It's difficult, as dedicated, passionate fans, to divorce ourselves from our preconceived ideas about the players who compete in the games we love. We tend to form opinions and tend to clutch onto them ferociously - sometimes, even, in the face of evidence that supports a reality that is decidedly different from the belief itself.
It's a tendency that is generally harmless among fans, but potentially crippling to sports executives. What, then, do we make of the numbers Blitzburgh provided us with below, regarding Verron Haynes. Our eyes (and our hearts) tell us that he's been great for the Steelers, but now his role may be changing with the team, and it's important that we properly evaluate whether he's up to the task.
The numbers speak for themselves, obviously. According to Football Outsiders metrics, Haynes has been well below average. But now, with Jerome Bettis retiring, and Deuce Staley's health always a question mark, Haynes may be a bigger part of the running game. I think that we have to think of Haynes role more in comparison with The Bus than with Fast Willie Parker. To compare Parker and Haynes isn't particularly instructive, but comparing Haynes and Bettis is.
Why? Because The Bus was often used in precisely the way that we believe Haynes has been successful - getting the yards that were required, but not much else. When Bettis came in for all those goal line or short-yardage carries, everyone in the stadium knew what was coming. How did he perform?
By FO's metrics, very well. He achived a success rate of 51% with a VOA of 12.8%. As noted below, Haynes' numbers simply don't approach anything near that level of success. His role was different than the Bus's role was, but the similarities are relevant, and should make us ask whether he's cut out for this role.
I'm skeptical. Haynes' numbers just don't add up with what many of us (myself included, prior to this study) thought of his abilities. The point was made that his ability to block should not be undervalued, and I'll agree with that notion.
And it will bring me to my last thought, which is a reason to be slightly less skeptical. A big part of running a successful football team is putting players in a position where their skills are best utilized, and it's entirely possible that Haynes skill set was not particularly well suited for the role he was being asked to play. It's also entirely possible that the role he was asked to play was a role in which very few - if any - players would find much success. Haynes was often brought in to run the ball, kill the clock, and not turn the ball over.
The only thing that still leaves me concerned is the aforementioned note about Bettis. In similar situations, the Bus was just that much more effective. It's too soon to judge Haynes in his new role, but Steeler fans would be wise to watch with a close, skeptical eye.
[editor's note, by SteelerFan] This piece was posted prior to Blitzburgh's excellent post (above) including Haynes' pass catching abilities. This is illuminating, and hammers home even more the point I was trying to make about finding the best role for a player's particular skill set. Haynes appears to be a player with a versatile skill set - the ability to block and catch passes, as well as run. The Steeler coaches (in a far better position to evaluate his skills than we are), perhaps understand that a shift in roles will yield more productive results for Haynes.