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Just The Sports: Willie Parker's UNC Career

Just The Sports

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Willie Parker's UNC Career

Peter King wrote the following quote in his Monday Morning Quarterback column, but I could not get around to refuting it until now so that is what I will do.

a. The stupidity of the former University of North Carolina coaching staff that buried Willie Parker on the depth chart is on display every time he runs the ball. If you didn't play Parker, Tar Heels braintrust, you obviously had Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and O.J. Simpson ahead of him.


This is a common sentiment of NFL observers who have no idea what they are talking about. The first problem with thinking this way is college coaches are under no pressure to play players based on their future professional careers and only need to play the best players at the time. If coaches did play players based on what King and others think they should, then there would have been no reason for Tom Brady to split snaps with Drew Henson. There was no reason otherwise, but that is another issue.

The second problem with wondering why Willie Parker didn't play is that none of these people have actually taken the time to do any research on the matter. It is infuriating that paid sports journalists can get away but such laziness, but I am really in no position to change things at the moment. While I attended UNC, I watched Willie Parker first-hand and I remember nothing impressive about his play or his collegiate career, but I wanted to make sure he was as unimpressive as I thought he was by going back and looking at the play-by-play data available on ESPN.com. Unfortunately, I could only find it for the years 2002 and 2003, but I think those two years are enough to demonstrate my point.

In 2002, Willie Parker was the second leading rusher for UNC behind Jacque Lewis's 574 yards, more than twice Parker's season total. Parker was third among the top running backs in yards per carry behind Lewis and Mahlon Carey so he certainly did nothing to wow the spectators when he did run the ball. More importantly, Parker was the least successful running back the Tarheels gave 50 carries to that season after applying Football Outsider's definitions of a successful running play. Now, I could not find play-by-play data for Parker's best game of the season when he rushed for 79 yards on 13 carries against the then Syracuse Orangemen, but even if I had given him credit for a successful run on each of those 13 carries, he still would have had the lowest success rate among the top three running backs.

The following year, 2003, was more of the same for Parker because he again had the lowest success rate on a team with a very strong running game. Of the top four running backs, Parker was the only one with a success rate under 50%. Even Darian Durant, UNC's quarterback, proved himself to have more success on running plays than did Parker. Forgive me for not thinking the UNC coaching staff to be stupid when they had more than capable runners, all of whom were better in college than Willie Parker.

A counterpoint could be made that Parker would have had more success with more regular time at running back, but why do that when there is nothing to be fixed with the team's rushing attack. We should just call it what it is. Willie Parker is a late bloomer who found himself with a team with an excellent offensive line and who is probably not a running back who can run on all three downs, but we will see how he does with that this year.

It should be noted that success rate does not tell the entire story of a running back's prowess, but when couple with having a lower yards per carry average than his running back mates, I feel safe in saying UNC made no mistake in not playing Willie Parker more.

Also, don't forget Willie Parker went completely undrated so maybe everyone who had a draft pick in 2004 was stupid, too.

2 Comments:

  • what do ya think of willie now?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:12 PM  

  • Excellent article - this is curious. I noticed that Willie Parker did not mention UNC on MNF when they went through the roster.

    By Anonymous jeremy m, at 11:26 PM  

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