The Great Running Back Debate Amid the Summer of the RB Holdout
The biggest story in the NFL this summer has been the Running Back Holdout. In the annual debate over RB’s value, I always find myself sympathetic to the analytically driven argument about their replace-ability – but ultimately frustrated by analysts that overshoot their derision of the RB position and eventually miss the forest for the trees.
Take the biggest and most recent RB holdout for example, former Ohio State Buckeye Ezekiel Elliot. I’ve heard guys I respect debate whether at his peak Elliot is worth 1/2 point, 1-point or 1.5 points to a betting line. Given the results, I think to be on the low side of that argument is borderline ludicrous.
Since winning their 3rd Super Bowl in the 90’s, the Cowboys are famously almost exactly a .500 team. In his three year career, Elliot has a 70% winning percentage in regular season games. In that same time, the Cowboys are 4-4 when he doesn’t play.
When Elliot plays the Cowboys score 23.5 ppg and allow 18.9. When he does not play, the Cowboys scores 21.8 ppg and allow 25.8. What does a running back have to do with points allowed? I would argue a lot. I would argue your expected points allowed drops significantly when you have confidence running the ball on 3rd and 4th and 1. And that your expected points allowed spike when you are forced to pass in those situations.
Barkley Has All the Tools to be Better than Elliot (or Anyone)
I always find myself making the point that Ezekiel Elliot is tremendously valuable. Yet – I can’t really argue with someone, such as constant-pain Max Kellerman saying that the 2nd year New York Giant, Saquon Barkley is everything Elliot is and more.
“He’s bigger[than Elliot], he’s stronger, he’s faster, he’s more slippery…He’s a better home-run hitter”
Even as an Elliot-apologist, all of the above strikes me as objectively true. Now Elliot has proven to have a durability and acumen for maintaining NFL success that Barkley has not proven to have yet. However, considering purely what is possible – Barkley has unparalleled potential. He may be the best running back in the league for years to come, if he’s not right now. He may the most talented Running Back ever one day – if he’s not right now.
Angle: That said this is NOT the year to bet on Saquon Barkley to win NFL MVP at 34/1. Your giving the house your money. The Giants have the worst odds to win one of the worst divisions in football. They are not the contenders necessary to elevate their best player – no matter how excellent – into the MVP conversation. Besides, it is a Quarterback’s award – a signal caller has won it each of the last six years. Barkley is surely capable of mounting Adrian Peterson or LaDainian Tomlinson-esq season to one day earn the award. But the Giants show no signs of having the ability to support such a campaign yet.
If you do wish to place a wager on Barkley – wait until we have odds for the AP Offense Player of the Year. Unlike MVP, Running Backs have won this award 3 times in the last 7 years. Moreover, it has gone to players like DeMarco Murray and Chris Johnson who were not on Super Bowl contenders.
Odds via FanDuel Sportsbook