2017 Football Preview – Sample Team Chapter

I just released the 2017 Football Preview on Amazon yesterday.  This has been my entire life since the Super Bowl.  In fact, I’ve spent more days on this than there are in the 2017 season.  This dwarfs the 150-page 2016 Football Preview.  This is 236-pages, in full color, with 32 team chapters and many articles featuring research-level analysis.  It’s not a magazine, it’s more like a reference book, but it’s built with the reader in mind.  Full of easy to read & review narratives, articles, infographics and data.  This is absolutely unlike any other preview you have bought in the past or might buy this season.

Check out the detailed write-up of what you’ll see inside this Preview!

Below is one chapter, chosen by a NFL fan, and the first person on Twitter to ask for a sample.  As you can imagine, he wanted the Eagles chapter.  There are 31 more chapters.  And in depth articles on a number of different subjects.

Warren Sharp’s 2017 Football Preview – Eagles Chapter

So you’ve now seen 6 of the 236 pages.  I hope you check it out, and I also hope that after you do, you give it a review on Amazon.  Given I see just $0.62 per copy, the only way this will offset the time investment is via spreading the word on Twitter to promote purchases, and strong, helpful reviews on Amazon.  If you like original, hard work which is objective, useful and guaranteed to teach you something while preparing you for the season, please help spread the word!

Here’s the cover and what some in the industry have said about the Preview:

Cover 6-26-2017

 

And with free 2-day shipping, go get your copy NOW!

 

It’s risen to the #1 New Release in the Football Category

Photo Jun 29, 9 00 36 AM

And it’s leapfrogged Tim Tebow on the overall Best Seller’s list to the #2 position

Photo Jun 28, 10 10 40 PM

Football Podcast Survey Results

I host a podcast, and I also listen to several from people I respect.  But much of what I do is best done by tuning outside voices down and focusing more on my own work.  I need news and information to process, and I like getting the public sentiment from mainstream media (so I know what to fade) but apart from that, I work in isolation a ton, coming up with my own theories and ideas.  But I’ve always been curious what the listeners think of my podcast, and what I can do to improve.  So I paid for a survey company to allow me to host a totally anonymous survey.  I asked 10 questions, which you’ll see below.  This survey was shared on Twitter by many, thanks to re-tweets and other link shares.

I promised to share the results.  Photo Jun 29, 9 00 36 AM[I shared them also in my 2017 Football Preview, which is now available at Amazon (on-sale too, with free two-day shiping), see the link to the right for more description about the book.]

A few things surprised and intrigued me:

First, given how prominent Fantasy is as it relates to podcasts, I was surprised that even adding DFS and season long together, people preferred general strategy football type discussions.

Second, people do consume a ton of podcasts, but to my surprise, they hated 0-30 minute (very short) podcasts.  They also hated extremely long podcasts (1.5+ hours).  The sweet spot was in that range of just under an hour.

I was also surprised at the number of people that preferred 3+ voices on a podcast (host, a co-host and guest(s).  But even more than that, they really did not like solo podcasts.  On the positive for solo pods, the question was not “which do you hate most”, so when people voted, they showed their preference.  And I don’t know who would prefer a solo pod to multiple voices.

And finally, perhaps not too surprisingly, people might actually subscribe to your podcast if you have on a guest that the person is familiar with.  Generally speaking, that guest would share the tweet/link to the podcast, a new listener would tune in, and 44% said they “might subscribe if host(s) sound interesting”.

The other element of the survey was a poll to vote for your favorite top 5 football podcasts.  There were over 1,300 votes, which was a pretty good number in my view.  I divided it into two categories: Fantasy (DFS or Season Long) or General Strategy.  Turned out most people nominated many of the same podcasts for both, which is fine.  I kept the results for both separate.  The biggest pain, as this was fill in the blank, was to combine all of the variants of spellings or nominations into a single podcast.  For example, for Evan Silva’s “Fantasy Feast”, a couple nominations included: “Silva, dude” and “Evan and that former football player”.  So I had to combine both and file under “Fantasy Feast”.  I posted the top 20 podcasts for both categories on the next pages.  If you’re looking for new content this season, I recommend subscribing to as many of these as you can and give them all a shot.  (Note: Naturally my podcast did well, so I’m sure that is slightly biased due to the fact I asked my Twitter followers to fill out the survey.  I did not ask for votes for my podcast, however, but inherently there will be some bias.)

