Fantasy Football: Investigating the ‘Curse of 370’

Falcons Turner Turns Loose FootballTotal Pro Sports – The ‘2, 3, 4’ debate is what really excites me about drafting in 09. Assuming Peterson rightly goes number 1, your options for the next 3 picks are Michael Turner, Matt Forte and Maurice Jones-Drew, three very different players. In Forte you have the safest option and for a conservative drafter like myself, the no brainer. The guy lacks explosive top end speed so he isn’t going to double his production with one 80 yard TD play like Peterson or Turner have the potential to do so, but being able to pencil in 100 total yards and a TD every week is a solid foundation for any fantasy team.

The argument for Maurice Jones-Drew is based around simple math: Fred Taylor carried the ball 143 times for 556 yards last year, and caught 100 more. MJD carried 197 times for 824 yards, and caught a monstrous 565. Fred Taylor is now gone. 197 + 143 = 340 carries (20 less that Peterson got in 2008 and the fourth most in the league last year). 824 + 556 + 565 + 100 = 2045 total yards. Now MJD isn’t going to get over 2000 yards, but even if he performs to 75% of those projections that’s still over 1500 yards and only a handful of backs have the potential to achieve such lofty figures. But here’s the problem; assuming his tiny frame can take that workload (a big assumption), do you really want to spend the second overall pick on a guy who has never carried the ball more than 200 times or even broken 1000 yards rushing? The only thing certain is that MJD has the highest potential reward of any running back this year, but it comes saddled with a biblical risk of failure.

So that leaves Turner. First the good: he’s 27 so well south of 30; he’s playing with a good passing game that opposition Ds must respect, limiting the number of 8 man boxes he’ll see; and he saw more red zone touches than any other running back last year. The cons include the fact 51% of his 2008 rushing production was against defenses that feature in the bottom 7 for rushing and 82% was against teams ranking in the bottom, but this year he faces 9 defenses in the top 16, 6 of whom were in the top 10 against the run last year. But what headlines the argument for the anti-Turner brigade is the ‘Curse of 370’, the idea that running backs, like Turner, never perform coming off 370 carry years. Superficially the facts are pretty undeniable. Since 2000, 7 running backs (excluding Turner) have exceeded 370 carries: Larry Johnson (06), Shaun Alexander (05), Curtis Martin (04), Jamaal Lewis (03), Ricky Williams (03), Ricky Williams (02), and LaDainian Tomlinson (02). In the following year, Lewis, Alexander and Martin’s production fell by 1000 yards with Martin getting a career altering knee injury to boot, LJ’s by more than 1000, in 04 Ricky Williams retired, but in 03 his production fell by 500 yards. Only LT managed to escape the curse, posting almost exactly the same rushing figures in 2003 following his 370 carry season in 02. Things don’t look good for Turner.

But… here’s what the curse believers don’t tell you. The curse dates back to the 80s but the physical support for players now compared to 1984 is day and night, and secondary backs – like Jerious Norwood – are much more prominent so they help ease the workload. Because of this I think it’s only fair to measure Turner’s chances of escaping the curse against running backs after 2000. Considering no running back reached 370 carries in 2007 or 2001, Curtis Martin was over 30 when he broke the mark and Ricky Williams retired, the statistical pool is limited to say the least. So how can we increase the test pool to really put the curse to the sword?

Take 10 carries and split them over 16 games, that’s less than a carry a game. What about 20 carries? 1.25 a game. With top running backs managing a 4.0 YPC, 4 extra yards a game is negligible. So let’s say 40 carries over 16 games would give your running back an extra 10 yards a game, 1 fantasy point a game, and a significantly increased chance of wear and tear. That means that over a year, it would seem to make little difference whether you carry for 330 or 370 carries. So what’s the fate of running backs that have carried over 330 times? Does the heavy workload curse prevail, or does it fall apart when you increase the pool of players? 33 running backs have carried 330 times or more post-2000. Of those, 14 saw a drastic fall in production of more than 400 yards, 6 did better, 2 saw a slight downgrade of between 200 and 400 yards and the remaining 10 saw relatively little change to their numbers.

14 running backs (6 of whom managed over 370 carries) seeing a fall of over 400 yards is a hefty number, but I think this goes a long way to debunking the ‘Curse of 370’. Heavy workloads hurt backs. Agreed. But don’t discard Turner on draft day simply because of him breaking an arbitrary number of carries (370) decided by what seems to be a statistical fluke. If over a course of a season 40 extra carries isn’t as significant as you would believe and the track record of those surpassing 330 isn’t terrible, why all of a sudden is it doom and gloom for The Burner? After all, if AP had just 7 more measly carries he would of broken 370, but no one is concerned about his output this year. It boils down to this: history isn’t stacked against Turner like many would have you believe, and in all actuality he only has a 42% chance of being affected by his 330+ carry heavy workload. If Turner hits then he’ll blow Forte out of the water, and until he’s done ‘it’ jumping on the MJD bandwagon is risky business. So don’t fear Turner come draft day if you find yourself burdened with the ‘2,3,4’ dilemma.

Tags: Adrian Peterson, Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, curse of 370, fantasy football, Jacksonville Jaguars, Jerious Norwood, Matt Forte, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner, NFL, running backs,