Home > Draft, Rankings > Should I draft Michael Turner?

Should I draft Michael Turner?

There is quite a debate over RB Michael Turner. Some think he should be the number one pick, while I have talked to others who think he should drop to the second round.

What do I think? Well, I think you should pick in somewhere in the middle of those two. And, at some point in the convoluted mess below, I explain why.

Turner blew up in 2008 with 1699 yards rushing and 17 TDs. And he returns in 2009 with an improved QB in second-year QB Matt Ryan, no major injury concerns, and relatively little wear on those tree-like legs (only 598 total carries in the NFL).

So, he should be one of the top RBs heading into 2009, right? Well, yes and no.

I think Turner will end up being a top 10 RB, but whether he will be a top 5 RB is questionable. I have Turner ranked as the 4th RB (behind RB Adrian Peterson, RB Matt Forte, and RB Maurice Jones-Drew). But to be entirely honest, I would rank RB Steven Jackson above him but for S-Jax’s injury issues. And I like RB Chris Johnson more, but I cannot rank him up there due to RB LenDale White‘s tendency to vulture his TDs. And I could go on. But my point is, Turner does present some risks. So, although I have him ranked 4th among RBs, there are definitely some issues to be aware of if you are considering taking him with your first round pick.

Many other fantasy experts cite the so-called “Curse of 370” — which basically says that any RB who has more than 370 carries in a given year is all but guaranteed to have a drop-off in (fantasy) production in the following season. In fact, only the aforementioned fantasy God LT has avoided the Curse of 370. In 2002, LT had 372 carries. But LT went on to score more fantasy points in 2003. But other than LT in 2002-2003, every other RB in the history of the NFL has done worse in the year following his 370-plus carries. (I have yet to see any analysis, however, on how many total carries the RB has in his career prior to the dropoff. LT was young when he had his 370-carry season, so it is not all that surprising that he kept going. Others were much older.)

So, we should expect a decline in production then, right? Well, yes and no. I am not usually one to argue with that kinda body of evidence. However, it is worth noting that Turner only had 228 carries before his arrival in ATL. And can we really believe that Turner is destined to fail while AP — who had 363 carries — is safe because he was 7 carries short of 370 in the regular season?

Hard to say. But a curse is a Curse, right? Well, yes and no.

I do expect Turner to see a decline in production. But it has very little to do with the Curse. I believe his production will decline for three very simple reasons: (1) His schedule is tougher, (2) ATL will limit his carries, and (3) QB Matt Ryan will be better.

(1) Fewer Carries: ATL will likely reduce Turner’s workload in 2009 in order to prolong his career. I am predicting they will give him the ball around 325 times. So, even if he averages 4.5 YPC again, he will gain less than 1500 rushing yards.

(2) Tougher Schedule: Based on traditional scoring (i.e. 10 yds = 1 pt, TD = 6 pts.), Turner scored  265 points in 2008. However, a closer examination of how he scored those points reveals that he piled up most of those points against some very weak defenses. In fact, Turner scored 198 of those points in 8 games. Which means he only scored 67 points in the other 8 games.

In the 8 games when Turner scored only 67 points (average = 8.4), he faced defenses with an average rush defense ranked 11.8. In the 8 games when Turner scored the other 198 points (average = 24.5), he faced teams with an average rush defense ranked 26.8. (Remember, there are only 32 teams… So those teams were pretty bad.) You do not have to look at these figures long before you realize that Turner piled up most of his fantasy points against very poor defenses.

Not only does this concern me because his 2009 schedule is tougher, but it also concerns me because Turner was very inconsistent, especially early in the season. In 4 of his first 8 games, he scored 5 or fewer points. In his second 8 games, however, Turner scored at least 10 points in each game, including 13 points against the #1 ranked MIN rush defense in week 16 (the championship game for many leagues). So at least he was putting up solid scores towards the end of the year. But the fact that he had so many stinker games is cause for concern. (For the sake of comparison, AP scored 5 or fewer points only 1 time in 2008.)

Overall, in 2008 Turner faced teams with an average rush defense rank of 19.3. And he only faced 4 teams — MIN (1st), PHI (4th), CHI (5th), and SD (11th) — that were ranked in the top half of the league in rush defense (although, as you can see, 3 were ranked in the top 5). In the 4 games against defenses ranked in the top half, Turner averaged 8.3 points. In the 3 games against teams in the top 5, Turner averaged 7.7 points.

However, Turner’s schedule in 2009 is much different. First, let me say that I realize defenses can change dramatically from year to year. But since we have no other way to measure them, I will look at last year’s stats and rankings. So, below is a chart (of sorts) that compares Turner’s 2008 schedule with his 2009 schedule:

Average Rank
2008 = 19.3
2009 = 13.6

Ranked in Top Half
2008 = 4
2009 = 9

Ranked in Top 10
2008 = 3
2009 = 6

Ranked in Top 5
2008 = 3
2009 = 2

Ranked in Bottom 10
2008 = 6
2009 = 0

Ranked in Bottom 5
2008 = 4
2009 = 0

The ones that stick out to me the most are the number of teams ranked in the Bottom 10 and Bottom 5 each year. In 2008, Turner faced 6 teams in the Bottom 10, 3 of which were in the Bottom 5. However, Turner does not face a single team that is ranked in the Bottom 10 in 2009. And Turner scored over half of his total points (137 / 265 = 52%) in these 6 games in 2008.

(3) QB Matt Ryan will be better. This goes right along with (1) above — If Ryan is better, ATL can give Turner fewer carries and rely on the passing game more. Ryan is quickly on his way to being a very good NFL QB. So I think ATL will open up the playbook for him a little more this year.

So, what does this all mean? Who knows. No one can predict the future. But I will say this: I think the Curse of 370 is overblown in this case. However, you can expect to see Turner get fewer carries, have a lower YPC average, and score fewer TDs in 2009.

Which means, curse or no curse, he will be less a less productive fantasy player. (Just in case you missed that.)

Please comment and let me know what you think…

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