Finally, I posted a question: “What general or specific advice would you give football podcasts to help improve their utility to you?”  This was the most intriguing of all.  I promised to share every, single comment because I wanted people to see what was said.

Survey Picture 1 Survey Picture 2 Survey Picture 3

 

Q4 What is your favorite Fantasy (DFS/Season-Long) Football Podcast?

(fill in the blank – vote for up to 5, in order) – ordered by total points

Survey Picture 8

Q5 What is your favorite General/Strategy Football Podcast?

(fill in the blank – vote for up to 5, in order) – ordered by total points

Survey Picture 9 Survey Picture 4 Survey Picture 5 Survey Picture 56 Survey Picture 7

Q8 What general or specific advice would you give football podcasts to help improve their utility to you?

Response Text (NOTE: I only edited out if a specific podcast was discussed negatively by name, each voter was limited to one response)
Be entertaining as well as informative. Some podcasts I listen to are hard to get through sometimes because the hosts aren’t excited or just don’t sound like they are into it enough.
breaking down the segment by time. like Colts/Pack 4:35-7:35, Pats/Ravens 7:36-10:34, and so on
Monday night podcast is too late. Need info quicker
More Schedule Based Analysis in weekly season long leagues
Game analysis- thorough breakdown of weekly games.  Incorporate trends that play out during the game.  Cause and Effect- tell me why without watching the game why a team was successful in third downs, how the play calling going into the wind played a large part in a teams defeat or a team going against their tendencies in how they  attack the read zone….
Analysis  of fundamental technical and situational aspects of each game
From you. I want to hear more krackman
provide rational for your pick/lean so we can confirm or contrast it with our own analysis
I like the fact that they are up front and straight forward. No Bullshit. When they are wrong they admit it.
I am a bettor. If you are not a bettor, I don’t want to listen to you. Also, I probably know as much as you, so don’t talk down to me. Take your positions, tell me why, and take responsibility for them week by week.
Do more mock drafts to understand thinking during draft
Back up info and tie into how can be used for betting or fantasy
Maybe have certain segments catered to DFS, season-long, dynasty. And have feedback from listeners at the end of the show(when time allows).
To stay away from the abstract thinking the mainstream media often gets caught up in and focus on what’s happening on the field.
More betting, general info over fantasy
More strategy, less picks. The industry generally will have similar plays, so as the week goes on I’m more interested in hearing strategy from a DFS perspective and less interested in hearing “play player x”
Be interesting, knowledgable and coherent.
Key match-ups for offensive players.  Volume for key offensive players.
Reasons and statistics, over opinion and banter.
It’s great when guys give data to support their claims. The problem with mainstream guys and most podcasters is their inherent biases or emotional opinions.  Guys (like you) that support your claims have taught me so much about the NFL for the last 2 seasons.
Would love to see Warren get back into DFS and offering a DFS service again.
Offer something unique that you wont learn from other podcasts
Quality, improve mics/production
x
Good source u can count on
I personally enjoy the deeper statistics, things one couldn’t find through mainstream websites/TV/Twitter. Really can tell these guys do in-depth research. Helps me sort through games quicker.
Concentrate on things that can make me money
Discuss specific DFS plays in-season. Discuss more strategy in the offseason.
Always have interesting guesses.
Stick to football on your podcast. If I wanted jokes I would listen to the Sirius comedy channel.
Less sound effects.  No MFK,  Just the goods.
Don’t be afraid of getting more specific with Xs and Os. Just by finding your podcast, your audience probably knows more or wants to know more than the average consumer.
Better descriptions, don’t necessarily care about all games every weekend
Coaching Strategy. What works against the opponent they are facing for the week. Offense and Defense.
If you are going to say something, then be prepared to back it up with stats and data. game tape doesnt hurt either.
Recurring/Predictable Format
I like betting info and info that gives me an edge in fantasy football
More diversified guests
Keep crude jokes/talk out so that I can listen with kids in the car
use specifics/details/reasoning to justify your opinions.be funny and down to earth!
Most seem to run over an hour, especially dynasty pods. Cut that time down. Also, be more family friendly.
Quality over quantity, most are over an hour but have twenty minutes of fluff.
User interaction with hosts discussing people’s leagues/teams
Do as many different things as possible. All in one shop. Also have fun.
Live interaction
Be Different! Have voicing with different opinions. I know it’s huge to get big names on Pods, but I’d rather listen to someone unheard of and get some different views than the top guys that establish the norm.
Get to the point stop going on tangents
Opinions and facts to back it.
Better audio is far & away #1Lose the corny bumper music & lame dropsForced laughter/humor is repulsive

