Brandon Jacobs

Who’s got it better (at RB): 49ers or Raiders?

The Coliseum was 35 square city blocks, with nothing in the middle but grass — a hallowed grass for those who played a man’s game with childlike abandon. The Coliseum was empty now, save for the bones of a baseball team that patiently awaited disinterment.

Nobody was around at two-thirty in the morning, but it was not a good place to relax and cool off, according to WalkScore.com, anyway. But, as the night would have it, there was hardly a need to cool off. The breeze that swept through drained life from extremities and foretold the approaching doom.

Darren swore under his breath, and Marcel muttered, “What do they want? What are 49ers doing this far East?”

Darren shook his head. “I don’t know. But I bet they’re looking for us.”

“Oh, glory,” Taiwan muttered. “This is all we need.”

Five 49ers were coming straight for Darren, Taiwan, and Marcel. Mike was lingering nearby, taking in his new surroundings, unaware of the impending trouble. They were backed against the north side of the Coliseum, and Darren had a blank, tough look on his face.

It was Frank and Kendall and three other 49ers, and they recognized the Raiders’ quartet.

“Hey, whattya know?” Frank said. “Here’s four little Raiders.”

“You’re in our territory,” Darren warned. “You’d better watch it.”

“Nup, pal, yer the ones who’d better watch it,” said the red-haired one.

Darren felt the blood drain from his face. He’d been threatened before, sure. But never like this.

“You know what a Raider is?” Frank asked.

Darren and Marcel exchanged glances. They knew where this would lead. They had been the butt of jokes for far too long, and this time, they had no intention of playing along.

“No, what’s a Raider?” Mike chirped, sharp looks from Darren and Marcel. Mike was new, and ignorant of the storyline.

“Not as good as Cam Newton,” Jon Beason goaded, appearing out of nowhere. “Truth be told.”

If you want to know how this ends, read The Football Outsiders, or the rest of this post.

Last week, we compared the Raiders and 49ers quarterbacks; this week it’s running backs, a position that is proving very difficult to analyze.

For one, the Raiders are installing a zone-blocking system, which leads to questions of how Darren McFadden’s dominance will translate from the last year’s gap/power scheme. Sure, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp is optimistic, noting, “(McFadden’s) going to be perfect for (the system).” But that’s what Knapp gets paid for. To be optimistic.

Running backs coach Kelly Skipper shares Knapp’s optimism, saying, “Darren can run any scheme you want. He does a good job of pressing the hole, reading his keys and accelerating through the hole. This scheme has been very successful.”

Their optimism will certainly tested, if not by McFadden’s transition then by his injury history.

As it turns out, RunDMC hasn’t done much running. In fact, he has never played more than 13 games in a single season, and last year a foot injury kept him out of all but seven games. Not promising, to say the least.

Should McFadden go down to injury, the Raiders don’t have much in the way of experience behind him. His top backup, Mike Goodson, while undoubtedly talented, did not have a single carry last season. Not one. Taiwan Jones had only 16 himself.

The 49ers, on the other hand, are much deeper at the position. But depth aside, they don’t have a game-changing player of McFadden’s stock (let’s wait till LaMichael James plays a game, okay?). Football Outsiders confirms this.

Rushing

49ers

DYAR

DVOA

Rushes

Yards

EYds

Success Rate

AV

F. Gore

8

-8.1%

282

1,211

1,012

42%

10

K. Hunter

23

-3.9%

112

473

408

46%

5

B. Jacobs

46

-1.6%

152

571

623

49%

5

Raiders

DYAR

DVOA

Rushes

Yards

EYds

Success Rate

AV

D. McFadden

100

14.3%

113

614

533

44%

5

M. Goodson

N/A

N/A

0

0

N/A

N/A

0

T. Jones

6

0.0%

16

73

N/A

38%

1

Panthers

DYAR

DVOA

Rushes

Yards

EYds

Success Rate

AV

C. Newton

190

14.7%

117

718

955

60.3%

19

DYAR: Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement gives numerical value to a player that in comparison to a replacement-level player (as opposed to a starter). DYAR means a running back with more total value.

DVOA: Defense-adjust Value Above Average attempts to measure a player’s impact during a given situation. It does so on a percentage scale: 0.0% is the average. As with DYAR, the higher the percentage, the better. DVOA means a running back with more value per play.

