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31 Jul 2008

Fifth Anniversary Special: Best RB Seasons, 95-07

by Aaron Schatz

In honor of our fifth anniversary, we're running a series of articles looking at the best and worst players in the history of our advanced stats, DVOA and DYAR. If you are unfamiliar with our advanced stats -- perhaps you are a new reader visiting our website for the first time after picking up a copy of Pro Football Prospectus 2008 -- you can read all about them here. The series so far:

For running backs, I want to look at rushing and receiving value separately, and then we'll add the two together. First, here are the top rushing seasons by DVOA, minimum 100 carries. (Note that all the running back stats pages now rank players over 100 carries instead of players over 75 carries.)

Best RB Seasons in Rushing DVOA, 1995-2007 (min. 100 carries)
Year Player Team DVOA DYAR Runs Yards TD FUM Suc
Rate
2000 Marshall Faulk STL 35.0% 473 253 1,359 18 0 61%
2002 Priest Holmes KC 31.2% 539 313 1,615 21 1 55%
2003 Onterrio Smith MIN 30.7% 170 107 579 5 1 57%
2006 Marion Barber DAL 30.5% 257 135 654 14 0 56%
2004 Larry Johnson KC 30.0% 205 120 581 9 0 53%
1995 Charlie Garner PHI 27.7% 157 108 588 6 1 56%
2002 Clinton Portis DEN 27.1% 429 273 1,508 15 5 61%
1999 Stephen Davis WAS 26.4% 449 290 1,407 17 3 60%
1997 Marcus Allen KC 26.3% 214 124 505 11 4 61%
2003 Brian Westbrook PHI 25.9% 151 116 605 7 0 45%

Alas, poor Whizzinator, you left us with nothing but memories of what might have been...

In case you are wondering about opponent adjustments, the Faulk and Garner seasons are the ones that take a bit of a hit because of easy schedules, while the Johnson, Allen, and Westbrook seasons get a boost from tough schedules. The Allen and Westbrook seasons provide a great example of how two players can have similar value even though their performances look very different. With a similar number of runs, Westbrook had 100 more yards and four fewer fumbles, but Allen had a much more consistent season and four additional touchdowns. Check out the distribution of yardage for each player:

Yardage Distribution
Marcus Allen 1997 vs. Brian Westbrook 2003
  Allen 1997 Westbrook 2003
lost yardage 3 13
0-4 yards 77 54
5-9 yards 37 33
10-19 yards 5 10
20+ yards 2 6

The top rushing DVOA ratings belong to a lot of part-time running backs, so let's look at the best DVOA ratings by lead backs, with at least 15 carries per game (or 240 on the season). 

Best RB Seasons in Rushing DVOA, 1995-2007 (min. 250 carries)
Year Player Team DVOA DYAR Runs Yards TD FUM Suc
Rate
2000 Marshall Faulk STL 35.0% 473 253 1,359 18 0 61%
2002 Priest Holmes KC 31.2% 539 313 1,615 21 1 55%
2002 Clinton Portis DEN 27.1% 429 273 1,508 15 5 61%
1999 Stephen Davis WAS 26.4% 449 290 1,407 17 3 60%
2003 Priest Holmes KC 24.8% 480 320 1,420 27 1 58%
2006 Brian Westbrook PHI 23.9% 314 240 1,217 7 1 48%
2006 LaDainian Tomlinson SD 23.4% 453 348 1,815 28 2 49%
2005 Larry Johnson KC 23.3% 468 336 1,750 20 5 55%
1998 Terrell Davis DEN 22.7% 542 392 2,008 21 1 52%
1997 Terrell Davis DEN 21.3% 478 369 1,743 15 4 56%

A look at the backs who played well in really limited time gives a mix of recent names and guys you have never heard of. The highest DVOA for a back with at least 20 carries belongs to Tampa Bay rookie Jerry Ellison in 1995, 81.4% DVOA thanks to 26 carries for 218 yards and five touchdowns. The second-highest DVOA belongs to DeDe Dorsey with last year's Bengals, and the sixth-highest DVOA belongs to Ahmad Bradshaw of the Giants. If you are looking for reasons for skepticism about Dorsey and Bradshaw, consider that after 1995 Jerry Ellison played four more years with just 150 more rushing yards and never scored another touchdown. Then again, the third-highest DVOA for a running back with at least 20 carries belongs to a rookie fourth-rounder with the 1996 Redskins, a guy by the name of Stephen Davis.

Players like Marshall Faulk and Clinton Portis show up with historically great DVOA ratings in part because of Success Rates above 60 percent. However, the running backs with the highest Success Rates have two things in common: DVOA under 20% and home games at the RCA Dome.

