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Why Ryan Grant Isn't The Answer

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Ryan Grant is an enigma of sorts.  He is a starting running back in the NFL, yet he is widely regarded as a player with above-average skills at best.  He is good at many things, but great at nothing.  Even his Scouts Inc. profile from ESPN.com shows how he is simultaneously impressive and limited. 

He doesn't have outstanding speed but runs well and has quickness and burst to hit the hole...He has good power to move the pile, but wouldn't be considered an explosive ball carrier...He has adequate hands as a target in the passing game but isn't dangerous in the open field after the catch.

To sum up Ryan Grant's career to this point: "meh."  He doesn't have the size of Brandon Jacobs, or the elusiveness of Adrian Peterson, or the power of Michael Turner, or the agility of LaDanian Tomlinson, or the vision of Ronnie Brown, or the afterburner speed of Chris Johnson.  He has those things in smaller amounts, but not enough to be considered special. 

Despite his rather pedestrian profile, Grant has respectible numbers over his 3-year career: 2654 yards, 15 touchdowns, and a ypc average of 4.3.  He has a reputation of being able to produce despite his physical limitations, and that reputation has dubbed him the main rusher on one of the few teams that does not employ a running-back-by-committee.

My question is this: Should Ryan Grant be the lone ball-carrier on the Packers?

In order to explore this question, we first have to look at the state of the running back position in Green Bay since 2007, when Grant burst onto the scene.  In 2007, Grant was behind the likes of Brandon Jackson, Vernand Morency, and DeShawn Wynn.  It took all the way until Week 8 (the Denver OT game) for Grant to establish himself in the Packer backfield, and even then it was only due to injuries to those in front of him.

In 2008, Grant was the unquestioned starter, and Jackson and Wynn were contributors.  That trend continued to this season, with a minor change in personnel.  DeShawn Wynn managed to find his way onto the injured reserve list (again), so former Packer Pro Bowler Ahman Green takes his place.  Despite his history, Green's addition does little to threaten Grant's job security; the starting job belongs to Ryan Grant until someone is added to the roster that can compete for the position.

While it might be remiss to dismiss Grant's 2007 campaign, I contend that he remained the starter simply because nobody else was good enough to take his place.  Brett Favre's 2007 season was as stellar as it was unexpected; defenses had to focus more on the pass, thus opening up running lanes.  Almost anybody could have put up decent numbers on that offense so long as they could run without getting winded.

While the story of the undrafted Notre Dame product breaking onto the scene is a popular one, players don't (or at least shouldn't) get paid based on backstory.  They get paid for performance; sometimes past, but more often projected.  Ryan Grant's major payday during the summer of 2007 was somewhat understated compared to the media frenzy that followed the team (and still does, as we saw from Sunday).  But make no mistake, Grant's new contract was based more on the past and less on the future.

From a PR standpoint, I understand why they gave Grant his money.  With all the tension pervading the Green Bay fanbase before the 2008 season, the organization needed to do something that the fans could agree upon.  What better way to ease that pressure than to extend the contract of a player who had just gained nearly 1,000 yards in half a season?  But from a talent and, more importantly, a projected performance standpoint, I think Grant is vastly overpaid. 

Let me be clear that I like Ryan Grant and want him on the team.  However, I don't think he is being properly used in the offense and the offense is being held back as a result.

Obviously, there's no way I can make these claims without at least attempting to back them up with factual evidence.  Therefore, I submit Exhibit A: Ryan Grant's career statistics, supplied by NFL.com.  NFL.com has a wonderful feature called "Situational Stats" that breaks down a player's numbers by more in-depth metrics than just per-game or per-carry.  These different metrics really show what kind of running back Grant is and why he's being mis-used.

* * *

The first one is dividing Grant's production by the number of attempts he receives.  NFL running backs typically carry the ball 20 times in a game.  The best way to break down a running back's production is to look at how many yards he gains on attempts 1 through 10, then how much he gains on 11 through 20, and finally anything above carry number 21.

 

Attempts

Yards

Average

TDs

1-10

352

1624

4.6

9

11-20

241

992

4.1

8

21+

75

298

4.0

1

As you can see, Grant's numbers start to take a dip once he gets past his tenth carry in a given game.  While I like to see coaches stick with the run throughout a game in order to get the back into a rhythm, Grant hasn't demonstrated the ability to maintain a consistent ability to get yards as the game wears on.  Another way to show this is to divide Grant's yardage totals by his career number of games.

Carries

Yards per game

1-10

46.4

11-20

28.3

21+

8.5

No wonder Mike McCarthy doesn't stick with the run.  Anytime Grant carries more than ten times, his yards gained for the second decuplet of carries is halved.  Halved!  For a back who's known for explosive gains throughout a game, it sure seems like he can't do much after his tenth attempt.

* * *

The second metric is simpler: it compares Ryan Grant's numbers in the first and second halves of games.  While it's more rudimentary, it better shows how consistent (or inconsistent) a back is throughout a game.

 

Attempts

Yards

Average

TDs

1st Half

367

1634

4.5

15

2nd Half

300

1278

4.3

3

Surprisingly, this breakdown doesn't show as big of a drop off in any category besides touchdowns.  He has fewer yards on fewer carries in the second half, which might be a result of the trailing team focusing more on the pass to ignite the offense.  By dividing his totals by his total number of games, however, the discrepancy is a bit more visible.

