Should Stevan Ridley Have a Gig By Now?
A lot of NFL backfields will look different in 2015. We've already seen DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews move to Philadelphia, Frank Gore sign with Indianapolis, Reggie Bush join Carlos Hyde in San Francisco, Shane Vereen go to the Giants, and CJ Spiller be added to the Saints, among plenty of other moves.
Surprisingly, there's still a 26-year-old rusher out there who once ran for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns in a single season. That player is Stevan Ridley.
Why hasn't the free agent found a team yet? Why are players like Trent Richardson finding homes while Ridley still sits on the market?
Looking at the numbers, I'm not entirely sure.
Here at numberFire, we use a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP) to help evaluate how good or bad a player performs. Why? Because traditional statistics don't tell you a lot of the story -- a three-yard gain on 3rd-and-3 is a much bigger deal than a three-yard gain on 3rd-and-10. One picks up a first down, while the other still leaves a team in the exact same position.
One is a positive play, while the other simply isn't.
That's what NEP is all about -- it examines the impact each player makes on the football field versus expectation. You can read more about it in our glossary.
Rushing is less effective than passing, and since both are being related to expectation, passing (and receiving) numbers are naturally higher than rushing ones. While most quarterbacks see positive NEP values, a lot of running backs see negative ones. It's especially common for a high-volume back to see a negative Rushing NEP total, as he's consistently getting little gains with each tote.
Got it? Good. Now let's take a look at Stevan Ridley.
Below are Ridley's numbers in terms of NEP during his NFL career, along with his Success Rate scores (measures the percentage of runs that contribute positively towards a player's NEP).
|Year||Rush NEP||Rush NEP per Rush||Success Rate|
I'm sure these numbers don't mean much at face value, so here's some context: among all 50-plus attempt seasons we've seen from running backs since 2011 (285 of them), the average Rushing NEP per rush has been -0.02. Again, this is because rushing is less effective than passing -- that's why it's lower than zero.
Ridley's hit or been at that mark in three of his four NFL seasons, including last year, which was shortened by injury (more on that in a second). In truth, Ridley's per rush numbers have been really impressive, especially the first two seasons of his career. Among the group of 285 backs, just 71 seasons saw a Rushing NEP per rush average of 0.03 or better. That's 75th percentile work from Ridley.
What's more impressive about Ridley's analytical profile, though, is his Success Rate numbers. The Success Rate among all 50-plus attempt backs since 2011 has been 41.85%. Ridley's destroyed that mark in all four NFL seasons, meaning he's making positive plays at a higher rate than most running backs in the league.
In fact, the 46.63% mark Ridley posted in 2013 -- despite such a poor Rushing NEP per play, which was skewed a bit due to two defensive touchdowns being scored off of his fumbles -- ranked 60th best among the 285-player subset. And that was just an ordinary year for the ex-Pats' rusher.
The biggest downside with Ridley is his pass-catching ability. In New England, he caught a grand total of 23 passes (gross), and he was insanely inefficient on those receptions. The average Reception NEP per target (a fancy way of showing efficiency for a receiver) among backs since 2011 has been 0.31. Ridley's average? 0.02.
The fortunate piece to this is that teams can -- and will -- often have a pass-catching specialist out of the backfield, which is exactly what New England had in Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen when Ridley was taking the bulk of the team's carries. So not all is lost because he can't catch the football well.
Against Other Free Agent Backs
Another point to make, too, is that Ridley's rushing numbers are much better than some of the other free agent backs who have already found teams this offseason. Take a look at the players below who have found new teams through free agency, as well as their Rushing NEP per rush averages over the last four years -- years that Stevan Ridley has been in the NFL.
|Rushing NEP||Rushing NEP per Rush|
I've excluded Reggie Bush and CJ Spiller from the list simply because their new roles are more than likely going to be receiving focused, meaning Rushing NEP numbers are less important. I also want to note that DeAngelo Williams' numbers are dramatically better thanks to an impressive 2011 campaign -- without it, his Rushing NEP per rush average would be a measly -0.04.
But among this list of players, you can see that Ridley, based on numbers alone, should probably be on a team by now. Certain players have particular skill sets that make them attractive off the market -- like Frank Gore's pass protection abilities -- but in general, it's hard to fathom why a team would go for players like Trent Richardson or Darren McFadden over Ridley, health aside.
The Fumble Narrative
We all know the story: Stevan Ridley likes to put the pigskin on the ground, and Bill Belichick likes to bench him for doing so. Or, at least, that's how the narrative goes.
There's really nothing to it though. According to SportingCharts.com, of the running backs with 50-plus carries in 2011, Ridley's fumble rate ranked 27th, tied with Chris Johnson. In 2012, on 290 carries, Ridley's rate of fumbling was actually better than LeSean McCoy's and Jamaal Charles'. In 2013, the year he was dinged most in Rushing NEP thanks to defensive touchdowns being scored off of his mistakes, 200-plus attempt rushers Reggie Bush, CJ Spiller, Rashard Mendenhall and Alfred Morris all fumbled the ball at a higher rate than Ridley did.
Oh, and last year, guess how many times Stevan Ridley put the ball on the ground on 94 attempts? Zero.
No, his "fumbling issue" isn't the reason Ridley is still a free agent. If it is, then NFL teams aren't even close to doing their jobs well.
The real reason, I'd assume, is because of the injury he sustained last year -- a torn ACL and MCL, which ended his season early.
But at this point in time, Ridley makes for the perfect low-cost, high-upside signing. He's proven to be effective with a large ground-game role. He's not a fumbling machine like many believe he is. He's a good, solid running back, and when you look at depth charts around the NFL (Atlanta, Tennessee, Dallas, Arizona, San Diego, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville), you have to wonder why team's aren't making the move to sign him.
If nothing else, even if he's not 100 percent at the start, you know he's better than Trent Richardson.