Best RB Seasons in Success Rate, 1995-2007 (min. 100 carries)
Year Player Team DYAR DVOA Runs Yards TD FUM Suc
Rate
2006 Joseph Addai IND 276 18.4% 226 1,074 7 2 62%
2005 Edgerrin James IND 352 13.0% 360 1,506 13 2 62%
2004 T.J. Duckett ATL 141 21.1% 104 509 8 2 62%
1997 Marcus Allen KC 214 26.3% 124 505 11 4 61%
2000 Marshall Faulk STL 473 35.0% 253 1,359 18 0 61%
2002 Clinton Portis DEN 429 27.1% 273 1,508 15 5 61%
1999 Stephen Davis WAS 449 26.4% 290 1,407 17 3 60%
2007 Kenton Keith IND 125 14.0% 121 533 3 1 58%
2007 Laurence Maroney NE 199 16.7% 185 835 6 0 58%
2003 Priest Holmes KC 480 24.8% 320 1,420 27 1 58%

As you might expect, the highest Success Rates for backs below 100 carries belong to fullbacks. Two of the top four spots belong to Lorenzo Neal (83 percent in 2005, 76 percent in 2006) with Mack Strong and Zack Crockett in between, both at 78 percent in 2002.

That brings us to our final list for rushing value, the top ten seasons in rushing DYAR. Even though rushing performance around the league was lower from 1996 through 2001 compared to the seasons since 2002, two of the top three seasons come from the mid-90's. Looking for more ammunition for the Terrell Davis Hall of Fame argument? Here you go...

Best RB Seasons in Rushing DYAR, 1995-2007
Year Player Team DYAR YAR DVOA Runs Yards TD FUM Suc
Rate
1998 Terrell Davis DEN 542 485 22.7% 392 2,008 21 1 52%
2002 Priest Holmes KC 539 535 31.2% 313 1,615 21 1 55%
2003 Priest Holmes KC 480 430 24.8% 320 1,420 27 1 58%
1997 Terrell Davis DEN 478 450 21.3% 369 1,743 15 4 56%
2000 Marshall Faulk STL 473 521 35.0% 253 1,359 18 0 61%
2005 Larry Johnson KC 468 473 23.3% 336 1,750 20 5 55%
1995 Emmitt Smith DAL 461 421 18.9% 375 1,760 25 7 53%
2006 LaDainian Tomlinson SD 453 498 23.4% 348 1,815 28 2 49%
2005 Shaun Alexander SEA 449 502 19.3% 370 1,892 27 5 54%
1999 Stephen Davis WAS 449 454 26.4% 290 1,407 17 3 60%

I left in the numbers with opponent adjustments (YAR) to show something most people don't consider when they talk about how great Davis was at his peak: he played against some really hard schedules. In 1997, Kansas City was fifth in run defense DVOA while San Diego ranked seventh. Three of the four teams that ranked above Kansas City were also on the Broncos schedule (Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Buffalo). The following year, 1998, San Diego had the league's best run defense and although Kansas City dropped to 15th, Oakland improved to third.

Let's move on to running backs as receivers, starting with the best DVOA seasons for running backs with at least 25 passes.

Best RB Seasons in Receiving DVOA, 1995-2007 (min. 25 passes)
Year Player Team DVOA DYAR Passes Catches Yards TD Catch
Rate
2004 Larry Johnson KC 72.2% 145 28 22 278 2 79%
1999 Marshall Faulk STL 70.9% 451 104 87 1,048 5 84%
1997 Jamal Anderson ATL 68.1% 144 37 29 284 3 78%
1996 Jerris McPhail MIA 67.5% 119 29 20 282 0 69%
2003 Travis Fisher GB 67.0% 94 25 21 206 2 84%
1997 Brian Mitchell WAS 63.7% 190 50 36 438 1 72%
1997 Larry Bowie WAS 60.6% 172 40 34 388 2 85%
1997 Bernie Parmalee MIA 59.1% 147 35 28 301 1 80%
1998 Marshall Faulk IND 58.3% 408 105 86 908 4 82%
2001 James Stewart DET 57.2% 110 26 23 242 1 88%

Hey, that Larry Johnson guy is pretty good. Johnson's 2004 receiving resume features a 30-yard gain on second-and-16 and a 14-yard touchdown on fourth-and-2. He gained at least eight yards on more than half of his passes -- not half the completions, but half the passes, period. And hey, who knew that Jamal Anderson was such a good pass receiver? He caught six passes on third down and moved the chains five times, including twice on third-and-11.

