Spotlight: Brandon Jacobs

posted by Jason Wood on Jul 6th


Jason Wood's thoughts

To say last year didn't go according to script in New York would be an understatement. The Giants were coming off a 12-4 season in 2008 (avoiding the oft-feared Super Bowl hangover) and had finished with a Top 10 offense and a Top 5 defense. The offense was powered by a rushing attack that logged more than 500 carries and 2,000 yards. 2009 started off well enough as the team opened 5-0, outscoring their opponents 30-14. But then the rails came off the freight train.

Over the final 11 weeks of the season, the Giants won only 3 more games. Although the passing attack continued to produce at record levels, both the running game and team defense were shadows of their former selves.

Category Weeks1-5 Weeks6-17
NY_PPG 30.2 22.8
Opps_PPG 14.2 32.4
Diff 16.0 (9.5)
1Downs 22 19
TotYards 417 343
PassYards 257 249
RushYards 160 94
RushAtts 35 24
YardsPerRush 4.50 3.96
TurnOvers 1.7 2.6
1DsAllowed 13.0 22.1
YardsAllowed 214 375
PassYdsAllowed 105 264
RushYardsAllowed 110 111
TOsCreated 2.2 1.6

The lack of productivity on the ground is particularly concerning; because fantasy owners thought they had two backs that would help them produce. In point of fact, neither Jacobs nor Bradshaw helped many owners, particularly given where they were drafted. There's no question the Giants porous defense in the final three months played a big role in the lack of productivity on the ground, but the blame can't solely fall on the defense.

Brandon Jacobs was never himself, from start to finish

Brandon Jacobs was supposed to be the big, bruising pounder who handled 18-20 carries a game, wore opposing defenses down, and finished off drives with goal line plunges. Believe it or not, Jacobs actually set a new career high in carries (224), but that really speaks more to the misconception people had who ever thought Jacobs was a 20-carry per game back. When you're five seasons into your NFL career and you've never run for more than 224 carries, you're not a workhorse. Where Jacobs really fell off though was his PER CARRY productivity. After averaging 5.0 yards per rush in both 2007 and 2008, Jacobs managed a paltry 3.7 yards per rush in 2009.

What happened? Mainly he played on a bum left knee for the entire season. A knee that was scoped this offseason and now appears to be on the mend. Jacobs has participated in offseason workouts, and has been praised by his OC for playing in severe pain last year yet never asking out or blaming it for his poor performance. "The fact that [Jacobs] was able to gut it out with the knee all year long, and not saying anything and not using it as a crutch, I thought speaks volumes about the guy," said Kevin Gilbride.

Let's compare Jacobs' tallies during the early 5-game winning streak against the rest of his season:

Category Weeks1-5 Weeks6-17
Rushes 20.0 12.4
RushYds 71.0 48.0
YdsPerRush 3.6 3.9
RuTD 0.2 0.4
Recs 0.8 1.4
RecYds 4.2 16.3
YdsPerRec 5.3 11.6
RecTDs - 0.1

Surprised? I was. While Jacobs was certainly disappointing last year, his performance actually marginally IMPROVED during the Giants swoon. The only difference was that his carries plummeted from 20 to 12 per game. Here's what we know...1) Jacobs was terrible from start to finish last year, 2) He's a back best used breaking down the defense late in games, but didn't get the chance because the Giants defense had them playing catch up, 3) it turns out he had a bum knee but played through it, and 4) his struggles theoretically open the door for a larger role for Ahmad Bradshaw.

Ahmad Bradshaw emerged last year, and is ready for a larger role...isn't he?

Taking a snapshot of the 2009 season, Bradshaw appears to be the more productive running back, and therefore someone fantasy owners should consider for a breakout year as he earns an ever-increasing percentage of the RB touches. While that's certainly a POSSIBLE outcome for 2010, I'm not sure it's the smart bet.

Let's take a look at his 2009 numbers:

  • 15 games (career best)
  • 163 carries (career best)
  • 778 yards (career best)
  • 4.8 yards per rush (career worst, but 1.1 yards per game better than Jacobs)
  • 7 rushing TDs (smashing his former career best of 1 TD)
  • 21 receptions (career best)
  • 207 yards receiving (career best)
  • 141 fantasy points
  • RB28 ranking

Ascendant, right?

