From the Archives: A Statistical View of FB Deon Anderson’s Importance
By Jonathan Bales
With training camp on the horizon, I wanted to reexamine an old study I completed on the importance of fullback Deon Anderson. Anderson’s future in Dallas is cloudy with possible gun charges looming. Is his skill level vital enough to the Cowboys to justify his stay on a suddenly squeaky clean roster?
The emergence of rookie John Phillips in 2009 seemed to be a road block in Anderson’s progress. If Phillips’ blocking was at all comparable to Anderson’s, the versatility and pass-catching skill he exhibits might make him a better fit as an H-back type hybrid player. Thus, the Cowboys could exit training camp without a true fullback on the roster.
As always, I dove into my film study database to determine just how valuable Deon Anderson was this past season in both the running and passing games. The results were rather shocking.
Deon Anderson’s blocking ability, it appears, was sorely under-appreciated, especially by me. Meanwhile, John Phillips’ youth shown through, as he was quite over-matched in the run game.
Anderson was on the field for 294 plays in 2009, while Phillips was in the Cowboys’ offensive package on 141 plays (a breakdown of each player’s plays-per-game is above). Below is a chart detailing the effectiveness of each player. Note that the sample size of plays for each player is large enough that we can discern meaningful, statistically-significant conclusions.
As you can see, the yards-per-rush for the Cowboys when Deon Anderson was in the ball game was significantly better than when Phillips was in the lineup. Anderson’s 5.6 average is even more impressive when considering the large sample size of 221 rushes.
Further, defenses are even more likely to be in a “jumbo” package (the big boys) with Anderson in the game, knowing the Cowboys pass the ball less than one-fourth of the time he is in the lineup. The fact that Dallas still managed 5.6 yards-per-carry against the defenses’ best run-stoppers is stunning.
Phillips’ average of 3.7 yards-per-rush is particularly poor for a team that rushed the ball so well over the course of the season, and the sample size of 92 runs is large enough for us to conclude that the 1.9 yards-per-carry difference is due to a significant drop-off in blocking ability from Anderson to Phillips.
Perhaps even more surprising than these results, however, is the fact that the team’s yards-per-pass average was higher with Deon Anderson in the lineup. While the .23 yard difference may be negligible, the fact that Deon Anderson provided the necessary protection to average the same yards-per-pass as a pass-catching threat like Phillips is meaningful.
While Phillips did snag seven balls (targeted nine times) for 62 yards (as opposed to Anderson’s one catch for 5 yards), his blocking ability is not yet refined enough to force opposing defenses to stay in their base personnel when he is in the game. The team’s slightly better yards-per-pass average when Anderson is in the game also shows that his pass blocking makes up for this drop-off in receiving skills.
Thus, we must conclude that Deon Anderson’s blocking ability in both the running and passing games makes him a much better option at fullback than John Phillips at this time. This is not to say, of course, that Phillips will not improve and become a better blocker, as he was only a rookie last season. Phillips appears to have the work ethic and demeanor necessary to improve his game, but right now Deon Anderson, contrary to first glance, is much more valuable than any of us had thought.