Here's a list of the best running backs who were a little more important to the passing game, with a minimum of 50 passes. This might as well just be called the "Marshall Faulk" list... or should that be the "Ronnie Harmon" list?

Best RB Seasons in Receiving DVOA, 1995-2007 (min. 50 passes)
Year Player Team DVOA DYAR Passes Catches Yards TD Catch
Rate
1999 Marshall Faulk STL 70.9% 451 104 87 1,048 5 84%
1997 Brian Mitchell WAS 63.7% 190 50 36 438 1 72%
1998 Marshall Faulk IND 58.3% 408 105 86 908 4 82%
1995 Dorsey Levens GB 55.1% 224 57 48 434 4 84%
1996 Ronnie Harmon HOU 51.6% 209 59 42 488 2 71%
2002 Charlie Garner OAK 51.3% 405 110 91 941 4 83%
1995 Ronnie Harmon SD 50.5% 284 87 61 651 5 70%
2001 Marshall Faulk STL 47.7% 363 103 83 765 9 81%
2002 Priest Holmes KC 45.6% 267 81 70 672 3 86%
1995 Larry Centers ARI 45.6% 368 119 101 962 2 85%

Harmon was sort of the Reggie Bush of his era, complete with a massive high-profile Rose Bowl failure. I wonder what we're going to get when we go back to his 1992 season, when he had 79 receptions for 914 yards. By the time we hit the DVOA Era, Harmon isn't getting quite as much playing time as he once did, which means that the list of the top receiving DYAR seasons is dominated even further by Marshall Faulk.

Best RB Seasons in Receiving DYAR, 1995-2007
Year Player Team DYAR DVOA Passes Catches Yards TD Catch
Rate
1999 Marshall Faulk STL 451 70.9% 104 87 1048 5 84%
1998 Marshall Faulk IND 408 58.3% 105 86 908 4 82%
2002 Charlie Garner OAK 405 51.3% 110 91 941 4 83%
1995 Larry Centers ARI 368 45.6% 119 101 962 2 85%
2000 Marshall Faulk STL 367 42.1% 113 81 830 8 72%
2001 Marshall Faulk STL 363 47.7% 103 83 765 9 81%
1996 Larry Centers ARI 284 23.9% 130 99 766 7 76%
1995 Ronnie Harmon SD 284 50.5% 87 61 651 5 70%
2006 Reggie Bush NO 272 22.4% 122 81 748 2 68%
2002 Priest Holmes KC 267 45.6% 81 70 672 3 86%

That brings us to the grand enchilada, the list of the top overall running back seasons in DYAR. As always, be aware that a rushing "yard above replacement" does not necessarily signify the same amount of running back value as a receiving "yard above replacement," since neither one really represents the running back doing something all by himself. When we add them together, we assume they are equal, but we can't know for sure at this point. It's fun though, isn't it?

Best RB Seasons in Total DYAR, 1995-2007
Year Player Team Run
DYAR
Runs RuYd RuTD Rec
DYAR
Pass RcYd RcTD Catch
Rate
Tot
DYAR
2000 Marshall Faulk STL 473 253 1,359 18 367 113 830 8 72% 840
2002 Priest Holmes KC 539 313 1,615 21 267 81 672 3 86% 806
2003 Priest Holmes KC 480 320 1,420 27 254 90 690 0 82% 734
1999 Marshall Faulk STL 279 253 1,381 7 451 104 1,048 5 84% 731
2001 Marshall Faulk STL 297 260 1,382 12 363 103 765 9 81% 660
2002 Charlie Garner OAK 254 182 978 7 405 110 941 4 83% 659
2006 LaDainian Tomlinson SD 453 348 1,815 28 139 80 508 3 69% 592
1998 Terrell Davis DEN 542 392 2,008 21 41 38 217 2 66% 582
1998 Marshall Faulk IND 163 324 1,319 6 408 105 908 4 82% 572
2005 Larry Johnson KC 468 336 1,750 20 102 49 343 1 67% 570
Year Player Team Run
DYAR
Runs RuYd Ru TD Rec
DYAR
Pass RcYd Rc TD Catch
Rate
Tot
DYAR
2005 Tiki Barber NYG 342 357 1,864 9 209 70 530 2 77% 551
2002 Clinton Portis DEN 429 273 1,508 15 114 48 364 3 69% 543
2001 Priest Holmes KC 380 327 1,555 8 160 75 614 2 83% 539
2000 Edgerrin James IND 327 387 1,718 13 201 87 594 5 72% 528
2007 Brian Westbrook PHI 334 278 1,333 7 189 120 771 6 75% 524
2003 Ahman Green GB 362 355 1,886 15 142 60 366 5 83% 503
2005 Edgerrin James IND 352 360 1,506 13 143 50 337 1 88% 495
2004 Edgerrin James IND 307 334 1,551 9 175 60 483 0 85% 482
2004 Curtis Martin NYJ 415 370 1,685 12 54 50 248 2 84% 469
1997 Terrell Davis DEN 500478 369 1,743 15 -10 57 287 0 74% 468

