Feb 28, 2008
I knew I would be coming up with some other lessons learned after I put out the annual article earlier this month, and sure enough I have.
Another lesson learned in 2007 was that depth charts are tricky. Many times, we see a player listed as the backup running back, for example, only to see the 3rd or even 4th back step up and play a lot more once a starter goes down. Every situation is different, so if you’re looking to protect your investment, you have to take some of the depth charts with a grain of salt and think the situation through.
Sometimes, there’s not much you can do. A good example was the New York Giants this past year. We knew the Giants liked Derrick Ward, and we wrote up all summer and early in the season that he would be “in the mix” for carries if Brandon Jacobs went down. As it turned out, he was really the lead back for the G-Men. Most likely, his impressive performances in Weeks Two and three (he averaged 6.8 and 6.0 YPC) influenced the team to roll with him over Reuben Droughns, but the team probably had the plan to at the very least use Droughns (over Ward) in conjunction with the starter Jacobs, thus Droughns’ official #2 spot on the depth chart. Ward might have gotten the nod because the “hot hand” theory was in effect.
Many times, getting a handle on the real backup RB situation comes down to an “upside” or “safe” designation. Droughns had to be considered the safe guy in New York, but Ward, who had a terrific preseason, was the upside guy. Sometimes, a player may be considered the short-term backup (like Droughns), whereas Ward was probably considered the long-term back (more than 1-2 games). Of course, there are times when securing two backups to protect yourself makes sense.
Sometimes, we at least know the depth chart situation is unsettled, so we can at least prepare for that. If a situation is unsettled, here are some tips to help you find the best guy.
- Experience – Granted, that didn’t help Droughns much, but while people were taking Tony Hunt as the upside backup to Brian Westbrook, I grabbed Correll Buckhalter. Hunt might have gotten a chance if Westbrook was lost for the season, but I knew the Eagles considered Buckhalter’s experience a huge factor and benefit, and he remained BW’s backup and handcuff all year. Experience more often than not is a deciding factor. It was for Anthony Thomas in Buffalo (until he got hurt himself), Ron Dayne in Houston, Jessie Chatman in Miami, Aaron Stecker in New Orleans, and even Earnest Graham in Tampa (he had a lot more experience in the system than Michael Bennett).
- Identity – It wasn’t a big factor because he was the guy, but in the preseason it wasn’t a forgone conclusion that Najeh Davenport was the handcuff to Willie Parker. But Davenport best fit their offensive identity as an offense that still likes to pound the rock, so Davenport was the guy. It wasn’t a factor, but if Edgerrin James went down, the aged Marcel Shipp would have been the guy over JJ Arrington because Shipp fit their identity much better. Graham and Tampa was a good example of this, too. Head coach Jon Gruden always wants to “pound that rock” and that’s simply something that Bennett can’t do very well. Tied to identity, it’s wise to consider how the players in question fit into the system because the odds are good that the best fit will get the first chance to be the guy.
- Chateau Bow Wow – The Raiders went out and got Dominic Rhodes in free agency knowing they already had Justin Fargas in the mix. But after Rhodes was suspended for the first four games, he fell in the doghouse, and Fargas got his chance. Tatum Bell fell deeply in the doghouse in Detroit, so it was safe to remove him from the equation.