Bernard Pierce Is a Jaguar: Why It Probably Doesn't Matter

Bernard Pierce has been the second-worst running back in the league during the past three years. A move to Jacksonville won't help.

What a fall it’s been. What a fall indeed. It’s been a banner year for Baltimore Ravens running backs. Ray Rice. Lorenzo Taliaferro was nearly suspended for public intoxication and property damage. Now, Bernard Pierce has been arrested for drunk driving, and was consequently waived/released in response. In an organization typically known for its stability and solidity, this is a huge and disappointing surprise.

My, how “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”.

The real-world issues are serious enough as-is, but the Ravens have another problem thanks to their former employee. Since the Ravens traded up in the 2012 NFL Draft to select him 84th overall, Bernard Pierce has never lived up to his immense potential. He has garnered comparisons as a smaller Adrian Peterson, or even a larger version of his own teammate, Rice. Yet he has never produced even 50% of these two on his best days.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have been looking for a power back for a while to pair with their speed runners in Denard Robinson and Storm Johnson, so they claimed Pierce off of waivers. Will he be worth even rostering, or will the tragic fall into obscurity continue for this former Raven?

Wee, Sleekit, Cow'rin, Tim'rous Beastie

One of the big problems that always existed for Bernard Pierce is a lack of decisiveness in his running style. For a one-cut, zone-style running back, you need patience to wait for a block, but the decisiveness to take the gap once it opens. Pierce demonstrated a little too much of the former and not enough of the latter in his time in Baltimore.

We’ve seen time and time again as Pierce was stifled behind the line and totally ineffective as a receiver, but just how bad has he been during his time in the league? We can find out via numberFire’s signature metric -- Net Expected Points (NEP) -- quantifiably how terrible Jacksonville’s new toy is. NEP is a measure of more than yardage and more than touchdowns; it assigns a value to each play based on how much that play increased the team’s chances of scoring on the drive. Add up all these changes -- measured in expected points -- and you get a fuller picture of a player’s true worth.

The table below shows Pierce’s career over the last three years, represented by his Rushing NEP and Reception NEP scores, as well as his ranks in each category among running backs with at least 100 rushing attempts. How does he stack up?

YearRush NEPRush NEP/PRec NEP
2012-7.24 (24th)-0.07 (t-28th)3.03 (35th)
2013-31.90 (46th)-0.21 (47th)-6.59 (42nd)
2014*-9.28 (34th)-0.10 (t-42nd)0.44 (47th)

Pierce has been pretty god-awful atrocious each of the last three years, ranking second-to-last in Rushing NEP ahead of only Ray Rice in 2013, and the bottom half of high-volume rushers in both 2012 and 2014. On a per-attempt basis, he’s been even worse in Rushing NEP, somehow becoming the worst rusher in the league in 2013, and dropping from at all acceptable to vomit-inducing in 2012 and 2014. He’s been absolutely useless as a receiver, too, falling to the bottom 10 of qualified runners in each year.

As JJ Zachariason, Editor-in-Chief of numberFire, notes in his recent write-up of the ineffectiveness and futility of Darren McFadden in the NFL: “Over the last three seasons, DMC has accumulated a -80.62 Rushing NEP total, which is over 30 expected points worse than the second-worst rusher, Bernard Pierce. The dot in the plot above who ranks third-to-last, for those wondering (or can't see), is none other than Chris Johnson.”

Yeah. Bernard Pierce has been worse than Chris Johnson in the last three years and just a shade less of a waste of touches than Darren McFadden. That’s how bad he is.

Thou Art No Thy Lane

For some reason, though, names often carry more weight than production in the NFL. Those who were ever once rumored to have potential and haven’t realized it somehow still have this magical potential tucked away somewhere. Think about how many of your fantasy leaguemates draft McFadden every year, certain that this season will be the one that he stays healthy.

This is apparently the same logic that Jaguars’ brass is applying to their personnel decisions, as we’ve seen quite clearly that Bernard Pierce is hardly worth printing a new jersey for, let alone putting out on the field. Or is he? How bad were the Jaguars’ runners last year, and might that be playing into their decision to grab Pierce off the waiver wire?

The table below shows the same information as the previous table, but with Pierce compared to the main running backs in Jacksonville last year, Denard Robinson and Toby Gerhart. Will he even provide acceptable depth for this team?

PlayerRush NEPRush NEP/PRec NEP
Toby Gerhart-14.00 (41st)-0.14 (t-47th)11.86 (16th)
Bernard Pierce-9.28 (34th)-0.10 (t-42nd)0.44 (47th)
Denard Robinson -10.42 (36th)-0.08 (t-37th)4.05 (35th)

The data seems to indicate that each of Jacksonville’s current higher-volume backs bring a different quality to the table. While Pierce brought the most total rushing value (by Rushing NEP), Robinson was the most efficient on a per-attempt basis (by Rushing NEP per attempt), and Gerhart was the most valuable receiving back (by Reception NEP). Genuinely, the three are all simply shades of terrible different from each other, with only the varying levels of (in)adequacy in the receiving game separating.

Pierce’s resume indicates that he should be on absolutely no roster anywhere. When you are 94th out of 95 running backs in value over the last three years, you should at best be a camp body. His rushing alone has lost the Ravens 50 expected points over that span of time, and he has done absolutely nothing to contribute to the passing game. Based on his metrics, he will at best be a volume-rushing two down back, but Robinson is at least marginally better in this aspect. Odds are that Jacksonville will come to its senses soon enough, and Pierce will be back on the wire.

It can’t happen soon enough.