Free Preview: Comparing Peyton Hillis and Steven Jackson

Peyton Hillis seems to give drafters the cold sweats when he’s still sitting out there in the third and fourth rounds of fantasy drafts.  All fantasy drafters have essentially assumed that Hillis can’t do what he did last year.  The only question then is how much falloff you will see year over year.

I have Hillis as a value pick because you’re getting a discount in order to take him at his current ADP.  So even if Hillis sees a production dropoff, he could still perform equal to his ADP.  But one thing I always like to do is compare my targets to other guys he was similar to the previous year, but who are going ahead of him in ADP.  For Hillis that guy is Steven Jackson.  Jackson is currently going 2 RB spots in front of Hillis.

Below are Hillis and Jackson’s stats for 2010.  Hillis finished with more total yards, more receptions, and 7 more touchdowns than Jackson.  Hillis did all of this with 40 less touches than Jackson.  Hillis is also 3 years younger than Jackson.  It seems like Hillis should be the one to be drafted higher right?

Games Rushing Receiving
Player Year Age Tm G GS Att Yds Y/A TD Y/G Rec Yds Y/R TD Y/G
Peyton Hillis 2010 24 CLE 16 14 270 1177 4.36 11 73.6 61 477 7.82 2 29.8
Steven Jackson 2010 27 STL 16 16 330 1241 3.76 6 77.6 46 383 8.33 0 23.9
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/14/2011.

I look at these two backs and think that whatever risk there might be in Hillis breaking down (the most often cited knock against Hillis due to his finish last year) has to be equal or less than the risk that the 28 year old Jackson breaks down. 

Some have also pointed to Hillis’ touchdown numbers and predicted regression.  But the reason that Hillis had good touchdown numbers is that the guy is ridiculous in the red zone.  He led all running backs last year in TD Rate in from the 10 yard line and closer, and also averaged the highest yards per carry as a percent of the yards to goal.  Steven Jackson was one of the worst running backs in the league by these two measures.

Running Back Effectiveness Inside the 10 Yard Line

RB Carries TD YPC YTG TD Rate YPC as % of YTG
P.Hillis – CLE 19 9 3.11 4.26 0.47 0.73
A.Bradshaw – NYG 24 6 3.26 5.92 0.25 0.55
M.Tolbert – SD 30 11 2 4.07 0.37 0.49
K.Moreno – DEN 16 5 1.44 3.25 0.31 0.44
B.Green-Ellis – NE 25 9 1.96 4.48 0.36 0.44
A.Peterson – MIN 26 10 1.81 4.19 0.38 0.43
M.Bush – OAK 23 7 2.09 4.91 0.30 0.42
R.Rice – BAL 16 5 2.44 5.81 0.31 0.42
W.McGahee – BAL 16 4 1.94 4.63 0.25 0.42
T.Jones – KC 25 5 1.84 4.64 0.20 0.40
A.Foster – HOU 42 13 1.95 4.95 0.31 0.39
R.Mendenhall – PIT 28 11 1.36 3.68 0.39 0.37
B.Jacobs – NYG 17 7 1.65 4.65 0.41 0.35
M.Jones-Drew – JAC 26 4 1.88 5.65 0.15 0.33
M.Turner – ATL 44 11 1.50 4.70 0.25 0.32
L.McCoy – PHI 16 2 2.06 6.50 0.13 0.32
C.Johnson – TEN 24 6 1.17 3.71 0.25 0.31
M.Forte – CHI 22 2 1.59 5.45 0.09 0.29
C.Benson – CIN 33 6 1.31 4.94 0.18 0.27
C.Ivory – NO 16 4 1.25 5.50 0.25 0.23
M.Barber – DAL 20 3 0.70 3.55 0.15 0.20
S.Jackson – STL 24 3 0.92 5.58 0.13 0.16
M.Lynch – SEA 20 5 0.25 3.55 0.25 0.07

Maybe one thing that has the potential to derail the Hillis train this year is the change in offensive system.  But it’s interesting to note that Hillis will be in the same offense that Jackson was in last year.  Another interesting point is that both RBs will be in offenses led by 2nd year quarterbacks.

Perhaps another element going into the Hillis discount is the unknown situation with the running backs in Cleveland.  Montario Hardesty is returning from injury and Brandon Jackson is also in the mix now.  I sort of doubt that Hardesty’s ACL can stay in one piece for an entire season given the way he runs, and Jackson is just an inferior back to Hillis.  Jackson has averaged under 4 YPC for his entire career. 

Brandon Jackson Career Stats

Rushing Receiving
Year Age Tm G GS Att Yds TD Y/A Y/G Rec Yds Y/R TD Y/G
2007 22 GNB 11 3 75 267 1 3.6 24.3 16 130 8.1 0 11.8
2008 23 GNB 13 0 45 248 1 5.5 19.1 30 185 6.2 0 14.2
2009 24 GNB 12 0 37 111 2 3.0 9.3 21 187 8.9 1 15.6
2010 25 GNB 16 13 190 703 3 3.7 43.9 43 342 8.0 1 21.4
Career     52 16 347 1329 7 3.8 25.6 110 844 7.7 2 16.2
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/15/2011.

It’s also worth mentioning that Saint Louis has brought in two free agents (Jerious Norwood and Cadillac Williams) to help out running the ball as well.  So Jackson’s carries might be under the same pressure that Hillis’ carries will be under.  I think it’s probably fair to say that Hillis and Jackson have similar risk due to competition.

Jackson is only going 2 RB spots in front of Hillis, so it’s not a big difference.  But I do think going through this analysis is helpful in trying to figure out when you’re picking Hillis, if you’re getting a big enough discount to take him.  Readers of this site will know that I believe all players have risk, it’s only whether or not we recognize that risk that is the difference among players.  So if I can draft guys whose risk has already been priced in to their draft spot, that’s the best I can hope for.

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