10 ballcarriers to fear

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jun 19, 2005



Who are the best running backs in the NFL?
 
The "pundits" and previews have their thoughts and opinions. We have a lead pipe hidden in the back of the PIGSKN Ford pick-up called the Cold, Hard Football Facts. Grab it next time you see some ass-backward ranking system -- like the factless, opinion-laden pabulum offered up by uber-hack Pete Prisco -- and then use it to beat these "thoughts" and "opinions" into a bloody pulp. After all, the factless systems employed by these hacks serve no purpose other than to drive ignorance into your cranium.
 
Here, then, are the 10 best ballcarriers in football, with an emphasis on total offensive contributions and last year's performances, and a blind, clinging devotion to the most accurate rating system in the realm of online pigskin punditry: the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
 
10. Ahman Green, Green Bay
Over the past four years, Green has averaged a hefty 1,418 rushing yards and a nifty 4.7 yards per attempt, while catching 52 passes per season. But several factors keep him from moving up the Top 10, including his 32 career fumbles and 14 in the last two years alone. Green is also coming off his least productive season since 1999, with lows in almost every statistical category: rushing attempts, rushing yards, average per carry, receptions, receiving yards, rushing TDs and receiving TDs.
 
 
Carries
Yards
Avg.
TDs
Rec.
Rec. Yds.
Rec. TDs
2004
259
1,163
4.5
7
40
275
1
Career
1,528
7,177
4.7
49
285
2,190
13
Average Season
218
1,025
4.7
7.0
41
313
1.9
 
9. Clinton Portis, Washington
Portis put up some eye-popping numbers with Denver, but he may have been a product of the best run-blocking system in football. In his two years with the Broncos, Portis averaged 1,549 yards and 14.5 rushing TDs per season, and a very impressive 5.5 yards per carry. Hard to argue with those numbers. But last year in Washington, Portis rushed for 1,315 yards and five TDs, and averaged a paltry 3.8 yards per attempt. His receiving average also dropped from 9.5 yards per reception with Denver to 5.9 yards per reception in D.C.
 
It seems that 2005 will tell us a lot about Portis. Either he proves that he's an elite NFL ballcarrier and not the product of a system, or he drops out of Top 10 consideration altogether.
 
 
Carries
Yards
Avg.
TDs
Rec.
Rec. Yds.
Rec. TDs
2004
343
1,315
3.8
5
40
235
2
Career
906
4,414
4.9
34
111
913
4
Average Season
302
1,471
4.9
11.3
37
304
1.3
 
8. Priest Holmes, Kansas City
A career hampered by injuries is the only thing keeping the incredibly talented Holmes from climbing the list. He started just 19 games during his first four years in the league with Baltimore. His vast potential was tapped and soon overflowed in Kansas City – before another injury sidelined Holmes for half the 2004 season.
When he has been on the field in Kansas City, Holmes has been nothing short of spectacular. In 54 games with the Chiefs, his average performance has looked like this:
 
* 101.5 rushing yards, 141.6 total yards and 1.4 TDs
 
How impressive are those numbers? Consider this: Jim Brown, the greatest player in NFL history, holds the league records in all three categories:
 
* 104.3 rushing yards, 125.5 total yards and 1.1 TDs per game
 
In other words, during his 54 games with KC, Holmes has been more productive than the greatest player in NFL history. And, of course, Holmes ran for a remarkable 27 touchdowns in 2003, setting a pair of NFL records: most rushing TDs and most total TDs in a single season. He averaged one touchdown every 11.9 rushing attempts in 2003.
 
Holmes rushed for 892 yards in eight games last season. Had he played the entire season, his pace of 111.5 rush yards per game would have given him the NFL rushing title. But his penchant for injury keeps him from being a truly elite runner.
 
 
Carries
Yards
Avg.
TDs
Rec.
Rec. Yds.
Rec. TDs
2004
196
892
4.6
14
19
187
1
Career
1,615
7,584
4.7
80
313
2,748
7
Average Season
202
948
4.7
10.0
39
343
0.9
 
7. Corey Dillon, New England
Dillon was one of football's brilliant miscreants for years, as he watched his career and potential waste away in Cincinnati – a city where the Pigskin Public aspires to mediocrity. His skill was unearthed in New England last season, as he posted the greatest year of his career, setting personal marks in attempts, yards, touchdowns and first downs (81). He also averaged 4.7 yards per carry, falling 0.1 yard shy of his career best set in his rookie year of 1998. He single-handedly ignited a rushing attack for the Patriots – lifting it from the 27th-ranked attack in 2003 to the 7th-ranked ground game in 2004. Only Holmes (who played eight games to Dillon's 15) averaged more rushing yards per game than Dillon's 109.0 in 2004.
 
With another 1,600-yard season in 2005, Dillon will surpass O.J. Simpson and become the 14th most prolific runner in league history. He's currently 2,424 yards from cracking the all-time Top 10 rushing list and 3,598 yards from cracking the Top 5.
 
A limited role as a pass catcher keeps Dillon from a spot higher on the list.
 
