Posted by Chase Stuart on August 13, 2007
[Note: This can also be seen over at the Footballguys.com blog:]
Reggie Bush and Maurice Jones-Drew are two of the most exciting and talented young players in the league. Both have the necessary skills to earn annual trips to Honolulu. Bush, of course, was a Heisman Trophy winner and top three pick in the NFL draft … just like O.J. Simpson, Tony Dorsett, Earl Campbell, Bo Jackson and Barry Sanders. Jones-Drew averaged over 5.5 YPC and rushed for 12+ TDs last year, joining an elite club consisting of only Drew, Jim Brown, O.J Simpson, Eric Dickerson and Clinton Portis. And only Portis did that as a rookie.
It is not controversial to state that Bush was viewed as the better prospect and that MJD had a better rookie season. The key question now, is which one trumps the other? Forgetting the names for a minute, which RB would you expect to have the better career: the highly touted prospect or the rookie stud? Reuben Mayes rushed for 1353 yards at 4.7 yards per carry as a rookie, but had just 2,131 more rushing yards the rest of his career. Additionally, John Stephens, Karim Abdul-Jabbar, Greg Bell and Terry Miller all had 1,000 yard rookie seasons, but fizzled out quickly. On the other hand, we know that high draft position doesn’t mean everything, either. Ki-Jana Carter, Brent Fullwood, Blair Thomas, Alonzo Highsmith, and, well, Terry Miller, were top five draft picks that recorded fewer than 2,500 rushing yards in their careers.
I looked at all RBs drafted from 1978 to 1997. That gives us 20 years worth of drafts, with little worry about active players. There are a few guys still remaining, but Tiki Barber and Corey Dillon just retired from that ‘97 draft class, and I doubt we’ll be seeing significant changes to career totals to cause concern. Here’s a pretty intuitive chart:
Draft Pick #RBs Career Rush Yards
1 - 3 13 7132
4 - 10 15 4663
11 - 20 29 3642
21 - 40 54 2930
41 - 70 57 2135
71 -100 52 1629
101-150 70 1268
150+ 154 1032
There were 13 RBs drafted among the top three over this 20 year era, and they each averaged 7,132 career rushing yards. There’s a very strong correlation between draft pick and career rushing yards, which isn’t terribly surprising. Based off this, you might have projected last year that Reggie Bush (#2 overall) would outrush Jones-Drew (#60 overall) for his career by about 5,000 yards.
But now it’s this year, and we have some more information at our disposal. Jones-Drew rushed for 941 yards last year, while Reggie Bush rushed for only 565 yards. What does history tell us to think about those data? The table below breaks down all rookie RBs into tiers based on their number of rushing yards during their rookie season. The last column shows the average rest of career rushing yards (AROCRY) for those players:
Rushing Yards #RBs AROCRY
1400+ 8 9702
1100-1399 11 5053
900-1099 13 4161
600-899 31 3109
400-599 45 2527
200-399 80 1590
01-199 206 960
0 50 716
Like the draft pick chart, there are no surprises here. The more yards you rush for as a rookie, the more yards you’d expect a player to rush for during the remainder of his career. Based off this table, you might project that MJD will rush for about 1600 more yards than Bush for the rest of their respective careers.
But we DO know something else about Bush and Jones-Drew, namely their draft position. We’re getting closer to answering the question of which RB should be expected to rush for more yards: the highly drafted player or the better rookie. We can use multiple regression analysis to tell us how these two variables play off each other. One of the problems with using regression analysis, however, is that it treats the difference between the 1st pick and the 20th pick the same as it would the difference between the 201st and 220th pick. The solution? The NFL pick value chart. So now the 1st pick is worth 3000 points, the 2nd 2600 points, the 10th 1300 points, the 116th pick 62 points, etc. So if we use rookie rushing yards and NFL draft value as our two variables to solve for remaining career rushing yards, here’s the formula we get:
Remaining Career rushing yards =
439 + 0.88 * (Pick Value) + 4.49 * (rookie rushing yards)
So let’s say Adrian Peterson (the 7th pick, pick value 1500) rushes for 1,000 yards this year. This formula would project him to rush for 6,249 rushing yards for the rest of his career. If he rushed for 1,500 yards, we’d project him at 8,494 remaining career rushing yards. If the first pick in the draft rushed for 1,206 yards as a rookie, we’d project him for the same 8,494 remaining career rushing yards. An undrafted rookie would need to rush for 1794 yards to be projected for the same remaining career rushing yards. Those numbers “feel” about right to me, so I think our formula will work.
How do Reggie Bush and Maurice Jones-Drew fare? Bush was the 2nd pick (2600 points) and rushed for 565 yards, so that projects him out at 5,264 rushing yards for the rest of his career. Jones-Drew was the 60th pick (300 points) and rushed for 941 yards, projecting him at 4,928 yards. So at least for now, it looks like Reggie Bush holds a slight edge.
In part II of this series, we’ll compare the two players using different variables than rushing yards. In part III, we’ll take a step back and reign in our optimism just a bit.