries, 161 yards, 7.3 average, long run of 45-yards. Without the breakout run, that average is down to 5.52, which is still respectable. It would be more respectable against an upper-half run defense.

Week 7 vs. Cincinnati (20th against run). 18 carries, 131 yards, 7.3 average, long run of 37 yards. Without the breakout run, 5.52 ypc. Basically, it's the same deal as Tennessee against a very slightly better (i.e. a difference of three yards per game) defense.

Week 16 vs. Cleveland (30th against run). 17 carries, 130 yards, 7.6 average, long run of 80 yards. Without the breakout run, 2.94 ypc – against a simply abysmal run defense.

In each of these games, Willie was not burdened with running the ball in the fourth quarter, which could have significantly reduced his average. In essence, Willie is a fill-in player. He'll nab you a long run about once per game, but unless his feet hit the end zone on said run, he's not going to be worth many points. I'm not going to sneeze at 12 points, but I'll laugh when Hasselbeck puts up 20.

What a hater! I think Parker is a pretty good "real life" back, but not that great in fantasy because of the reasons you listed.

This is his first season where he's going to be the primary carrier- so I think its premature to base a conclusion on last season. Also, while his yards per carry was low IF you take out the long run- remember that he was playing against a very good defense. In addition, the Dolphins were not respecting the passing of Batch and were focusing on the running game. Perhaps when Big Ben comes back Willie will have a little more breathing room.
I can't say I directly disagree with anything you said. However, I just have this feeling that Parker is the kind of guy opposing defenses can figure out and contain.
I tend to agree with your analysis for the most part - the problem is, he tends to rip off those big runs in just about every game. On top of that, who are the Steelers going to use in 3rd and Goal - Verron Haynes? Duce? No way.
Not to compare him to Barry Sanders- but that's what his detractors said about him. For every jaw dropping run Sanders had, he also had plenty of negative rushes.

Id put Parker in the top second tier of RBs- behind the obvious studs like LJ, LDT, Alexander and not at the level of proven guys like Edge, Tiki, or Portis. But he's only going to get better.
Eirishis --

I honestly think that Ward and Miller will be seeing a lot of action through the air inside the 10. Additionally, they do have Dan Krieder to slam it up the middle. Haynes also presents a better option than Parker, if for no other reason than his size.

rsr - good points. We do have a lot yet to learn about Parker, but my point remains that he's not a good fantasy player this year.
Off point a little-- but what the hell happened on that Miller 80 yard TD? Talk about a defensive break down. Did anyone get to see Saban on NFL network after the game for his press conference? It was pretty funny.
Hehehe..."slam it up the middle".

I definitely agree with you re: Miller, which is why I was peeved I wasn't able to land him in any of my leagues this year. Of course, it would work out well for me if you are right about Ward. :)
I just found this blog...I like it. I don't know why he would have made that trade, but Parker was money on Thursday.
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