Give me reasons, not just numbers

Dont talk too much without purpose.  CBS and Fantasy Footballers get it.  ESPN is terrible, I only want to hear Berry’s 100 facts.
Regular episodes
No player interviews,  they add less than zero.
Make the pods fun. Don’t try to please everyone and don’t monologue forever.
General strategy that is innovative but not too specific in an entertaining atmosphere. Chemistry is crucial. Love field Yates, but fantasy focus died when nate left. Just awkward now.
Analytics. Everything you say needs to be backed by data. If you have a theory… it needs to be logical and rational. Also if the podcast is going to be a 60 mins or longer… small interval breaks with music keeps the listener engaged.
I listen to 30 plus football related podcasts per week. Some are more entertaining and some have more actionable content and im okay with both.  Gonna have to agree with the guy about pronouns, it may be redundant to the hosts, but using the players name would help follow along.
Keep episodes to 45 minutes at most.
not to promise to share every single write-in response to a survey on twitter CHECK OUT PETE MANZINELLI’S YOUTUBE GET PAID GET LAID, FAM!!!!!!1 don’t break ur promise warren sharpz!!!!!111 (OK BUDDY, I DID NOT BREAK MY PROMISE)
Less ads, less ads in the middle of the podcast
1. Up your sounds quality, decent mics are not that expensive. 2. Don’t waste my time, get to the football stuff. 3. Don’t do weird voices or try to force some inauthentic “personality” into the show, it’s too cheesy. 4. Don’t do a when show where the guest calls in and talks the whole time and the host is merely giving him a prompt at the start; if their are two guys have some back and forth.
Keep it to fantasy football
The best shows are those that achieve a balance between relevant football information and off collar discussion. I have no desire to listen to a football robot read statistics — showcase your personality (unless it’s hostile toward your cohosts and/or other fantasy football podcasts — I have a specific network’s show in mind here).Also, just as a general pet peeve: refrain from using pronouns as often as possible when referring to players. Sometimes I’ll zone out for a few seconds, hear something incredibly relevant in reference to “him,” and then only hear pronouns for the next 20 seconds, forcing me to rewind the podcast to find out who we’re discussing.
Invest in quality recording equipment. Simply using skype sounds cheap and horrible.
Stay away from HOT TAKES, don’t say something controversial or outlandish just to garner interest
Just entertain while being informative
Be a GIants podcast, but that’s asking too much
More focus on player analysis and predictions. More prognostications on weekly outcomes.
anytime you can use numbers/analytics to back up and prove a point, i’m going to take your recommendation way more seriously than just “i think _____ will happen.” JJ Zachariason is the best at this in my opinion.
There’s a ton of similar material during the week. Thats why sharp football pod with Evan was so good when you actually did it.  Nothing like that anywhere
Get to the info fast then support with data and analysis.
Quick and concise.
Hosts should aim to be informative, but not robot-like. I enjoy when people show their personalities and chat about things they want to
When discussing game strategy and formations, would like more detail on what they are seeing on film.  Talk to me like I’m a new guy.
Should include 1 deep dive on a stat or betting strategy.  The most loyal viewers are looking to learn more than have just a pick. If they want just your picks they are the assholes who talk shit if it loses. In my opinion.
No personal shit
Sound quality and accurate reports
Data data data
Let the information be fast to understand, with examples and samples to compare with, i.e. Not too much theory concepts, it must be more practical
Audio quality. Without it your voice and advice cannot be heard
Stop screaming or getting overly agitated.Stop saying the same thing every day/week.Stick to fantasy football.
Have fun. Go deep to appeal to experienced players vs mainstream to newbies
90% fantasy content 10% entertainment. Nothing worse than 5 mins of stupid content that doesn’t have anything to do with football. I’m not looking for robots but it’s all about keeping things in balance.
The content can’t just be delivered dryly. Needs a little color to the analysis to make it more fun and interesting. If I just want a readout of names I can read an article. It’s the humor/entertainment that adds value
