It's amazing what a little refresher on recent Broncos history does for ya. Credit aldren and his last post for this (I always knew we stole our talent from the Skins in the last five years, but the specifics were lost to me) little refresher course on our running game in the last 15 years.
A lot of suppositions found in the MSM (completely OT thought of the day: this isn't just sports media, guys) are completely, 100% false. We've been learning a lot about this recently. One that hasn't been is Shanahan's/Gibbs's zone-blocking creation of thousand-yard-rushers out of guys that should be selling cellphones. Part of the unrecognized genius in the Bailey + [Tatum Bell - 2nd Rd Pick] for Portis is the risk avoidance. Running backs have short shelf lives. I would argue (though this is very debatable--it was also the blockbuster trade of the season) that the Cutler trade will seem more significant in six years than the Portis trade does now. The fact is, however, this is a far more significant trade, in terms of net gain for both sides (hint: it's hugely positive for the broncos). Analysis follows the stats, not really based on them but they help give perspective. Oh, below the stats my analysis assumes the only refresher you need on the last decade-and-a-half of Broncos rushing is the stats themselves.
First, the career stats (in order drafted, most recent on):
5 yrs 569 car 2773 yds 16 tds 4.9 yds/att
8 y 2172 c 9692 y 78 t 4.5 y/a
7 y 919 c 4067 y 37 t 4.4 y/a
8 y 929 c 3602 y 19 t 3.9 y/a
5 y 496 c 1998 y 11 t 4.0 y/a
7 y 1655 c 7607 y 60 t 4.6 ypc
Now, some visceral analysis, loosely based on those stats:
These are all our 1000-yd rushers in the last 15 years.
First thing to note: the two best rushers here were picked in the sixth round, all others were picked earlier (including *heh* Droughns two rounds before Anderson in the same draft, even though they both wound up RB/FB hybrids, and Droughns with a little return upside; of course I'm not spending more than a sentence and lengthy aside because you could write a billion fanposts about who got drafted before who).
In terms of yard production, if Portis had continued developing along TD's pace he would've been far better (in terms of sheer yard production). However, while TD is the true, selfless franchise back--earned himself the starting job through rock solid ST play, would call a 200-yd game a 'disaster' if he missed a block--Portis is today's teamless 'star'. After injuring himself in the preseason he said, "I don't know why myself or any other player of my caliber should be playing in the preseason. I think for the last four years I've done enough to show the world I'm going to be ready for the season." While selfish, he inadvertently makes a good point, which I'll get to shortly. His wiki even deigns to note that he "bounced back" in the 2005 season and was a "better pass-blocker."
The fact is, running backs get injured. TD, Portis, Anderson all saw the most significant harm come to their careers due to injury (ironically, they're the best three up there). From Mike's wiki (emphasis mine):
He was plagued by injuries in the following years, not even playing in 2004, the result of tearing both groin muscles while blocking on a punt return in the waning moments of a meaningless preseason game. Anderson set several modern-day NFL records (longest stretch between seasons leading a team in rushing, longest stretch between a player's first and second 1,000-yard rushing seasons, and greatest number of seasons passed between 1,000-yard rushing seasons with no intervening seasons rushing for that distance).
Note the bold italics up there. Repeat to yourself, "running backs get injured." One more time. Now watch this:
Terrel Davis hit-Tokyo 98 (via kozmicklown)
I'm not sure I want my franchise RB doing that sort of thing. Portis had a point. It's a waste of all the money you pay that proven skill player to utilize him in the preseason. This brings us back to the trade:
We got a hall-of-fame (hof) corner (though he's been playing in Denver a little long for the committee's liking, now) and a thousand yard rusher for a longer-lived, slightly better RB. Oddly enough, a player worth this corner and back was signed to an 8-year, 50.3 mil deal while the corner alone cost 63 for 7 (all according to wikipedia, nothing on guarantees/actual cost). If you're a stats guy you'll notice that T. Bell averaged .4 y/a more than Portis. I didn't take it into consideration, but I know people like the CHFF eat that stuff up.
In terms of where you spend your money, though, you want to pay the players who are least likely to have their seasons cut short. You pay them for their impact, loyalty, and longevity if they're hof good. Let's look at great or near great running backs who have played in the last decade, just in the AFC West: Terrell Davis, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, LDT (not LT! there will only ever be one LT), Larry Johnson, Priest Holmes, Shaun Alexander. Now, repeat after me: running backs get injured. Not to belabor a point, but all these backs have suffered major, season ending or severely-limiting injuries. While that might not affect they're career y/a stats (too much), do you think that it might have an impact on a team, especially mid-season? You bet it does! On average these guys have put up a little more than four thousand-yard seasons per-career. One is a hof lock, I would say two others have outside chances (that includes my irrational hope for TD), and barring injury all of them would probably be close if not in (ignoring Holmes's & TD's injuries opening the way for the later guys to have a chance). So by all means, go ahead and sign that back to a blockbuster deal to see four years of solid performance from him. I'd rather trade him in the midst of his contract demands for a hall-of-famer we'll see running the show for at least two more seasons plus another back that can team up with a veteran for over 1900 yards rushing between the two of them, in addition to chalking up his own thousand yard season the next year. Once TD got injured Mike realized that running backs are a money sink, and when Portis started clamoring to get paid he promptly leveraged his value for far, far more in return.
Okay, enough with the history, let's look at how this pertains to the '09 season and on. First: be cautious on Moreno. I love him too, but as a high first round pick unless he's an hof back he's a bust in my mind (anything besides an hof back taken in the first round is a bust). I love KnowMo, don't get me wrong, and I'm gonna move on before I dig myself a deeper hole. Assuming continuing trends, and basing a whole lot of assumptions off these seven weeks, I think we've entered the Peterson/Jones-Drew/Rice era, which followed the Tomlinson era, which followed the Davis/Sanders/Smith era. Names will of course fall out as time winds its course, and my prediction is it will wind up the Rice/Jones-Drew era. Their cannonball style is fresh, it has worked for both of them since (during) their rookie year, and I see their small/stocky stature helping prevent injury. All right, that's the extent of my really ill-informed predictions, you can open your eyes now.
As an end note, you can tell Sean Payton learned from this, as Mike Bell has 343 yds with a 4.8 ypc average in 4 games for the Saints this year. Pretty good production from an undrafted player and an undoubtedly cheap free-agent pick-up. Isn't Gibbs their line coach now?
As a second note, yes, I ignored the failures over the years like Mr. Griffin (sorry to single you out, Quentin, but it's true) who were only prevented from getting 1000 yards in a season because they couldn't hold onto the ball long enough as a starter to secure the job...with a good blocking scheme/line, you can stick any old guy in at RB and he'll get 1000 yards. (Hint: part of this post is mocking that as a 'benchmark' for a successful season. LDT ran for over a thousand last year and no one told him it was a good year, did they?)
*sigh* This is getting old, but one more thing. This was kinda the gist of my response to the trade for stephen jackson fanpost from a few weeks back. The author said something like 'proven history of 1000 yard seasons' and it got me a little riled because that's what our team has had (a thousand yard rusher) since the TD era, besides the last two years (Cutler love, injuries) and 3 total in those 15. We basically created the running-by-committee or tandem backs setup that's now not just the bane of fantasy owners with Denver backs but fantasy owners league-wide.