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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.

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 9th, 2009 at 8:06 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.