Audio quality is the most important thing. Also, more mention of rest of season rankings
Less coach speak; less quotes from beat writers.
Be consistent w frequency of podcasts
Not sure I have any suggestions now.
If you want to argue, make sure you don’t come off as yelling because people don’t want to listen to a bunch of yelling in their ears. Make sure your podcast doesn’t drag. Make sure we can hear the fun in your voice.
Dont have bold takes you dont actually believe because you think it advances your “brand”.
I get annoyed by podcasts with a lot of fluff. I’m not looking to hear a host and his buddies to shoot the breeze.
Stop bullshitting for the first 8 minutes. Don’t have tome for it. Want useful and entertaining information. Don’t try to make me like you as a person. Get shit right and i will just like you.
Realize that most of us consume your podcasts at 1.5x
Cut the silly shit. Don’t care about music recommendations, etc. I listen for data driven analysis to gain a competitive edge.
Keep it fun
Don’t be afraid to go really in depth if necessary.Don’t be all business all the time, personal/off topic mixes it up.Bring on women. We know football too. There’s too many male only podcasts
Don’t stray longer than 3 – 5 minutes on other sports.
More Davis Mattek.
Same release date / time frame. Standard length.
Concentrated Content. I don’t need small talk, goofy games, etc.
I find a lot of the time hosts lose sight of the fact that the majority of the conversations they are broadcasting are numerically based. rattling off a minute stint of numbers is impressive but don’t forget to dumb it down every once in awhile, take a step back and breath, let me process the 15 combinations of digits you just said.
1. Stay under 45 minutes. You will lose listeners over 45. You won’t if under. I listen to a lot of podcasts and like to try new ones. I see 70 minutes i auto delete. I won’t even give you a first listen. Over an hour in hesitant to give a first listen.
Provide information that is not readily accessible elsewhere, i.e. Be differentiated. If someone is listening to the podcast, they are already above a certain knowledge threshold, so advanced stats (matchup SoS, CBs vs WRs, etc) are going to be more useful for further knowledge.
Make yourselves available on Stitcher. Mind the audio quality. Don’t make the intro insanely loud. Keep politics to yourself.
Don’t have too many cooks in the kitchen, don’t be too long, know your specific angle
In general hosts should show more personality.
X’s and O’s and scouting of individual matchups.
Make it actionable (DFS or ATS) to that upcoming week’s games using data and trending info
I don’t give a fuck about the bachelor / bachelorette on ABC
Don’t be a toutRegarding next question, depends on the host and guest. Sometimes the host is preferred, sometimes the guest is preferred.
Audio quality & production matters.Have planned segments & talking points.Don’t talk about your private leagues.
not be a know it ALLInvite guest on show that have different perspectives or specialties
If podcast longer than 30 mins, break into multiple podcasts. Easier to digest this way. 15-20 min podcasts ideal
Keep commercials at beginning or end
Don’t talk about stuff that isn’t football related unless it is really important and actually impacts people’s lives. Idc about politics or any of that bullshit I want to listen to football talk and someone who can actually analyze the game better than I can. Cause I don’t have time
Keep to a consistent schedule and length to establish reliability. Don’t be afraid to showcase your personality; doing so doesn’t have to be at the expense of information and analysis.
No shtick!
Release them as early in the week as possible
Don’t cater to the lowest common denominator fan, but if you’re getting into crazy names for formations and what not, give a little explanation. Ex: don’t need to explain a nickel D, but if youre gonna say something like they ran ace jumbo heavy, remind listeners
Stay on point.  As fantasy football podcasts continue to become more popular, hosts are starting to veer off topic to non-football related info.  They are also using more hot takes in an attempt to differentiate themselves.  That is annoying.
Detail. No broad assumptions.