Once again it seems like this list is severely lacking in performances from the 20th century, but that's partly a coincidence that comes from cutting the list at a round number. Emmitt Smith in 1995 is 21st in combined value, and Barry Sanders in 1997 is 23rd.

You have to wonder if Marshall Faulk is going to get screwed by those NFL "Team of the Decade" lists -- his peak happened to come right around the turn of the century, with four of the top ten seasons in combined DYAR, but they don't have an NFL "Team of Two Consecutive Half-Decades After 1995." Nobody should be surprised that Faulk leads the list of career combined rushing and receiving DYAR. He also leads the list of career combined rushing and receiving DYAR per season (minimum four seasons with at least 25 carries).

Best RB in Total Career DYAR, 1995-2007
Player Years Run
DYAR
  Player Years Rec
DYAR
  Player Years Tot
DYAR
Priest Holmes 9 1,969   Marshall Faulk 11 1,948   Marshall Faulk 11 3,422
LaDainian Tomlinson 7 1,653   Larry Centers 9 1,381   Priest Holmes 9 2,692
Terrell Davis 7 1,572   Tiki Barber 10 1,147   Tiki Barber 10 2,244
Marshall Faulk 11 1,475   Charlie Garner 10 1,044   Edgerrin James 9 2,017
Edgerrin James 9 1,354   Brian Westbrook 6 891   Charlie Garner 10 2,013
Corey Dillon 10 1,327   Warrick Dunn 11 779   LaDainian Tomlinson 7 1,993
Fred Taylor 10 1,247   Dorsey Levens 10 773   Brian Westbrook 6 1,779
Clinton Portis 6 1,192   Priest Holmes 9 723   Terrell Davis 7 1,679
Curtis Martin 11 1,158   Amp Lee 4 717   Corey Dillon 10 1,617
Jerome Bettis 11 1,150   Kevin Faulk 9 685   Fred Taylor 10 1,591

In case you needed another reminder of the brevity of a running back's career, here's a fun fact: Brett Favre has qualified for our DYAR rankings in every single year of the DVOA Era, 13 straight seasons. Steve McNair has qualified in 12 seasons and almost qualified in a 13th (87 passes). On the other hand, no running back has even 25 carries in all 13 years. The longest career for a running back in the DVOA Era, measured by consecutive seasons of 25 or more carries, is 11 years. Only two of those players, Jerome Bettis and Curtis Martin, had 100 carries in all 11 years.

And the award for surprise appearance on the career DYAR lists goes to... Amp Lee. Seriously, Amp Lee? Actually, yes, Amp Lee was a receiving force for a few years in the mid-nineties. The 49ers took him in the second round of the 1992 draft and he was a rookie at the tender age of 21. Even though he fit the San Francisco mold of backs who excelled as receivers, he moved on to Minnesota after two years. (Does anyone know why? I couldn't find information on whether this was a trade or Plan B free agency.) Lee was in Minnesota for three years and then really blossomed in St. Louis. In 1997 and 1998 he was basically Dick Vermeil's prototype for what Marshall Faulk would be from 1999 through 2002. However, once Faulk showed up, Lee couldn't get playing time. He had three catches in 1999, then one for the Eagles in 2000, and was out of the league at the age of 29.

Best RB in DYAR per Season, 1995-2007 (min. 4 seasons)
Player Years Run
DYAR
  Player Years Rec
DYAR
  Player Years Tot
DYAR
LaDainian Tomlinson 7 236.2   Amp Lee 4 179.3   Marshall Faulk 11 311.1
Terrell Davis 7 224.5   Marshall Faulk 11 177.1   Priest Holmes 9 299.1
Priest Holmes 9 218.8   Larry Centers 9 153.4   Brian Westbrook 6 296.5
Barry Sanders 4 211.2   Brian Westbrook 6 148.6   LaDainian Tomlinson 7 284.7
Clinton Portis 6 198.7   Tiki Barber 10 114.7   Larry Johnson 5 254.8
Larry Johnson 5 183.8   Charlie Garner 10 104.4   Clinton Portis 6 251.6
Edgerrin James 9 150.4   Terry Kirby 5 102.2   Barry Sanders 4 246.3
Brian Westbrook 6 148.0   Jamal Anderson 6 83.0   Terrell Davis 7 239.9
Marshall Faulk 11 135.9   Priest Holmes 9 80.3   Tiki Barber 10 224.4
Rudi Johnson 5 135.5   Brian Mitchell 6 79.6   Edgerrin James 9 224.2

Next week, we'll look at the worst running back seasons and careers; however, we didn't wait to post all the running back stats all the way back to 1995. Just don't go giving away the "worst running back seasons" secrets in the discussion thread...

