I wrote this over the summer in what is now my semi-defunct blog. Defunct because, you guessed it, I just don't have the time.
It is in regards to Shaun Alexander and what we can expect this year.
Heading into the 2006 offseason the flashing red button on my big board beside Saint Alexander's name read EJECT, and had this been Madden 2007 I surely would have moved him for Houston's number one pick. But in the real world teams don't sign and trade league MVPs who just led their team to a Superbowl. So Godhead Tim Ruskell did the best thing possible in a tight situation, sign Alexander to a cap friendly backloaded contract. For better or worse he's ours and we are his.
Why my pessimism? Alexander is 29 entering the 2006 season, if not elderly for a running back, at least middle aged. Last year saw him pile up a career high 430 caries. But perhaps most frighteningly, his receiving performance cratered. His 15 catches for an insignificant 78 yards not only describes an incomplete back, but also a declining rusher. The gurus at Football Outsiders proved that a decline in a RB's receiving presages a decline in his rushing in their essential almanac Pro Football Prospectus 2005.
Those facts may paint a bleak tableau, but lets not all join a Creedish Death Cult just yet. A RB's rushing decline usually lags 2-3 years behind their receiving decline. Alexander's counting numbers may make it look like his receiving decline started in `03 when he dropped 165 yards off his receiving total, but further examination refutes that. This is more of a case of role changing, Holmgren's Offense asked Alexander to rush more and receive less, but per play Alexander was slightly more valuable in `03 than `02, posting a DVOA of 1.6% vs. -1.3% respectively (DVOA courtesy Football Outsiders). Unfortunately by 2004 the decline was real, and `05's 15 REC for 78 YDS ossified it.
Alexander had enjoyed a moderate load for a RB before last year, and has been mostly healthy throughout his career. He does something most great RB do: go down when he's tackled. While every gritty, snag toothed, jughead might want their RB to locomotive into defenders like Earl Campbell, the truth is every balls to the wall player is one diving catch away from a broken thumb--or broken tackle from a torn ACL/MCL. Spit your chaw and call him soft, but his health and his style go hand in hand.
That might sound like a bi-polar take on Alexander, so let me try and put a face a on it for 2006: Alexander is in the early stages of decline, one that should not manifest strongly this coming year. However, a few missed games and moderate performance decline are likely. At the end of the year we can expect another top ten rushing performance, if not a league MVP, from the canonized one. But beware, with that rosy forecast comes a real chance of collapse, one that can mean anything from serious performance decline to a lost season.
. . .
On a side note, I fully believe that Morris will be an upgrade over what has a been crappy showing by Alexander before he got hurt.