Monday, November 15, 2010

Bad, Bad Lomas Brown

Many years ago, when one of the authors was editing one of the very first fantasy-sports magazines to grace the planet, he made the seemingly insane proposal that offensive linemen should be drafted onto fantasy teams. Yes, offensive linemen, and linebackers, and while we're at it, why not punters?

The sticking point in such a marvelous idea, of course, is how you measure the effectiveness of an offensive lineman. If a running back can turn nothing into 20, a la Barry Sanders, then the offensive line, in the words of the ol' Duke, bastes in the glory of the running back. If the running back makes three yards out of five, like Darryl Thompson, the line could run Munoz to Mix, tackle to tackle, and those five yards still come out three.

The answer is to look at the averages of all the players who run the ball for a team in a given season, not just the star running back. If you average Barry Sanders' five yards per carry with Touchdown Tommy Vardell's four yards and Cory Schlesinger's 1.8, you get an average of around 3 yards, which isn't that great in the panoply of great rushing years -- even for the Lions, who have had their years rushing and then not.

This approach has its problems, notably this: One of the reasons the Lions ran Barry Sanders 40 times a game was because the alternatives were Schlesinger and Vardell, who posed not quite the breakaway threat of a Dairy Queen. But even so, taking this approach points out an interesting truth about the Barry Sanders-era Lions: They were a team that ran the ball a lot but were not a good running team because they did not have a very good line. 

And that leads us to Lomas Brown. Brown was Barry Sanders' best blocker and made the Pro Bowl enough times for Brown to qualify as a borderline HOFer. But was he really? Sanders was renowned for making something out of nothing, and for there to be nothing there had to be an absence of something, namely holes to run through. The lack of holes to run through is the line's fault, and that means Lomas Brown.

So what we ultimately have with Lomas Brown is someone who was perceived as a very good lineman yet who was not good enough to consistently create the semblance of holes for the best running back in football history.

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