Every Podcast does picks. Living the Stream is the best because they cover streamers and don’t take themselves too seriously. I think strategy advice is best for draft season, and roster construction is somewhat ignored in-season. Would like analysis that looks at depth options for late season moves.
Charisma. Content and expertise is huge but it’s gotta be a little colorful.
Make sure the sound quality is good – poor quality will lose listeners quickly. Dont try to be funny, let it come naturally. More info, less small talk is a good idea.
Audio quality is EXTREMELY important. Audio clarity, even audio levels between participants, and hosts/guests speaking at a reasonable pace are often ignored.  Uneven levels make one host sound like they are shouting and the other sound like they are whispering when using headphones.  I have stopped listening to several podcasts with good information because the audio quality was poorer than other podcasts with less desireable information but cleaner audio.
If I feel like I’m learning more about the game and not just scanning for news / waiver wire pickups, I’ll keep listening.Also, have humor, but don’t be a bro. Barstool is unlistenable.
I would like to hear topics/strategy that cater to larger league sizes. I play in a 14 and 16 man league. Dynasty content is closest thing.
Bring on differing opinions, analysis, and types of analysis (analytics, film review, insiders)
Only discuss my players lol
Give real info/stats to back up opinions. Don’t just regurgitate narratives that we’re all seeing on Twitter. Don’t presume something to be true when it is clearly unknown. Don’t act as though you know the dynamics going on within a team or front office when you don’t. Don’t be arrogant.
Focus on statistical analysis to defend your opinions
It’s always best to change topics after a few minutes.  Repetitive and drawn out discussions not good for the working listener.
Gambling advice. Injury updates. Player and coach quotes.
Fact based analysis
Provide a description with what time on the pod certain topics are discussed.
No longer than 1 hour. Short & sweet and INFORMATIVE.
Spend less time on small talk, pop culture, humor, and other conversation that doesn’t deal with football.
A balance of tape review and stats/analytics. I feel like some podcasts focus on one side or the other, when they’re actually meant to be used together.
There’s one podcast I stopped listening to because I could feel the superiority complex of the host coming through my headphones.
Define terms more often, don’t assume people now what the letters stand for, for example DVOA.
Fluff is nice – enjoy getting to know you – but don’t overdo it.
To remember it’s not about them but the information they impart as to why we are listening
No politics
Less radio gimmick “hot take” stuff. Hate all that. PFF gone down that route and ruined their draft coverage this year for me.
Monotone voices on podcasts make me drift off
more specific data based reasons for you expect X or Y to happen
I prefer listening via sound cloud and good to get host with one of two guests to get differin opinions and consensus.
Be professional. Many waste the first 5-10 minutes trying to be comedians/show how cool they are. Knock it off. Our time is valuable. Introduce yourselves and provide information and/or analysis. The audience who listens to podcasts is more serious/trying to win, not to fill spare time with weak comedy.
See “Other” answer to #7. Further, the reason I listen is because I like the on demand, decision-useful info. I’m not listening to hear small talk, I’m listening to hear theses backed up by research. Making podcasts shorter, but packed with more data/facts, and having to defend those when presented with counterpoints, would be make for an awesome show.
More stories about trades/picks they’ve made that are unsuccessful and why they made the mistake.
Focus on new angles each week based on specific team matchups, focus on gambling aspect
Keep core podcast consistent, tweeks on margin
Android OS owns 53% of market share vs. 44% Apple… Do more than iTunes.
-Short opening jingles-Clear voices-Get right to the point
I’m a dolphins fan, and prefer podcasts and regional coverage. I feel national media is biased because they are looking for ratings, uninformed, and lazy.Be thorough, and don’t use other media reports as your source of information. It is very transparent when national media hosts do that.I understand it’s hard to cover all 32 teams, but that’s not my problem. And that’s why I listen to those that follow specific teams more closely.