EYards: Effective Yards is DVOA translated into yards. Players who achieve higher Effective Yards than actual yards played better than their numbers indicate. Players who achieved less played worse

Success Rate: Another Football Outsiders gem, Success Rate measures a player’s consistency. Consistency is determined by a successful running plays divided by total running plays. Successful plays are graded by down and distance.

AV: Absolute Value ranks players on a scale from 0 to 25. The breakdown of the scale is as follows:

AV

Description

20-25

MVP quality

11-19

All-Pro/Pro Bowl quality

7-10

Starter quality

3-6

Backup/rotational quality

1-2

Role player quality

0

Camp Fodder/Practice Squad quality

A more complete breakdown of these measurements can be found here.

McFadden’s DVOA is off the charts, suggesting that on a play-by-play basis, he is a top-ten running back. His success rate is pedestrian, but it is improving (4% higher than his previous career high).

Goodson doesn’t have stats because he didn’t carry the ball last year, but his previous seasons don’t show well.

Year

DYAR

DVOA

Rush

Yards

Success Rate

2010

-25

14.9%

103

452

38%

2009

-59

-77%

22

49

23%

It is unlikely Goodson will be able to replace the production of the departed Michael Bush.

Frank Gore faired worse on a play-by-play basis than his cross-bay counterpart. In fact, his -8.1% suggests that a replacement level player would give the 49ers more production. He does own a positive DYAR, but this is likely explained by his number of games played and fumbles (16 and 2, respectively). The same can be said for Kendall Hunter and Brandon Jacobs. Neither offers much in the way of game-changing plays, but both are reliable, as their DYAR shows.

Clearly, Cam Newton trumps all in this category, which leads one to wonder, “Is his best position running back?” WWJT? What would Jon (Beason) tweet?

Pass Catching

49ers

DYAR

DVOA

Catch

Yards

EYds

Catch Rate

F. Gore

-9

-18.8%

31

114

110

55%

K. Hunter

51

22.1%

26

195

207

62%

B. Jacobs

19

1.4%

22

128

130

68%

B. Miller

14

3.4%

15

83

85

73%

Raiders

DYAR

DVOA

Catch

Yards

EYds

Catch Rate

D. McFadden

41

18.6%

23

154

174

83%

M. Goodson

N/A

N/A

1

4

N/A

N/A

T. Jones

1

-0.1%

2

3

N/A

67%

M. Reece

80

24.8%

36

313

315

75%

Panthers

DYAR

DVOA

Catch

Yards

EYds

Catch Rate

C. Newton

0

0

0

0

0

0

The Raiders clearly own the best pass catcher in this category. That Marcel Reece takes the cake should be no surprise. After all, he is a converted receiver. Still, as a full back, his DVOA is unrivaled.

Jones is likely better than his numbers indicate. I imagine he’ll see a jump in ranking after this season, as he’ll likely be featured more on third downs.

The 49ers’ best pass catcher, Kendall Hunter, grades out slightly higher than McFadden, but this is hardly a meaningful victory. McFadden is still the more dangerous of the two. A gutsy statement, I know.

Frank Gore is ranked as only the 46th-best pass catcher. Which is to say, he’s one of the worst in the league. He is far and away the worst of this bunch, which is almost as surprising as a fullback being the best.

Conclusion

As I said, it is hard to declare a victor, but it would seem as though the Raiders have the better the offensive backfield. Sure, McFadden’s consistency doesn’t go far beyond the injury report, but he’s clearly the best running back in the Bay Area. Well, I should say, he is now. The best running back was Michael Bush:

DYAR

DVOA

Rush

Yards

EYds

Success Rate

Rushing

83

-0.9%

256

980

1,090

45%

DYAR

DVOA

Catch

Yards

EYds

Catch Rate

Receiving

156

50.6%

47

418

496

79%

Though the Raiders do not have the depth that the 49ers have, they might not need it. Greg Knapp runs a running back friendly scheme, as evidenced by how well Ben Tate played last season (And how well Arian Foster has played in the past two):

Rushing

DYAR

DVOA

Rush

Yards

EYds

Success Rate

A. Foster

141

3.8%

278

1,236

1,196

44%

B. Tate

167

14.8%

175

949

889

53%

Receiving

DYAR

DVOA

Catch

Yards

EYds

Catch Rate

A. Foster

137

21.8%

72

622

556

74%

B. Tate

14

-0.7%

19

98

107

68%

Either Ben Tate and Arian Foster are two of the most overlooked players in NFL Draft history, or the system that Knapp is installing in Oakland is one in which any running back can succeed.

I think we know the answer.

Who’s got it better? The Oakland Raiders.

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