What do Rams running backs Lance Ball and Antonio Pittman, a practice squad player and a backup, have in common with Selvin Young, Pierre Thomas, and Ahmad Bradshaw?
Well, before those later three guys went on to have big seasons last year, they had great rushing numbers in their preseason. This article from Football Outsiders, writing for ESPN, examines preseason rushing stats, yards per cary to be exact, for rookie rushers in preseason and the correlation to success in the regular season NFL. Do read the article yourself, but here's a summary of the method. The FO crew looked at rookie runners drafted after the first two rounds, and guys not drafted at all, who had 25 carries or more in their preseason debut from an 8 year period ranging from 2000-2007. Of the 54 players within those qualifications, 24 of them averaged more yards per carry than the preseason baseline of 3.94.
To gauge regular season success, they next looked at how those backs fared with 50 or more carries in their rookie season and their average yards per carry. Of the players averaging above the preseason baseline YPC of 3.94, 9 backs went on to rush more than 50 times in their rookie season averaging 4.43 YPC. Selvin Young, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Pierre Thomas' names come from that list. Running backs averaging less than baseline in preseason went on to average 3.51 yards per carry.
And of the backs who didn't get 50 carries in their rookie year, several went on to have big seasons and become key players, including Brian Westbrook, Willie Parker and Rudi Johnson. Long story short, preseason numbers from RB can offer plenty of insight into a player's chances for success in the regular season, providing your o-line doesn't get hurt at the same time.
Two Rams runners stand out for their preseason rushing numbers.
In light of the research cited from Football Outsiders, those numbers are even more impressive.
Ball streaked through camp, and having him on the practice squad is comforting. Pittman got some work in last year, 38 carries/139 yards, but the state of the Rams o-line made running tough for anyone. I'd venture to say that I have as much, if not more, confidence in these two guys than I do Brian Leonard at this point.
Neither of these guys can replace Steven Jackson and what he brings to the field, but it is a sign that the Rams have some prospects behind him on the depth chart should the unthinkable happen and Jackson not be able to play a game or two. Even had he held out things might not have been as bad as thought, save for the morale punch in the gut not having your best player would have been.