Most of all, don’t fall into the political  correctness trap like espn. It’s ok to call things as you see them, don’t have to sugarcoat everything.

Game by game recaps and previews are very helpful from a betting standpoint
No need to highlight an entire weekly card.  Digging deep into a handful of specific games is more beneficial. Host/co-host opinions on subjective areas of game match-ups (situation, personnel groupings, player specific, etc.) are valuable in addition to advanced statistical analysis.
Provide information on likely line moves and reasons why they feel the line will move in that direction.
Enjoy matchups and scheme comparisons. Funny stories from locker room and teammates are good too
provide more matchup specific data
Offer something unique
Get your sound right.  Nothing worse than 1 guy loud and the other at whisper levels.  Have a pod for DFS/betting and a separate one for season-long.  Don’t try to be a radio show, filling up time with noise I don’t tune in to hear.  Personal but factual.  Facts/Stats from previous years are everyone’s baseline but I want to know what’s changed that will affect the #’s for THIS year.  Nobody talks about tendencies in play calling or how a positional or coordinator change can change this year’s outcome.
If you are going to do a fantasy cast, include Dynasty. No one cares about redraft stuff every week during the offseason, there is only so much you can talk about. Dynasty is growing exponentially and you can talk about player values until your face turns blue, especially with various offseason storylines, everything effects dynasty player value.
Improve sound quality. And as much as it pains me to write this, less EDITED OUT (SORRY) – it’s intellectual masturbation for industry insiders but largely irrelevant for Joes like the rest of us. Love EDITED OUT (SORRY) himself and his charitable push but it’s frustrating when EDITED OUT (SORRY) takes over the airwaves.
It has to be entertaining or else I don’t care.  I like numbers and statistical analysis but I can’t be falling asleep.  So spice things up with some mini-games or drops/sounds/noises every once in a while.  Some nonsense basically, as fantasy focus would put it.
Stay on point; when you make a recommendation about a player/team give your reasoning
Stop referring to yards per carry
Usually there is too much guessing involved. Sure, provide the numbers and analytics but also share exactly what you’re on as well.
Read more emails/answer listener questions. Try not to ramble on topics for too long.
go over the past results of their handicapping. winners and losers. yes, go over the losing bets the tout made last week and how they are themselves using that loss to improve.
Out of season, take your time. In-season, keep it tight, especially with news/notes stuff.
Maybe provide minute markers for important talking points.  I often take notes myself to go back and re listen to good nuggets/ actionable advice.
Make less jokes.  You’re probably not a comedian and there are plenty of comedy podcasts out there.  Just give us solid analysis!
Relaxed is better. Don’t be so rigid
Be concise…long pods over an hour can get overwhelming.
Less jokes.  Information over entertainment.
Where to find the same stats
Even podcasts I don’t particularly enjoy I’ll sometimes play in the background while I’m mowing the lawn, running, or something along those lines.The biggest detriment to podcasts is lack of good equipment/setup. Quality A/V equipment being expensive is an unfortunate reality.
Be more interesting while giving good actionable info!
Keep it short and sweet
Be honest, answer questions, don’t beg for listeners to support your sponsors
Less topics that pervade talking head media on TV. More about insights, analytics, and matchups
NFL is a complicated game, do your best to explain it and make it interesting to a part time watcher. Teach me about some of the interesting strategy parts of the game (see Andy Benoit). And give me edges to win fantasy football games and bets in ATS.
Standard formatting of the show with less random distractions.  It’s easier to track/listen to specific segments
More fact driven analysis.
Keep in mind that some people who listen are new to the game and not know all the lingo.
Keep the entertainment level as well as informational.  Most of mine do
Make it fun and entertaining without “shock” or obscenities, no screaming rants. More than just rote regurgitation of football facts and ranking lists.
Super boring when everyone agrees with each other most of the time (EDITED OUT (SORRY))

Efficiency Realized: Outlining the Proper Usage of Christian McCaffrey

By Warren Sharp

The first season after the NFL changed the hit rules on quarterbacks, and likewise better protected receivers over the middle of the field, was 2011. Since then, just 4 current players have recorded at least two seasons with 100+ rushes while averaging at least 4 yards per carry and 50+ receptions: LeSean McCoy, Le’Veon Bell, DeMarco Murray and Matt Forte.

Meanwhile, 35 current players recorded multiple seasons with those same rushing numbers, but without the receiving numbers. The clear majority of the non-receiving running backs are considered “3 down backs”. Players big enough to carry the load and who don’t need to leave the field on short yardage situations. However, the reality is many of them leave the field when it is 3rd and long, and get replaced by a “3rd down back”.

There is a misconstrued concept in modern NFL of a “3rd down back”. He is the “pass catching back”. And he typically is more of a scat-back who isn’t built to sustain pounding over 3 downs, but can be utilized as a receiving running back on 3rd down if the quarterback needs to target him. Here is the issue with that strategy: it doesn’t work.

Targeting a running back out of the backfield on 3rd down and medium or longer (7+ yards to go), when most “3rd down backs” trot onto the field, results in a first down less than half as often as targeting a different position (WR/TE). The numbers are very clear: Only 17% of these 3rd down passes to running backs are successful, whereas 35% of passes to other positions are successful. Of any down and distance, the absolute worst time to throw the ball to a RB is on 3rd down and medium “+”.