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 31 Jul 2008

40 comments, Last at 25 Aug 2008, 2:13pm by Sam Larson

Comments

1
by Frank Greenagel (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 11:09am

Amp lee was a free agent pick-up by the Vikings.

2
by Joey Jo-Jo Junior Shabbadu (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 11:19am

Regarding Amp Lee, it appears the 49ers released him during their "mortgaging the future" free agency plan of 1994, then he must have signed with the Vikings.

It's hard to believe he would have been worse than Derek Loville...

3
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 11:19am

Drug test equipment aside, ol' Onterrio really did have a ton of talent. Really makes you wonder how often success at the elite level of athletics is prevented by purely mental attributes, or lack thereof.

4
by Travis (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 11:25am

Amp Lee was cut from the 49ers in a salary cap move; the 49ers decided to keep Dexter Carter (who also returned kickoffs and punts) instead.

5
by Temo (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 11:26am

It's interesting how Emmitt Smith had a great season in 1995, then fell off in '96 and '97 (posting negative DVOA both years) before reestablishing himself in '98 and '99.

The offensive line stayed the same from '95-'97 (with the exception of Center Clay Shriver who replaced the 38 year old Ray Donaldson in '97, but was himself replaced by Mark Stepnoski a year later). However when Emmitt had his resurgence in '98 and '99, the aging (and probably drug addled) Mark Tuinei was replaced by Larry Allen moving over to LT from RG and the rookie Flozell Adams was inserted at RG. Then in '99 the aging (and probably drug addled) Nate Newton retired, making room for everyone to go to their orginal positions: Allen to come back to Guard, Adams to move over to LT, and newcomer Everett McIver filling in temporarily at RG.

Long story short: They replaced old and drug-binging OLineman with younger guys and Emmitt suddenly became a productive runner again. O-Line effect on RB production is evident.

6
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 11:35am

I never would have guessed Jamal Anderson would rank so high in terms of receiving value.

I'm glad to see Stephen Davis in 1999 was as good as I thought he was-60% Success Rate while 51% was second in the league.

Of all the RBs whose careers have been fully covered or nearly so, the only ones I would mind seeing not inducted are Faulk and Tomlinson. Everybody else on the lists I would not mind seeing left out, though I assume at least Bettis and Martin have good shots at making it.

7
by Nathan (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 12:29pm

Faulk was one of my favorite players before he cursed at me for asking a question while interviewing him at my highschool home coming.

Ever since, I have an irrational hatred for him.

The question was,

"How does it feel to be 0-11? Do you think you'll win a game this season?"

It may not have been 0-11, could have been another 0-? number. Don't remember what week it was in.

8
by CoachDave (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 12:54pm

And to think that Polian traded away Faulk (in the prime of his career) for a 2nd and 5th rounder.

One of the most lopsided trades in the history of the league IMO.

9
by The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly (aka SJM) (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 1:02pm

The argument for Terrell Davis becomes a lot weaker when you realize that Priest Holmes out-produced him in every metric except "best seasons by pure rushing DYAR." Otherwise, Holmes had better rushing DVOA in his best seasons, higher rushing DYAR per season in his career, was a better receiver, and had more combined value in his best seasons, combined value per year in his career, in career rushing value and combined career value.

I know Davis produced in the playoffs, but Holmes only had the chance to play in 1 career playoff game with the Chiefs. He made the most of it. Stats: 24 carries for 176 yards, 5 catches for 32 yards, 2 TDs in the famous "game without a punt." (He also contributed to a Super Bowl with the Ravens, although he didn't play well.)

10
by SoulardX (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 1:09pm

Marshall Faulk and Amp Lee were both on the 99 Rams.

We miss you Rush....

11
by Disco Stu (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 1:26pm

first impression of this list- man, Dick Vermeil can coach.

12
by parker (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 1:31pm

McNabb guy,
It has to be worth something that only three running backs have had 500 dyar season and TD had two of them.

