The Packers' Trade for Knile Davis Only Magnifies Eddie Lacy's Importance
It's not often that you can justify panic for a top-10 NFL team, but that's where we are with the Green Bay Packers as we head into Week 7 of the 2016 NFL season.
Green Bay, according to our nERD metric, is 3.16 points better than an average team on a neutral field, which ranks them 10th in the NFL. They're a good notch above 11th-ranked Washington at 2.37.
Despite all of their issues on offense, they still possess a top-10 unit, per our opponent-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) per play metric, which indicates how well a team performs above expectation in terms of adding points to the scoreboard.
But with injuries to running backs James Starks, who is out for four weeks, and Eddie Lacy, who missed Monday's practice with an ankle issue, the team turned to the trade market, bringing in Knile Davis from the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Green Bay offense needs to turn things around, but getting Davis involved would only make things worse.
In 2013, Davis' rookie season, he saw 70 carries. He posted a Rushing NEP per carry rate of -0.12, which was significantly worse than the league average mark of -0.03. This efficiency ranked him 51st among 57 backs with at least 70 carries.
Only 20 of his 70 carries increased Kansas City's expected point total, giving him a Rushing Success Rate of 28.57%, worst in the 57-running-back subset.
In 2014, Davis' attempts nearly doubled, and he toted the ball 134 times. His per-carry Rushing NEP dropped to -0.16, worst among 43 backs with at least 100 carries. His 31.34% Success Rate was again worst in the group.
We can't compare him to Jamaal Charles from a talent perspective, but we can get a feel for whether or not the offense was an issue for Davis and backs of a higher pedigree by looking into Charles' numbers.
Charles posted a Rushing NEP per play of 0.05 and 0.11 in 2013 and 2014, respectively, and Success Rates of 46.15% and 48.29%, respectively. Charles thrived in the same situation in which Davis performed like, perhaps, the worst running back in the league.
And when Charles tore his ACL in 2015, we got to see Davis compare to players who aren't one of the best running backs of all time.
Last year, though, Davis mustered just 28 carries, again dropping his Rushing NEP (somehow) to -0.18 on a Success Rate of 28.57%.
Teammate Charcandrick West flirted with the league-average rate of -0.04 Rushing NEP per carry on 162 totes and posted an above-average Success Rate of 41.25% (the league average was roughly 39%).
Spencer Ware, on 72 carries, balled out with a Rushing NEP per carry of 0.20 and a Success Rate of 50.00%.
Davis has consistently underperformed with the Chiefs, and we shouldn't expect that to change in Green Bay.
Eddie Lacy Is Way Better Than James Starks
I don't mean to be dismissive, but the signing of Knile Davis really just highlights the importance of Eddie Lacy in this offense, something that sounds outdated in the current NFL.
Among 61 running backs with at least 20 carries in 2016, Lacy ranks 10th in Rushing NEP per carry at 0.08. James Starks' -0.51 ranks last. By about a mile. Shaun Draughn's -0.32 and Adrian Peterson's -0.29 are the only other marks below -0.21.
Success Rate? Forget about it. Only 3 of Starks' 24 carries have increased Green Bay's scoring odds, giving him a Rushing Success Rate of 12.50% that makes Davis' efficiency look Hall-of-Fame worthy.
Lacy, meanwhile, has posted an above-average Success Rate of 40.85%. And as the context shifts (i.e. from short-yardage touchdown chances to 1st-and-10), the definition of "success" shifts, so we can't say that Lacy is merely benefitting from better situations.
He's outperformed Starks over his career, too, quite noticeably.
|Career||Rushes||Rushing NEP||Rushing NEP/P||Successes||Success Rate|
Lacy is the only option who is an above-average rusher, and the addition of Davis only magnifies his importance to this Green Bay offense.
The Packers rank 16th in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play this year, and that's bogged down by Starks' inefficiencies, as Lacy has been a top-10 rusher, and Aaron Rodgers ranks 3rd in Rushing NEP among quarterbacks.
Simply put, the passing offense in Green Bay has been average at best, ranking 17th in Adjusted Passing NEP per play, and they need to turn things around. But if they have to rely on Knile Davis rather than Eddie Lacy for any extended time, the Packers -- despite the 11th-best defense in football -- will actually need to start worrying.