Bryce Brown fumbled, again. This time, not only did it cost the Philadelphia Eagles a possession, it cost them points. He took the ball from Jacksonville’s 26 yard line, ran 23 yards, then lost the ball at the three yard line. The ball subsequently travelled through the end zone for a touchback. Points lost. And it could have been worse. The Jaguars drove down the field only to miss a 47 yard field goal (queue Chip Kelly: It’s not about the turnovers, but how we respond to them). Yes, it’s only the preseason, but last night’s fumble continues an alarming trend for the second year running back. Bryce Brown simply cannot take care of the football.
A few weeks ago, I used a production formula to illustrate how there is a higher correlation between tight end production and team wins than running back production and team wins. Thanks to your feedback, I’m taking this a step further. I’ve also included in my analysis production for quarterbacks, wide receivers, and for a few defensive positions: defensive end, linebackers, and corner backs.
To calculate production for RBs, TEs, and WRs, I multiplied carries and receptions by rushing yards and receiving yards, then by touchdown points. For more on why I did this, you can read the first article. In a similar manner, I multiplied attempted passes, rushes, yards and touchdown points for quarterbacks. For defensive players, I multiplied together key defensive stats: tackles, sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, and passes defensed. Since my results were normally distributed, I "normalized" them in order to come up with production values that were more or less on the same scale (values between 0 and 1); the higher the production value, the more productive the position. And I do mean position, not players; production values represent averages for the players at each team’s position. Here are the r-squared values for each position, and all positions combined (I could probably write ten more stories on these results, by the way).
According to my results, the positions with the highest relationship to wins are quarterback and wide receiver (passing league!). Linebacker and defensive end positions are weak in comparison. But I think this is in part (or mostly) due to the fact that many defensive positions don’t show well on the stat line (how do we quantify disruption at the line of scrimmage?). When the production values for all positions are combined, the relationship to wins is very strong (.5667). The interactive graph below summarizes my results in more detail. You can filter by team, position, and season.
Note how, in the "Production Values and Wins by Position" graph, most position production values increase as wins increase. If you filter for the running back position, you will see this is not quite the case. Running back production is relatively flat, regardless of wins. For example, in the past four years, the 2010 Tennessee Titans have the highest production value from the running back position (the year Chris Johnson rushed for over 2,000 yards and 14 touchdowns), but only had six wins. During the 2011 season, in contrast, the Green Bay Packers had the lowest running back production value, yet had 11 wins. The NFL is indeed a passing league.
What does this mean for Bryce Brown? Well, I can tell you what I think it should mean. On a roster with pretty significant running back depth (LeSean McCoy, Chris Polk, an emerging Matthew Tucker), and in a league in which running backs are less valuable than quarterbacks and wide receivers, Bryce Brown can be expendable. The cost, in my eyes, clearly outweighs the benefit. Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Eagle’s defense held true and did not allow the Jaguars to capitalize on Brown’s fumble. But Brown cost the team points nonetheless. It’s a continuation of his behavior from last season, and I don’t think it’s necessary to see if this behavior can improve in Philadelphia.