 
Carries
Yards
Avg.
TDs
Rec.
Rec. Yds.
Rec. TDs
2004
345
1,635
4.7
12
15
103
1
Career
2,210
9,696
4.4
57
207
1,585
6
Average Season
276
1,212
4.4
7.1
26
198
0.75
 
6. Michael Vick, Atlanta
We can hear the chorus of groans already. Vick is a quarterback, donkey! Not a running back.
 
Yes, but he is a ballcarrier to fear. Let us lay this Cold, Hard Football Fact on your sorry, groaning ass: Vick averages 7.3 yards every time he runs the ball and is on pace to shatter – DESTROY! – the all-time NFL record for career average per carry. The record is currently held by another quarterback, Randall Cunningham, who averaged 6.4 yards every time he ran with the ball – a full 1.2 yards per carry better than the No. 2 man on the list, one Jim Brown. Yes, we realize that it's probably easier for an athletic QB to rack up rushing yards than it is for a featured ballcarrier. But the Cold, Hard Football Facts show that Vick can surpass even the most gifted running QB in the history of the NFL.
 
The NFL record book demands 750 attempts before being included on the list. Vick currently has 304 attempts for 2,223 yards. Cunningham ran the ball 775 times for 4,928 yards in his 16-season career. Vick is well ahead of Cunningham at this point in their careers. After four seasons, Cunningham had run 264 times for 1,874 yards, an average of 7.1 yards per carry.
 
Atlanta, meanwhile, boasted the top ground game in football last year, with 167 yards per game and an average of 5.1 yards per carry. Subtract Vick's contributions and Atlanta averaged just 4.4 yards per carry and 110.6 yards per game – a clip which would have dropped them from No. 1 in the NFL to No. 20. Vick averaged a gaudy 7.5 yards in his 120 carries last season.
 
By comparison, Vick's passing numbers are pedestrian at best and his quarterbacking potential is as of yet unfulfilled – a career passer rating of 76.9 and just 36 TD passes in 43 appearances do not lie. Yes, he guided Atlanta to the NFC title game last year. But anyone who watched him flounder against Philly realized they're looking at a not-yet-ready-for-primetime passer.
 
But when Vick's knees are pumping and propelling him downfield, there are few players more electrifying – or more productive – in the entire history of football. In fact, you can't help but wonder why anyone even bothers to put him under center. The NFL is littered with players more adept at passing the ball. The NFL record books can't find anyone more brilliant when running with the ball.
 
 
Carries
Yards
Avg.
TDs
Rec.
Rec. Yds.
Rec. TDs
2004
120
902
7.5
3
1
16
0
Career
304
2,223
7.3
13
1
16
0
Average Season
76
556
7.3
3.25
0.25
4
0
 
5. Tiki Barber, N.Y. Giants
Barber has blossomed over the last three campaigns and last year had the best season of his eight-year career, racking up personal highs in yards from scrimmage (2,096), rushing yards, rushing TDs and total TDs. He also set the Giants franchise single-season rushing record.
 
Barber's production is more impressive when you consider that the N.Y. offense was hamstrung by quarterback play most euphemistically described as inconsistent. Two-time NFL MVP Kurt Warner was less than his old self at the start of the season. He was replaced by Eli Manning, who went through the usual rookie QB struggles, especially as the Giants faced a midseason stretch playing the toughest defenses in the league week after week. Barber shouldered the load for an offense that had little else to offer.
 
Barber also appears to have strengthened the weakest link in his game: holding on to the ball. He fumbled five times last year, despite handling the ball a career high 374 times. In the previous four seasons he fumbled an average of nine times.
 
 
Carries
Yards
Avg.
TDs
Rec.
Rec. Yds.
Rec. TDs
2004
322
1,518
4.7
13
52
578
2
Career
1,533
6,927
4.5
41
474
4,188
10
Average Season
192
866
4.5
5.1
59
423
1.2
 
4. Curtis Martin, N.Y. Jets
What do you say about a player who's been in the league for 10 years, stands as the fourth most productive runner in the history of football and is fresh off the best season of his career?
 
You say he's one of the best backs in football.
 
In 2004, Martin set career marks for rushing yards and yards from scrimmage (1,942). And after an injury-riddled college career at Pitt, Martin has proven to be one of the more durable ballcarriers in NFL history. He has missed just eight games in his 10-year career and not one game in the last six seasons.
 
If Martin can keep it together this season and next and return in 2007, he'll likely surpass Walter Payton as the league's No. 2 all-time leading rusher. (With 16,726 rushing yards, Payton leads Martin by 3,360 yards.) If he were able to duplicate his 2004 performance over the next two seasons, he would surpass Payton by the end of 2006.
 
 
Carries
Yards
Avg.
TDs
Rec.
Rec. Yds.
Rec. TDs
2004
371
1,697
4.6
12
41
245
2
Career
3,298
13,366
4.1
85
460
3,211
10
Average Season
330
1,337
4.1
8.5
46
321
1
 
3. Shaun Alexander, Seattle
Alexander saw limited playing time in his rookie campaign of 2000 (one start, 64 carries, five catches). But since then, he has been nothing short of a scoring machine. He's hit paydirt 70 times in four seasons since – an average of 17.5 touchdowns per season or 1.1 scores per game. No running back in recent years has shown a better nose for the end zone. He led the entire league with 20 touchdowns in 2004.
 
