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Archive for April, 2009

Help us go mobile

Posted by Doug on April 30, 2009

In the last year, mobile traffic on the Sports Reference sites has increased by about 250%. We frequently receive requests from users to create iPhone apps and/or mobile-friendly versions of our sites, so we are forming a small focus group to help us study the issue. If you are interested in helping out, please head over to the Baseball-Reference.com blog and fill out the form. Thanks in advance to those who volunteer.

Comments Off | Posted in P-F-R News

AFL versus NFL: draft methodology

Posted by Jason Lisk on April 30, 2009

So far, the posts have not really gone into too much detail on the actual teams and players in the American Football League and National Football League during the 1960's. I've looked at how much we can really learn from four championship games, and also looked at expansion teams to get a sense for the rate of improvement we might expect from AFL teams over time, if they were getting equivalent talent to the NFL.

This should be the final stage-setting post before we get to actual details about the AFL and NFL teams from this period. At the outset of this project, I said that I didn't know exactly how many posts would come out of this project, or how it would proceed. And that was true. My plan moving forward as of today is to break the actual drafts up into three periods: early (1960-1963), middle (1964-1966), and late (1967-1969). I'll move chronologically forward, but will not go straight through with just draft discussion. After the early drafts, for example, I will discuss the league trends resulting from the start of the AFL, such as aging patterns, starter retention, and rookie starting rates for the two leagues. I think it will make more sense to do this immediately after discussing the specific players and drafts for the same period.

5 Comments | Posted in AFL versus NFL, NFL Draft

My Reaction to the Jets Draft

Posted by Chase Stuart on April 28, 2009

There's a lot to get into here, so let's get started. In case you didn't know, I'm a Jets fan, hence my interest in writing down my thoughts after a busy weekend.

One of the interesting parts of the Jets trading up for Mark Sanchez was the recognition of two coaches going after "their guys" for their system. Last year, the Jets had Kenyon Coleman at 3-4 DE and Abram Elam at SS. Both players were just cogs in the system; when Rex Ryan came over, he brought in Marques Douglas, who played 3-4 DE for Baltimore last year and earlier this decade, and also Jim Leonhard, starting SS for the Ravens. So Ryan brought two guys that fit his version of the 3-4 -- two guys that he clearly liked -- to replace previous role players (Coleman and Elam).

Then the Jets want to move into the top five to grab Sanchez, and Eric Mangini's there holding the valuable pick. What does he want? Kenyon Coleman and Abram Elam, two guys who can come in and start for the Browns and help Cleveland adjust to the complicated Mangini defense. There's no way the Jets can trade a backup DE and a backup SS, along with a backup QB, to anyone else but Mangini. But for Cleveland, it was a coup -- they got three guys they really like, and a second round pick. For the Jets, they gave up a second round pick and simply depth to move from #17 to #5; easily the least a team has given to trade that far into the top five in recent history.

So for starters, I was happy to see the Jets didn't have to give up next year's #1 or more than just this year's #2 to move up. That said, is Sanchez really worthy of the #5 pick? I don't know. He's simply not the prospect that Matthew Stafford is -- he can't carry a team, in my opinion. He's your prototypical "keep the offense moving" type of guy; he won't jumpstart an offense but he won't shut one down, either. He's not Peyton Manning or Carson Palmer or Jay Cutler or Matt Stafford; ironically enough, I don't think he's similar to Joe Flacco, who is four inches taller and has a much stronger arm; Sanchez projects as more of a system quarterback. Sanchez, if things go well, will be an elite game manager. He's not going to be a top 3 QB in the NFL. But the ironic part is Sanchez is a better fit for the Ravens' (and now Jets') style of play than a Flacco or Cutler type is; Sanchez should be a Matt Hasselbeck, Drew Brees, Jeff Garcia or Chad Pennington with an NFL arm sort of player.

Now is Sanchez worth the #5 pick? If he turns into a Mark Brunell or, even better, a Boomer Esiason, type, then yes. But if that's his ceiling and he's not very likely to reach it, then he's not worthy of the pick. On the other hand, the Jets can evaluate this trade as 'is he worth the #17 pick, the 2nd rounder and bench depth?' That's a different question entirely (more on that later). Sanchez is a fascinating prospect for two reasons -- he's been called the safest pick in the draft by some people yet he fits the typical bust profile. We don't have a lot of film on him. He's almost never had to carry a team. He didn't have to throw into tight windows. He was asked to do very simple things, playing with elite talent against bad defenses. He never faced much adversity. So there is a lot of unknown with Sanchez.

Conversely, there are a bunch of things that make him very safe. No one works harder. He's a very strong character guy, and a tremendous interview -- his face will be all over NY, he will be the Jets, going forward. He'll be interviewed a million times by the NY writers and come out looking great in all of them. The Jets gave him a private workout and sent him the playbook two days beforehand; he had mastered nearly the entire thing by the time the Jets arrived and he made all the correct throws. That sort of football IQ makes him a very safe player. He's got a great play action move, something important to the Jets run first philosophy. He can move and throw on the move. He's highly accurate.

So while Sanchez is a solid prospect, the Jets also missed out on some very good players. Pre-draft, I was hoping for Brandon Pettigrew, Jarron Gilbert and Jarrett Dillard to fall to the Jets in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd rounds. To me, that would have been a terrific draft, with a backup option of Maclin in the first round and depth at OL, TE or RB in the third. The Jets could have done any of those things. So why are Pettigrew, Gilbert, and Dillard a better group than Sanchez and Greene? The Jets could have made the defense even better with Gilbert, who has terrific potential, and the offense would have really benefit from a TE like Pettigrew and a smart player like Dillard. The Jets still don't have a blocking tight end on the roster, and that's a significant issue. With Kellen Clemens or Brett Ratliff at the helm, the team would have been very strong as long as one of those was at least decent.

Still, I'm glad the Jets didn't stay at 17 and take Percy Harvin or Beanie Wells. So it could have been worse. I think the 2009 Jets are worse off by doing what they did than what my hope was, but the future may be brighter. At this point, it all becomes a question of what type of player Sanchez becomes.

Moving on, I don't love the trade up for Shonn Greene, but I get it. My favorite draftnik, Sigmund Bloom (who writes for both Footballguys.com and Draftguys.com), always throws the word "clarity" around, and nothing speaks clarity more than this move. Ryan says Greene was by far the best player on the Jets board entering Sunday, and the team was more than happy to give up some picks to get him. Ryan saw a team excel with a three headed monster last year; he's going for that again. Consider the '08 Ravens RBs vs. the '09 Jets RBs:

Player            Age   Wt     Ht      BMI
Le'Ron McClain    24    260    6-0     35.3
Willis McGahee    27    228    6-0     30.9
Ray Rice          21    195    5-9     28.8
                
Thomas Jones      31    220    5-10    31.6
Leon Washington   27    210    5-8     31.9
Shonn Greene      23    235    5-11    32.8

Only two teams gave three RBs 100 carries last season; the Ravens, largely by design, and the Saints, largely due to injury. Ray Rice was the speedster and the third down back; that's Leon Washington's forte. McGahee was the old veteran, who could play every down and do it all, but was no longer excellent at anything; McClain was the plodder, and the big, bruising, one dimensional power back. That's where Shonn Greene comes in -- the Jets did not have the bruiser, the power, the inside presence. Now Washington's much better than Rice, and Jones in '09 should be considerably better than McGahee was in '08, so the Jets have the start of a terrific ground game. But as Ryan said after drafting Greene, he wants the Jets to have some pound and ground, and Greene is that pound.

GM Mike Tannenbaum remembers the three straight runs from the goal line last year that ended with no points. That's not going to happen with Greene. I expect Jones to lead the team in rushing, Greene in rushing TDs and Washington in receiving. So while I don't love the trade up for Greene, it shows clarity on the part of the team -- Ryan knows what he wants to do and what he needs to have to do what he wants. He wants three RBs and wanted a power runner, but he didn't have that. Now he does. This isn't about sending a message to Thomas Jones but about playing power football. Greene is a big back with great footwork; he's not a good blocker and is definitely a 2-down back at this point, but he's going to be grinding out the 4th quarter of games. A 39" vertical leap with the weight he's carrying shows the power he has in his legs. He also ran a faster 40 than Knowshon Moreno. Here is how I project the Jets RBs to perform this year, barring injury:

Jones: 280 carries, 1200 yards, 6 TDs; 30 rec, 200 yards, 1 TD (182 fantasy points)
Washington: 110 carries, 500 yards, 4 TD; 50 rec, 400 yards, 2 TD (126 FP);
Greene: 110 carries, 400 yards, 8 TDs; 5 rec, 30 yards, 0 TD (91 FP)

Total: 500 carries, 2100 yards, 18 TDs; 85 receptions, 625 yards, 3 TD

The passing game still only has one proven WR, although Leon Washington will be split out wide more frequently this year and Dustin Keller will be used in that way, too. I suspect the Jets top three leaders in receiving yards will only include one wide receiver, Jerricho Cotchery. Sanchez or Kellen Clemens will have to be creative this year, but Keller and Washington help because they provide mismatches for defenses. It's also possible that one of David Clowney, Brad Smith, Marcus Henry and Chansi Stuckey will develop into a legitimate wideout, but I wouldn't count on any one of them breaking out. The Jets desperately need that big, fast WR to stretch the field, but that's not necessarily Rex Ryan's M.O.

On defense, it's hard not to be super excited. The Jets defense should be much better this year with Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard, Lito Sheppard and Vernon Gholston. Obviously Ryan should make this a unit that attacks the passer. Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Lito Sheppard and Dwight Lowery are a terrific 1-2-3; Leonhard and Rhodes complete a Jets defensive backfield that could be one of the best in the NFL, with three Pro Bowl caliber players and a SS that is perfect for Ryan's system.

At LB, Bart Scott and David Harris are terrific inside; between Vernon Gholston, Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace, the Jets OLBs could get 20 sacks. I know people like to rip on Gholston, but he was terribly misused by Mangini and Ryan is the perfect guy for him. Obviously everything starts with Kris Jenkins up front, and he was outstanding last season.

So we know what Ryan's doing. He's crafting this defense in Baltimore's image -- it should be one of the very best in the league. The running game should be one of the tops in the league, and expect Jones/Washington/Greene to get around 500 carries this year. A solid game manager is all the Jets need at QB, and in time, that's what Sanchez will become. How quickly he develops will answer the question of how far this team goes in '09 and '10. In my perfect world, the Jets would have traded into the 3rd round to get Jarron Gilbert or the 5th round to get Dillard, and had they done either of those things I would have given this draft an A.

17 Comments | Posted in NFL Draft, Rant

How teams are built, revisited

Posted by Doug on April 27, 2009

About a year and a half ago, I posted this batch of data on how teams are built. In it, I looked at where teams' 22 starters come from. But that's sub-optimal, because some starters are more important than others and also because backups have value too.

That post was written in the pre-AV era here at p-f-r. This weekend's draft inspired me to revisit it using the entire roster (weighted by AV) instead of just the starters.

I've broken things down by decade and by team quality (bad = 6 or fewer wins, mediocre = 7--9 wins, good = 10+ wins). The numbers in each category represent the aggregate percentage of the teams' AV that came from that category:

1980 -- 1989, bad teams
==============================
First round picks         23.6
Second round picks        14.9
Third/fourth round picks  19.3
Fifth round and later     28.7
Undrafted                 13.5

Drafted by team           80.5
Acquired via other means  19.5

Age 24 and younger        28.9
Age 25 to 27              37.8
Age 28 to 30              26.2
Age 31 and older           7.2

7 Comments | Posted in General, NFL Draft

Do good teams really build along the lines?

