Fans of the NFL have been going back and forth at one another for years, arguing over the value of running and the running back position in general. Friday, the Seattle Seahawks put the patience of some fans to the test by giving a one-year, $4M contract to running back Carlos Hyde, a second round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2014 who is set to turn thirty years old this fall.
So, while a good contingent of the team’s fanbase would prefer that the Hawks allocate the remaining cap resources to addressing the pass rush, Pete Carroll and John Schneider would appear to prefer to ensure the team’s rushing attack remains potent. That brings things to the question of whether Devonta Freeman or Hyde, both of whom were reportedly offered contracts by the Seahawks this week, would provide a better return on investment for the team. According to one analysis of their production, there’s absolutely no question about which one the team would rather have.
If you're a Seahawks fan and want a reason for optimism, this cool @StatsbyLopez post found Carlos Hyde as fifth-highest in 2019 in terms of median percentile of exceeding expected yardage using #BigDataBowl results (Carson #3!) https://t.co/jLlj32RZrP pic.twitter.com/fKXwJ7byRn— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) May 22, 2020
There’s an entire slew of analytics behind that chart that can be read about on Michael Lopez’s blog here, but the following should be enough of description for most readers.
Yards over expectation
The first way to look at Big Data Bowl projections was to boil each carry down to a single number peformance – expected yards. Using the Zoo’s predictions, each carry’s expected yards is the cumulative sum of the probability that the ball carrier finished with each yardage total, multiplied by that yardage total. Ex: if a back has a 25% chance at losing 1 yard (-1), a 25 percent chance at 0 yards, and a 50 percent chance at 1 yard, the expected yards gained would be 0.25 (−1∗0.25+0∗0.25+1∗0.50 = 0.25).
For those unfamiliar with who the author of the linked post is, Lopez is the Director of Data and Analytics for the NFL. Getting back to the analysis at hand, however, here’s a full look at the distributions chart without the bottom being cut off by Twitter’s image handling.
What all those color bars mean are the more purple and blue are better, while more green and yellow is bad. As Lopez explains it in his article, “Ezekial Elliott’s typical carry ended in the 67th-percentile of what a typical running back would gain, while Devonta Freeman was in the 37th-percentile.”
That, of course, is bad for Freeman, and could make the fact that Freeman declined the Hawks advances very luck for the team. On the flip side, it works out well for the Seahawks who are now slated to have two of the top five running backs in the NFL in this metric on the roster for 2020 in Hyde and Carson. Both will be returning from injuries that will have somewhat limited them during the early portions of the offseason. What impact that rehab will have on their on field performance this season remains to be seen, but if 2019 is an indication, the Hawks could have a solid one-two combination in the backfield from the get go.