The Giants will in 2007 be without Tiki Barber, who was the league's 4th-leading rusher in 2006. I thought I'd take a quick look at teams who lost a top-10 rusher and see how much their offensive production suffered. Since 1970, there have been 25 such squads. Here is the quick summary:
YearN YrN+1 ======================== RshYd/G 114.4 102.9 Yd/Rsh 4.14 4.00 Att/G 32 33 PassYd/G 224 226 PassTD/G 1.40 1.28 INT/G 1.15 1.25 Points/G 21.7 20.3
After losing the top ten rusher, these teams ran slightly less, passed slightly more, and were slightly less efficient in both phases. The net effect was a drop of about a point and a half per game.
But hold on. Teams with excellent performances in a particular category will tend, as a group, to regress regardless of whether they lose key players or not. Look at the year-to-year comparison of teams that had a top-ten rusher in Year N and then did not lose him the following year.
YearN YrN+1 ======================== RshYd/G 124.3 115.2 Yd/Rsh 4.26 4.10 Att/G 29 30 PassYd/G 206 211 PassTD/G 1.30 1.28 INT/G 1.14 1.17 Points/G 21.9 20.9
If these figures are to be taken as a baseline, then it appears that losing a top-10 rusher has historically cost an offense something like 0.4 points (compared to what they might have scored had they kept him). And interestingly, it's the passing game, not the ground game, whose efficiency seems to decline more. There are all sorts of little things that could be affecting the data we see here, but I think it's safe to say that, at the very least, the Giants have a chance to maintain their 2006 level of production this season.
Allow me to state clearly, before some helpful soul points it out for me, that the Giants are not the same entity as the average of 25 different teams from the NFL's past, and that their future is not determined by that average. Those 25 teams include some, like the 1999 Colts, who had great running backs (Edge James) ready to step in, others, like the 1999 Lions, who had a grim lot to choose from (Greg Hill was their leading rusher), and all points in between.
Tiki Barber will be replaced by some combination of Brandon Jacobs, Reuben Drouhgns, and possibly rookie Ahmad Bradshaw, a seventh round pick from Marshall who has a skill set vaguely similar to Barber's and is garnering some minicamp kudos. The one thing that seems clear to me is that, five years from now, if someone runs a similar study, it will be easy to see why the Giants 2007 rushing attack turned out like it did. If Jacobs can be as good in a featured role as he was in limited time, people will say, "it was obvious that teams like the 1999 Colts and 2007 Giants would continue to run the ball effectively. They had fantastic young backs ready to step in!" If Jacobs turns out to be too stiff, Droughns can't revive his Denver self, and Bradshaw follows the same career path as most 7th-round rookies who garner minicamp kudos in May, people will say, "it was obvious that teams like the 1999 Lions and 2007 Giants would have big dropoffs. They had absolutely nobody to replace their departing star!"
Predicting their fate right now is, of course, a much trickier proposition. But I will say this: according to these aggregated fantasy draft results, you can probably get Brandon Jacobs and Eli Manning by using your 4th and 7th round picks, and that seems like a good package for the price. If Jacobs turns out to be the real deal, you got yourself a great runner in the 4th round. If not, then the Giants will throw about 600 times and Eli will rack up some numbers in spite of himself.
I'll leave you with a quick look at the 25 other teams who lost a top-10 rusher:
Year N Year N+1 Tm Yr Top-10 rusher RYd/G Y/R RYd/G Y/R top rusher ======================================================================= ind 2005 Edgerrin James | 103.6 3.95 | 107.9 4.15 (Addai) den 2004 Reuben Droughns | 128.8 4.49 | 139.7 4.72 (Anderson) mia 2003 Ricky Williams | 98.8 3.61 | 65.9 3.50 (Morris) den 2003 Clinton Portis | 139.9 4.74 | 128.8 4.49 (Droughns) nor 2001 Ricky Williams | 84.0 4.02 | 93.4 4.20 (McAllister) min 2000 Robert Smith | 99.2 4.99 | 59.8 3.67 (Bennett) bal 2000 Jamal Lewis | 124.4 4.30 | 104.5 3.87 (Allen) ind 1998 Marshall Faulk | 89.0 3.90 | 98.8 4.14 (James) det 1998 Barry Sanders | 102.9 4.28 | 68.4 3.58 (Hill) sfo 1998 Garrison Hearst | 127.1 5.02 | 111.2 5.00 (Garner) nwe 1997 Curtis Martin | 89.4 3.91 | 89.0 3.90 (Edwards) phi 1997 Ricky Watters | 111.4 4.18 | 99.7 4.13 (Staley) min 1994 Terry Allen | 91.8 3.81 | 92.7 4.31 (Smith) nwe 1993 Leonard Russell | 104.1 3.64 | 79.9 2.97 (Butts) min 1992 Terry Allen | 108.4 4.18 | 93.5 3.80 (Graham) ram 1989 Greg Bell | 115.0 4.24 | 97.9 3.94 (Gary) sdg 1988 Gary Anderson | 101.6 4.63 | 96.1 4.33 (Butts) nyg 1988 Joe Morris | 94.6 3.38 | 103.9 3.27 (Anderson) sdg 1984 Earnest Jackson | 104.5 3.80 | 103.3 4.10 (James) atl 1983 William Andrews | 129.8 4.58 | 111.5 4.08 (Riggs) was 1979 John Riggins | 134.4 3.83 | 115.9 3.90 (Jackson) sfo 1977 Delvin Williams | 141.6 3.78 | 119.2 3.64 (Simpson) bal 1977 Lydell Mitchell | 141.1 3.75 | 121.7 3.93 (Washington) nyj 1975 John Riggins | 144.4 4.20 | 121.6 4.28 (Gaines) dal 1974 Calvin Hill | 149.8 4.35 | 146.9 4.07 (Newhouse)
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