Posted by Jason Lisk on April 24, 2009

If you hang around team message boards or websites or listen to talk radio this time of year, you will hear lots of discussion and debate about who teams should take. Inevitably (at least it seems to me), somebody will make some comment about how good teams build along the lines, or build from the inside out, or how teams that know what they are doing draft the big uglies. The quarterbacks, wide receivers, flashy defensive backs, these guys are risky! Take the offensive lineman, he's a safe pick, someone will call in and say, that's what a good franchise would do.

The problem is, I can't find any substantial evidence to support such a view. Plenty of anecdotal cases come to mind to counter those who point out that the Lions were idiots for spending first round picks on wide receivers. Namely, that same organization also is the last one (and only one I can find since 1978) to draft three offensive tackles in the first round in three straight years, from 1999-2001, and Aaron Gibson, Stockar McDougal and Jeff Backus didn't exactly set the Lions up for success. People also think of the Steelers as doing it the right way. In the last 15 years, they've actually taken more pass catchers than the Lions in the first round, with four wide receivers and two tight ends.

But those are just isolated examples that come to mind. I thought I would sit down and do a study to see how good and bad teams did draft in the first round, and determine if there were any differences in where they focused. I'll start by saying this is far from a perfect study (as with most) as it entails arbitrarily, though I hope logically, defining good and bad teams in a way that can be used to create useful categories with large sample sizes. We also know that while first round picks are important, they do not solely decide who is good and bad over a period of time. As Doug wrote about here, there are generally somewhere between 4 to 5 originally drafted first round picks starting for a team at a given time--which leaves most of the starters coming outside round one. Also, sometimes good teams draft bad players, and bad teams draft good players.

Still, acknowledging all that, I plowed forward.

10 Comments | Posted in NFL Draft, Rant, Statgeekery

Anquan Boldin vs. Michael Crabtree

Posted by Chase Stuart on April 23, 2009

Ignoring cost, which player should be better for the next seven or so years? Obviously this is an impossible question to answer, as projecting the future is usually pointless. The very first post in PFR blog history asked whether Shaun Alexander or Reggie Bush would be the better player going forward; unfortunately, neither of the above wasn't an option.

So while we don't *really* know who is going to be better, and there are tons of intangibles surrounding both Boldin and Crabtree, I thought I'd take my best stab at trying to project the future for both players. To begin, I looked at all WRs who were "similar" to Anquan Boldin. What does that mean? Two things; one, in any year between 1970 and 2001, the WR was either 27, 28 or 29 years old. Two, they had to have between 500 and 900 yards of "Adjusted Value" in that specific season, using the formula from the Greatest WR Ever Series. Boldin last year had 661 adjusted yards of value.

I chose 1970 since that's the year the two leagues merged; 2001 is a good end date because that gives all WRs in the study seven years following the specific year in question. There were 92 WRs that fit the "age 27-29" and "value of 500-900 yards" description, ranging from players like Alfred Jenkins (who was a first team All Pro at age 29 in 1981 but caught just two TDs the rest of his career) to Cris Carter (who earned his first Pro Bowl berth at age 28 in 1993 and would go back to Hawaii for each of the next seven seasons). Who knows how Boldin will turn out, but these 92 data points give us a good starting point. I used the cutoff of 500 and 900 yards to provide a large enough sample for Boldin; many more players had between 500 and 661 yards of value than between 661 and say, 822, so we have to use a higher top point that bottom point.

The important thing is that of those 92 WRs, the average player was 28 years old and had a value of +655 in year N. That sounds a lot like Boldin in 2008. So how did the average WR do going forward?

7 Comments | Posted in NFL Draft, Statgeekery

Sack trivia

Posted by Doug on April 21, 2009

I've been busy lately. Fortunately, Chase and JKL and have been doing a great job of keeping things lively around here. I'll continue to busy for awhile, but I have no excuse for not kicking in with at least a trivial post or two per week, especially with this new game log data we have.

So here we go...

Using the game log data, I have attempted to estimate how many times each defensive player has sacked each quarterback. If Lawrence Taylor gets two sacks in a particular game and Steve Grogan is the only opposing quarterback to attempt a pass in that game, we can be pretty confident that LT sacked Grogan twice. But if LT gets two sacks in a game where Tommy Kramer and Wade Wilson both got playing time against the Giants, we're not sure how many times he sacked each of them. Unfortunately, we don't have game-by-game sack records for the sackees, so the best we can do is divvy them up proportionally according to how many passes each of them attempted. In that case, Kramer attempted 25 and Wilson 6. So we credit LT with 1.61 sacks against Kramer and 0.39 against Wilson. It's a kludge, but we're just having fun here.

So assuming that methodology for estimating how many times each player sacked each other, here is the all-time list. The Pct column tells you what percentage of the sacker's career sacks came against this particular sackee.

Sacker               Sackee             Est. Sacks      Pct
============================================================
Bruce Smith          Ken O'Brien             17.28     8.05
Greg Townsend        Dave Krieg              16.79    14.35
Dexter Manley        Phil Simms              16.50    15.64
Derrick Thomas       John Elway              16.35    12.30
Derrick Thomas       Dave Krieg              15.00    11.28
Neil Smith           John Elway              14.91    13.08
Peter Boulware       Mark Brunell            14.21    19.47
Leslie O'Neal        Dave Krieg              14.11    10.49
Lawrence Taylor      Randall Cunningham      13.58     9.77
Reggie White         Neil Lomax              13.33     6.35
Michael Strahan      Donovan McNabb          13.14     8.70
Jacob Green          John Elway              12.97    12.84
Greg Townsend        John Elway              12.52    10.70
Reggie White         Phil Simms              12.45     5.93

18 Comments | Posted in Trivia

JaMarcus Russell and Jeff Garcia

Posted by Chase Stuart on April 20, 2009

I'm a closet JaMarcus Russell fan, if only because it seems like an overwhelming and disproportionate (even for being a Raider and the #1 pick) number of people seem to dislike the guy. He actually played very well at the end of last season, and posted similar numbers to Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco. As a 23 year old QB who went through his first training camp in 2008, he was impressive.

But enough about Russell; what I'm curious about is Oakland's signing of Jeff Garcia. Specifically, can (or will?) Garcia help Russell reach his potential and become an elite quarterback? The broader question is this: does playing with a successful, veteran QB help a QB (after controlling for draft position) become a better QB? Is there anything to this mentor theory?

3 Comments | Posted in History

New Podcast Episode

Posted by Chase Stuart on April 16, 2009

This podcast is going to be a little different from the others. I interviewed Jonathan Rand, writer at kcchiefs.com and author of Run It! And Let's Get the Hell Out of Here!", a book about the 100 greatest plays in NFL history. In the interview, we get around to discussing Joe Montana, Vernon Perry, and a whole bunch of of other football players (as well as Jan Stenerud).

Where'd the title come from? If you listened to our last podcast, you know the answer. It comes from the Ice Bowl; on 3rd and goal, trailing the Cowboys 17-14, Bart Starr called Green Bay's last timeout. A pass would stop the clock, but Starr asked Vince Lombardi to run the QB sneak. The coach's response? "Run it! And Let's Get the Hell Out of Here!"

Listen here, subscribe here if you know how, and read this if you don’t. It’s free, of course.

5 Comments | Posted in Podcast

AFL versus NFL: expansion teams

Posted by Jason Lisk on April 12, 2009

Let’s start with a thought experiment, in considering how long it might take for a league like the American Football League to become equivalent to the National Football League. How long would it take for a team starting from nothing today to become equal with the rest of the league? If we assume that our new team has equal access to incoming talent, I think the very simplified answer is that it would roughly take as long as necessary for two things to occur:

1) For the incoming talent (where our new team is equal to the established teams) to mature and reach peak age; and
2) For the current star talent in the league at the time of our new team’s inception (which our new team is lacking) to decline and move past peak age.

How many years is this? My thought is roughly somewhere between four and six years. And that number is of course highly variable in an individual team scenario, depending on things such as how the original roster is created, the quality of the coaches and management, free agency, and primarily, luck and skill in acquiring young talent.

9 Comments | Posted in AFL versus NFL

Most Dominant RBs: Best Overall RBs Ever

Posted by Chase Stuart on April 10, 2009

Monday we reviewed methodology; Tuesday the top single seasons. On Wednesday, we looked at the most dominant RBs in NFL history and yesterday we focused on the greatest playoff performances ever. Today we bring it all together, regular and post-season numbers, to examine the best single seasons and careers in NFL history.

The table below shows each player's regular season adjusted rushing yards over average ("RSH"), his total touchdowns per game over average ("TTD"), his adjusted receiving yards over average ("CAT"), along with his post-season performances in all three categories ("PRSH", "PTTD" and "PCAT"). Finally, all six numbers were added together to get a total value on the season for each player ("TVAL").