Not if you look closer. Let's take a look at Bradshaw's split between the Giants 5-game win streak and the final 11 game slump.

Category Weeks1-5 Weeks6-17
Rushes 11.6 10.5
RushYds 75.0 40.3
YdsPerRush 6.5 3.8
RuTD 0.4 0.5
Recs 1.2 1.5
RecYds 14.8 13.3
YdsPerRec 12.3 8.9
RecTDs - -

Bradshaw's splits tell a completely different story than Jacobs. Whereas Jacobs lost carries as the Giants started floundering, Bradshaw's workload was nearly identical regardless of the situation. On the other hand, whereas Jacobs really wasn't contingent on the situation to produce at a similar per carry level, Bradshaw's productivity per touch PLUMMETED. Looking at his 4.8 yards per rush in 2009 points to an explosive runner, but realize that his average was an eye-popping 6.5 YPR when the Giants were blowing out opponents early, but thereafter his average fell to just 3.8 yards per rush...THE SAME AS JACOBS.

Can either back shoulder the load?

Jacobs looks the part (6'4", 260 lbs.) but his straight ahead, upright running style subjects him to undue punishment. He's a big target, and pays the price. Meanwhile Bradshaw (5'10", 195 lbs.) is a fleet footed evasive back that can make people miss, but isn't as durable when he takes a hit. They're totally different runners both physically and stylistically yet neither has been able to shake the injury bug. At the same time, both play hurt. Bradshaw has missed a total of 6 regular season games in 3 years, and Jacobs has missed 10 games in 5 years.

As I'm writing this, Jacobs has participated in team OTAs after a minor knee scope earlier this year. He's looked like a different runner than this time last year. While that's no guarantee and we'll need to see how he progresses with the pads on, it's an important juxtaposition against Bradshaw. Bradshaw has battled ankle and foot pain for much of his career, and underwent surgery after the season that involved inserting screws into both feet. Now the prognosis is theoretically good and Bradshaw is saying all the right things. But he promised to be back to full strength by June mini-camp and yet was limited to individual drills several times a week. He HAS to have a productive training camp without significant missed time to be worth betting on, it's that simple.

Will the defense bounce back?

The ability of the Giants to re-assert themselves defensively is critical to predicting the split and overall effectiveness of the RB stable. Last year the Giants couldn't stop anyone as the season wore on, and even 'stars' like Osi Umenyiora were rendered malcontents. Personnel and injuries were a part of the equation, particularly the loss of emerging star Kenny Phillips. But the coaching was also to blame. Bill Sheridan was overmatched as Steve Spagnuolo's replacement, and was shown the door after one year at the defensive helm. 2010 ushers in Perry Fewell. Fewell was most recently the defensive coordinator in Buffalo (and interim head coach last year) and luckily doesn't have a hire bar to leap over in terms of Sheridan's legacy. But is he a plus coach? A difference maker? To be fair, that remains to be seen. In terms of personnel, the Giants signed Antrel Rolle to stabilize the secondary, added Jason Pierre-Paul to an already daunting front line, and spent high picks on DT (Linval Joseph), SLB (Adrian Tracy) and MLB (Phillip Dillard). The simple truth is the Giants are likely to be better defensively in 2010 simply by virtue of slightly better injury (luck and regression to the mean) and, hopefully, better focus as some of the veterans learned last year that nothing can be taken for granted. If they bounce back, it bodes well for both Jacobs and Bradshaw. But if they don't (still a distinct possibility), all bets are off, particularly for Jacobs who needs more than 10-12 touches to be effective.