If a team views these “3rd down backs” as successful and elusive pass catchers, they should actually incorporate them on 1st down, potentially in place of a 1st down handoff. Last year, the league wide average for successful runs on 1st and 10 was 46%. However, 58% of passes to running backs on 1st and 10 were successful. That is a massive variance.

In fact, as the below graphic shows, targeting running backs on 1st down is more likely to result in a successful gain than targeting a WR. League-wide, success rates to running backs on 1st and 10 or less yards to go is 58%, much greater than targeting wide receivers in the same situation (55% success rate).

target success rate

The other benefit to targeting running backs on 1st and 10 does is that it reduces turnovers. Using the data from SharpFootballStats.com, passes to running backs on 1st and 10 result in interceptions 0.9% of the time (11 INTs on 1,189 ATT) whereas passes to WRs result in interceptions well over double that rate: 2.4% of the time (88 INTs on 3,636 ATT). There is no single play more likely to lose a game for an offense than a turnover. Turnover margin is the most correlated metric to wins and losses that exists. Throwing interceptions, particularly on 1st down, is a sure-fire way to lose games.

So apart from strategical edges, what does this have to do with Christian McCaffrey?

Even though becoming a legitimate receiving target has happened only to 10% of the running backs that recorded multiple seasons with 100+ rushes at 4 yards per carry (4 out of 39), McCaffrey will likely join that fraternity: the 3 down running back who is a dangerous weapon in the passing game. He’ll soon join the likes of LeSean McCoy and Le’Veon Bell. McCaffrey may not be perfectly comparable to them from a body type. But McCaffrey can be an even more dangerous weapon in the passing game then the aforementioned running backs in that he can be split out more frequently and do more damage as a receiver in space. McCaffrey is an established return man and knows how to avoid hits in space.

And it is for these reasons the Panthers took McCaffrey as high as they did. It wasn’t a reach. It wasn’t about a position that has been devalued in the modern passing-style of the NFL. And it most certainly wasn’t about running backs being fungible and interchangeable.

It was about the future of the position and the efficiency potential for running backs with McCaffrey’s skillset. While many look at his 5’11”, 202 pound frame and don’t see a 3-down back, the reality is, they’re right. He’s so much more than a “back”. He’s a 3-down weapon:

We know that on 1st down, he’ll be tremendous as a receiving running back, and can get productive carries on the ground. On 2nd and short after a nice first down gain, it will be in Carolina’s best interest to get to the line of scrimmage quickly before their opponent can rotate in a short yardage package, and run McCaffrey against the base defense. On 2nd or 3rd and medium or long, McCaffrey is your prototypical “Weapon X” who can wreak havoc from any position he’s lined up at. And that’s one of the biggest keys for OC Mike Shula. He needs to implement McCaffrey in many different positions on the field. Every single RB position as well as line him up in the slot – he’s worked with longtime reliable slot WR Brandon Stokley on releases and playing from the slot. Of course, he has the soft hands which are part of the family genes (father, WR Ed McCaffrey) and his short area quickness and acceleration make him a major threat anytime you can get him the ball in space.

Mike Shula must figure out ways to make minor tweaks as well as wholesale changes in his offense to maximize Christian McCaffrey’s ability.  The other thing that McCaffrey brings to the table is the return ability.  And while this certainly is special, if I am Carolina I want to be careful with the frequency of how often I direct McCaffrey to do more than just fair catch the ball.  There will be the temptation to rely solely on him for return duties, especially for as long as Jonathan Stewart is still in Carolina, as McCaffrey won’t need to be the bellcow running back.  He’s no doubt a dangerous weapon anytime he has the ball in his hands.  But risking injury is a big part of it as well.  If I am Carolina, I use him situationally as a return man.  If his fielding ability is so great that his presence on the field causes the NFL punters to change their trajectory in ways it gains field position for the Panthers regardless of a return, I may allow him to be out there more often.  But every “decent” kick would be instructed to be fair caught.  And I would only have him return them if the coverage or kick on a particular play was suboptimal, or if we were in a tight game.

McCaffrey2

While there are a ton of positives for McCaffrey as a player, there are several distinct concerns I have with him in Carolina, and they start and end with Cam Newton.  The Carolina offense presents a unique challenge to get the most out of McCaffrey.  And that is because of the style of quarterback that Cam Newton is, for a couple of reasons.