			year	team   	 RSH 	TTD 	CAT 	PRSH	PTTD	PCAT	TVAL
Terrell Davis		1998	den	 881	13.9	  0	319	0.7	 20	1513
Marshall Faulk		2001	ram	 437	13.8	472	138	1.0	 79	1422
O.J. Simpson		1975	buf	 981	14.4	 70	  0	0.0	  0	1339
LaDainian Tomlinson	2006	sdg	 647	21.0	146	 52	1.4	 39	1331
Terrell Davis		1997	den	 695	 6.5	  0	332	8.2	  0	1323
Marshall Faulk		2000	ram	 452	17.1	475    - 42	0.4	 76	1310
Jim Brown		1963	cle	1088	 6.7	  0	  0	0.0	  0	1223
Priest Holmes		2002	kan	 603	14.4	327	  0	0.0	  0	1218
O.J. Simpson		1973	buf	1094	 4.6	  0	  0	0.0	  0	1186
Emmitt Smith		1995	dal	 642	15.7	  0	108	5.7	  0	1177
Earl Campbell		1980	oti	1063	 4.5	  0	 12	0.4	  0	1175
Walter Payton		1977	chi	 992	 9.6	  0    - 20	0.0	  9	1172
Marshall Faulk		1999	ram	 319	 2.9	733    -129	0.0	181	1161
Jim Brown		1958	cle	1000	 9.8	  0    - 39	0.0	  0	1156
Emmitt Smith		1992	dal	 708	10.3	  0	137	2.8	 11	1118
Jim Brown		1965	cle	 841	11.9	  0	  6	0.0	 14	1099
Barry Sanders		1997	det	 952	 5.0	  0    -  1	0.0	 23	1075
LaDainian Tomlinson	2003	sdg	 501	 6.9	413	  0	0.0	  0	1052
Priest Holmes		2003	kan	 243	17.2	337	 79	1.4	 10	1041
Eric Dickerson		1984	ram	 907	 4.2	  0	 23	0.4	  0	1020
Emmitt Smith		1993	dal	 635	 3.4	 20	157	4.2	 56	1019
Shaun Alexander		2005	sea	 613	17.8	  0	 21	0.0	  0	 990
Thurman Thomas		1990	buf	 346	 3.5	127	262	2.6	116	 973
Steven Jackson		2006	ram	 325	 5.5	506	  0	0.0	  0	 941
Marcus Allen		1985	rai	 738	 3.2	 92	 34	0.3	  0	 933
Ahman Green		2003	gnb	 617	10.0	  0	 79	0.7	 13	 924
Jim Brown		1959	cle	 796	 6.1	  0  	  0	0.0	  0	 919
Tiki Barber		2005	nyg	 722	 0.3	205    - 30	0.0	  7	 909
Barry Sanders		1994	det	 963	 0.0	  0    - 59	0.0	  0	 904
Jim Taylor		1962	gnb	 711	 9.8	  0    - 16	0.3	  0	 897
Emmitt Smith		1994	dal	 573	13.9	  0	  1	1.9	  0	 892
Joe Morris		1986	nyg	 590	 5.2	  0	138	2.4	  0	 879
Edgerrin James		2000	clt	 520	 7.7	146	 41	0.0	  4	 864
Brian Westbrook		2007	phi	 268	 3.6	519	  0	0.0	  0	 859
Barry Sanders		1991	det	 660	 8.6	  0	  9	0.0	  0	 840
Jamal Anderson		1998	atl	 635	 6.7	  0	 44	0.7	  0	 827
James Wilder		1984	tam	 429	 3.1	325	  0	0.0	  0	 816
Jim Taylor		1961	gnb	 626	 8.3	  0	 19	0.0	  0	 812
Marshall Faulk		1998	clt	 168	 0.5	631	  0	0.0	  0	 809
Thurman Thomas		1991	buf	 487	 3.4	264    - 11	0.0	  0	 808
Roger Craig		1988	sfo	 458	 0.0	139	 46	0.0	165	 808
Jamal Lewis		2003	rav	 755	 3.8	  0    - 36	0.0	  0	 794
Jim Brown		1964	cle	 717	 0.0	  0	 66	0.0	 10	 793
Larry Johnson		2006	kan	 620	 8.6	 21    - 39	0.0	  8	 783
Jim Brown		1961	cle	 627	 1.4	127	  0	0.0	  0	 783
Eric Dickerson		1988	clt	 672	 5.1	  0	  0	0.0	  0	 775
Steve Van Buren		1949	phi	 569	 2.7	  0	147	0.0	  0	 771
Larry Johnson		2005	kan	 557	10.6	  0	  0	0.0	  0	 768
Walter Payton		1979	chi	 600	 5.2	  0	 12	1.3      24	 765
Edgerrin James		1999	clt	 394	 8.0	216    -  7	0.0	  0	 764

TD's 1998 is the new gold standard for seasons. 2,000 rushing yards and a Super Bowl MVP. His 2,476 rushing yards in 19 games that season is still the record for rushing yards in a season. Jim Brown still leads all backs with six seasons in the top 50; Emmitt Smith and Marshall Faulk each have four seasons on the list. Barry Sanders has three top 50 seasons while LaDainian Tomlinson, Thurman Thomas, Jim Taylor, O.J. Simpson, Walter Payton, Larry Johnson, Edgerrin James, Priest Holmes, Eric Dickerson and Terrell Davis all appear twice on the list, too. Davis produced two of the top five seasons of all time.

Finally, here's the career list. Let's use Terrell Davis as an example as I explain the four (eight) categories. The first category, Value, shows how many adjusted yards over average each RB added in each season of his career (with the 100/95/90 dropoff rate). Davis added 2,651 adjusted yards over average (which ranks as the 13th best number). You can also compare Davis to replacement, instead of league average. Comparing a RB to replacement rewards players who were very good for a long time; comparing a RB to league average only really rewards those who were great. Because of his short career, Davis added only 3,964 adjusted yards over replacement (which ranks as the 19th highest number). Once you include the playoffs, though, Davis added 3,516 adjusted yards over average (8th) and 5,051 yards over replacement (12th). And, of course, the line that shows Davis' numbers is really Davis, the Broncos offensive line, the Broncos offensive philosphy, Denver's coaching and Denver's players. So a RB can rank highly on this list by being great, having great support, or a combination of the two.

Here's the final career list, sorted by post-season included value added over average.

			Val	 Rk	Rep	 Rk	Val(P)	 Rk	Rep(P)	 Rk
Jim Brown		6114	  1	7971	  1	6174	  1	8082	  2
Emmitt Smith		4459	  5	7057	  6	5349	  2	8311	  1
Barry Sanders		5063	  2	7312	  3	5082	  3	7418	  4
Marshall Faulk		4482	  4	7445	  2	4817	  4	7998	  3
Walter Payton		4544	  3	7126	  4	4583	  5	7284	  5
LaDainian Tomlinson	4222	  6	7105	  5	4240	  6	7229	  6
Eric Dickerson		3693	  7	5457	  7	3868	  7	5740	  8
Terrell Davis		2651	 13	3964	 19	3516	  8	5051	 12
O.J. Simpson		3486	  8	4998	 11	3497	  9	5028	 13
Thurman Thomas		2859	 11	5083	  9	3386	 10	6036	  7
Priest Holmes		2937	  9	4491	 13	3048	 11	4629	 15
Jim Taylor		2780	 12	4155	 16	2899	 12	4371	 18
Earl Campbell		2867	 10	4198	 15	2868	 13	4286	 19
Curtis Martin		2591	 14	5203	  8	2784	 14	5606	  9
Steve Van Buren		2582	 15	3586	 26	2770	 15	3824	 26
Edgerrin James		2571	 16	5029	 10	2651	 16	5252	 10
Shaun Alexander		2422	 17	4221	 14	2451	 17	4406 	 17
Tiki Barber		2399	 18	4906	 12	2443	 18	5073	 11
Marcus Allen		1990	 19	4120	 18	2322	 19	4988	 14
Leroy Kelly		1961	 20	3421	 29	2087	 20	3630	 34
Franco Harris		1251	 47	3064	 36	2057	 21	4230	 21
John Riggins		1307	 44	3143	 35	1994	 22	3982	 22
Lydell Mitchell		1912	 22	3666	 21	1957	 23	3770	 31
Chuck Foreman		1803	 24	3443	 28	1931	 24	3807 	 27
Ottis Anderson		1702	 25	3542	 27	1853	 25	3775	 29
Brian Westbrook		1678	 27	3406	 30	1850	 26	3782	 28
Clinton Portis		1923	 21	3768	 20	1846	 27	3758	 32
Tony Dorsett		1523	 32	3644	 23	1808	 28	4235	 20
Jerome Bettis		1816	 23	3650	 22	1793	 29	3742	 33
Ahman Green		1622	 28	3611	 25	1743	 30	3891	 25
William Andrews		1690	 26	3293	 32	1678	 31	3308	 36
Eddie George		1450	 34	3391	 31	1652	 32	3773	 30
Ricky Watters		1343	 40	4127	 17	1616	 33	4624	 16
Fred Taylor		1440	 35	3632	 24	1613 	 34	3900	 24
Stephen Davis		1552	 29	2668	 45	1605	 35	2840	 41
Roger Craig		1291	 46	3261	 33	1599	 36	3938	 23
Gerald Riggs		1539	 31	2608	 48	1539	 37	2599	 50
Larry Johnson		1544	 30	2723	 43	1513	 38	2717	 43
Wilbert Montgomery	1332	 42	2985	 38	1500	 39	3317	 35
Larry Brown		1383	 36	2781	 41	1491	 40	2960	 40
Gale Sayers		1480	 33	2669	 44	1480	 41	2669	 46
Jamal Lewis		1333	 41	2983	 39	1425	 42	3191	 38
Abner Haynes		1379	 37	2624	 46	1399	 43	2668	 47
Joe Morris		1123	 56	1972	 68	1353	 44	2299	 62
Joe Perry		1352	 38	2498	 49	1352	 45	2510	 54
Clem Daniels		1351	 39	2787	 40	1351	 46	2787	 42
Corey Dillon		1247	 48	3051	 37	1323	 47	3224	 37
Lawrence McCutcheon	1192	 51	2399	 53	1287	 48	2613	 49
Curt Warner		1302	 45	2451	 52	1287	 49	2502	 55
Herschel Walker		1313	 43	3235	 34	1284	 50	3187	 39
Paul Lowe		1096	 57	1845	 73	1259	 51	2051	 71
Larry Csonka		 858	 72	2074	 65	1245	 52	2653	 48
Ron A. Johnson		1211	 49	2191	 63	1211	 53	2191	 66
Rodney Hampton		1128	 55	2275	 60	1205	 54	2382	 57
Chris Warren		1182	 52	2328	 55	1182	 55	2328	 60
Steven Jackson		1179	 53	2466	 50	1179	 56	2466	 56
Billy Sims		1147	 54	2609	 47	1176	 57	2679	 45
Ricky Williams		1208	 50	2731	 42	1158	 58	2697	 44
Robert Smith		1045	 60	2295	 58	1127	 59	2514	 53
George Rogers		1069	 59	2235	 61	1104	 60	2255	 64
Cliff Battles		1094	 58	1802	 78	1094	 61	1825	 80
Adrian Peterson   	 975	 63	1541	 97	1019	 62	1605	 98
Lenny Moore		 905	 68	2465	 51	 983	 63	2549	 51
Jim Nance		 981	 62	1632	 89	 981	 64	1632	 91
Floyd Little		 967	 64	2289	 59	 967	 65	2289	 63
Dan Towler		 962	 65	1604	 91	 963	 66	1630	 92
Cookie Gilchrist	 952	 66	1705	 82	 962	 67	1736	 86
Terry Allen		 985	 61	2315	 57	 955	 68	2315	 61
Deuce McAllister	 944	 67	2118	 64	 944	 69	2196	 65
Barry Foster		 858	 73	1469	102	 938	 70	1592	100
Frank Gifford		 846	 76	1949	 69	 938	 71	2100	 68
Eddie Price		 887	 70	1410	111	 905	 72	1439	112
Jamal Anderson		 844	 77	1805	 77	 901	 73	1957	 73
James Wilder		 893	 69	1986	 67	 893	 74	2028	 72
Billy Cannon		 717	 84	1171	118	 869	 75	1394	115
Charlie Garner		 851	 74	2345	 54	 861	 76	2539	 52
Timmy Brown		 861	 71	1888	 71	 861	 77	1888	 78
Otis Armstrong		 849	 75	1555	 94	 849	 78	1555	103
Neal Anderson	 	 843	 78	2318	 56	 826	 79	2363	 58
Dorsey Levens		 613	 96	1390	113	 790	 80	1693	 88
Delvin Williams	 	 791	 80	1667	 86	 777	 81	1657	 90
Bill Brown		 697	 87	1836	 74	 748	 82	1908	 76
Garrison Hearst	 	 805	 79	1933	 70	 738	 83	1914	 75
Rick Casares		 741	 81	1504	100	 733	 84	1519	106
Greg Bell		 655	 93	1660	 87	 730 	 85	1787	 83
Freeman McNeil		 558	102	1783	 79	 730	 86	2080	 70
J.D. Smith		 727	 82	1608	 90	 727	 87	1608	 95
Mark van Eeghen	 	 691	 88	1678	 85	 710	 88	1900	 77
Alan Ameche		 658	 92	1434	108	 691	 89	1474	108
Michael Turner		 699	 86	1015	136	 681	 90	1018	142
John Brockington	 724	 83	1572	 93	 679	 91	1541	105
Bill Paschal		 711	 85	1158	119	 676	 92	1146	122
DeAngelo Williams	 651	 94	 968	142	 648	 93	 982	147
Thomas Jones		 520	107	1861	 72	 645	 94	2089	 69
Frank Gore		 637	 95	1700	 83	 637	 95	1700	 87
Christian Okoye	 	 675	 91	1240	117	 627	 96	1242	118
Hoyle Granger		 684	 90	1459	104	 615	 97	1421	113
John Henry Johnson	 612	 97	1463	103	 612	 98	1455	109
Ted Brown		 584	101	1647	 88	 606	 99	1736	 85
Gene Roberts	 	 604	 98	 984	139	 604	100	1022	141

There are 9 RBs who gained 300 or more yards of value once you include the postseason data. Emmitt Smith (+891), Terrell Davis (+865) and Franco Harris (+805) were monsters in the post-season. John Riggins (+688) and Thurman Thomas (+527) had great success, too. Larry Csonka (+386), Marshall Faulk (+335), Marcus Allen (+332) and Roger Craig (+308) have terrific playoff resumes, too. Keith Lincoln (+289) is on there off of one game; Tony Dorsett, Ricky Watters (who many forget was a terrific playoff back), Duane Thomas, Joe Morris and Eddie George round out the top 15 biggest movers when you consider playoff performances.

