Willie Parker Investigation

I drafted Willie Parker. Fantasy experts, most notably the certifiable (in a good way) Taz, think he’s in for a statistical fall. Yes, that’s Taz trying to look like an “edgy” Dylan McDermott in the Dark Blue ads.

I thought he was a player worth investigating. Did I make a colossal mistake drafting him as my RB2 with pick 6.02 in a redraft?

Let’s see what the numbers say.

Willie Parker started 11 games last year. He missed five games with knee and shoulder concerns. Any time a back misses time, especially one getting into his late 20s, there are concerns that he’s lost it. He alleviated concerns with a 146-yard performance in the divisional playoffs against the Chargers. Let’s forget the sub-par numbers in the AFC Championship and Super Bowl.

While the Steelers drafted Rashard Mendenhall as the potential stud back of the future, and Mewelde Moore filled in brilliantly when Mendenhall went shoulder-to-shoulder with Ray Lewis and lost, Parker was the man again when he returned.
Let’s look at the Steeler run game as a whole. The offensive line was not stalwart. While the team was 9th in rushing attempts, the Stillers were 29th in yards per attempt. Parker averaged 3.8 yards an attempt. As a fill-in, Moore averaged 4.2 yards an attempt. Mendenhall was much worse, but he only had 19 attempts in two games.

There’s reason for optimism. The Steelers averaged 4, 4.2, and 4.2 yards per attempt in the past three seasons. Last year’s 460 attempts was the lowest in four years. In 2007, when the offense was better as a whole, the team had 51 more attempts. That’s good if you want Parker.

Parker has two 300-carry seasons. Can he do it again? 300 carries averages to about 19 per game. Can the Steelers give Parker 18 carries and save 5-10 for the shiny new Mendenhall in the garage? Sure. Before Parker got hurt, Moore was mainly a kick returner who never saw the backfield.

You can impress your leaguemates by pointing out that Parker had the fewest catches of a starting RB last year. Michael Turner and Brandon Jacobs had six catches, which is just pathetic. Parker had three. Yep, just three more than I had. Should that be a concern for 2009? Parker is not a guy to target in PPR leagues, although yards and touchdowns do, and he’ll be fine on both counts. Parker caught 23 passes in 2007, which is better than three, right? Moore may be the third-down back. I don’t see Mendenhall in that role.

What about the goal-line role? Gary Russell was that guy last year, and he’s gone. So it’s between Mendenhall and Parker. It’s hard to count on Parker as a big TD guy, since in four years as a starter he has 5, 16, 2, and 5 touchdowns. What looks like the outlier there? Also, the Steelers were a bottom-half offense last year. It didn’t stop them from winning the Super Bowl.

Parker should be a solid starter. Think 280/1150/6 with 20/140 receiving. Is that a RB2? Last year’s #18 running back, according to my local keeper league, was Kevin Smith. He finished with 239/975/8 and 39/286. Yeah, I just talked myself into the pick. I hope Mendenhall continues being a underdeveloped spread running back.

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