13
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 1:36pm

Everyone agrees that Marshall Faulk is a no-brainer for Canton. My question is, why is his name not mentioned more often in "greatest back of all time discussions"? Is receiving by running backs really that undervalued? If I was picking a team from a pool of every player ever in their prime to play under the current rules, Faulk would be in it.

14
by The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly (aka SJM) (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 1:50pm

Re: 13

Is receiving by running backs really that undervalued?

Yes. It's the same reason it took people so long to recognize how good Tiki Barber and Brian Westbrook are.

15
by The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly (aka SJM) (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 1:55pm

Oops, I made one mistake in the Davis vs. Holmes post- Davis has a higher rushing DYAR per season.

16
by Alex (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 2:50pm

The argument for Terrell Davis becomes a lot weaker when you realize that Priest Holmes out-produced him in every metric except “best seasons by pure rushing DYAR.”

Wait, can't we put both of them in Canton? Is there some new Highlander-style "There Can Be Only One" rule about Davis and Holmes in the HOF? Why not enshrine both of them?

17
by deflated (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 2:52pm

Re. 9: "I know Davis produced in the playoffs, but Holmes only had the chance to play in 1 career playoff game with the Chiefs."

Why are you penalizing Davis by discounting his playoff games because Holmes didn't get the opportunity? If you want to head down that path you could start discounting Holmes' receiving stats by saying the Denver schemes never featured RBs running routes (or some equivalent rubbish).

Seriously, Davis' post-season stats are spectacular, you can make a great case for him as the most dominant playoff RB of all time. 240 carries, 1140 yards, 12 TDs is a good season and he did that in 8 games against superior teams in high-pressure games. Halfway to a 2200yd+ season in playoff games alone is an incredible feat.

18
by MilkmanDanimal (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 3:54pm

13, I don't think Faulk would be the automatic vote even if the criteria would be to use today's rules. I think Walter Payton would still wind up fitting in--great runner, excellent blocker, caught the ball really well, extremely smart, pretty much everything. Of course, the advanced stats don't go back for enough to do that kind of a measurement, but I'd still go for Payton.

19
by BCS (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 4:15pm

#8: And to think that Polian traded away Faulk (in the prime of his career) for a 2nd and 5th rounder.

One of the most lopsided trades in the history of the league IMO.

It was a while ago, but if I recall correctly, Faulk was at the end of his contract and had already said he was going somewhere else, and Polian had to get what he could for him. And of course, the Colts drafted James and produced the biggest record improvement in league history the next year. I don't think they missed him all that much. Surely any perceived mistake made by Polian re: Faulk was made up for by him having the good sense to draft Edge over Bob Marley.

20
by BCS (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 4:18pm

Sorry, I was wrong. Faulk's contract wasn't ending, but it had 2 years left on it and he had publicly expressed his dissatisfaction with the fact that the Colts wouldn't renegotiate it.

Ironically, the NY Times article about it specifically says that they traded away Faulk so they could draft Ricky Williams (who I think I'm going to start calling "Pineapple Express").

21
by sn0mm1s (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 5:06pm

Meh, after reading this, I am inclined to say it is impossible to quantitatively measure RBs in any meaningful way. I see a proponderance of Chiefs, Broncos, and Colts (coincidentally teams that have had great olines and/or qbs). I see Faulk who appears to be a bested by Edge on similar Colt teams but is a god on the Rams.

Considering Sanders' 1997 season is ranked 3rd all-time in the 2007 Prospectus yet can't break top 20 in the last 13 years with this metric makes me seriously wonder about the validity of whatever is being measured.

22
by CoachDave (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 5:33pm

Actually Faulk was threatening to hold out unless it was re-negotiated, Polian took it personally, bad mouthed Faulk in the media, said he wouldn't trade Faulk to an AFC team, then was shocked when he could only get a 2nd and a 5th rounder.

Cause you know...talking bad in the media about the player you are trying to deal has negative effects on their market value (who knew?).

Don't get me wrong...I love Polian's ability to evaluate talent, build a winner, etc....but he is one supreme asshole, and the Faulk trade, the pushing of the Jet employee, etc. have not been some of his finer moments.

But yea...Edge over Marley was sheer genius.

23
by Becephalus (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 7:15pm

21

I think you are right on vis a vis the complete ambivalence of a lot of FO data to individual talent. While FO does try at times to stress that these are stats judging groups and units and situations, and not players, they often slide right back into that language because its easier and draws more eyeballs.

FO is good for fantasy analysis, and team/unit analysis, but for raw individual talent it isn't much better than the eyeball test. (then again neither is any other system). It does have some use identifying guys who combine a lot of 60 yarders with a lot of -3s. vs someone who has slightly fewer 60 yarders and a lot of 3s, the later is a lot more valuable I think.