4 Comments | Posted in History

Most Dominant RBs: Playoff Edition

Posted by Chase Stuart on April 9, 2009

On Monday, I explained the system I've used to rank every running back in every season in NFL history. On Tuesday, I showed the most dominant 50 RB seasons in NFL history along with the top RB seasons for each franchise. Yesterday, we looked at the career list -- the 100 most statistically dominant RBs in NFL history. Today I want to discuss some of the most dominant -- and memorable -- postseason performances by any running back. Tomorrow, check in for an updated version of Tuesday's and Wednesday's lists, with playoff performances included.

For single game performances, the conversation starts and ends with Keith Lincoln's performance in the 1963 AFL Championship Game. Lincoln totaled 329 yards and two scores, easily the most yards from scrimmage in any playoff game.

When you think of great post-season performances, there are three that stand out from the crowd. John Riggins, 1982. Terrell Davis, 1997. Marcus Allen, 1983. Not only did all three capture Super Bowl MVP honors, but the three RBs rushed for over 100 yards in all of their 11 post-season victories.

	        rsh    rshyd  	rshtd   rec    recyd    rectd  	year	rd	opp
Riggins	        25	119	0	0	 0	0	1982	w	det
Riggins        	37	185	1	0	 0	0	1982	d	min
Riggins	        36	140	2	0	 0	0	1982	c	dal
Riggins	        38	166	1	1	15	0	1982	s	mia
Allen	        13	121	2	5	38	0	1983	d	pit
Allen	        25	154	0	7	62	1	1983	c	sea
Allen	        20	191	2	2	18	0	1983	s	was
Davis	        31	184	2	4	11	0	1997	w	jax
Davis	        25	101	2	1	17	0	1997	d	kan
Davis	        26	139	1	1	 2	0	1997	c	pit
Davis	        30	157	3	2	 8	0	1997	s	gnb

Riggins rushed for over 600 yards, Allen totaled over 190 yards per game and Davis rushed for 8 TDs. And while it's easy to remember these three historical postseasons, how do we rank every postseason performance ever?

It's not that hard; I'm going to use mostly the same formula that I used to rank each RB season. One note: I'm going to weigh all Super Bowl games twice -- they're so important and such a part of post-season lore that they deserve extra weight. I'm going to rate each post-season game each RB played relative to the league average that season (excluding that RB from the league average). There's no pro-rating here -- if you played four post-season games or one, you get what you get.

Let's use Riggins and my boy Keith Lincoln as examples. Lincoln had 206 adjusted rushing yards (206/0 fumbles), while the average starting RB that season averaged 47 adjusted rushing yards per game. So Lincoln's +159 in the rushing category. He scored 2 TDs, while the average RB scored 0.57 TDs/game; so Lincoln's up 1.43 touchdowns, or +29 adjusted yards. He had 7 catches and 123 receiving yards (133.5 ACY) in the championship game; the league average RB had 32.3 adjusted catch yards per game. So Lincoln added 101 adjusted catch yards over average, giving him a total of 289 adjusted yards over average. Wow.

How about Riggins? Remember we're counting his SB performance twice. So he's got 5 games played, 776 rushing yards, 0 fumbles, 2 receptions, 30 receiving yards and 5 TDs. That's 155.2 ARY/G (league average was 56.7) and 1.0 TD/G (league average was 0.68); his receiving numbers were obviously below average and therefore ignored. So he averaged 98.5 more rushing yards per game than average, over five games; that's +493; he scored 0.32 more TD/game over five games, so that's +1.6 TDs and +32 adjusted yards, for a grand total of 525 adjusted yards over average. That's the best mark in post-season history, over Davis (who had five fumbles and only two fumble recoveries in the '97 post-season) and Allen (who played one fewer game but was better on a per game basis). Here's the list of the top 50 post-season performances of all time.

                                        g    ARY/G   TD   ACY/G   RSHV   TDV    CATV    VALUE
John Riggins		1982	was	5    155      5	    7	  492	 1.6	  0	525
Terrell Davis		1997	den	5    133     11	   12	  332	 8.2	  0	497
Marcus Allen		1983	rai	4    152      7	   40	  350	 4.1	 15	447
Thurman Thomas		1990	buf	4    119      5	   59	  262	 2.6	116	431
Terrell Davis		1998	den	4    149      3	   32	  319	 0.7	 20	354
Timmy Smith		1987	was	4    137      4	    5	  315	 1.6	  0	347
Larry Csonka		1973	mia	4    113      8	    0	  212	 5.7	  0	327
Franco Harris		1974	pit	4    113      7	    2	  236	 4.5	  0	325
Emmitt Smith		1993	dal	4     97      6	   47	  157	 4.2	 56	297
Keith Lincoln		1963	sdg	1    206      2	  134	  159	 1.4	101	289
Marshall Faulk		2001	ram	4     98      3	   49	  138	 1.0	 79	236
Wilbert Montgomery	1980	phi	4     83      3	   61	  105	 0.8	108	229
Emmitt Smith		1995	dal	4     87      8	   18	  108	 5.7	  0	221
Eddie George		1999	oti	5     99      5	   25	  176	 2.2	  0	220
Roger Craig		1988	sfo	4     68      2	   73	   46	 0.0	165	212
Emmitt Smith		1992	dal	4     92      5	   35	  137	 2.8	 11	204
John Riggins		1983	was	4     93      7     1	  118	 4.2	  0	203
Franco Harris		1979	pit	4     65      5	   60	   34	 2.3	109	188
Matt Snell		1968	nyj	3    104      2	   36	  155	 0.3	 25	186
Joe Morris		1986	nyg	4     89      5	   14	  138	 2.4	  0	186
Earnest Byner		1987	cle	2     70      4	   86	   24	 2.8	100	181
Dorsey Levens		1997	gnb	4     89      2	   50	   87	 0.0	 90	177
Natrone Means		1996	jax	3    119      2	   17	  168	 0.2	  0	172
Ricky Watters		1993	sfo	2     78      6	   49	   37	 5.1	 30	169
Ickey Woods		1988	cin	4     97      3	    0	  158	 0.5	  0	169
Chuck Foreman		1976	min	4     72      3	   57	   47	 0.7	105	166
Merril Hoge		1989	pit	2    110      2	   51	  109	 0.8	 36	161
Eric Dickerson		1985	ram	2    135      2	    6	  142	 0.6	  0	155
Franco Harris		1975	pit	4     93      2	   30	  150	 0.0	  3	153
Freeman McNeil		1986	nyj	2    116      3	   31	  119	 1.7	  0	153
Kenneth Davis		1992	buf	5     91      2	   25	  152	 0.0	  0	152
Steve Van Buren		1949	phi	1    196      0	    0	  147	 0.0	  0	147
Roger Craig		1989	sfo	4     83      4	   32	  114	 1.6	  0	146
Elmer Angsman		1947	crd	1    159      2	  - 3	  115	 1.3	  0	142
Thurman Thomas		1989	buf	1     27      2	  170	 - 27	 1.4	137	138
Jamal Lewis		2000	rav	5     88      5	    2	  104	 1.6	  0	137
Paul Lowe		1960	sdg	1    165      1	   10	  129	 0.4	  0	137
Curtis Martin		1996	nwe	4     77      6	   25	   61	 3.7	  0	135
Fred Taylor		1999	jax	2    123      2	   30	  118	 0.8  	  0	135
Ottis Anderson		1990	nyg	4     88      2	    7	  135	 0.0	  0	135
Freeman McNeil		1982	nyj	3    100      1	   11 	  129	 0.0	  0	129
Duane Thomas		1971	dal	4     75      4	   14	   94	 1.7	  0	128
Norm Standlee		1941	chi	2     72      4	   19	   69	 3.0	  0	128
Tony Nathan		1984	mia	4     38      2	   87	 - 99	 0.0	225	126
Ricky Bell		1979	tam	2    113      2	    8	  114	 0.6	  0	126
Thurman Thomas		1993	buf	4     51      6	   52	 - 30 	 4.1	 73	125
Thomas Jones		2006	chi	4     97      4	   14	   97 	 1.3	  0	123
George McAfee		1941	chi	2     88      1	   38	  101	 0.0	 22	123
Earnest Byner		1985	cle	1    161      2	   31	   97	 1.3	  0	123
Robert Smith		1999	min	2    102      1	   53	   77	 0.0	 45	122
  • Notice that Earnest Byner's 1987 postseason -- you know, the one Jeremiah Castille ended -- ranks in the top twenty-five. No one remembers it anymore, but Byner totaled 345 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns in Cleveland's two playoff games that year.
  • George McAfee rushed for 200 yards, had 69 receiving yards and scored a touchdown for the Bears in two 1941 playoff games ... and he wasn't even the best RB on Chicago! Norm Standlee had him beat: he scored two touchdowns in each playoff games for Chicago. In the final week of the regular season, McAfee caught the go-ahead touchdown pass from Sid Luckman the day the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor. After the Bears won the title, both McAfee and Standlee left the NFL and served in World War II.
  • In addition to Lincoln's terrific one game performance, Steve Van Buren, Elmer Angsman, Thurman Thomas, Paul Lowe and Earnest Byner make the list based on one terrific playoff game. Van Buren's legendary 31-carry, 196 rushing yard performance helped the Eagles run 70 plays to Los Angeles' 52. The host Rams hadn't scored fewer than 27 points at home that season, but were shutout in the title game.
  • We all remember Timmy Smith's 200 rushing yard, two touchdown performance in the Super Bowl, but he was the Redskins top rusher in all three playoff wins. He rushed for 342 yards on 51 post-season carries, for an awesome 6.7 yards per carry average. Among RBs with 40 or more carries in a single post-season, only Marcus Allen's 8.0 YPC average in '83 (466 rushing yards on 58 carries) was higher.
  • There's one other guy who sort of gets lost in the mix when you think of great RB performances. That's because he was great all the time -- Emmitt Smith. In just over one season's worth of games (seventeen), Emmitt rushed 349 times for 1586 yards and 19 TDs. He averaged over 100 yards from scrimmage per game and scored 1.2 touchdowns per game with just two net fumbles.

