Tuesday, October 23, 2007

2007, A Bad Year For Auburn Backs In The NFL

When Ronnie Brown went down with a torn ACL on Sunday most of the talk centered around how big of a blow it was to an already awful Miami Dolphins team. Brown had become the lone bright spot on a team doing its best(or maybe worst) to avoid going 0-16. With him out for the season, that task becomes even more difficult. One thing that hasn't been talked about much, at least I haven't heard it discussed, is how bad of a year this has been for former Auburn Tigers running backs.

Here is the list of backs that lead Auburn in rushing yards since the year 2000:

2000: Rudi Johnson
2001, 2003, 2004: Cadillac Williams
2002: Ronnie Brown
2005, 2006: Kenny Irons

Now, let's take a look at what's happened to them this year.

Kenny Irons was the most recently drafted of the four on the list, taken in the second round of the '07 draft, and he was also the first to get hurt in 2007. Irons tore his ACL during a preseason game on August 9, and was subsequently placed on I.R.

Rudi Johnson was the next to get hit by the injury bug, leaving the Bengals' week three game against the Seahawks with a strained hamstring. That injury has forced him to miss two games, and only receive four carries in another game. As of right now, it's unclear when he'll return to the lineup, and he probably won't be 100% for the rest of the season.

Cadillac Williams was the third former Auburn back to be injured, and the second to sustain a serious knee injury. Williams tore his patellar tendon during the team's week four game against Carolina, and was placed on I.R. the following Tuesday.

Ronnie Brown was the latest former Tigers back to suffer a devastating knee injury this season. He tore his ACL during Miami's week seven game against the Patriots, and has been put on I.R. as well.

So, that's four former Auburn running backs that lead the school in rushing at some point that have had injuries force them to miss time this season. With three of them ending up on injured reserve. What the heck is going on?

There are two possibilities that I've come up with so far, outside of it just being freak occurences. The first is that maybe Auburn rushes the ball a significant amount of times, which leads to wear and tear on their running backs. Let's see how they stack up against the rest of nation in terms of carries per year from '00-'06.

2000: 462 carries/ 12 games/ ranked 38th nationally
2001: 437 carries/ 11 games/ ranked 61st
2002: 563 carries/ 13 games/ ranked 25th
2003: 541 carries/ 13 games/ ranked 29th
2004: 553 carries/ 13 games/ ranked 29th
2005: 481 carries/ 12 games/ ranked 25th
2006: 470 carries/ 13 games/ ranked 47th

While those averages might seem a bit high, remember that the starter in each season wasn't taking every rush attempt. In '00 Rudi Johnson got 349 of the total 462 carries. His average that year was roughly 26 carries per game, which isn't abnormally high. For the rest of the seasons the carries broke down like this:

2001: Williams, 14 carries/game
2002: Brown, 15 carries/game
2003: Williams, 19 carries/game
2004: Williams, 19 carries/game
2005: Irons, 22 carries/game
2006: Irons, 18 carries/game

As you can see, outside of Johnson's 26 per game average in '00 the numbers aren't that high. Though, as a running back you are getting hit just about every time you touch the ball, and those tackles do add up quickly.

The only other possibility that I could come up with is that some portion of the Tigers' training regime makes their backs more prone to injury over the course of their football career. However, I'm not nearly familiar enough with their training program to speculate much on that.

One thing I would suggest, however is that NFL teams be a bit more cautious when considering signing or drafting a running back from Auburn in the near future. Whether it's training, bad luck or a combination of factors 2007 has not been kind to them.

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