24
by Nate Dogg (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 7:31pm

I'm a little surprised that Alexanders '05 season only cracks one of these lists.

25
by Raiderjoe (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 7:43pm

re11
yeah, but he still lose to Raiders in Super owl 15.
He was good coahc anywya espeically when he deliver Supr bowl trophy to St. Louis team.
Good coach of Rbs as he coached W Montgomery, P Holmes, Larry Johnso, Faulk, Amp lee, Sampkin Gado, and some others.

26
by Raiderjoe (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 8:47pm

good chance Team of decade for2000s rBs going t o be Ladinaian TRomlinson and Westbrook or James

27
by kibbles (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 11:29pm

Re #15: Oops, I made one mistake in the Davis vs. Holmes post- Davis has a higher rushing DYAR per season.

Remember, too, that that per-season average is weighed down heavily by the 3 post-injury years where he was just dead weight. I'd be curious to see what "uninjured Terrell's" rush DYAR per season was. I'm sure it'd blow Holmes out of the water.

This is where I start running into issues when debating Davis for the HoF. I think the best comparison for Terrell Davis is really Kurt Warner- both guys were equally dominant at their peak's. The big difference between the two is that Warner has since "fallen from grace" (i.e. played at nowhere near his peak levels), while Davis never had the opportunity. I think that's a big blind spot that I personally have- if I consider Davis a HoFer, then Kurt Warner should get in for the same reasons, but I balk at the idea of Warner in the hall because of how he's played since leaving St. Louis (not bad, but not great, either).

28
by kibbles (not verified) :: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 11:36pm

Also, 2002 was an *absurd* year for RBs in the AFC West. LaDanian Tomlinson went for 2172 yards from scrimmage and 15 TDs... and was the 4th best RB in the division. All four RBs eclipsed 1850 yards from scrimmage. Holmes' season was the second best season of the DYAR era, Garner's was the 6th, and Portis's was the 12th. There had to have been something in the water, because that's just crazy.

Even more absurd? Oakland had the NFL's 3rd best rushing defense and Denver it's 4th, according to traditional yards allowed.

29
by Alaska Jack (not verified) :: Fri, 08/01/2008 - 12:41am

13 -

Not to open a can of worms here, but I'd go with Marcus Allen. Reason - he graded out as an A+ not only as a runner and receiver, a la Faulk, but also as a blocker. He just flattened people (even spent time as fullback when Bo came along). Finally, as if all that wasn't enough, he was an excellent passer. During a few of those years with the Raiders it was sometimes said, only half-jokingly, that he was the best QB on the team.

- Alaska Jack

30
by David (not verified) :: Fri, 08/01/2008 - 6:57am

My recollection was that Amp Lee wasn't left out for Dexter Carter, but for Ricky Watters.

Ricky was drafted a year ahead of Amp Lee, both in the second round (both 45th overall, oddly). Ricky was injured for that first season, but was the starter for the next two years, while Amp got about a third of the workload (worth noting that the niners also had an excellent set of fullbacks, the last years of Tom Rathman, the first years of William Floyd, and Marc Logan filling in where necessary).

Coming into that third season, the perception seemed to be that the niners didn't need both Ricky and Amp - they were very similar players, and it made sense to get something in trade for Amp. Whilst the season immediately following the trade was a good one (Steve Young's Primatectomy and the beatdown of the Chargers in SB XXIX), Ricky then decided he wanted out as well. The niners entered salary cap hell (blazing a trail that many other teams have since followed), and entered into the subsequent season with the immortal Derek Loville at RB.

Even so, he had some nice stats as a back-up, and the general feeling was the that the niners had been so dominant in the previous year that they would walk to a repeat. I distinctly remember talking myself into Mr Loville in that offseason, which made the subsequent exit from the playoffs at the hands of the upstart Packers very, very hard to stomach.

A feeling made only worse by Favre's subsequent failure in the Championship game against the Cowboys, where he seemed to imagine all his receivers were at least 9' tall...

31
by xtimmygx (not verified) :: Fri, 08/01/2008 - 9:23am

re 27
I don't know how other people have felt but it was always my impression that Kurt Warner was sort of a product of the system. Not to say that TD wasn't, but the offensive talent that those Rams teams had was extraordinary. Trent Green started 5 games in 2001 when Kurt Warner was injured and played in a total of 8 and threw for over 2000 yards and had the highest passer rating in the league. I think there is probably a reason Kurt Warner was found in a grocery store or whatever the story was I was forced to hear incessantly and that reason is that he isn't as good as his season in St. Louis indicate. Also, he was onlly dominate for about 2.5 seasons, while TD was dominate for 4.