21 Comments | Posted in History

Most Dominant RBs: Career List

Posted by Chase Stuart on April 8, 2009

On Monday, I explained the methodology used to rank every RB in every season in NFL history. Yesterday, we looked at the most dominant RB seasons of all time. Today we get to the career list.

I used 100% of each player's best season, 95% of his second best season, 90% of his third best season, and so on, to come up with a career rating. Only seasons where the player ranked above the baseline were included. In the table below, you see each player's career value and his corresponding rank. This shows how many adjusted yards above average he was for his career. I think this metric is most useful to determine the most dominant statistical RBs of all time and also as a HOF litmus test.

However, it's not the best list for simply determining career value. For your favorite team, having a guy rush for 1300 yards for ten seasons would be more valuable than a RB who would rush for 1600 yards for six seasons. However, in terms of being a HOFer, I think the latter would be more "worthy." He was more dominant, if not necessarily more valuable. That said, we shouldn't ignore this sort of value; so while the "VALUE" column shows each player's yards over average, the "REPLV" is the replacement value column, which shows each player's value over replacement. I've defined replacement as 75% of league average.

For figuring out whether or not Ricky Watters or Stephen Davis was the better NFL player, I think we want to look at replacement value. For deciding whether Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith was the better RB, I think we want to look at value. One other note: older players are hurt when you use "replacement value" instead of value. An older RB who had a score of 500 when the average RB scored a 400 would be equal to a RB who scores 700 when the average was 600 when you compare the two to league average. Both would be +100. When you go to replacement, however, the older RB would be +200 and the modern RB would be +250. Enough talk; here's the list:

           	        VALUE	 RK	REPLV	 Rk
Jim Brown	        6114	 1	7971	 1
Barry Sanders        	5063	 2	7312	 3
Walter Payton	        4544	 3	7126	 4
Marshall Faulk	        4482	 4	7445	 2
Emmitt Smith	        4459	 5	7057	 6
LaDainian Tomlinson	4222	 6	7105	 5
Eric Dickerson	        3693	 7	5457	 7
O.J. Simpson	        3486	 8	4998	11
Priest Holmes	        2937	 9	4491	13
Earl Campbell	        2867	10	4198	15
Thurman Thomas	        2859	11	5083	 9
Jim Taylor	        2780	12	4155	16
Terrell Davis	        2651	13	3964	19
Curtis Martin	        2591	14	5203	 8
Steve Van Buren        	2582	15	3586	26
Edgerrin James	        2571	16	5029	10
Shaun Alexander	        2422	17	4221	14
Tiki Barber	        2399	18	4906	12
Marcus Allen	        1990	19	4120	18
Leroy Kelly	        1961	20	3421	29
Clinton Portis	        1923	21	3768	20
Lydell Mitchell	        1912	22	3666	21
Jerome Bettis	        1816	23	3650	22
Chuck Foreman	        1803	24	3443	28
Ottis Anderson	        1702	25	3542	27
William Andrews	        1690	26	3293	32
Brian Westbrook	        1678	27	3406	30
Ahman Green	        1622	28	3611	25
Stephen Davis	        1552	29	2668	45
Larry Johnson	        1544	30	2723	43
Gerald Riggs	        1539	31	2608	48
Tony Dorsett	        1523	32	3644	23
Gale Sayers	        1480	33	2669	44
Eddie George	        1450	34	3391	31
Fred Taylor	        1440	35	3632	24
Larry Brown	        1383	36	2781	41
Abner Haynes	        1379	37	2624	46
Joe Perry	        1352	38	2498	49
Clem Daniels	        1351	39	2787	40
Ricky Watters	        1343	40	4127	17
Jamal Lewis	        1333	41	2983	39
Wilbert Montgomery	1332	42	2985	38
Herschel Walker	        1313	43	3235	34
John Riggins	        1307	44	3143	35
Curt Warner	        1302	45	2451	52
Roger Craig	        1291	46	3261	33
Franco Harris	        1251	47	3064	36
Corey Dillon	        1247	48	3051	37
Ron A. Johnson	        1211	49	2191	63
Ricky Williams	        1208	50	2731	42
Lawrence McCutcheon	1192	51	2399	53
Chris Warren	        1182	52	2328	55
Steven Jackson	        1179	53	2466	50
Billy Sims	        1147	54	2609	47
Rodney Hampton	        1128	55	2275	60
Joe Morris	        1123	56	1972	68
Paul Lowe	        1096	57	1845	73
Cliff Battles	        1094	58	1802	78
George Rogers        	1069	59	2235	61
Robert Smith	        1045	60	2295	58
Terry Allen	         985	61	2315	57
Jim Nance	         981	62	1632	89
Adrian Peterson	         975	63	1541	97
Floyd Little	         967	64	2289	59
Dan Towler	         962	65	1604	91
Cookie Gilchrist	 952	66	1705	82
Deuce McAllister	 944	67	2118	64
Lenny Moore         	 905	68	2465	51
James Wilder	         893	69	1986	67
Eddie Price	         887	70	1410   111
Timmy Brown	         861	71	1888	71
Larry Csonka	         858	72	2074	65
Barry Foster	         858	73	1469   102
Charlie Garner	         851	74	2345	54
Otis Armstrong	         849	75	1555	94
Frank Gifford	         846	76	1949	69
Jamal Anderson	         844	77	1805	77
Neal Anderson	         843	78	2318	56
Garrison Hearst	         805	79	1933	70
Delvin Williams	         791	80	1667	86
Rick Casares	         741	81	1504   100
J.D. Smith	         727	82	1608	90
John Brockington	 724	83	1572	93
Billy Cannon	         717	84	1171   118
Bill Paschal	         711	85	1158   119
Michael Turner           699	86	1015   136
Bill Brown	         697	87	1836	74
Mark van Eeghen          691	88	1678	85
James Brooks	         690	89	2025	66
Hoyle Granger	         684	90	1459   104
Christian Okoye          675	91	1240   117
Alan Ameche	         658	92	1434   108
Greg Bell	         655	93	1660	87
DeAngelo Williams	 651	94	 968   142
Frank Gore	         637	95	1700	83
Dorsey Levens	         613	96	1390   113
John Henry Johnson	 612	97	1463   103
Gene Roberts	         604	98	 984   139
Rudi Johnson	         599	99	1811	76
Beattie Feathers	 591   100	 872   155
  • I did not use an AFL modifier like I did in the Greatest WR Ever series. Part of the reason was because there were not many standout RB performances like there were at WR, and part of the reason was I'm waiting for JKL to finish up his great work on his AFL vs. NFL series.
  • Csonka, Harris and Riggins: These three power backs rank quite a bit behind the modern HOF RBs. Part of that is because they split time with other RBs on their rosters and were really in the pre-stud RB era. But it's also arguable that none of them would have made the HOF without their post-season resumes. As we'll see tomorrow, these guys had some of the best post-seasons of all times. And while many Terrell Davis supporters say he should be in the HOF because Gale Sayers is, that may not be their best argument. All three RBs won a SB MVP, as did Davis, and their playoff success (both individually and team) is what brought them to Canton. For Davis, I think the case is even easier. They have him beat in longevity but not in level of dominance (at least statistically).
  • Priest Holmes ranks very highly on the list. I was surprised to see that, but thoughts about his offensive line aside, his numbers are just astounding. He's like Earl Campbell or Terrell Davis without the respect or the rings. If he never got hurt in '02 (his best season, which could have been the greatest season of all time) or '04 (had huge per game numbers but missed 8 games), no one would be able to ignore his numbers. If you pro-rate his 54 games (from '01 to '04) to 64, you get 1370 carries, 6497 rushing yards, 83 rushing TDs, 267 receptions, 2564 receiving yards and 7 receiving TDs with only 12 fumbles. That's a seasonal average of 343/1624/21 and 67/641/2 with three fumbles. Four straight years of that would be HOF worthy, I think. If you pro-rate his numbers in his two missed seasons (instead of prorating his weighted average), you'd get 349/1651/22 and 64/612/2 with 3.5 fumbles per year. I'm not sure which way is more appropriate, but either way we're talking over 100 yards rushing a game, huge receiving numbers and 1.5 TDs a game. His offensive line was terrific, but he was an absolute monster for four straight years.
  • There's not much to say about Jim Brown. He ranked as the most dominant RB in the league in seven of his nine seasons and finished just a hair behind Jim Taylor in 1961.
  • I was curious to see where Curtis Martin would end up on this list. Not surprisingly, he ranks a bit higher when comparing him to replacement rather than to league average. Martin had a bunch of very good seasons but few great ones. His place in history is tough to rank. He wasn't as good as Campbell or Davis were in their primes, but he stuck around for a very long time. I think putting him at #14 is appropriate and respectable. Ricky Watters is sort of a poor man's version of Martin; he ranks 40th on the "Value" list and 17th on the "Replacement" list. Watters isn't a HOF player, IMO, but I do think he was a very valuable running back for a long time. And that's what those two numbers says.

Are older RBs well represented on this list? Among the top 30 RBs, only three (Brown, Taylor, Van Buren) debuted before 1960 and only two more (Simpson and Kelly) entered the league before the merger. There are many possible reasons for that, but here's one quick fix. Give each RB 10 points for every season they ranked #1, 9 points for every season they ranked #2, 8 points for ranking as the third best RB, etc. How would that list look?

The table below shows you. To take an example, Joe Perry (relative to league average) was the top RB in the league twice (10, 10), the third best RB once (8), fourth best, once (7), and also ranked 6th, 7th and 10th (5, 4, 1). That totals 45, which is what you see in the "Avg." column. Relative to replacement, he ranked 1st twice (10, 10), fourth twice (7, 7), seventh once (4) and tenth (1). That totals 39, shown in the "Rep." column. His ranks (shown in the earlier table) relative to league average (Val Rk) and replacement (Rep Rk) are reprinted below.

