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Curtis Martin, Tiki Barber and Ottis Anderson

Posted by Chase Stuart on July 26, 2007

Every year during training camp, players proclaim to the world their lofty and unlikely-to-be-attained goals. Jon Kitna got an early start this year, predicting double digit victories for the Lions this season. Well in 2001, Curtis Martin had this to say:

"I do a running test now and don't even sweat," he said. "Last year, it was killing me. I'm stronger. I'm lifting more weights. I'm putting up more weight. I feel better year to year. I feel that I'm in the second half of my career. My goal is that my second six years is better than my first six years. That's my goal. I feel like I'll accomplish that."

Curtis Martin, at age 28, had rushed for 7,754 yards through his first six seasons. At that time, only five RBs had rushed for more yards than Martin through six years. Only one RB had more carries after six years than Martin, and he (Eric Dickerson) would go on to have one of the worst first half/second half splits you'll ever see. Martin's heavy workload was cited as one of the reasons he was banged up for most of 2000 and used to explain why his productivity had begun to decline. Many thought his best days were behind him and that he was washed up. And of course, only one RB -- Emmitt Smith -- has ever rushed for 7,754 yards (or more) after turning 28 years old, and he hadn't even done that at the time Martin made his remark.

All those thoughts went through my head six years ago when I first read Martin's quote. I thought he was crazy. Six years later, how did Martin do? While he would only play 11 seasons in his career, Martin managed to do a pretty darn good job of holding up. Consider:


Rush Yds/Gm YPC Games missed due to injury
First six years: 84.3 3.86 4
Last five years: 83.5 4.21 4

Twenty-six RBs rushed for 5,000 or more yards during the first halves of their careers, and only two -- Barry Sanders and Jim Brown -- actually ran for more yards in the second half on their careers. Here's the full list for all inactive running backs. For RBs that played an even number of seasons, the first half/second half split is straight forward. For RBs that played an odd number of seasons, the middle season is equally split between the first and last part of the player's career. So when O.J. Simpson rushed for 1,125 yards in his sixth of 11 seasons, the first and last halves of his career are each credited with 562.5 yards. Because yards just look weird with a decimal point in them, I rounded up.


Name First Last Diff
Barry Sanders 6789 8480 -1691
Jim Brown 5759 6553 - 794
Curtis Martin 7152 6949 203
O.J. Simpson 5744 5493 251
Ricky Watters 5524 5119 405
Marshall Faulk 6701 5578 1123
Corey Dillon 6209 5032 1177
Walter Payton 8997 7729 1268
Tony Dorsett 7015 5724 1291
Franco Harris 6836 5284 1552
Eddie George 6120 4322 1798
Jerome Bettis 7918 5745 2173
Joe Perry 5337 3041 2296
Terry Allen 5457 3157 2300
Marcus Allen 7275 4968 2307
Gerald Riggs 5268 2920 2348
Freeman McNeil 5320 2754 2566
Emmitt Smith 10697 7658 3039
Herschel Walker 5652 2573 3079
Terrell Davis 5409 2198 3211
Earl Campbell 6457 2950 3507
Calvin Hill 5009 1074 3935
Thurman Thomas 8178 3897 4281
Greg Pruitt 5022 650 4372
Eric Dickerson 9086 4174 4912
Ottis Anderson 7843 2430 5413

While lots of RBs fade into the sunset as they grow older, we all know that some RBs have had slow starts to their careers. Here's a list of all the inactive RBs to rush for over 1,000 more yards in the second half of their careers:


Name First Last Diff
Tiki Barber 2806 7642 -4836
Robert Smith 1829 4989 -3160
Rocky Bleier 693 3172 -2479
Hewritt Dixon 407 2683 -2276
Priest Holmes 2880 5156 -2276
Jim Otis 1053 3297 -2244
John Riggins 4655 6697 -2042
Earl Ferrell 464 2486 -2022
James Stewart 2020 3821 -1801
John Henry Johnson 2507 4297 -1790
Barry Sanders 6789 8480 -1691
Joe Morris 2039 3546 -1507
Gaston Green 321 1816 -1495
Charlie Harraway 788 2231 -1443
Moe Williams 195 1631 -1436
Tank Younger 1123 2517 -1394
Lamar Smith 1743 3106 -1363
Charlie Garner 2876 4222 -1346
Tom Matte 1652 2994 -1342
Stump Mitchell 1674 2975 -1301
Robb Riddick 50 1291 -1241
Garrison Hearst 3369 4597 -1228
Charles White 942 2133 -1191
Willie Ellison 1137 2289 -1152
Cannonball Butler 880 1888 -1008

