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Marion Barber III

Posted by Jason Lisk on January 21, 2008

Let's take a look at Marion Barber's historically comparable players at age 24. Here is the method I used:

1. Start with 1000 points;
2. Subtract 1 point for every difference of 1 rushing attempt (Barber had 204 in the regular season);
3. Subtract 20 points for every difference of 0.1 in yards per rushing attempt (Barber averaged 4.78 per attempt);
4. Subtract 2 points for every difference in receptions (Barber had 44)
5. Subtract 20 points for every difference of 1 touchdown (Barber had 12).

I then looked at all backs who had 150 or more rushing attempts at age 24, since 1970. Thirty-four different backs have a similarity score of 800 or better. I am actually going to provide the similar players broken down into three lists.

Table 1. Similar players to Marion Barber, who had 200 or more rushing attempts at age 24, and were rookies or also had 200 or more attempts in a previous season.

player              year    sim score
Tony Collins        1983      926
Ricky Watters       1993      921
Thurman Thomas      1990      907
Curtis Dickey       1980      886
Fred Taylor         2000      862
Marcel Shipp        2002      849
Ahman Green         2001      819
Lawrence McCutcheon 1974      807
Tony Dorsett        1978      805

Table 2. Similar players to Marion Barber, who had 200 or more rushing attempts at age 24, for the first time in their career.

player              year    sim score
Greg Pruitt         1975      900
Neal Anderson       1988      882
Wilbert Montgomery  1978      881
Wendell Tyler       1979      873
Franco Harris       1974      844
Napoleon Kaufman    1997      844
Rudi Johnson        2003      840
Kevan Barlow        2003      825
Otis Armstrong      1974      821
Terry Allen         1992      820
Craig James         1985      801
Jamal Anderson      1996      801
Marion Butts        1990      800

Table 3. Similar players to Marion Barber, who had fewer than 200 rushing attempts at age 24.

player              year    sim score
Terry Metcalf       1975      907
Lorenzo Hampton     1986      902
Sam Cunningham      1974      899
Elvis Peacock       1980      873
Duane Thomas        1971      870
Art Malone          1972      861
Mercury Morris      1972      860
Herschel Walker     1986      855
John L. Williams    1988      843
Lorenzo White       1990      839
Sherman Smith       1978      825
Gary Brown          1993      816

Now, Barber finished with 204 rushing attempts in the regular season, so in between tables 1 & 2 on the one hand, and table 3 on the other. Table 3 contains some guys who physically don't fit Marion Barber, as speedier parts of a platoon, like Terry Metcalf or Mercury Morris. It also contains alot of career fullback types back when fullbacks ran the ball, including some who were very good at what they did, like John L. Williams and Sam Cunningham, still the all-time rushing yardage leader for the Patriots.

While Marion Barber may physically resemble some of the past fullbacks, I don't think his career path is going to follow the running full backs. If the playoff game is an indication of where the Cowboys are going with Marion Barber (12.8 carries per game in 2007), and Julius Jones (10.3 carries per game) of the 3.5 yards per carry, I think you should expect Barber to be the starter, and Jones trying to make another roster in 2008. The Cowboys can afford to bring in a cheap replacement and shift carries from the Jones' replacement to Barber, without overworking Barber.

And in looking at Tables 1 and 2, if he is the starter entering next season, he has a lot of comparables who put up big numbers over the next three seasons. Yes, there are a few cautionary tales, but the vast majority of these players would go on to some very good seasons between ages 25 and 27. 70% of them would play in at least one pro bowl over the next three seasons, with many playing in multiple pro bowls. For fantasy players (using standard scoring), 35% of them would score 200 or more fantasy points at age 25, 55% of them would score 200 or more fantasy points at age 26, and 45% would score 200 or more fantasy points at age 27. The main reason for the downturn at age 25 was severe injury, as Allen, Armstrong, Taylor and Tyler all suffered season-ending injuries either before the season or early in the season. All would turn in productive seasons the next year.

13 of the 20 players in tables 1 & 2 would score 200 or more fantasy points at least once in the next three years, and Armstrong and Pruitt would have likely also reached that number with a 16 game schedule. Just over half (11/20) would accomplish that twice by age 27.

So, I am going to start up the Barber bandwagon early. One website that will go nameless has him ranked 13th in their very early 2008 rankings, behind such luminaries as a soon to be 29 year old Larry Johnson coming off a broken foot (check the algorithm in this post by Doug to evaluate Johnson's chances), and a soon to be 28 year old Willie Parker coming off a broken leg. If he is the starter entering next year (and I am betting he is), I think he has to be on the short list of running backs at the very top of fantasy draft boards. In addition to the info above, here is my case for why he should be considered a top 5 fantasy pick at running back in 2008:

1. He's not a one year wonder, as he produced similar rate stats in 2006;
2. He is not solely a product of the offensive system, as evidenced by the difference between Jones and Barber with similar opportunities;
3. He plays in a top offense with a good quarterback, and that situation should remain in 2008, which means lots of red zone opps and second half leads;
4. As I pointed out in this post, running backs age 24 to 26 have made up about half of all top 12 backs, and he, along with Steven Jackson, Frank Gore, and Addai, are the most talented backs in that age group next year. But see previous paragraph compared to Jackson and Gore's situations. And if you like Addai that high, Barber should have the same advantages and is arguably the better goalline/short yardage runner;
5. He's versatile and can pass block and receive, and should be on the field for a variety of situations;
6. Tomlinson and Westbrook, the two guys most likely to be ranked at the top, will both will be 29 next season;
7. He's healthy, and though every running back is an injury risk, there are no specific red flags or concerns.

Of course, the biggest question is whether he will get more carries than he has over the past two seasons. But the fact that this question exists in the mind of some is the reason why he could be tremendous value entering 2008.