Player			Debut   Avg.    Rep.	Val Rk	Rep Rk
Jim Brown		1957 	 86	87	  1	  1
Barry Sanders		1989	 84	81	  2	  3
Walter Payton		1975	 69	73	  3	  4
Steve Van Buren		1944	 63	59	 15	 26
Emmitt Smith		1990	 61	59	  5	  6
Eric Dickerson		1983	 56	54	  7	  7
LaDainian Tomlinson	2001	 49	55	  6	  5
Thurman Thomas		1988	 48	50	 11	  9
Jim Taylor		1958	 47	44	 12	 16
Marshall Faulk		1994	 46	47	  4	  2
Joe Perry		1948	 45	39	 38	 49
O.J. Simpson		1969	 43	42	  8	 11
Curtis Martin		1995	 42	41	 14	  8
Earl Campbell		1978	 37	36	 10	 15
Leroy Kelly		1964	 37	38	 20	 29
Cliff Battles		1932	 37	41	 58	 78
Tony Dorsett		1977	 36	26	 32	 23
Gale Sayers		1965	 35	29	 33	 44
Tuffy Leemans		1936	 34	36	131	128
Tony Canadeo		1941	 34	28	134	144
Dutch Clark		1931	 33	36	164	132
Shaun Alexander		2000	 32	31	 17	 14
Terrell Davis		1995	 31	30	 13	 19
Priest Holmes		1997	 31	29	  9	 13
Edgerrin James		1999	 31	30	 16	 10
Dan Towler		1950	 31	31	 65	 91
Eddie Price		1950	 31	31	 70	111
Chuck Foreman		1973	 30	32	 24	 28
William Andrews		1979	 30	32	 26	 32
Lawrence McCutcheon	1972	 30	26	 51	 53
Bill Dudley		1942	 30	28	114	148
Larry Brown		1969	 29	28	 36	 41
Tiki Barber		1997	 28	32	 18	 12
Lydell Mitchell		1972	 28	30	 22	 21
Ottis Anderson		1979	 28	25	 25	 27
Jerome Bettis		1993	 28	23	 23	 22
Frank Gifford		1952	 28	30	 76	 69
Rick Casares		1955	 28	23	 81	100
Marcus Allen		1982	 27	30	 19	 18
John Riggins		1971	 27	24	 44	 35
Floyd Little		1967	 27	24	 64	 59
Alan Ameche		1955	 27	28	 92	108
Swede Hanson		1931	 27	22	117	149
Franco Harris		1972	 26	20	 47	 36
Wilbert Montgomery	1977	 26	32	 42	 38
Lenny Moore		1956	 26	28	 68	 51
Clinton Portis		2002	 25	27	 21	 20
Rodney Hampton		1990	 25	20	 55	 60
Hugh McElhenny		1952	 25	31	109	112
Gerald Riggs		1982	 24	17	 31	 48
Abner Haynes		1960	 24	27	 37	 46
Clem Daniels		1960	 24	27	 39	 40
Ron A. Johnson		1969	 24	25	 49	 63
Cookie Gilchrist	1962	 24	20	 66	 82
Bill Paschal		1943	 24	23	 85	119
Paul Lowe		1960	 23	19	 57	 73
Eddie George		1996	 22	25	 34	 31
John Henry Johnson	1954	 22	15	 97	103
Andy Farkas		1938	 22	24	120	140
Curt Warner		1983	 21	21	 45	 52
Herschel Walker		1986	 21	23	 43	 34
Larry Csonka		1968	 21	16	 72	 65
Ace Gutowsky		1932	 20	20	172	206
Charlie Trippi		1947	 20	20	222	209
Bronko Nagurski		1930	 20	23	346	287

This list has a lot of things going for it. The top 21 RBs are all HOFers or locks to end up there one day (Smith, Tomlinson, Faulk, Martin). Of the 65 players with 20 or more 'points', seven of the players debuted in the '30s, six in the '40s, ten in the '50s, eleven in the '60s, eleven in the '70s, seven in the '80s, ten in the '90s and three in the '00s. This list probably gives the best cross section of NFL history. Just about every older player moves up on this list and every modern player moves down.

21 Comments | Posted in History

Most Dominant RB seasons

Posted by Chase Stuart on April 7, 2009

Yesterday, I explained the methodology employed to rank every RB in every season in NFL history. The table below lists the 50 most dominant RB seasons of all time. Why does Simpson's '75 season rank as the greatest ever? Let's run through the formula.

He played in 14 of a possible 14 games that season, and rushed for 1817 yards with 7 fumbles and 1 fumble recovery. That gives him 1667 adjusted rushing yards. He had 23 combined TDs from scrimmage. He recorded 28 receptions for 426 receiving yards, which translates to 468 adjusted catch yards. So how do we compute those values? There are too many things to show in the table, so (not listed) you need to know that Simpson had 119.1 adjusted rushing yards per game while the average starting NFL RB not named O.J. averaged just 53.7 adjusted rushing yards per game. That's a difference of 65.4 ARY per game, over 14 games. That means the Juice added 916 adjusted rushing yards on the season more than the average back; since he did not play in a 16 game season, we must pro-rate his score. As usual, I averaged the number of games on the NFL schedule that season and 16; here, that's 15. So we multiply 916 by 15/14 and get 981.

For TDs, the average RB had 0.68 TD per game in '75. That means O.J.'s 1.64 TDs per game translates to 0.96 more touchdowns per game, or 13.5 TDs on the season. Multiplied by 15/14 and you get his TD value of 14.4. Finally, he averaged 33.4 ACY/G while the average RB was at 28.8 ACY/G; do the math and you get a catch value of 70. By adding 981, 70 and 20*14.4 (since each TD is worth about 20 yards), you get 1339 adjusted yards over average, the greatest RB season in NFL history.

                        	    g/nfl    ARY      TTD   ACY	   RVAL	  TDVAL	   CVAL	  VAL
O.J. Simpson	      1975    BUF   14/14    1667     23    468	    981	  14.4	    70	  1339
Marshall Faulk	      2000    STL   14/16    1409     26    952	    452	  17.1	   475	  1269
Jim Brown	      1963    CLE   14/14    1688     15    304    1088	   6.7	     0	  1223
Priest Holmes	      2002    KAN   14/16    1590     24    777	    603	  14.4	   327 	  1218
LaDainian Tomlinson   2006    SDG   16/16    1790     31    592	    647	  21.0	   146	  1213
Jim Brown	      1958    CLE   12/12    1427     18    162	   1000	   9.8	     0	  1196
O.J. Simpson	      1973    BUF   14/14    1828     12     79	   1094	   4.6	     0	  1186
Marshall Faulk	      2001    STL   14/16    1357     21    890	    437	  13.8	   472	  1185
Walter Payton	      1977    CHI   14/14    1702     16    310	    992	   9.6	     0	  1184
Terrell Davis	      1998    DEN   16/16    1983     23    255	    881	  13.9	     0	  1159
Earl Campbell	      1980    HOU   15/16    1884     13     64	   1063	   4.5	     0	  1154
Marshall Faulk	      1999    STL   16/16    1331     12   1179	    319	   2.9	   733	  1109
Jim Brown	      1965    CLE   14/14    1394     21    379	    841	  11.9	     0	  1078
Barry Sanders	      1997    DET   16/16    2003     14    355	    952	   5.0	     0	  1052
LaDainian Tomlinson   2003    SDG   16/16    1645     17    875	    501	   6.9	   413	  1052
Eric Dickerson	      1984    RAM   16/16    1855     14    171	    907	   4.2	     0	   990
Shaun Alexander	      2005    SEA   16/16    1755     28    101	    613	  17.8	     0	   970
Barry Sanders	      1994    DET   16/16    1883      8    349	    963	   0.0	     0	   963
Emmitt Smith	      1995    DAL   16/16    1598     25    468	    642	  15.7	     0	   956
Steven Jackson	      2006    STL   16/16    1478     16    941	    325	   5.5	   506	   941
Tiki Barber	      2005    NYG   16/16    1860     11    611	    722	   0.3	   205	   932
Priest Holmes	      2003    KAN   16/16    1395     27    801	    243	  17.2	   337	   924
Jim Brown	      1959    CLE   12/12    1304     14    226	    796	   6.1	     0	   919
Emmitt Smith	      1992    DAL   16/16    1638     19    424	    708	  10.3	     0	   914
Jim Taylor	      1962    GNB   14/14    1374     19    139	    711	   9.8	     0	   907
Marcus Allen	      1985    RAI   16/16    1734     14    656	    738	   3.2	    92	   893
Brian Westbrook	      2007    PHI   15/16    1283     12    906	    268	   3.6	   519	   859
Emmitt Smith	      1994    DAL   15/16    1459     22    416	    573	  13.9	     0	   852
Barry Sanders	      1991    DET   15/16    1448     17    369	    660	   8.6	     0	   831
Jamal Lewis	      2003    BAL   16/16    1891     14    244	    755	   3.8	     0	   830
Earl Campbell	      1979    HOU   16/16    1547     19    118	    665	   8.3	     0	   830
Terrell Davis	      1997    DEN   15/16    1700     15    350	    695	   6.5	     0	   826
Edgerrin James	      2000    IND   16/16    1584     18    689	    520	   7.7	   146	   820
Thurman Thomas	      1991    BUF   15/16    1282     12    724	    487	   3.4	   264	   819
Ahman Green	      2003    GNB   16/16    1758     20    442	    617	  10.0	     0	   817
James Wilder	      1984    TAM   16/16    1394     13    813	    429	   3.1	   325	   816
Larry Johnson	      2006    KAN   16/16    1764     19    472	    620	   8.6	    21	   814
Marshall Faulk	      1998    IND   16/16    1294     10   1037	    168	   0.5	   631	   809
Jim Taylor	      1961    GNB   14/14    1282     16    213	    626	   8.3	     0	   793
Jim Brown	      1961    CLE   14/14    1283     10    528	    627	   1.4	   127	   783
Eric Dickerson	      1988    IND   16/16    1559     15    431	    672	   5.1	     0	   775
Edgerrin James	      1999    IND   16/16    1403     17    679	    394	   8.0	   216	   771
Jamal Anderson	      1998    ATL   16/16    1746     16    360	    635	   6.7	     0	   769
Larry Johnson	      2005    KAN   16/16    1700     21    393	    557	  10.6	     0	   768
Chuck Foreman	      1975    MIN   14/14     820     22    801	     37	  13.3	   440	   743
LaDainian Tomlinson   2007    SDG   16/16    1474     18    565	    409	   9.3	   145	   740
Ricky Williams	      2002    MIA   16/16    1703     17    434	    603	   6.0	     0	   722
Gerald Riggs	      1985    ATL   16/16    1719     10    317	    722	   0.0	     0	   722
Emmitt Smith	      1993    DAL   14/16    1461     10    500     635	   3.4	    20	   722
Jim Brown	      1964    CLE   14/14    1346      9    394	    717    0.0	     0	   717

Jim Brown leads all backs with six top 50 seasons. Marshall Faulk ('98-'01) and Emmitt Smith ('92-'95) had top fifty performances in four straight seasons. Tomlinson and Sanders each have three seasons that made the cut. Simpson has two of the top ten seasons of all time, and Priest Holmes, Earl Campbell, Edge, Dickerson, Jim Taylor, Larry Johnson and Terrell Davis all have a pair of top 50 seasons. Dickerson has two more seasons in the 51-70 range.

