This is my first blog here at ‘NST. But, if you’ve listened to the “Sunday Morning Blitz” with Rex Snider and me (10am-12pm on WNST), then you are well aware that I am a bit of a number cruncher. If you haven’t heard us on Sunday, you should make it a point to do so !!!!
In this introductory blog, I’m going to examine what I will call the “Lorenzo Neal effect.” It’s somewhat difficult to quantify how good a fullback actually is since he rarely has the opportunity to accumulate personal stats. Therefore, the next best thing is to look at the runner behind him and their production. Keep in mind, I am only looking at running back production, and at this time I’m leaving out the importance of pass protection, which is equally important to a productive offense.
From 1997-2007, Lorenzo Neal played on 5 teams and in each and every season, he was the blocking force in front of a 1,000 yard rusher. The list includes Adrian Murrell, Warrick Dunn, Eddie George, Corey Dillon, and Ladainian Tomlinson. Pretty impressive, huh? You bet.
We know these backs were very productive with Neal paving the road ahead of them. But what happened when he left for another team? The evidence of his true value is reflected in the production of these same players in a “Post-Neal” era.
Adrian Murrell gets tossed from the equation since he is the only player who left for another team the same year as Neal left.
In 1998, Warrick Dunn ran for 1026 yards (4.2 avg), with Neal. A year later, in 1999, Dunn’s production was reduced to 616 yards (3.2 avg.), without Neal sharing the backfield. As a result, Dunn, a smaller finesse back, played in 15 games and began to lose many of his carries to a more effective Mike Alstott.
In 1999, Neal went to Tennessee to block for Eddie George, who was already a Pro-Bowler. George rushed for 1304 yards (4.1 avg, career high) in 1999, and had his best year as a 5th year pro in 2000, with 1509 yards (3.7 avg) and 14 TD’s. In 2001, when Neal left town, Eddie George started 16 games but only totaled 939 yards with a dismal 3.0 yard average.
In 2001, Neal joined Cincinnati and supported the ground game of Corey Dillon, who averaged over 4 yards per carry and 1300 yards over two seasons. While these numbers were on par with what Dillon had done in previous campaigns, his production dipped upon Neal’s eventual departure. In 2003, without Neal, Dillon started 11 games and collected just 541 yards, which led to his way out of Cincinnati.
The San Diego Chargers brought Neal aboard in 2003, to lead the way for Ladainian Tomlinson, who already had two standout years under his belt. With Neal leading the way for five seasons, Tomlinson averaged 1546 yards and 18 TD’s, at an outstanding 4.7 yards, per carry. Going into 2008, LT2 showed no signs of slowing down. But, the Chargers opted to let Neal go, in favor of younger players, such as Mike Tolbert and Jacob Hester. After 13 games, Tomlinson is on a pace for 1089 yards and has his lowest YPC average (3.7), since his rookie season. Note, his rookie season was also without Lorenzo Neal.
In 2008, the Ravens picked up Neal in mid-August, due to his relationship with Cam Cameron, from their San Diego days. Unfortunately, the streak of 11 straight years blocking for a 1000 yard rusher appears to be over for Neal, as the Ravens have adopted a TEAM concept with three backs sharing carries.
But, it seems fitting that a “team player” such as Neal, who often flies under the radar should lose that streak in such a manner. That being said, it is hard to ignore the impact he has had as the Ravens are currently third in rushing yards, which is up from 16th in 2007.
Ironically, the Ravens are led by Le’Ron McClain, who was only given the opportunity to carry the ball 8 times, last season. The question is what happens when Neal leaves? Let’s just hope he has another productive season or two left in him before we have to find out.