First, as we know, Newton is a running quarterback. Generally speaking, running quarterbacks are quicker to drop their eyes after downfield routes don’t uncover. They use their legs as a crutch in order to try to keep the offense on track. Additionally, when a pocket collapses, the running quarterback will look to escape using his legs. Meanwhile, the traditional pocket quarterback, such as Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger, will not run. They will try to be evasive, but are always looking to complete a pass. And often, that comes in the form of a pass to a running back.

The NFL average for targeting running backs out of the backfield was 19% of pass attempts. Carolina targeted them 2nd least often of any team, with only 13% of attempts going to running backs. On the other end of the spectrum were pocket passing quarterbacks including Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Joe Flacco, Carson Palmer, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger, who targeted RBs over 10% more often than Carolina’s 13% rate, as the below table shows.

CAR target rate for RBs

More than just the target rate is the quality of targets.  While just 13% are making its way to the Carolina running backs, many of these targets are poorly constructed.  Whether last minute dump offs to running backs in precarious situations or simply bad play design, they haven’t worked.  Surely some of it relates to the quality of running back, and targets to McCaffrey will likely be much more successful than targets to other RBs in the past, but the fact is the success rate when targeting running backs in this offense is the same as the frequency:  2nd worst in the NFL.

CAR success rate for RBs

The second big concern I have for McCaffrey also relates to Cam Newton, and it is that Newton isn’t adept at operating the fast-pass offense.  The Panthers have built their offense to Newton’s strengths, and those are deep drops and powerful, deep targets.  His ball placement and short drops on timing routes is not his expertise.  As Andy Benoit, from theMMQB said:

Not only have [the Panthers] built a passing game on deep dropbacks, but they’ve also acquired big, methodical receivers for Newton (Kelvin Benjamin, first round in 2014; Devin Funchess, second round in 2015; Greg Olsen via trade in 2011).  They haven’t selected the Sproles or Cobb type players because those guys don’t fit Newton or the scheme….

To maximize McCaffrey’s value, the Panthers must tweak their scheme in ways it can’t be tweaked.  You don’t just install a bunch of quick-strike throws and execute them on Sunday.  Those plays must be your foundation.  They must be practiced repeatedly.  And they must be executed by a precise quarterback and quicker skill position players.  McCaffrey is Carolina’s only quick skill player.

I agree that these are concerns.  However, I don’t believe that it is time for doom and gloom and that McCaffrey will not work in Carolina.  Far from it.  But we likely won’t see the ceiling for him like he would have in a variety of other offenses.  However, his ceiling in Carolina is higher than it would be on a number of other offenses, as is his floor.

I love what Christian McCaffrey brings to the NFL.  I love what he brings to Carolina.  I love that people may underestimate the amount of efficiency he can bring to an offense.  But he has to be used properly.  OC Mike Shula must figure out how to target him more often than on 13% of Newton’s pass attempts, as he’s done in the past (2nd fewest in the NFL).  In addition to more volume, Shula must design better running back pass options.  Here is where they have a head start:  Lance Taylor was hired from Stanford to be Carolina’s wide receivers coach.  His prior stint?  Stanford’s running backs coach where he helped design the breakout of Christian McCaffrey. Shula must rely on Taylor to help design the offense in Carolina this year.  Additionally, Shula must have Carolina work in more situational tempo with McCaffrey on the field, and line him up in different positions while preventing the defense from substituting in players.  McCaffrey has the potential to keep defensive coordinators up all night trying to figure out how to stop him.  But if Carolina doesn’t use him enough on offense, it is doing them a disservice.  Much like a speedy receiver, if McCaffrey is on the field, the defense must adjust. And even if the play that is called doesn’t involve McCaffrey, it still can be advantage-Carolina’s offense, as the defense is shading too much to limit McCaffrey.

I’m excited to see what McCaffrey can do on the next level.  I outlined a number of stats-based reasons why teams should rely on running back targets more than they do on early downs.  I hope Carolina takes notice and uses him properly.  More teams need to target running backs.  But until other teams do, I hope at least for Carolina’s sake, we see McCaffrey immediately join that still tiny fraternity of tremendous NFL dual-threat running backs.