Here's a look at the best RB season for each of the current 32 franchises:

	              year   team   G/NFL    ary     ttd    acy    RSHV    TDV     CATV    VAL
O.J. Simpson	      1975   buf    14/14    1667     23    468     981   14.4      70    1339
Marshall Faulk	      2000   ram    14/16    1409     26    952     452   17.1     475    1269
Jim Brown	      1963   cle    14/14    1688     15    304    1088    6.7       0    1223
Priest Holmes	      2002   kan    14/16    1590     24    777     603   14.4     327    1218
LaDainian Tomlinson   2006   sdg    16/16    1790     31    592     647   21.0     146    1213
Walter Payton	      1977   chi    14/14    1702     16    310     992    9.6       0    1184
Terrell Davis         1998   den    16/16    1983     23    255     881   13.9       0    1159
Earl Campbell	      1980   oti    15/16    1884     13     64    1063    4.5       0    1154
Barry Sanders	      1997   det    16/16    2003     14    355     952    5.0       0    1052
Shaun Alexander	      2005   sea    16/16    1755     28    101     613   17.8       0     970
Emmitt Smith	      1995   dal    16/16    1598     25    468     642   15.7       0     956
Tiki Barber           2005   nyg    16/16    1860     11    611     722    0.3     205     932
Jim Taylor	      1962   gnb    14/14    1374     19    139     711    9.8       0     907
Marcus Allen	      1985   rai    16/16    1734     14    656     738    3.2      92     893
Brian Westbrook       2007   phi    15/16    1283     12    906     268    3.6     519     859
Jamal Lewis	      2003   rav    16/16    1891     14    244     755    3.8       0     830
Edgerrin James	      2000   clt    16/16    1584     18    689     520    7.7     146     820
James Wilder	      1984   tam    16/16    1394     13    813     429    3.1     325     816
Jamal Anderson	      1998   atl    16/16    1746     16    360     635    6.7       0     769
Chuck Foreman	      1975   min    14/14     820     22    801      37   13.3     440     743
Ricky Williams        2002   mia    16/16    1703     17    434     603    6.0       0     722
Jim Nance             1966   nwe    14/14    1283     11    115     657    2.0       0     698
DeAngelo Williams     2008   car    16/16    1518     20    154     469    9.1       0     651
Stephen Davis	      1999   was    14/16    1355     17    146     451    9.0       0     631
Barry Foster	      1992   pit    16/16    1515     11    398     581    2.0       0     620
Roger Craig	      1988   sfo    16/16    1352     10    648     458    0.0     139     596
Curtis Martin	      2004   nyj    16/16    1697     14    307     528    2.4       0     577
Deuce McAllister      2003   nor    16/16    1566      8    620     419    0.0     150     569
Fred Taylor	      2000   jax    13/16    1349     14    294     447    5.2       0     551
Ottis Anderson        1979   crd    16/16    1380     10    370     491    0.0       0     491
Rudi Johnson	      2005   cin    16/16    1483     12    125     333    1.3       0     359
Domanick Williams     2004   htx    15/16    1088     14    690    - 39    3.0     277     299

Tomorrow, I'm going to post the all time career list. On Thursday, I'm going to bring post-season numbers into the discussion and look at the most dominant playoff performances in NFL history. Friday brings new lists -- a career ranking with post-season numbers included and the top single season stars including the playoffs.

Before we move on, I'd like to address two RBs who won't make much noise over the course of this five-part series. That's why I'd like to focus on them for a minute now.

  • Marion Motley: As told by the great Sean Lahman in The Pro Football Historical Abstract, Motley's NFL numbers simply don't tell the story. There are two good reasons for that. First,

    Motley spent nearly five years after college serving in the U.S. Navy, costing him most of his prime football years. [Chase note: Although it was here that he met Paul Brown.] The second problem is that when he did turn pro, he started his career in the AAFC, a league that didn't have much competitive balance. Motley was an unstoppable avalanche, completely overwhelming opposing defenses. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry and helped the Cleveland Browns compile a 47-4-3 record and win all four AAFC Championships. [Chase note: In 1948, he led the Browns to a perfect 15-0 record and rushed 14 times for 133 yards and 3 scores in the championship game.] Motley led the NFL in rushing yards in 1950, his (and the Browns') first year in the league. He was already thirty by this time, and injuries were beginning to take their toll.

    Motley rushed for just five touchdowns in his NFL career. But in a memorable game against the Steelers in 1950, he rushed 11 times for 188 yards and one score; that's a remarkable 17.1 yards per carry average. He also caught a 33 yard TD pass that game.

    One more anecdote from Lahman's book, this time told by Paul Zimmerman ("Dr. Z"): If there is a better football player who snapped on a helmet, I would like to know his name. [Jim] Brown was the best pure runner I've ever seen, but Motley was the greatest all-around player, the complete player." In case you didn't know, Motley was also a devastating linebacker for Cleveland. Here's another great Motley story:

    He began playing primarily at fullback when the two-platoon system was generally adopted in 1948, but was still used at linebacker at crucial times. In the Browns' first game in the National Football League, the Philadelphia Eagles had a first and goal at Cleveland's 6-yard line and Motley was put in at middle linebacker. Needing a touchdown, the Eagles ran the ball four times. Motley made the tackle each time. The four plays gained a total of three yards and Cleveland took over on downs.

    But most remember him for bringing power football to Cleveland, later sustained by Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly.

  • Gale Sayers: Sayers ranks #33 all time on tomorrow's list, higher than on almost any other objective list of career totals. But I suspect he's quite a bit better than the 33rd best RB of all time. From 1965 to 1969, he averaged an incredible 5.1 yards per carry. He also was taking punt and kick return duty, which likely cut down somewhat on his number of carries. The biggest reason Sayers ranks low on the career list and why his best season is just the 64th best of all time is the low number of carries. Barry Sanders and O.J. Simpson both averaged over six yards per carry one season ... and also had enough carries to hit 2,000 yards. Even in Sayers' best year, 1966, he only ranked 4th in carries. (His '66 ranks ahead of his '65 because of his 9 fumbles in '65). The obvious question is, 'Why?' Why did RBs like Bill Brown, Jim Nance and Dick Bass get more carries for their teams than Gale Sayers did for the Bears? Why did teammates Ronnie Bull, Jon Arnett and Ralph Kurek get 207 carries during Sayers' best season, when he averaged over two yards per carry more than them? No one ever called George Halas an idiot, so the two reasons were probably: 1) he didn't want to overuse his special talent, and 2) it was uncommon in that era to have a workhorse back that looked like Sayers. And really, both of those points are true.

    We'll never know if Sayers could have handled another 50-75 carries a year and kept up his production, but I suspect he could have, and would have, and would then rank in my all time top ten. On the other hand, consider that three guys who averaged 3.3 YPC got 200+ carries in '66, Sayers saw 200+ carries and averaged over five yards per carry, and the Bears had a losing record. One would think that if the Bears weren't winning many games, they would have given Sayers a bunch more carries. And while maybe Bull, Arnett and Kurek weren't very good, maybe they carried the ball in short yardage situations and Sayers carried the ball in advantageous situations. If that's the case, then you really can't compare Sayers' yards per carry average to the YPC of the do-it-all RBs who are all time greats. But that's just speculation. I will note that it's odd that Chicago had Sayers and Dick Butkus on the same team yet never had much success during the late '60s.

    That said, whenever he touched the ball, he sure looked like an all time great. And no one has ever been as good as Sayers was on a cold day in December, 1965. On opening day of that season, the 49ers throttled the Bears at old Kezar Stadium, and cruised to a 52-10 lead by the 4th quarter. Just three months later, the rookie exacted revenge: he scored six TDs, rushed 9 times for 113 yards (and 4 scores), caught 2 passes for 91 yards (including an 80 yard TD) and returned 5 punts for 124 yards (with an 85 yard score).

10 Comments | Posted in History

Most Dominant RB Ever: Methodology Discussion

Posted by Chase Stuart on April 6, 2009

Here at PFR, we've looked at the best Wide Receivers, the top Quarterbacks, and even the strongest defenses in NFL history. While long overdue, let's finally take a look at analyzing which RBs have produced the most dominant statistics of all time. I apologize in advance for the length of this post - one of the reasons I've put this project off for so long was how complicated it is to accurately rank running backs. Running back fans, rejoice: PFR's devoting the full week to looking at the greatest RBs in NFL history.

I've already mentioned two caveats. One, this will just be a statistical look. Opinions about the offensive lines of Emmitt Smith, Jim Brown, Jim Taylor and Priest Holmes are excluded from this study; feel free to move those players up or down based on your views of their supporting casts. Second, we're focusing on dominance, not necessarily value. A RB who runs for 1,200 yards in ten straight seasons is probably more valuable to his team than one with 1500 yards in five seasons and nothing else, but the latter RB is more dominant. We're focused on peak production and sustained success (although from time to time we'll change gears).

Tackling the question of which RB has separated himself most from his peers is a difficult question. How does Barry Sanders' 1883 rushing yards and 7 rushing TDs compare to Terry Allen's 1353 rushing yards and 21 scores on the ground? What about Earl Campbell's 1934 yard season with fewer than 2,000 yards from scrimmage versus Roger Craig's 1050/1016 season in 1985?

There is no simple or obvious solution. Because of that, unfortunately, this will get pretty statistics-heavy, and will surely bore most of you. But before going down that road, let me start with the biggest difference I had to keep in mind when ranking RBs as opposed to QBs.

You've probably never thought about this before, but how many yards do you think the average QB gets on his median pass attempt? The answer is zero, and for most of NFL history, it was less than that. 2008 was the greatest passing season of all time (by adjusted net yards per attempt), but even this past season, the median pass attempt probably went for only one or two yards.

The average completion percentage was 61% while the sack rate was 5.9%; this means that on every 1,000 dropbacks, 59 times the QB was sacked. On the remaining pass plays, 574 times (61% of 941) of the time the QB completed a pass. So only 57.4% of all pass plays were completed, and surely a bunch of those completions went for negative yards or no gain.

In 1998, the completion percentage was 56.6% and the sack rate was 7.2%; this means only 4.8% of all completions would need to go for no gain (or worse) to make the median pass attempt be zero (or negative). In '88, the numbers were 54.3% and 6.8%; only 1.2% of completions would need to go for no gain (or worse) to make the median pass attempt be zero (or negative). In '78? A leaguewide completion percentage of 53.1% coupled with a sack rate of 7.9% meant that 51% of all pass plays did not gain yardage even ignoring all completed passes for negative or zero yards.

Passing is high risk, high reward. The large gains offset the risk, which is why teams average more yards per pass than yards per rush. For the passers, frequency of success isn't nearly as important as quality of the success. What about rushing? Just the opposite. In modern times, most RBs have a median carry length of three yards. I suspect that's been the case for the majority of RBs for a long time. LenDale White and his 3.9 YPC last season? Median rush of 3 yards. Adrian Peterson and his 4.8 YPC? Median rush of 3 yards.

We measure passing by adjusted net yards per attempt because raw totals are misleading (good passing teams stop passing, bad passing teams pass more often) and because the average is much more important than the median for passers. For RBs, it's reversed. We care about RB consistency because rushing isn't supposed to be high risk, high reward. For runners, we want them to move the chains. Points come out of the passing game, but moving the chains and killing the clock is the domain of runners.

With that said, I decided to break RB statistics down into three categories -- rushing, scoring and catching. Then each RB will be compared to the top rushers, scorers and catchers at his position, and only get credit for his above average work. I like this because a RB with 10 receptions for 50 yards will get a zero in the receiving category while a RB with 25 catches for 200 yards will also get a zero. It's not hard to find a RB that can catch 200 yards worth of passes; however, some teams don't use their RB that way. Michael Turner shouldn't be penalized for not getting a few more receiving yards last season -- that doesn't change the fact that he was a dominant rusher. Similarly, by comparing to the league average, 24 TDs is significantly more valuable than 12 TDs, and not just twice as valuable. Let me explain in detail.

Rushing: You might expect me to give you some convoluted stat like Rushing Yards over three yards per carry or rushing yards minus league average times carries, or who knows what. But believe it or not, I think simpler is better. I spent a lot of time deciding how to weigh yards per carry, and eventually I decided pure rushing yards alone is all we need.

Is 270/1100 better than 330/1100? One argument that I've certainly used before is "they got the same number of yards, but the first guy's team had an extra 60 plays with which to gain more yards!" The natural response to that is "why would a coach give a RB 330 carries if he was only getting 3.6 per carry?" From there, we have a two different answers. Either: a) the RB wasn't that good but either the coach was dumb or the backups were really bad, or b) the RB was good and his YPC is misleading.

Once again, with rushing, I think median carry is a more telling number than average carry. Yards per carry is not a very good measure of central tendency. On the other hand, we can infer that if a RB is getting a high number of carries, he's doing something right. Carries themselves are highly correlated with greatness.