32
by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 08/01/2008 - 9:29am

Re: 30

Read the article posted in #2. The same day the 49ers cut Lee, they re-signed Carter. Watters was the feature back; they weren't going to cut him.

33
by Temo (not verified) :: Fri, 08/01/2008 - 10:55am

31. Indeed. Perhaps the greatest strength that Warner brought to the position (other than the ability to throw an accurate deep ball to hit those fast WRs) was an NFL-Fresh body to sacrifice in Martz's brutal pass protect schemes. He has the talent to be a good NFL QB, don't get me wrong (he would probably still be pretty productive if not for his thumb). But his all-world numbers for those few years were probably inflated a little by the talent around him.

34
by David (not verified) :: Fri, 08/01/2008 - 7:20pm

Re: 32

Cos analysing team decisions from 15 years ago is fun :)

I wouldn't read so much into cutting Lee and re-signing Carter on the same day. Was this just the first day where things could be done in a new year salary cap?

Watters was the feature back, but Carter was barely an afterthought while Lee was on the team. Watters had already lost an entire season (admittedly, his rookie year) to injury, and was not much more productive than Lee while they were sharing time.

Given that Watters left a year later, would they have been better off keeping Lee, and trading Watters?

35
by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 08/01/2008 - 7:54pm

I wouldn’t read so much into cutting Lee and re-signing Carter on the same day. Was this just the first day where things could be done in a new year salary cap?

No. The cap kicked in on March 18 of 1994, while the 49ers' moves took place on May 4. They made no other moves that day, but had made some earlier in the offseason (cutting Steve Bono, signing Ken Norton, others).

Carter was barely an afterthought while Lee was on the team.

Carter was an afterthought in the run game, but he was their only real punt returner (and finished 4th in the league in yards per return) and primary kick returner (not good, but better than Lee). Lee was ineffective in 10 kick returns.

Watters had already lost an entire season (admittedly, his rookie year) to injury, and was not much more productive than Lee while they were sharing time.

Watters' yards per carry in 1992: 4.9; 1993: 4.6.
Lee's in 1992: 4.0; 1993: 3.2.

Watters' yards per catch in 1992: 9.4; 1993: 10.5.
Lee's in 1992: 5.1; 1993: 7.2.

36
by nmsu (not verified) :: Sat, 08/02/2008 - 12:42am

After the 98 season, I remember hearing/reading something that Terrell Davis averaged over 100 yds per game. The only player to have done that for a career is Jim Brown.

37
by Raiderjoe (not verified) :: Sat, 08/02/2008 - 3:15pm

re34
No, becausue Lee was not a good enough RB to get over 200 carries ayear. He was slow for a RB. He was a good pass cratcher, but only a bckaup type runner

38
by Scott C. (not verified) :: Sun, 08/03/2008 - 2:06am

We look at QB's running, which makes sense for most of them.

I'd love to see some #'s on RB's passing. Of course, since only a couple of them do much of that, I'm really just looking to see if its enough to put Tomlinson higher on the list when looking at more than running.

I'm pretty sure he's the best passing half back in the last 40 years. Perhaps doesn't get the opportunity to do it enough... but:

8-11 for 143 yards, 7 TD's and no interceptions. I'm guessing thats a couple hundred or more DYAR. There have been 2 times when the play didn't look good, and he didn't throw. One was a 1 yard sack and one was a few yards gain. He has otherwise thrown the ball away if the intended target is not open.

The most prolific otherwise RB in passing that I can think of was Walter Payton. He was:
11 for 34 for 331 yards 8 TD's and 6 INTs.

Definitely not a chunk of total player value worth talking about for 95% of RB's, but there are a few exceptions to that. And unlike QB's receiving -- its not just the Kordell Stewart's of the league contributing in the off-role ways.

39
by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Mon, 08/04/2008 - 2:40pm

Well, I think that's the problem ... because hardly any RBs throw more than one or two passes in a career, it would be really difficult to credit Tomlinson appropriately. It seems as though it ought to be worth more than a QB posting those numbers, but how much more, and why? A quantitative assessment would be difficult to do.

Re individual stats: yeah, football's so much harder to analyze, particularly when pretty much all the players on the field for any given play do "nothing". You'd almost need to use something like Madden, where you could know how the play and the defense were supposed to work, overlay that on the "all 22" film, and then compare each player's performance to his assignment. Baseball has it so much easier ...

40
by Sam Larson (not verified) :: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 2:13pm

Are we not referring to Ontario Smith as SOD anymore?