Setting the Story Straight on Larry Johnson, Part 1

From the FanPosts    -PT

So we've been talking a lot about the Chiefs Larry Johnson around here lately and after reading and talking with a lot of the contributors to this site that one thing we're all curiously missing is hard numbers on LJ's true effectiveness in the 2008 season. To do this, I'm using numbers provided by Football Outsiders to give us stats that have been adjusted for the circumstances (ie: the difference between running on Denver versus running on Carolina last year) as opposed to the easily misleading, conventional "yds/carries/etc..." stats we see so often.

That said, the numbers aren't looking too great for LJ once they've been adjusted properly. Figures are after the break.

First thing's first, definitions. I'm going to be using some terms that aren't quite household terms just yet, even around here. Take a second and familiarize yourself with these terms (the explanations are pretty detailed, which is nice): DYAR, DVOA, and Success Rate (RB's only). EYds translate DVOA into yards per attempt figures, that means a positive differential between standard yards and effective yards shows a better RB than their stats indicate, a negative differential is the opposite.

All the following ranks and numbers are in relation to the top 49 RB's in the league for 2008 with 100 carries minimum. We'll look at LJ's numbers first and then we'll compare with those of other notable backs around the league.


Important: DYAR means a running back with more total value. DVOA means a running back with more value per play.


DYAR: For the 2008 season LJ had a DYAR of -37, ranking him 46 out of 49. That means that of the top 49 RB's in the NFL last year with 100 or more carries, 45 of them have more total value to their respective team than LJ to KC. The only 3 backs to turn out lower numbers were Justin Fargas (-78), Tim Hightower (-79) and Chris Perry at a whopping -137 DYAR.

Aside from Hightower, who proved he's not a feature back but a good complimentary split-back, that's pretty horrible company for a power back in the NFL. Johnson's numbers were in fact so bad that he was still 4 yards behind the average replacement (see Replacement Level) before being adjusted for opposing defenses (good for 42nd place).

DVOA: Larry's DVOA of -12.7% is good for 45th place out of the same 49. He was supplanted at 46 by Fred Taylor with Fargas, Hightower, and Perry all holding their ground at the bottom of the list.

EYds and Success Rate: Larry pulled down 874 all-purpose yards and 5 TDs in the 2008 season. Once that's been adjusted for circumstances we see LJ's yards drop by nearly 200 to 699. His success rate for 2008 was only 45%, which drops him in at 29th, worse than a full 59% of RB's listed.

Here's what these numbers mean when you look at the bigger picture: Larry's DYAR numbers give him an adjusted total value lower than all but 3 backs, two of which aren't exactly starting-quality (and never really have been for that matter) and the third was a rookie in a pass-heavy offense that shared carries with Edge James. His DVOA is almost as bad and shows virtually no marked compensation on a play-by-play basis over his total value but rather someone else managed to just barely edge out LJ in terms of value per play.

For comparison, take a look at the numbers turned out by backs around the league last year:

Player Team DYAR Rk YAR Rk DVOA Rk VOA Runs Yards EYds TD FUM Suc
34-D.Williams CAR 385 1 442 1 28.3% 1 33.7% 273 1,515 1,523 18 0 47% 19
27-B.Jacobs NYG 300 2 247 4 22.4% 3 16.9% 219 1,090 1,319 15 3 51% 7
26-C.Portis WAS 286 3 233 5 11.7% 8 7.9% 342 1,487 1,675 9 3 48% 15
34-D.Ward NYG 265 4 214 6 25.9% 2 19.2% 182 1,027 1,092 2 2 51% 8
20-T.Jones NYJ 252 5 262 2 11.9% 7 12.7% 290 1,312 1,469 13 2 54% 3
21-L.Tomlinson SD 88 20 107 16 -1.4% 27 0.2% 292 1,110 1,193 11 0 45% 32
32-E.James ARI 46 29 39 31 0.0% 21 -1.3% 133 515 535 3 1 44% 33
27-L.Johnson KC -37 46 -4 42 -12.7% 45 -9.0% 193 874 699 5 5 45% 29


I included the top 5 backs by DYAR and then included LT and Edge because we see LT and the Chargers twice a year and just restructured his contract and Edge because he was the "power back" in Haley's last offense and has been a source of much comparison for a lot of people on both sides of the LJ battle. Notice how all of these backs were significantly better than their replacements (Ward and Jacobs skew that to some extent by being each other's replacements which is why they're both here) in DYAR and DVOA?

If one were to only look at only Success Rates for the 7 backs listed LJ's 45% doesn't look so shabby compared to the 47% posted by Williams. Williams, however, was in an offense led by Jake Delhomme (not exactly Dan Marino) that focused on the ground game heavily. He posted that 47% SR with 5 fewer fumbles (0) double the EYds, and 13 more TDs (18) as well as top marks in both overall and play-by-play value.

Now, despite his horrible numbers could he still be the best option on the roster at the moment? Probably not. If you look at Jamaal Charles' figures (his 67 carries didn't break the 100 needed to equalize comparisons so take this portion with a grain of salt) he turned in a far better season.

Player Team DYAR YAR DVOA VOA Runs Yards EYds TD FUM
33-K.Faulk NE 178 193 46.5% 51.1% 83 507 565 3 0
23-T.Choice DAL 157 105 32.0% 18.5% 93 471 587 2 1
25-J.Charles KC 63 66 15.3% 16.5% 67 361 330 0 1


JC's DVOA was almost a full 30% better and his DYAR was 100 points better. That doesn't mean he's at the level of a feature-back but rather a good barometer of what could be done behind our O-line's piss-poor excuse for blocking.

That in mind, what are everyone's thoughts on LJ's value to the Chiefs? I'm withholding a final verdict til I've had a better chance to look at our Line's adjusted performance in tomorrow's post but do these numbers sway anyone from one side to the other? Is LJ still the "lesser of two  three evils" when it comes to our ball-carriers?

In Part 2 of this post, which should be posted tomorrow evening, I'm going to examine the numbers relating to our O-line for 2008 as well as comparing LJ, Kolby, and our O-line to their 2007 stats to see if we can get a better feeling for what to expect in 2009 should LJ be retained and/or Kolby stays healthy. Before you make the argument that the numbers were skewed by the line, remember, all our RB's had to deal with the same porous blocking.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.

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