Terrell Davis, Edgerrin James, Curtis Martin, LaDainian Tomlinson, Eric Dickerson, Clinton Portis, Eddie George, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, Emmitt Smith, Ricky Williams and Earl Campbell. Those are the RBs with over 19 carries per game for their careers. A RB that gets carry after carry is doing something right. Maybe he's consistently getting gains, maybe he's running hard despite a bad OL, or maybe he's able to kill the clock without fumbling. All of those things are good. A list of the top RBs by yards per carry? Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, Paul Lowe, Robert Smith, Joe Perry, Wendell Tyler, Greg Pruitt, James Brooks, Tiki Barber, Hugh McElhenny, O.J. Simpson, Fred Taylor and Charlie Garner all have career averages over 4.6 YPC. Ignoring the overlap, I'd prefer the first list.

Remember, teams can choose to pass instead of run. So if a RB is getting 350 carries, it can't be just because his RB teammates are bad. It's got to be because the team's QB is bad, too. And if a team's QB is bad, its other RBs are bad and one guy keeps getting carry after carry, then he's pretty valuable to his team. And if year after year he gets these carries, he's definitely doing something right. A RB with 1600 yards on 400 carries may be just as valuable or dominant as one with 1600 yards on 325 carries. After all, the obvious question for the latter RB is -- why didn't he get more carries? Perhaps the former RB was getting three and four yards on every carry, a very valuable trait.

So I'm going to go with pure rushing yards, with just one addition. At PFR we have fumbles and fumbles recovered information, but not fumbles lost data. The value of a lost fumble is about -50 yards; not all fumbles are lost -- a good number are recovered by a teammate or go out of bounds. Therefore, I decided to give -25 yards for all fumbles and also +25 yards for all fumbles recovered (and not +50, since someone else on his team could have recovered the ball. Note: I should have derived the exact fumble recovery rates, but I took the easy way out and just said a fumble had a 50/50 chance of being recovered by either team). So a 1600 yard rushing season with 6 fumbles and 2 fumbles recovered (presumed two fumbles lost to the other team) is equivalent to a 1500 yard season with zero fumbles.

Scoring: This one's pretty simple -- rushing and receiving touchdowns combined. There's no reason to separate them out -- a receiving TD is just as valuable as a rushing one. This is important because a RB like James Brooks in 1988 had 6 receiving TDs but under 300 receiving yards. If we combined all receiving numbers together, Brooks might not get any receiving credit because his receiving yardage was lower than average. But his TDs were very valuable, and this way he'll get full credit for them.

Catching: Another simple formula here; adjusted catch yards are simply receiving yards plus 1.5 yards for each reception. This gives a small bonus for having a bunch of receptions but not too much.

Each RB will receive a grade in rushing, scoring and catching. Their grade will show how dominant they were relative to their peers. How? By comparing their production in that category to the league average. The league average is defined as the average production of the top N RBs in the league (in that specific category), where N is the number of teams in the league. Additionally, the RB in question will have his production removed from the league average, so for 2008, all the top RBs get compared to the other top 31 RBs in the league. Finally, per game production was used for the league average, and a RB "counted" as long as he played in at least 50% of the league's games that season.

So in 2008, the top 32 RBs by adjusted rushing yards averaged 66.5 adjusted rushing yards per game (with the adjustment being just for fumbles). The top 32 RBs in scoring per game averaged 0.70 TD/game. The top 32 RBs in adjusted catch yards averaged 27.7 ACY/G. So a RB that played in 16 games would need to have more than 1,064 adjusted rushing yards, 11.2 total TDs or more than 443 adjusted receiving yards to get credit for being "above average". Because we're looking to find the most dominant RBs ever, only above average performance is going to be rewarded. There's nothing dominant about 1,000 rushing yards.

One more thing -- what do we do with a RB that misses some games? A 2008 RB that has 1,200 adjusted yards in 12 games is more valuable than one who has 1,200 adjusted yards in 16 games, and should be rewarded as such. The latter RB would get credit for being 136 yards over average - he was 8.5 yards over average for 16 games. What about the former? He was 33.5 yards over average for 12 games, and then did not play for four games. So he'll get credit for being +402 when he played; what about when he didn't? Some arbitrary penalty must be given -- we can't ignore that his team received below average production while the RB was out. I decided to give his team 80% of average production while he was out -- this means an assumption that the backup RB(s) get 53.2 adjusted rushing yards per game (in '08). The converse of that is the starter gets a penalty of -13.3 yards per game he was out; for four games, that's -53 yards.

It's not as complicated as it sounds. It gives a RB in 2008 who had 1200 rushing yards for 12 games a value of +349. That was a mouthful and it sounds really complicated, but it makes 1200 yards in 12 games (100 yards per game) equal to 1413 yards in 16 games (88.3 yards per game). That looks like a good balance to me; the first RB was more dominant but some weight must be given for staying healthy.

Finally, how do we add it all together? A RB gets his score in the rushing category, whatever it is. He then gets his score in the TDs or the receiving category but only if his score is positive. This way, a RB that isn't a goal line threat (or plays with Peyton Manning) or a great pass catcher isn't severely penalized.

Let's use an example. LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006. He played in every game and had 1815 rushing yards, 2 fumbles and 1 fumble recovery. That's an average of 111.9 adjusted rushing yards per game. The other top 31 RBs that season averaged 71.4 ARY/G; therefore, LT gets credit for being 647 yards above average that season (the difference in yards per game times 16 games). What about scoring? He had 31 TDs, an incredible 1.9 TD/G; the other top 31 RBs averaged 0.62 TD/game, meaning Tomlinson scored 21.0 more touchdowns than league average that season. Finally, he also chipped in with 56 receptions for 508 yards, a total of 592 adjusted catch yards and 37 ACY/G. The other top 31 RBs in the league averaged 27.9 ACY/G, meaning LT added 146 yards in receiving value over the average back.

Now we just add it all up; LT had 647 adjusted rushing yards over average, 146 adjusted receiving yards over average and 21 TDs over average. His total score is therefore 647 + 146 + 20*21, giving 20 yards for each TD. That total of 1,213 adjusted yards over average is one of the five greatest seasons ever. Tune in tomorrow to see just where it ranks.

I'm sure this is going to all sound pretty math heavy and complicated, but unfortunately, analyzing RBs takes a lot of work. I really like the results, though. Here are the most dominant RBs, statistically, for each year since 1932:

2008	atl	Michael Turner
2007	phi	Brian Westbrook
2006	sdg	LaDainian Tomlinson
2005	sea	Shaun Alexander
2004	sea	Shaun Alexander
2003	sdg	LaDainian Tomlinson
2002	kan	Priest Holmes
2001	ram	Marshall Faulk
2000	ram	Marshall Faulk
1999	ram	Marshall Faulk
1998	den	Terrell Davis
1997	det	Barry Sanders
1996	den	Terrell Davis
1995	dal	Emmitt Smith
1994	det	Barry Sanders
1993	dal	Emmitt Smith
1992	dal	Emmitt Smith
1991	det	Barry Sanders
1990	det	Barry Sanders
1989	buf	Thurman Thomas
1988	clt	Eric Dickerson
1987	2tm	Eric Dickerson
1986	ram	Eric Dickerson
1985	rai	Marcus Allen
1984	ram	Eric Dickerson
1983	ram	Eric Dickerson
1982	rai	Marcus Allen
1981	det	Billy Sims
1980	oti	Earl Campbell
1979	oti	Earl Campbell
1978	chi	Walter Payton
1977	chi	Walter Payton
1976	buf	O.J. Simpson
1975	buf	O.J. Simpson
1974	den	Otis Armstrong
1973	buf	O.J. Simpson
1972	was	Larry Brown
1971	den	Floyd Little
1970	nyg	Ron A. Johnson
1969	clt	Tom Matte
1968	cle	Leroy Kelly
1967	oti	Hoyle Granger
1966	nwe	Jim Nance
1965	cle	Jim Brown
1964	cle	Jim Brown
1963	cle	Jim Brown
1962	gnb	Jim Taylor
1961	gnb	Jim Taylor
1960	cle	Jim Brown
1959	cle	Jim Brown
1958	cle	Jim Brown
1957	cle	Jim Brown
1956	chi	Rick Casares
1955	clt	Alan Ameche
1954	sfo	Joe Perry
1953	sfo	Joe Perry
1952	ram	Dan Towler
1951	nyg	Eddie Price
1950	cle	Marion Motley
1949	phi	Steve Van Buren
1948	phi	Steve Van Buren
1947	phi	Steve Van Buren
1946	pit	Bill Dudley
1945	phi	Steve Van Buren
1944	nyg	Bill Paschal
1943	chi	Harry Clarke
1942	pit	Bill Dudley
1941	chi	George McAfee
1940	was	Dick Todd
1939	was	Andy Farkas
1938	pit	Whizzer White
1937	was	Cliff Battles
1936	det	Ace Gutowsky
1935	crd	Doug Russell
1934	chi	Beattie Feathers
1933	was	Jim Musick
1932	was	Cliff Battles

And the number of times each RB led the league:

Jim Brown	        7
Eric Dickerson	        5
Barry Sanders	        4
Steve Van Buren        	4
Marshall Faulk	        3
Emmitt Smith	        3
O.J. Simpson	        3
LaDainian Tomlinson	2
Shaun Alexander	        2
Terrell Davis	        2
Marcus Allen	        2
Earl Campbell	        2
Walter Payton	        2
Jim Taylor	        2
Joe Perry	        2
Bill Dudley	        2
Cliff Battles	        2
Michael Turner	        1
Brian Westbrook	        1
Priest Holmes	        1
Thurman Thomas	        1
Billy Sims	        1
Otis Armstrong	        1
Larry Brown             1
Floyd Little	        1
Ron A. Johnson	        1
Tom Matte	        1
Leroy Kelly	        1
Hoyle Granger        	1
Jim Nance	        1
Rick Casares	        1
Alan Ameche	        1
Dan Towler	        1
Eddie Price	        1
Marion Motley	        1
Bill Paschal	        1
Harry Clarke	        1
George McAfee	        1
Dick Todd	        1
Andy Farkas	        1
Whizzer White	        1
Ace Gutowsky	        1
Doug Russell	        1
Beattie Feathers	1
Jim Musick	        1

Tomorrow, we'll look at the best 50 RB seasons of all time along with some of the best performances in team history. On Wednesday, we'll check out the career list. Because all of this data focuses just on regular season work, Thursday we'll check out the top post-season runners of all time. Friday we'll put it all together again, matching post-season data with regular season data and look at new single season and career rankings.

16 Comments | Posted in History

Baseball-reference.com gets a new look

Posted by Doug on April 5, 2009

A little over a year ago, Sean Forman did most of the programming to give p-f-r the look and functionality that it now enjoys. Basketball-reference.com switched to the same look at about the same time, and hockey-reference and sports-reference.com/olympics were born with it.

And with opening day upon us, baseball-reference.com has unveiled its redesign. Just as at p-f-r, all the tables are now sortable and a ton of new data has been added. Give it a look.

Comments Off | Posted in P-F-R News

Podcast #6

Posted by Doug on April 1, 2009

Chase talks about Keith Lincoln.

Doug discusses James Wilder and the pre-pewter Bucs.

Listen here, subscribe here if you know how, and read this if you don't. It's free, of course.

Finally, here is the photo Chase promised.

10 Comments | Posted in Podcast