Alexander is also coming off a season in which he set career bests in carries, yards, average per carry and touchdowns.
 
 
Carries
Yards
Avg.
TDs
Rec.
Rec. Yds.
Rec. TDs
2004
353
1,696
4.8
16
23
170
4
Career
1,347
5,937
4.4
62
173
1,309
10
Average Season
269
1,187
4.4
12.4
35
262
2
 
2. Edgerrin James, Indy
In an offense defined by Peyton Manning and the passing game, James keeps the Indy attack two-dimensional and opposing defenses honest. He's also fresh off one of the best seasons of his career. (Of course, you wouldn't know this Cold, Hard Football Fact if you read misinformed hacks like Prisco, who placed James No. 8 on his list of the top ballcarriers and wrote: "The question is whether his skills have started to erode." Gee Petey, maybe you should have opened up a f*ckin' stat book before spilling your inane nonsense into cyberspace. James had a friggin' career season in 2004. What are you talking about?)
 
James racked up 2,031 yards of offense last season and averaged a nifty 5.3 yards every time he touched the ball. It was the third time in his six-year career that James generated more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage. James scored just nine TDs in 2004, but was hampered by Indy's historic insistence on passing in the red zone.
 
James has been an indispensable piece of Indy's offensive attack. Like most quarterbacks, Manning struggled in his rookie season of 1998. His performance quickly picked up when James arrived in 1999. With James sidelined for 10 games in 2001, Manning struggled through the toughest stretch of his career. The all-world QB posted a 92.2 passer rating with James in the backfield that season, and a 79.5 passer rating without him in the backfield. James, in other words, is a major difference maker in the NFL. He has the production to prove it.
 
 
Carries
Yards
Avg.
TDs
Rec.
Rec. Yds.
Rec. TDs
2004
334
1,548
4.6
9
51
483
0
Career
1,828
7,720
4.2
51
312
2,502
10
Average Season
305
1,287
4.2
8.5
52
416
1.7
 
1. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego
Put most simply, Tomlinson is the total offensive package. Just take a look at his average season after four years in the NFL: nearly 1,500 yards rushing, more than 500 yards receiving, 15 TDs and a remarkable 73 receptions per season.
And, of course, Tomlinson is just two years removed from what may have been the greatest individual season by a running back in NFL history.
 
In 2003, Tomlinson became the first player to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 100 balls in a single season. He ran the ball 313 times for 1,645 yards – a hefty 5.3 yards per carry – while catching 100 passes for 725 yards. His 2,370 yards from scrimmage was the second best in the history of the league (Marshall Faulk set the record in 1999 with 2,429 yards from scrimmage – 1,381 rushing, 1,048 receiving). The only chink in his armor is a decline in his average per carry in 2004, to a less-than-impressive 3.9 yards. But even in this down season, Tomlinson racked up 1,776 yards of offense, caught 53 passes and finished second in the NFL with 18 TDs.
 
In other words, Tomlinson is the best running back in the NFL today. The Cold, Hard Football Facts do not lie.
 
 
Carries
Yards
Avg.
TDs
Rec.
Rec. Yds.
Rec. TDs
2004
339
1,335
3.9
17
53
441
1
Career
1,363
5,899
4.3
54
291
2,022
6
Average Season
341
1,475
4.3
13.5
73
505
1.5
 
ON THE BUBBLE -- players who deserved Top 10 consideration
 
Deuce McAllister, New Orleans
McAllister had a highly productive season in 2003, rushing for 1,641 yards and averaging 4.7 yards per carry, while catching 69 passes for 516 yards. His production declined markedly in 2004 with 1,302 yards from scrimmage. Even if McAllister did not miss two games in 2004, he would not have come close to matching his 2003 production.
 
Jamal Lewis, Baltimore
There's no doubting Lewis's prodigious talent. After all, you don't post the second-best rushing season in NFL history (2,066 yards in 2003) without an abundance of raw skill. But a series of question marks keep Lewis off the list: a career marred by injuries – Lewis missed the entire 2001 season – and, now, a drug arrest which landed Lewis in jail this offseason. Lewis has also had limited productivity in the receiving game, catching 110 passes for one score in five seasons (with one season lost to injury).
 
Fred Taylor, Jacksonville
Taylor has had moments of brilliance, but his career numbers simply don't match up to the league's elite backs. He's averaged 1,352 yards from scrimmage and fewer than 8 TDs per season over the course of his seven-year career. They're solid numbers that most teams would be happy to see – but just not good enough to crack the Top 10.
 
Rudi Johnson, Cincinnati
Johnson had a great season carrying the ball in 2004, racking up 1,454 yards on the ground. But an unimpressive average per carry (4.0 yards) and a mere 15 receptions keep him from achieving elite status.

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