Warrick Dunn and Fred Taylor are two active players that might one day land on this list; both would make it if they retired today. Reuben Droughns is currently at -3133 and Thomas Jones is at -2229, and a host of younger players are in the high negatives as well.

What about on the other side? Here's the complete list of inactive players that had much better starts to their career than finishes:


Name First Last Diff
Ottis Anderson 7843 2430 5413
Eric Dickerson 9086 4174 4912
Greg Pruitt 5022 650 4372
Thurman Thomas 8178 3897 4281
Calvin Hill 5009 1074 3935
Earl Campbell 6457 2950 3507
Ollie Matson 4194 979 3215
Terrell Davis 5409 2198 3211
Herschel Walker 5652 2573 3079
Emmitt Smith 10697 7658 3039
Rick Casares 4414 1383 3031
Joe Cribbs 4046 1310 2736
James Jones 3138 488 2650
Freeman McNeil 5320 2754 2566
Larry Brown 4177 1698 2479
Billy Cannon 2449 6 2443
Paul Lowe 3689 1307 2382
James Wilder 4178 1830 2348
Gerald Riggs 5268 2920 2348
Rueben Mayes 2898 586 2312
Marcus Allen 7275 4968 2307
Terry Allen 5457 3157 2300
Joe Perry 5337 3041 2296
John Brockington 3718 1468 2250
Sherman Smith 2880 640 2240
John Stephens 2809 631 2178
Jerome Bettis 7918 5745 2173
Boobie Clark 2565 467 2098
Tommy Mason 3135 1069 2066
Keith Byars 2584 525 2059
Tony Galbreath 3063 1009 2054
Hugh McElhenny 3649 1633 2016

Mike Alstott (2196) and Anthony Thomas (2054) would join the list if they retired today. Earl Campbell may be lower than you'd expect, but he did have one 1300 yard season at the beginning of the second half of his career. Dickerson's a victim of having so many huge years early in his career; he still managed over 4,000 yards in the second half of his career. Ottis Anderson stuck around forever, but earned a memorable Super Bowl MVP award ten years after making his last Pro Bowl. A few more random thoughts...

  • Floyd Little (3,162 yards), Jerry Latin (280), Mike Green (71), Scott Williams (37) and Steve Hendrickson (3) are the only RBs to finish with the same number of rushing yards in the first and second halves of their careers (excluding the lengthy list of RBs with zero career rushing yards). Willie Brown (133), Keith Kinderman (111), Kenny Gamble (24) and Leo Hayden (11) each played three years, recorded rushing yards (in parentheses) in the middle year, but did not record a rushing yard in their first or third season in the league. Reggie Branch pulled the same donut but over five years.
  • Of all RBs that were not active in 2006, 365 of them rushed for more yards in the second half of their careers than in the first; 829 RBs rushed for more yardage in the first half of their careers.
  • John Riggins, James Brooks, Garrison Hearst and Ricky Williams all rushed for over 3,000 yards in the first halves of their career, but rushed for more yards in the second half. Barry Sanders, Tiki Barber, Jim Brown, Riggins and Priest Holmes are the only RBs with over 5,000 rushing yards in the second halves of their careers.
  • Be careful what assumptions you make from all of this. Just because a RB rushed for a lot more yards in the first half of his career than the second doesn't mean he broke down. If Thurman Thomas retired after an unimpressive 1997, he would have rushed for a little more than 1,000 more yards in the first half of his career than the second half. But because he stuck around (a sign that he didn't break down entirely), his split ends up looking much more heavily weighted towards the early part of his career.

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 26th, 2007 at 8:21 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.