FanPost

In Defense of T.J. Yeldon

Like many of you, I've watched almost every game during the Saban era, which means I've watched a whole lot of dominant. Like many of you, I've become very accustomed to seeing that dominance, to the degree that I expect to see it week in and week out. This is probably not a realistic attitude to have, but it is somewhat defensible given the ridiculous amount of success we've seen in this program over the last 5 years. Given that #1 recruiting classes keep flowing in, and coaching departures are answered with quality hires, I don't think its unreasonable to expect a stout defense and an efficient (and potentially explosive) offense for the next few years. However, as a fanbase, there's one aspect of play where we've really been spoiled under Saban: ball security.

Among his many stellar accomplishments at Alabama, AJ McCarron wrapped up his career as one of the least-intercepted quarterbacks in NCAA history. Greg McElroy was a little more prone to the errant throw, but certainly no slouch himself. Both of these quarterbacks were, at times, labeled game managers, and a low interception rate is what you expect from a game manager. In McElroy's case, the label was appropriate. In McCarron's case it absolutely was not, and his great decision making was a big part of the Tide's success on the field over the last 3 seasons. That being said, if it's alright with you, I think I will move past the John Parker Wilson era with no comment.

The running backs under Saban have also been pretty careful with the ball. Mark Ingram never fumbled. Ever. Mark Ingram still never fumbles, although at this point that's probably a function of his reduced workload. In that same vein, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy rarely put the ball on the ground while playing for the Tide. While not as ridiculous as these three, some of the earlier backs like Glen Coffee and Roy Upchurch did not have severe fumbling issues either. While no one really stands out from the receivers and returners, they were solid as well. There were many reasons this recent stretch of Alabama football was more dominant than any team since the Nebraska squads of the mid-90s, but taking care of the football was a big one.

Which brings us to T.J. Yeldon. T.J. Yeldon is not Mark Ingram, nor is he Trent Richardson or Eddie Lacy. Unlike those three, who were primarily power backs that piled up absurd yards after contact, Yeldon blends decent power, speed, and burst with excellent patience, vision, and balance. Yeldon gets a lot of yards from elusiveness, and while he can be physical, break tackles and get extra yards, that's not his bread and butter.

T.J. Yeldon also fumbles the ball at a much swifter clip than these guys, and that has been a source of much consternation on this site and others. The question is, is he really that bad, or were his forebears so good that our expectations of him are a bit unreasonable? To find out, I decided to look how frequently the ball gets dropped across college football.

Thanks to the fine folks over at cfbstats.com, fumble data for individual players (which doesn't seem to be tracked by the NCAA/ESPN/SEC etc.) can be sussed out with a little work. What follows is a table of the 10 most frequent fumblers in college football from the 2013 season. I also added Alabama players for reference:

Rank

Name

School

Position

Touches

Touches per Fumble

1

A.J. Schurr

QB

Army

58

8

2

Traylon Shead

RB

SMU

58

12

3

Marquis Warford

RB

Memphis

75

13

4

Justin Thomas

QB

Ga. Tech

50

13

5

Blaire Sullivan

QB

UTEP

61

15

6

Jamarcus Nelson

WR

UAB

79

16

7

JD Falslev

WR

BYU

64

16

8

Ryan Switzer

WR

UNC

67

17

9

Quan Bray

WR

Auburn

51

17

10

Nate Phillips

WR

Arizona

69

17

45

Kenyan Drake

RB

Alabama

105

26

169

T.J. Yeldon

RB

Alabama

227

45

376

Christion Jones

WR

Alabama

83

83

581

AJ McCarron

QB

Alabama

370

370

Average

70

A couple of notes:

- This is looking at fumbles, not fumbles lost. Holding on to the ball and forcing fumbles are both abilities - fumble recovery is highly situational and shakes out to about a 50/50 proposition.

- Only FBS skill players with at least 50 touches for the season are represented. Strangely enough, defensive players don't tend to fumble very often, nor do skill players who aren't heavily involved in the offense (this is why you don't see Kenny Bell or Brian Vogler). This resulted in a "reduced" sample of 533 players.

- Touches includes pass attempts, carries, receptions, punt returns, and kickoff returns.

- I was on the fence about including quarterbacks, since most of their fumbles are from muffed snaps and handoffs. Responsibility for the muff can be difficult to determine without careful review of the play, yet they are almost always credited to the quarterback, which drives up their fumble totals (Nick Marshall led the country with 13 fumbles this year). I ended up running both scenarios, and the average fumble rate was about the same, so I left quarterbacks in for now.

You'll note that Yeldon fumbles more frequently that the average skill player in this group, at one every 45 touches. That's nothing compared to Kenyan Drake, who goes for one every 26 touches, almost twice as often as Yeldon and significantly worse than the average. I suspect his ball security issues played a major role in him not seeing the field as much as his talent and production might otherwise warrant.

For the sake of discussion, lets look at SEC skill players:

Rank

Name

School

Position

Touches

Touches per Fumble

1

Quan Bray

WR

Auburn

51

17

2

Skyler Mornhinweg

QB

Florida

69

23

3

Brian Kimbrow

RB

Vanderbilt

98

25

4

Brandon Williams

RB

TAMU

51

26

5

Jeff Driskel

QB

Florida

78

26

6

Brandon Wilds

RB

S. Carolina

52

26

7

Kenyan Drake

RB

Alabama

105

26

8

Travis Labhart

WR

TAMU

56

28

9

Marcus Lucas

WR

Missouri

58

29

10

Bruce Ellington

WR

S. Carolina

61

31

25

T.J. Yeldon

RB

Alabama

227

45

47

Christion Jones

WR

Alabama

83

83

69

AJ McCarron

QB

Alabama

370

370

Average

72

And finally at just running backs:

Rank

Name

School

Position

Touches

Touches per Fumble

1

Traylon Shead

RB

SMU

58

12

2

Marquis Warford

RB

Memphis

75

13

3

Sadale Foster

RB

Texas Tech

59

20

4

Terrell Newby

RB

Nebraska

62

21

5

Dri Archer

RB

Kent State

95

24

6

Brian Kimbrow

RB

Vanderbilt

98

25

7

Jay Warren

RB

FAU

75

25

8

Brandon Williams

RB

TAMU

51

26

9

Devin Chafin

RB

Baylor

51

26

10

Jarveon Williams

RB

UTSA

51

26

14

Kenyan Drake

RB

Alabama

105

26

65

T.J. Yeldon

RB

Alabama

227

45

Average

78

This last result surprised me a bit - I would have expected running backs to fumble more frequently than any other position, but clearly that is not the case. I may look at a positional breakdown of fumbling in a future post.

Back to Yeldon - is this a major issue? I don't think so. Granted, he's a worse than average fumbler (at least for 2013), but not significantly so (I'm looking at you, Traylon). I think his overall production at the position more than makes up for this, and the bulk of criticism directed toward him is driven by the otherworldly abilities of his predecessors.

The one thing that isn't captured here is probably what you are all thinking: what about fumbling inside the 20? I suspect, based on some preliminary research, that both Yeldon and Drake are extremely bad about this. Determining that from the bulk play-by-play data is going to take a little time, so I'll address that in a future post.

FanPosts are just that; posts created by the fans. They are in no way indicative of the opinions of SBN and the authors of Roll Bama Roll.

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