May 11, 2007
I was a Willie Parker believer last year, and I think we ranked him as high or higher than everyone else in 2006 (I believe we had him 12-13 at the position). He obviously came through, but I think the guy has some flaws that could come to the surface this year.
Here are some stat notes on Parker compiled by our Mike Horn:
5th in standard scoring and 100-yard games (7). Tied for 3rd in TDs (16). 6th in rushing yards (1494) – but 5th among RBs who return to the league (Tiki Barber having retired). Parker had a fabulous year. He had three flaws: fumbles, lack of involvement in the passing game, and Baltimore. He averaged 3.3 fantasy points/game against the Ravens and 18.6 against everyone else. He tied with Frank Gore for the lead in RB fumbles (7), losing the ball about once per 50 touches. And he was 23rd among RBs in pass targets. His big problem was on 3rd down – he caught three passes. He had 28 receptions on 1st and 2nd downs. If the new staff gets him involved on 3rd down, he could add to his total of 31 receptions. But if they look to use a short yardage back, he could lose goal-line carries – he was 4th in the league in that category last year – and TDs. Two other worrying notes: his yards per carry dropped from 4.7 in 2005 to 4.4 last year and his yards per reception went from 12.1 to 7.2. But he did rush for 4.9 yards per attempt in the last four games, even with a 2.2 average vs. Baltimore in Week 16, so it doesn’t appear that he was wearing down.
Parker’s been amazingly productive and durable, and he gives consistent effort. But I do think his issues could come into play soon. Parker’s big numbers last year were misleading. He had some poor games, mainly against good defenses. Stud backs bring it against everyone, and Parker might not be an ideal guy in terms of week-in and week-out. Parker needs to be fast through the hole, not to the hole, and he continues to show more speed to the hole as opposed to through, which can limit his vision and what he can do through the hole. The Steelers obviously know they’re playing with fire by giving him 300+ carries (he had 337, 5th most in the league) and they clearly want to get a bigger back into their rotation to help Parker stay on the field. I’m not saying Kevan Barlow will be that guy, but he could be. Barlow’s career has been on a downward spiral and he clearly doesn’t have what it takes to be a featured back in this league. But I thought he was decent last year, and I can see him being effective in Pittsburgh, his hometown. He was a solid goal line back for the Jets last year, so I bet he gets his chances to help the team in that way this year, which would put a hurting on Parker’s fantasy value this year. Barlow can also catch the ball pretty well, so Parker’s receiving numbers – somewhat disturbing last year – could take a hit as well.
Maybe the Steelers are trying to quit while they’re ahead with Willie Parker. Rather than count on him to be their true workhorse knowing he could break down, maybe they’re thinking they should limit his touches as they did his rookie season with Jerome Bettis still on the roster. It would be a wise move because he’s clearly an impact player, but he clearly has some issues.Maybe Parker’s numbers land him in the top-10 at his position again this year for fantasy, but I’m not going to rank him that high. Even if they do, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be one of the ten best fantasy backs this year. I think Parker this year has to be considered only a #2 fantasy back. And I think I knew that late last year when I ran into a subscriber while out Christmas shopping. I didn’t know the guy, but he knew me and he approached me with a tough question for his upcoming Super Bowl game in Week Sixteen: Parker or Cedric Benson. Parker got him there, but he was facing the Ravens. Benson had been a dog, and was still a backup, but he was facing the Lions. I actually told him to start Benson over Parker. Benson got only 57 total yards and didn’t score, but he still out-produced Parker, who had 29 yards total.
There’s no way I tell someone to sit a #1 back in the Super Bowl. So as much as I like and respect Willie Parker, he’s just not that.