Can Chris Ivory Improve the Jacksonville Jaguars' Offense?
Whenever your mom gave you allowance back in the day, you felt like the swaggiest kid in the room. You had a little extra dip in your step, knowing that you had money to burn.
The Jacksonville Jaguars just got their allowance, and they're letting that swag show.
After entering free agency with $82.2 million in cap space, the Jaguars continued to build the offense around third-year quarterback Blake Bortles. This time, they've inked former New York Jets running back Chris Ivory to a reported five-year deal. That's nothing to sneeze at for a running back entering his age-28 season.
Can Ivory live up to the deal and help take the offense to the next level? Let's take a look, using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) -- the metric we use to track the efficiency of teams and players -- with the team totals being adjusted based on strength of opponent.
The reason we use NEP as opposed to something such as yards per carry is that not all two-yard gains are created equally. If a guy picks up two yards on 3rd and 1, he likely increased his team's expected point total for the drive, which gives him positive NEP. If that run comes on 3rd-and-3, they likely have to punt, decreasing their expected point total. NEP can better allow us to illustrate whether or not a player did the job the team asked him to.
Based on this, let's look at Ivory to see what he'll be brining to the table in Jacksonville.
An Inconsistent 2015
Ivory got his year started with a bang in 2015, notching 460 yards and 4 touchdowns over the first four games. That resulted in 11.45 Rushing NEP (0.14 Rushing NEP per carry), and his Success Rate (the percentage of plays on which he had a positive NEP) was 46.99 percent. Both of those marks were well above average, and it looked like Ivory was bound for a breakout season.
The rest of the year didn't quite live up to that hype.
His final 164 carries resulted in -29.52 Rushing NEP and a 31.71 percent Success Rate. Instead of posting some of the best numbers, he was at the bottom of the barrel. Sub-Gucci.
When the dust settled, Ivory finished the season ranked 35th in Rushing NEP per carry of the 44 running backs with at least 100 carries. He was also 31st in Success Rate of that same group.
What caused this downturn?
You could attempt to pin the blame on an injury to right guard Willie Colon. He was able to start six of the first seven games before a knee injury landed him on injured reserve, forcing third-year guard Brian Winters into the starting lineup.
That argument loses water when you look at the Jets' directional numbers. They were 21st in the league in success rate when rushing right -- even after Colon's injury -- while ranking 25th going left and 29th up the middle.
Additionally, Bilal Powell was running behind the same offensive line, but he still posted better numbers than Ivory. He had -0.01 Rushing NEP per carry and a 38.57 percent Success Rate, both of which exceeded Ivory's season-long marks. There's not a whole lot cooking if we're trying to blame the line.
Ivory has a reputation of being plagued by injuries, and 2015 really wasn't much different. He did appear on the injury report nine different times, though he only missed one game. Four of those games in which he played while on the injury report, though, were the four when he excelled. It's possible he was dinged up the entire season, but it's hard to find a true root cause of Ivory's struggles.
If I were the Jaguars, this would all make me a bit nervous. Sure, they've got cash to burn, but they would likely be able to spend it on someone with higher utility than an ineffective, older back, right?
This argument would change if running back were a true need for the team. It's just hard to tell whether or not that's actually the case.
Digging Into T.J. Yeldon's Rookie Numbers
It would be hard to look at T.J. Yeldon's rookie numbers and say that he was the bona fide solution at the position. However, they may be a bit better than they look on the surface.
Yeldon took home a 30th-place finish in Rushing NEP per carry in 2015 (remember, Ivory was 35th). He was also 39th in Success Rate, which lagged behind Ivory, only besting five other qualified backs. This would seem to justify a change at the position with Yeldon failing to live up to his second-round billing.
The difference between Yeldon and Ivory is that Yeldon did outperform the team's other options who were running in the same conditions.
The table below compares Yeldon's season to the numbers posted by the rest of the running backs on the team. It would lead you to believe that the problems ran deeper than just Yeldon.
|Running Back||Carries||Rushing NEP per Carry||Success Rate|
|Other Jaguars Backs||144||-0.25||33.33%|
This does a couple of things. First, it makes Yeldon look a lot better than his numbers did without the context. Second, it does show that the Jags likely needed some help at running back. That doesn't necessarily justify the Ivory signing, though.
When you're giving a running back a five-year deal, it would make sense that you would try to give him a chance to succeed. However, by doing so, you'll be taking away from Yeldon, who may actually be an okay player if given a halfway decent offensive line. We have no reason right now to believe that Ivory can be more successful in this situation than Yeldon, so allocating resources and carries his way is a bit of a risky proposition.
It seems as if the Jaguars' true need here is up front. They have drafted an offensive lineman within the first 93 picks each of the past three years, including taking Luke Joeckel second overall in 2013. However, the offense still doesn't appear to have found the complete solution. A failing offensive line would largely nullify any improvements at running back, and it's not definitive that Ivory provides even that.
It's entirely possible that Ivory's struggles in 2015 were due to injuries. It also could have been ineffective play up front. However, the data doesn't quite back that up, and that makes this signing a bit confusing.
Ivory did not outperform his own teammates in 2015 while Yeldon did. Ivory is entering his age-28 season, and Yeldon doesn't turn 23 until October. Where's the advantage in bring Ivory on board?
At the end of the day, the Jaguars need to spend money, meaning the opportunity cost -- right now -- of signing Ivory isn't as big for them as it would be for other teams. And it won't necessarily prohibit them from improving the offensive line.
These factors combine to make the signing understandable for the Jaguars as they did also need better options in the backfield. However, it doesn't prevent it from being more than a little puzzling, especially if it limits the team from seeing what Yeldon can do in his second season.
When we've got our pockets lined with newly-found cash, we tend to be a bit more cavalier in our spending habits. It would be unfair to label the Jaguars this way as they clearly know what they're doing. It's just hard to see the true reasoning behind this signing based on the metrics both Ivory and Yeldon posted last year.