Is DeAngelo Williams the best running back in the NFL?

Monday, August 18th 2009: Did Jon Gruden just say that? Surely he didn't?

Against the New York Giants in the first preseason game of the season Jon Gruden said stone faced "DeAngelo Williams is the best running back in the National Football League". Ron Jaworksi and Mike Tirico laughed at their new co-host, mocking him while saying "I think you've forgotten about someone named Adrian Peterson"

But, what if Gruden is right? Could we definitively name DeAngelo Williams the best running back in the NFL?

This is the collective consciousness of NFL fans: Of course, Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the NFL, there's not even a competition. After all, he had just come off a sophomore season where he ran for over 1700 yards; there was no sophomore slump for ‘All Day' Peterson.

Conversely, DeAngelo Williams came off his best season as a pro in his third year, and first as a feature back, running for 1500 yards, 18 TDs at an average 5.5 yards per carry. Despite this, Williams failed to make the probowl.

At water coolers around the country, in sports bars, on radio and TV it is a foregone conclusion that Adrian Peterson is the best RB in the NFL. He shows it from week to week, without any sign of stopping. As I sit here in the Carolina Panther's bye week I'm encouraged to think about DeAngelo Williams while we all talk about the need to get him more involved and I'm starting to realize something; I think I agree with Chucky... we do have the best running back in the NFL.

For the sake of this article I am going to be looking at the top 10 Running Backs (by yardage) from the 2008 season, and looking at what they're doing this season. These backs are:

Adrian Peterson

Michael Turner

DeAngelo Williams

Clinton Portis

Thomas Jones

Steve Slaton

Matt Forte

Chris Johnson

Ryan Grant

LaDainian Tomlinson

The reason I am using the 2008 backs rather than top performers from 2009 is simple, a larger sampling to show that these are successful backs in the NFL, they are proven commodities. For the analysis I am doing it seemed silly to include Cedric Benson and omit Tomlinson, for example.

Instead of looking at the typical yards, touchdowns and YPC that is typically used to analyze RB performance I'm going to look into their runs, past the play calling and see how they do their damage each and every time they touch the ball. Yards are all well and good, but with a 2 ypc you're not really moving the chains. 20 touchdowns are great, but if you can only get those three yards near the end zone, you're not an every down back.

I am going to be breaking down each and every one of their runs into three or less yards, 4-9 yards and 10+ yards... from this I'll get a percentage of their running tendencies and give the player a determination based on their findings. Players will either be a ‘short yardage threat', ‘chain mover',  ‘Jack of all trades' or ‘home run threat'. It seems strange now, but I think you'll get the idea quickly.

For the benchmark of this study I am going to start with our own DeAngelo Williams.

DeAngelo Williams (total carries 41)

0-3: 24 (58%)

4-9: 9 (22%)

10+: 8 (20 %)

These numbers show that Williams has success in all three yardage areas. He is a complete back.

Designation: Jack of all trades

Adrian Peterson (total carries 59)

0-3: 35 (60%)

4-9: 15 (25%)

10+: 9 (15%)

More of a short to mid yardage back than DeAngelo, but less of a ‘home run hitter'.

Designation: Jack of all trades

Michael Turner (total carried 65)

0-3: 37 (57 %)

4-9: 25 (38%)

10+:3 (5%)

Turner has the highest number of short to mid range runs, with virtually nothing over ten yards.

Designation: Chain Mover

Clinton Portis (total carries 47)

0-3: 28 (61%)

4-9: 13 (27 %)

10+: 6 (12%)

Portis has a greater percentage of short-mid yardage gains.

Designation: Short yardage threat/chain mover

Thomas Jones (total carries 48)

0-3: 34 (72%)

4-9: 11 (24%)

10+: 2 (4%)

Clearly, Jones gets his work done in short yardage clumps.

Designation: Short yardage threat

Steve Slaton (total carries 38)

0-3: 27 (71%)

4-9: 6 (16%)

10+: 5 (13%)

Like Thomas Jones, Slaton is a short yardage specialist

Designation: Short yardage threat

Matt Forte (total carries 59)

0-3: 44 (75%)

4-9: 13 (22%)

10+: 2 (3%)

No visible homerun threat

Designation: Short yardage threat

Chris Johnson (total carries 53)

0-3: 31 (58%)

4-9: 8 (16%)

10+: 14 (26%)

A tougher designation, but due to the ‘all or nothing' element to his game:

Designation: Home run threat

Ryan Grant (total carries 56)

0-3: 34 (61%)

4-9: 20 (36%)

10+: 2 (3%)

No real homerun threat, but effective at shorter distances.

Designation: Short yardage threat/chain mover

LaDainian Tomlinson (total carries 13)

0-3: 8 (62%)

4-9: 3 (23%)

10+: 2 (15%)

Like Williams and Peterson, Tomlinson can do it all, even though injury may have limited him this season.

Designation: Jack of all trades

 

Analysis: Really, there are two backs who share remarkably the same characteristics; DeAngelo Williams and Adrian Peterson. In this study their percentages are almost equal across the board. While Peterson is better at moving the chains mid yardage, Williams is more of a home run threat. However, both backs can do it all.

So, who is the better? Statistics alone would indicate Peterson; after all, he has the yardage, the touchdowns, the ypc this year... however, in the opinion of this writer, if I were a GM starting a team, DeAngelo Williams would be my chosen back. Peterson fumbles the ball far more often than Williams over his career and DeAngelo is a greater threat in the passing game.

As a Panther fan I feel better about Williams in 2009 after looking at these stats. Despite his lack of carries he is matching up almost identical with Adrian Peterson, and neither have a true rival in the league who matches their skill set. We should be proud of our featured back.

Of course, this is an article based entirely on opinion, not pure fact. I have chosen to present the statistics in this manor, but it is fair to all backs analyzed. As always, I would love to hear what you think. Do you think I misrepresented a back? Is my system flawed? I would love to hear your opinion.

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