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HOF 2010: Roger Craig

Posted by Chase Stuart on December 1, 2009

Previous HOF 2010 Bios: John Randle

Roger Craig had the sort of career most running backs could only dream of enjoying. When Craig was drafted by the 49ers, they already had Joe Montana and head coach Bill Walsh, and would soon add Jerry Rice to the mix. Craig played most of his career in one of the most innovative offenses of all-time, one that emphasized the pass catching running back, and teamed with two of the greatest offensive stars in NFL history. He also played behind some of the best offensive lines in the NFL. After seven seasons in the NFL, Craig had:

  • Seven seasons of 1,000 yards from scrimmage
  • Four Pro Bowl appearances
  • Three Super Bowl rings
  • Two historically great individual seasons; 1985, he led the league in receptions and became the first player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 1,000 yards in the same season. Three years later, he led the league in yards from scrimmage, and was named Offensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press and the Newspaper Enterprise Association named him the most valuable player in football.
  • One historically great team season to remember, as his '84 49ers became the first team to win 18 games in a season.

Craig was a versatile player who alternated between fullback and running back and could do it all on the field; he was the original ultraback. Craig also had a knack for playing at his best when the games mattered the most. In the '80s, he played in 14 playoff games and rushed for 771 yards while averaging 4.2 yards per carry, caught 57 passes for 536 yards, and scored 9 touchdowns. In three Super Bowl victories he totaled 410 yards and scored four touchdowns.

Craig was a very good player, and arguably a top-four running back for the decade of the 1980s. On the other hand, Craig wasn't the difference maker for any of his teams. Even Craig would acknowledge that he was, at best, the third best player on San Francisco's offense. During his prime (1983 to 1990), he handled 50% of the running back carries for San Francisco, but gained only 49% of the rushing yards gained by 49ers backs. Wendell Tyler looked just as good in San Francisco during his peak as Craig did for an admittedly longer stretch; those 49ers teams were strong at every position, including the head coach.

Craig ranked in the top five in rushing yards just once, when he finished third in 1988; he only was among the top ten rushing leaders in two other seasons. He finished in the top six in yards from scrimmage in four seasons, but only ranked in the top five in total touchdowns once (finishing second in 1985). He never rushed for 10 TDs in a season, and his second best rushing total was 1054 in 1989. In my RB-ranking formula, Craig finished as the 3rd best regular season running back in '85 and '88, the 11th best in '86 and '87, and the 12th best back in '89. None of his other seasons stood out. With a lack of dominant seasons, Craig would have needed a bunch of solid seasons to have a good HOF campaign; unfortunately Craig had only eight seasons of 500+ rushing yards and only three 1,000+ yard seasons. I've got him as my 36th most deserving HOF RB; ahead of Floyd Little, but far behind Emmitt Smith and Terrell Davis.

Chances he'll make the HOF in 2010? Poor.
Chances he'll ever make the HOF? Below average.
Should he be a HOFer? Craig falls a few years and a a lot of yards short of having a good HOF case.