Positives

  • When healthy, Jacobs was getting almost 2x the carries as Bradshaw and has proven himself a more than adequate short yardage back
  • Renewed focus, a new defensive coordinator and upgraded personnel should allow the Giants to get back to playing a more conservative, ball control offense as the defense keeps them in games
  • The emergence of the Giants receiving corp will keep defenses honest and also provide ample goal line opportunities for Jacobs (and Bradshaw potentially)

Negatives

  • Jacobs carries were nearly cut in half as the Giants defense struggled to keep the team in games. If the defense doesn't revert to excellence, Jacobs could struggle yet again
  • Jacobs suffered through a knee injury last year and seems to invite more punishment than a typical back given his running style and size
  • The Giants have given no indication they intend to give one RB a significantly larger workload, this could be a true committee that ultimately robs both backs of fantasy stardom

Final thoughts

Brandon Jacobs is being colored in a slightly inaccurate light this offseason. No one can argue that he took a step back in 2009, nor can we say his size and running style make it tough to expect a full 16-game season of 20+ touches per game. Yet, a healthy Jacobs has done more than Ahmad Bradshaw to date, and his knee issue was less concerning than Bradshaw's foot and ankle surgeries. If the Giants have their way, both runners will play a large role, and Jacobs should see a good chunk of the short yardage work regardless. That makes him worth considering in the mid rounds of your draft. I wouldn't expect stardom from him, and Bradshaw is the higher upside pick, but he's not the bust many are portraying him to be, either.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Bird said:

The NYG have a rough, ultra-competitive schedule this year as they play the improved NFC North and the balanced AFC South. The Giants like to control the game with the "ground and pound" philosophy but with these opponents they'll need to throw more than they want. There won't be a 500+ team carries year for them this season like in 2008. I see Jacobs and Bradshaw with a near 50/50 split for touches. Of the two, Bradshaw has the higher ceiling which is limited because of his inability to block for Eli consistently and correctly.

Footballguys Staff Writer Chase Stuart said:

I don't think 4.8 YPC is conservative for any running back, and it's definitely not conservative for a running back with a limited history (~250 carries) like Bradshaw. It's easy to see that a player has a high YPC every year (usually on a small number of touches), but that doesn't mean it's wies to project that number again. All of the studies I've done show significant regression to the mean for RBs with high YPC in the year before (or the two or three years before).

The 100,109 carries by NFL running backs over the past eight seasons have gained 419,590 yards, for an average of 4.19 yards per carry. That average holds true when looking at running backs with at least 125 carries in a season, too.

There's a good bit of variation, of course, but I'd have a very hard time projecting over 4.5 YPC for all but one or two running backs. And Bradshaw certainly isn't one of them. If I had to choose between over 4.40 and under 4.40, I'd say Bradshaw will be under that this season.

I'd probably project him at about 4.30; doing so gives him over 100 fewer yards this year on the same number of carries, but I also think it means he's unlikely to actually see 225 carries.

There is a significant amount of regression to the mean for all running backs; the mean in the NFL is 4.20 YPC, and most running backs are probably around that mean. Jerious Norwood had a 5.84 YPC average his first three seasons in Atlanta; he averaged 3.3 YPC last year. Tatum Bell averaged 4.9 YPC his first three seasons; he averaged 4.1 in year four; Larry Johnson averaged 5.1 YPC his first three seasons; he averaged 4.3 in year four; Brian Westbrook averaged 4.8 YPC his first three seasons; he averaged 4.0 in year four; Napolean Kaufman averaged 5.0 YPC his first three seasons; he averaged 4.2 in year four.

This isn't a knock on Bradshaw. I don't think Bradshaw's "true" ability is anywhere near 4.8 yards per carry. If it was, he'd have received significantly more carries by now. Just my .02.

Chairshot said:

I have a hard time believing that Bradshaw will get more carries then Jacobs. Jacobs had a down year last year, but he was playing mostly hurt. For better or for worse, Jacobs is still Coughlin's boy and will get the bulk of the carries unless he *completely* falls off the map, which I don't think he will.

Bradshaw will get his carries, but it's still going to be 60/40 with the bulk going to Jacobs, I think. Jacobs will probably get the goal line carries, too.

Still doesn't mean that Bradshaw can't be valuable. If the Giants get back to form, both backs could go over 1000 yards. But I think some people look at Bradshaw's YPC from last year and think that means he's the better back (which I'm not sure is true at all) and that he will win the "starting" job. The Giants really don't run like that.


Brandon Jacobs projections

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