Player Points - Ahmad Bradshaw
By Chase Stuart
June 29th, 2010

Ahmad Bradshaw is a trendy sleeper pick, and it's easy to see why: he has a career yards per carry average of 5.23, and last season he rushed for seven touchdowns on only 163 carries. Just as importantly, Brandon Jacobs' performance fell off dramatically last year, and a further decline could lead to starter-level touches for Bradshaw in 2010. Combined with his presumed great productivity per touch, and more touches would make Bradshaw a fantasy starter in every league this season.

But whether he gets more carries or not, Bradshaw is far from a lock to keep up his great yards per carry average (hence the word 'presumed'). That probably seems counter-intuitive to some, because Bradshaw has looked so good so far in his career. And while it's possible that Bradshaw really is an elite running back capable of huge yards per carry averages, the more likely scenario is that he's simply played above his head on a limited number of carries early in his career.

Think I'm a Bradshaw hater? Certainly not. That's just what the data tell me. From 1970 to 2008, there were 25 running backs to meet the following three conditions in the first three seasons of their careers:

  1. Average at least 4.70 yards per carry
  2. Have between 200 and 600 carries
  3. Play in at least 30 games

Those 25 running backs averaged 357 carries in their first three seasons, played in 40.5 games and gained 1,778 yards, for a 4.98 YPC average. Bradshaw has 253 carries over 42 games, and his 1,323 rushing yards translates to a 5.23 YPC average. So Bradshaw has been a bit more productive per touch but did so over a much smaller sample; it's not a perfect comparison, but I think it's close enough. The problem, for Bradshaw fans? In year four, those running backs averaged 156 carries for 663 yards, only a 4.24 YPC average. Among the 20 running backs with at least 50 carries in that fourth season, ten of them averaged 4.24 YPC or fewer, while eight of them had a sub-4.00 yards per carry average.

Player
From
To
Team
Gms
Atts
Yds
YPC
N+1Rsh
N_1Yds
N+1YPC
Jerious Norwood
2006
2008
ATL 
45
297
1735
5.84
76
252
3.32
Hokie Gajan
1982
1984
NOR 
39
202
1107
5.48
50
251
5.02
Ted McKnight
1977
1979
KAN 
44
268
1456
5.43
206
693
3.36
Clarence Davis
1971
1973
RAI 
38
241
1293
5.37
129
554
4.29
Gary Brown
1991
1993
OTI 
43
222
1174
5.29
169
648
3.83
Tony Nathan
1979
1981
MIA 
45
223
1177
5.28
66
233
3.53
Otis Armstrong
1973
1975
DEN 
32
320
1652
5.16
247
1008
4.08
DeAngelo Williams
2006
2008
CAR 
45
538
2733
5.08
216
1117
5.17
Larry Johnson
2003
2005
KAN 
32
476
2416
5.08
416
1789
4.30
Delvin Williams
1974
1976
SFO 
40
401
2035
5.07
268
931
3.47
Wendell Tyler
1977
1979
RAM 
32
293
1471
5.02
30
157
5.23
Napoleon Kaufman
1995
1997
RAI 
48
530
2658
5.02
217
921
4.24
Greg Pruitt
1973
1975
CLE 
41
404
1976
4.89
209
1000
4.78
Leon Washington
2006
2008
NYJ 
48
298
1451
4.87
71
330
4.65
Tatum Bell
2004
2006
DEN 
42
481
2342
4.87
44
182
4.14
Mewelde Moore
2004
2006
MIN 
42
244
1172
4.80
20
113
5.65
Maurice Jones-Drew
2006
2008
JAX 
47
530
2533
4.78
312
1391
4.46
Brian Westbrook
2002
2004
PHI 
43
340
1618
4.76
156
617
3.96
Franco Harris
1972
1974
PIT 
38
584
2759
4.72
262
1246
4.76
Duane Thomas
1970
1973
TOT 
38
358
1691
4.72
95
347
3.65
Albert Bentley
1985
1987
CLT 
39
269
1270
4.72
45
230
5.11
Charlie Garner
1994
1996
PHI 
40
283
1333
4.71
116
547
4.72
Sherman Smith
1976
1978
SEA 
38
447
2105
4.71
194
775
3.99
Priest Holmes
1997
1999
RAV 
32
322
1514
4.70
137
588
4.29
Average
40.5
357.1
1778
4.98
156.3
663.3
4.33
Player
From
To
Team
Gms
Atts
Yds
YPC
N+1Rsh
N_1Yds
N+1YPC
Ahmad Bradshaw
2007
2009
NYG 
42
253
1323
5.23
??
??
??
Pierre Thomas
2007
2009
NOR 
41
328
1670
5.09
??
??
??
Jonathan Stewart
2008
2009
CAR 
32
405
1969
4.86
??
??
??

It's easy to think if Bradshaw has done it so far, he'll continue to keep doing it. But you could have said the same thing about Jerious Norwood last year, too. Thirty years ago, if you were playing fantasy football, you might have thought the same thing about Ted McKnight. Even Brian Westbrook, who obviously has had a successful career, had a setback in year four after a productive first three seasons.

I'm not necessarily down on Bradshaw: there's nothing stopping Bradshaw from being the next Charlie Garner, either. I just think it's wise to take a step back and realize that that when any running back has a high yards per carry average -- especially someone who wasn't a high draft pick and has only 253 career carries -- he's more likely to regress to the mean than to maintain his great pace. Over the past eight seasons, the average carry by NFL running backs has gone for 4.20 yards. Very few running backs can consistently average north of 4.5 YPC, and 253 carries just isn't a strong enough track record for me to think Bradshaw is one of those guys.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to stuart@footballguys.com.