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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).

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 7th, 2009 at 7:03 am and is filed under History. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.