How long should we wait for this guy?
There is constant chatter on this board and in the media about how freshmen RBs should be able to contribute right away. The basic tenet of this belief is that if a RB is athletic and is any good, he'll be able to produce right away. Sure, he might not have the nuances of pass protection and route running down, but he should at least be able to pick-up some yards on running downs as a true freshman. Guys like T.J. Yeldon make this easy to believe.
So, I decided to find out how true this is. If you suck as a freshman RB, are you likely to be any good at any point in your career? If Derrick Green doesn't contribute significantly this season, should we ? Going even further, is Rawls a lost cause at this point? Hayes?
Having a little less time than I'd like to do a thorough examination of the data, I used a somewhat limited sample: the top 40 RBs in terms of yards/game from 2012. I broke seasons into three categories: Primary starter (PS), significant back-up (SB), and insignificant season (IS).
These categories are actually surprisingly simple to define: Primary starters are obvious, and guys that are significant contributors at the position are equally easy to separate from the dudes that get trash-time and spot carries. Insignificant seasons also include redshirts, but not medical redshirts. I also took out JUCOs.
Here are the top 40 RBs from 2012 (NOT in order of production):
|2||1||0||Le'Veon Bell||Mich St||JR|
|2||1||0||Joseph Randle||Okla St||JR|
|2||0||0||Jahwan Edwards||Ball State||SO|
|1||0||0||Kenneth Dixon||La Tech||FR|
|2||0||1||Giovani Bernard||N Carolina||SO|
|1||2||1||Kerwynn Williams||Utah State||SR|
|3||0||1||Robbie Rouse||Fresno St||SR|
|1||1||1||Dri Archer||Kent State||JR|
|1||1||1||Carlos Hyde||Ohio State||JR|
|1||0||2||Antonio Andrews||Western Ky||JR|
|1||1||2||Kasey Carrier||New Mexico||JR|
|1||1||2||D.J. Harper||Boise St||SR|
|1||0||3||Zurlon Tipton||C Mich||JR|
|1||0||3||Cody Getz||Air Force||SR|
I have to admit, I was pretty surprised. Only 15 (37.5%) avoided having insignificant or redshirt seasons their first year on campus. And only six (15%) were the primary starters as true freshman, leaving nine (22.5%) as back-ups. That means the vast majority, 25 players (62.5%) spent at least one year doing nothing or next-to-nothing. Of those 25, only four (10%) went from insignificance to starting in one season. The rest (21, 52.5%) spent at least two years developing before becoming starters. And nearly as many (14, 35%) spent multiple years doing almost nothing as jumped right in as contributors (PS or SB) in their true freshmen campaigns. Heck, even Eddie Lacy redshirted.
This is admittedly a small sample size, but it's enough to draw some basic conclusisons:
- Plenty of talented RBs have insignificant seasons; many have more than one
- RARELY does a freshman RB burst onto the scene as a primary starter
- About half of these guys spend at least two years developing before they start
- The experts are idiots (of course, I must admit that I believed the "if they're any good they'll contribute as true freshmen stuff before I looked at it)
And some Michigan-specific conclusions:
- If Green and/or Smith doesn't contribute significantly this year, he's unlikely to start next year
- We shouldn't worry if Green and/or Smith doesn't contribute significantly this year
- Hope is not lost for Hayes, Johnson, or even Rawls.
It's worth noting that a few of the guys that spent multiple seasons developing turned out to be pretty darn good players. Guys like Eddie Lacy, Venric Mark, Carlos Hyde, Kenjon Barner, and Stefphon Jefferson all spent at least a couple seasons as insignificant contributors. On the flipside of that coin, lots of the best talent contributed early: Ka'Deem Carey, Le'Veon Bell, Montee Ball, Johnathan Franklin, and Todd Gurley.
Basically, we don't need to worry if Green and Smith don't contribute this year. It's definitely a good sign if they do, but there are much better things to be concerned about (S, OG, OC, and now WR) in 2013.