Less Might Be More

Aaron Wimberly is primed for a race to 1,000 yards as a senior this fall. Exercise caution ...

Had Aaron Wimberly stayed healthy, and had he not battled four other running backs for touches, Iowa State last season might've had its first 1,000-yard rusher since Alexander Robinson.

Or so the thinking goes.

In reality, Wimberly would've needed 249 carries to eclipse the mark, a substantial 108 more than he received — nine more touches per game. Two-hundred and 49. Only 16 players in college football last season had more attempts.

Wimberly, a senior this fall, appears primed for a 1,000-yard season, so long as the offensive line improves as expected and the injury gods take it easy on him. But is it really advantageous for the Cyclones for Wimberly to get that much work?

There's no doubting Wimberly is ISU's best running back and among a handful of very good ones in the Big 12, but multiple statistical metrics suggest the worst thing to do with Wimberly is feed him too many times.

After carrying the ball 19 times against Tulsa (137 yards) and 29 times against Texas (117 yards) in the first four games of 2013, Wimberly's season hit the fan — he'd miss two games with injury and would average better than four yards per carry in just one more contest, a 5-for-21 showing against Balyor.

"Aaron is not a 20-plus (carry) a game guy game after game after game," Paul Rhoads said of the 5-foot-9, 174-pound Wimberly last fall. "He just doesn't have that build to be that type of player."

Per data accumulated by AllCyclones.com, Wimberly was a much less efficient runner after the first half of the season. Looking at his production through the scope of quality carries — defined here as one of four yards or longer, or a carry resulting in a first down or a touchdown — Wimberly was successful on 61 percent of his carries in his first five games (UNI through Texas Tech).

In the second half, Wimberly was successful on just 44 percent of his carries (Baylor through West Virginia). Against both TCU and West Virginia, Wimberly was successful on a mere 33 percent of his carries (6-for-18 and 5-for-15, respectively).

The below chart reflects Wimberly's quality carry percentage (black line) and yards-per-carry average (red line) per each game.

On the year, Wimberly turned 48 percent of his carries into quality ones — meaning that 52 percent of the time he rushed for less than four yards or did not pick up a first down (or a touchdown). That's not a bad mark, but it doesn't scream "SUPERSTAR!" nor does it suggest an increase in Wimberly's workload would do him well.

Indeed, it would be nice for Wimberly to clinch 1,000 yards this fall, and it's totally possible under a competent offensive coordinator who runs when necessary and not just because he has no other trick up his sleeve. Wimberly is a slasher with surprising power, able to shrug off would-be tacklers, and he understands angles well. He's an asset in the passing game (18 catches, 211 yards, two scores) and as a returner, too.

But there are other running backs on the roster, like DeVondrick Nealy, Rob Standard and Tyler Brown, who all earned high marks this spring. The Cyclones have upgraded their running back stable from a year ago. Wimberly is the undisputed guy. Preserve his ability; don't exhaust it.

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