 

Attempts/game

Yards/game

1st Half

10.8

48.1

2nd Half

8.8

37.6

The carries per half are nearly even, but the yardage is not.  Again, this might be a result of the Packers being forced into passing on offense, but conventional wisdom suggests that there would be more available on the ground.  Grant has not found that room in the second half, even though he's getting the same opportunities.

* * *

The third metric is not available directly on NFL.com, but I went and dug up the stats from each individual box score from 2007, 2008, and 2009 to compile the numbers.  I don't have an official name for it yet, but it measures Grant's production based on what percentage of the team's carries he is responsible for.  I tried to quantify how well Grant performed when he received a minority of the carries (< 50%), a significant share (51-74%), and a majority (>75%).

% of team carries

Games

Attempts

Yards

Average

TDs

< 50%

5

36

215

6.0

1

51-74%

14

247

1118

4.5

6

> 75%

16

345

1351

3.9

8

While the discrepancies in sample sizes skews the numbers somewhat, it's clear that whenever Grant is more responsible for the rushing offense, he is less effective.  Workhorse backs often produce the best whenever they get the bulk of the carries from their offense, and that's how Grant has been treated.  However, the numbers simply don't support the notion that Grant needs a large amount of touches to be effective.  This is more obvious when you divide the statistical totals by the number of games played.

% of team carries

Games

Attempts/game

Yards/game

Average/game

TDs/game

< 50%

5

7.2

43.0

6.0

0.2

51-74%

14

19.0

86.0

4.5

0.5

> 75%

16

21.6

84.4

3.9

0.5

As you can see, whenever Grant's carries push him into the third category of team carry %, he actually gains fewer yards per game despite the additional opportunities.  Conversely, whenever Grant gets minimal opportunities, he seems to do the most with them.  He gains yards more efficiently with fewer carries, and he clearly starts to wear down after his twentieth attempt.

* * *

I'm no statistician, but even I'm shocked at how much the numbers back the argument.  Ryan Grant simply isn't consistent enough to be the running back that McCarthy wants him to be.  Is he effective?  In certain situations, yes.  But I don't think that he should be a 20+ carry workhorse; he simply isn't that kind of player.

Ted Simmons Speed Camp said it best in response to the question "What happened to Ryan Grant?"

The rest of the league realized he's really a complimentary back. 

Shortly thereafter, ktenreb summed up Ryan Grant's football career, how he arrived in Green Bay, why he succeeded, and the circumstances that led to his big payday:

He was a part-time starter in college on a bad Notre Dame team. TT’s plan for finding a f3eature running didn’t work (surprise!), and so at the beginning of the 2007 season it looked like the team needed some depth. TT spent a 6th round pick for what he assumed would be a third-string back who had decent hands (yes, he actually did). Jacobs didn’t work out, Wynne got hurt and lacked toughness, so Grant got his shot. His timing couldn’t have been better, because by that point of the season McCarthy and Favre had abandoned any chance of running the ball (remember, we were so bad on the O-line that we were playing with a gimmick zone-blocking scheme, to cover the lack of talent) and were killing opposing defenses with a 5 WR formation. Defenses adjusted by dropping 5 and 6 into coverage in nickel and dime defenses — against those defenses, Grant was able to run. He killed opposing defenses, and when they countered with putting more men in the box, Favre went back to killing them with slants.

After that season, Grant was a hot commodity to fans, but "real" GMs knew that it was a fluke. In fairness, Thompson knew it too, but he still stubbornly sat on his hands and took no steps to bring in a truly first-rate running back. Grant held out, and Thompson ultimately was forced to give him the big payday.

During that same summer, there was something about a quarterback/GM feud in Packerland that also was prominent, the result being that the quarterback who could run the 5 WR sets was no longer around. As the season began, Grant was not 100 percent healthy as a result of his contract holdout. He seemed to get healthier as the season progressed, and he gained over 1,000 yards, but it was pretty clear that he did not have the vision that first-rate running backs possess. Still, he was the best option on the roster and he got his carries, but at the rate of under four yards-per.

This year is the same as last year, except that Grant doesn’t have an injury excuse (at least not that I know of). The offensive line has regressed from last year, but Grant still does not show that he is truly a feature back. That was the knock against him in college, and that’s why the Giants were happy to dump him for a 6th round pick. 2007 was a fluke occasioned by a perfect storm of opportunity. It won’t happen again, and Ryan Grant is not going to turn into a genuine feature back in the NFL (unless he plays a very bad team with horrible injuries at a time when its roster is decimated by the flu).

That, my friends, is a great comment that should have been turned into a FanPost.  But is he right?

For what it's worth, I think so.  I think Grant can be very effective as a member of a committee, instead of a lone workhorse.  Remember how the Giants used Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Derrick Ward with great success?  That's the type of setup I'd like to see Grant in, with Brandon Jackson playing the role of the change-of-pace back.  Then again, this is all assuming that the real problem isn't with Grant, but with his blocking, which is a very real possibility.

Man, the Thompson haters are going to have a field day with this one...and the sad thing is that they may have a point.